The Nurses’ Health Studies: Have You Heard About Them?

For more years than I can remember, I have been part of a study called The Nurses’ Health Studies.

The Nurses’ Health Studies are among the largest and longest running investigations of factors that influence women’s health. Started in 1976 and expanded in 1989, the information provided by the 238,000 dedicated nurse-participants has led to many new insights on health and disease. While the prevention of cancer is still a primary focus, the study has also produced landmark data on cardiovascular disease, diabetes and many other conditions. Most importantly, these studies have shown that diet, physical activity and other lifestyle factors can powerfully promote better health.”

 At least once a year I am updated on the results of these studies. Just yesterday, I received such an update. Here are some of the recent research findings:

  • Vitamin D may be important in reducing the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, glucose intolerance, high blood pressure, asthma, some infectious diseases, multiple sclerosis, and type 2 diabetes.
  •  Analyzing data from more than 5000 nurses, it was found that a history of smoking did not increase the women’s chances of recurrence or death from breast cancer. These breast cancer survivors with a smoking history did have a greater chance of dying from lung cancer or emphysema.
  • A diet that includes daily mulivitamins, low glycemic carbohydrates, and adequate iron from plant sources and supplements may help women to conceive.
  • Women who worked night shifts for many years were found to have a 35% increased risk for colorectal cancer and a 47% greater risk of endometrial cancer.
  • Women with high prolactin levels had a moderately higher risk of breast cancer compared with women with low levels.
  • There is little association between total fat intake and weight gain. However, there was a stronger association between trans fats and weight gain.

I’m proud to be a participant of The Nurses’ Health Studies. I hope to be part of these studies for a long time. Participants who develop serious health conditions as they age still contribute to these studies by allowing researchers to review their medical records. Being  part of one of the largest and longest running research studies on women’s health issues is just one way nurses make a contribution to the health of others.

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