A study has found that women who suffer from anorexia have a lower risk of contracting breast cancer later in life, indicating that consuming fewer calories may protect against the disease.

Women hospitalised for anorexia had a 53% lower incidence of breast cancer compared to women from the general population, said the US research. Anorexic women who bore children had a 76% lower incidence, compared with a 23% lower incidence among childless anorexic women.

Lead author of the study, Karin B Michels from Harvard Medical School, said that limiting calories may lower the rates of cellular proliferation, decrease cancer-causing genes and decrease levels of estrogens, which have been linked to cancer.