Doctor’s Tip: How to avoid breast cancer — eat veggies
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Every year about 230,000 American women are diagnosed with breast cancer, and 40,000 die from it.
Did you know that breast cancer often starts two to four decades before it becomes diagnosable as a lump you can feel or as a shadow on a mammogram? Autopsy studies on women aged 20-54 who died in car accidents and from other non-cancer causes showed that 20 percent of them had hidden breast cancer. So what we call “early detection” (e.g. mammograms, self-exams) is really late detection.
Out of the billions of cells in our bodies, some are always mutating. If our immune system and diet are optimal, these abnormal cells are destroyed. If they are not destroyed, we eventually get cancer.
Scientists use two methods to determine what makes cancer cells proliferate: One is to put cancer cells in a petri dish and drip various substances on them. Substances from plants inhibit their growth; animal-based substances cause proliferation. The other way is to do epidemiologic studies, meaning looking at groups of people with high and low breast cancer rates and determine differences in their diet.
Here’s what we know:
1. Alcohol intake increases the chance of getting breast cancer. The World Health Organization in 2010 upgraded its classification of alcohol to definitive human breast carcinogen, and a clarification in 2014 stated that no amount of alcohol is safe. An exception is red wine, which appears to suppress the activity of estrogen synthase enzyme (high estrogen levels contribute to breast cancer so anything that lowers levels helps).
2. Melatonin, the “sleep hormone,” suppresses breast cancer growth. A dark environment induces melatonin production in the brain, so blind women have less breast cancer. For unclear reasons, meat seems to suppress melatonin, but vegetables increase it, according, to Dr. Michael Greger (nutritionfacts.org, “How Not to Die” book).
3. Exercise lowers estrogen levels, and women who walk briskly for at least an hour a day have less breast cancer.
4. Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are formed when beef, pork, fish and poultry are cooked at high temperatures. HCAs have been shown to both initiate and promote breast cancer in humans.
5. Studies show that every 20 grams of fiber intake per day mean a 15 percent lower risk of breast cancer. Plants have fiber; animal products don’t. Vegans typically eat at least 60 grams of fiber a day.
6. Women who eat one or more apples a day have a 24 percent lower risk of breast cancer, presumably due to antioxidants in the peel plus something that activates a tumor-suppressor gene.
7. Women who eat two or more servings of vegetables a day have a significantly decreased risk of breast cancer.
8. Sulforaphane in cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage) has been shown in a lab to suppress the ability of breast cancer stem cells to form tumors, and there is a higher level of this in the breast tissue of women who eat these plants.
9. Flaxseeds have a particularly high level of lignans, phytoestrogens (phyto means plants) that dampen the effects of the body’s own estrogen.
10. Andrew Freeman, M.D., a plant-based cardiologist at National Jewish Hospital in Denver, says that in the 1940s most Japanese were on a less-than 10 percent fat diet and breast cancer was extremely rare. Currently, affluent Japanese women who eat meat daily have an 8.5 times higher risk of breast cancer compared with Japanese women who don’t eat meat.
11. Dr. Freeman also quotes studies showing that a woman’s risk of breast cancer rises dramatically with her intake of meat, eggs, milk, cheese and butter.
12. Soybeans contain phytoestrogens, which are very weak estrogens that can attach to estrogen receptors on breast cells, and because of that a myth has developed that too much soy causes breast cancer. However, the truth is that by displacing the normal estrogen, there is less estrogen stimulation of breast tissue. So soy intake is actually associated with much less breast cancer.
Here are the two take-home messages:
1. Animal-based diets contain breast-cancer-promoting factors, whereas plants have cancer-fighting properties that can kill cancer cells at a very early stage, before they start replicating.
2. Since breast cancer can be present for decades before it becomes apparent, what we allow our children to eat has implications for their future health. The worst thing you can give your kids is what’s on the kids’ menu at most restaurants. Statisticians figured out years ago that a Happy Meal at McDonald’s does damage equivalent to having your child smoke two cigarettes.
By way of disclosure, I was an omnivore until four years ago, when a nurse practitioner told my wife and me to read “The China Study,” which we found very compelling and led us to go plant-based immediately. My only agenda is to pass evidence-based nutritional information on to the public.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, now has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and any other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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