Doctor’s Tip: How to prevent and survive breast cancer
Breast cancer is the number one type of cancer in the U.S, aside from skin cancer. Every year, around 280,000 women are diagnosed with it and some 43,000 die from it.
Some of the billions of cells in our bodies are always mutating. Mammograms and self-breast exams are said to provide early detection of breast cancer, but Dr. Michael Greger points out that this is actually late detection, because by the time breast cancer is diagnosed by these methods it has been present for years, starting with the first abnormal cell. Humans evolved to eat plants, and plants contain micronutrients that destroy mutant cells before they propagate and cause cancer; animal products lack this ability.
If you are a woman and want to do everything you can to prevent breast cancer, read the chapter on breast cancer in Dr. Greger’s book “How Not to Die,” and search breast cancer on his website nutritionfacts.org. If you’re a breast cancer survivor, read “The Cancer Survivor’s Guide, Foods That Help You Fight Back!” by Neal Barnard, M.D.
Following are some important tips to prevent breast cancer, found in these two books plus an article in the January/February issue of Nutrition Action titled, “Cancer, How to Lower Your Risk.”
Alcohol, even in small amounts, was declared in 2014 by the World Health Organization to be “a definitive human breast carcinogen,” due to DNA damage, oxidative stress, and increase in estrogen levels.
Melatonin, the “sleep hormone,” appears to have a protective effect against breast cancer. Melatonin levels are lowered by bright lights during pre-bedtime hours from sources such as light bulbs, TV screens, computers and smart phones. For unknown reasons, eating meat lowers melatonin levels and vegetables raise them.
Estrogen in excess increases breast cancer risk, and women need to be hesitant about taking post-menopausal hormones — “bio-identical hormones” have not been shown to be any safer. Fat cells produce estrogen, so to avoid breast cancer it’s important to maintain ideal body weight.
Saturated fat present in animal products, cooking oils and coconut products (other than coconut water) increases breast cancer risk.
Exercise, such as brisk walking for at least 30-60 minutes every day, lowers breast cancer risk due to loss of excess fat and lower levels of inflammation.
Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs) are carcinogens produced by cooking meat (including chicken) and seafood at high temperatures, such as roasting, pan frying, grilling, and baking. According to Dr. Greger, “One of the most abundant HCAs in cooked meat was found to have potent estrogen-like effects, fueling human breast-cancer cell growth.”
Lignans are plant estrogens (a.k.a. phytoestrogens) activated by “good” gut bacteria, that “dampen the effects of the body’s own estrogen,” according to Dr. Greger. Lignans are particularly plentiful in flaxseeds, and are also found in berries, whole grains and dark, leafy greens.
Cholesteral, when levels are high, may increase breast cancer risk, according to Dr. Greger — thought to be due to our bodies “using cholesterol to make estrogen or to shore up tumor cell membranes to help the cancer migrate and invade more tissue.” Unfortunately, reducing levels with statin drugs has not been shown to reduce breast cancer risk.
Fiber — present in plant but not animal products — helps remove estrogen via the GI tract, thereby lowering breast cancer risk. Several studies show that for every 29 grams of fiber intake per day there is a 15% lower risk of breast cancer.
Carotinoids are micronutrients found in green, orange and red fruit and vegetables and have been found to protect against breast cancer. Apple peels in particular contain a compound that activates breast tumor-suppressor genes.
Sulforaphane, a compound in cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower) “suppresses the ability of breast cancer stem cells to form tumors” — the cause of recurrence of breast cancer that occasionally happens after years of remission. Cooking destroys the enzyme that releases sulforaphane, so some needs to be eaten raw — or eat some raw cruciferous vegetables before eating cooked.
Soy? Many people have the misconception that soy contains estrogen and should therefore be avoided to prevent breast cancer. The fact is that if the weak, estrogen-like compounds in soy attach to breast tissue receptors, stronger, harmful estrogens are prevented from attaching, resulting in a lower risk of breast cancer. Asian women eat a diet high in soy products, and have much lower risk of breast cancer compared to women on a typical Western diet.
Dr. Feinsinger is a retired family physician with special interest in disease prevention and reversal through nutrition. Free services through Center For Prevention and The People’s Clinic include: one-hour consultations, shop-with-a-doc at Carbondale City Market, and cooking classes. Call 970-379-5718 for appointment, or email email@example.com.
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