Women's Health


In terms of breast cancer, plant-based diets, flax seeds (see also here, here, here, and here), and soy food (see also here, here) may improve breast cancer survival rates. Collards and carrots are associated with lowest breast cancer risk in African American women. The following appear to reduce breast cancer risk: plant-based diet (see also here, here, here), broccoli (see also here), dark green leafies, black beans, rye bread, organic strawberries, avocados, mushrooms (common white button may be the best, see also here), apples (especially their peel), turmeric, green tea (see also here), herbal tea, grapes, coffee, fiber-containing foods (especially nuts during adolescence), soy (perhaps because of soy improves the expression of the BRCA tumor-suppressing genes), nori seaweed snacks, pumpkin seeds, five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and an hour of exercise a day. There is a theory that larger and more frequent bowel movements reduce breast cancer rates in women because they flush out excess estrogen and remove tumor-promoting bile acids that can concentrate in breast tissue. Breast cancer survival seems to be reduced with the intake of trans fat (found in foods such as hydrogenated junk food and animal products) and saturated fat (found predominantly in cheese and chicken). Other risk factors may include: multivitamins, light at night, alcohol, total meat consumption, meat and dairy intake during adolescence, fried bacon, chicken, fish, dairy intake in general (especially skim milk), cooked meat due to estrogenic carcinogens, alcohol consumption, folic acid supplements, tanning beds, kimchi, long-term statin use and french fries and potato chips. There is no direct evidence yet that links GMO soy with breast cancer. Interestingly, breast cancer prevention and treatment may sometimes be the same thing, given the fact that breast tumors grow undetected for years. But breast cancer patients may not want to take advice from health store employees on supplements and cancer treatments.

For accessible cancers such as vulva, skin, mouth, and ulcerating breast, topical application of a turmeric ointment may help reduce symptoms. Beta carotene in foods may prevent ovarian cancer. Plant-based diets appear to improve the clearance of human papilloma virus infections, HPV, the cause of cervical cancer. On the other hand, banned medications may still be fed to farm animals, similar to when DES was fed to chickens long after it was shown to cause vaginal cancer.

The sex steroid hormones in meat have been associated with female infertility, and the buildup of cholesterol in pelvic arteries may cause sexual problems in women. Soy can help slow down premature breast development in girls, whereas the steroids and other pollutants in meat may hasten the onset of puberty. Soy food consumption may also help reduce symptoms of menopause. Plant-based bioidentical hormones for the treatment of menopause are considered neither safe nor effective.

Women who experience dysmenorrhea (painful periods), excessive cramping, bloating, or breast pain and switch to a plant-based diet experience may significant relief in menstrual pain intensity and duration. A tablespoon of flax seeds a day also seems to improve ovarian function and menstrual breast pain. The spice saffron (and even its smell) may improve both the emotional and physical symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. Drinking herbal teas such as rooibos may reduce stress levels, while nettle tea may have estrogenic side effects—perhaps a good thing if we’re trying to start lactating.

Women at high risk for heart disease who eat peanut butter every day may have a lower risk of suffering from a heart attack as women who do not eat peanut butter. Dried apples have been found to result in an LDL cholesterol drop in postmenopausal women. A plant-based diet has also been associated with a lower diabetes rate in women. Mint tea has been found to lower testosterone in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome. For overall health, women should drink four to seven cups of water a day.

Women appear to absorb the calcium in soymilk just as well as the calcium from cow’s milk. Cow’s milk consumption may actually be associated with a significantly higher risk in hip fractures, cancer, and premature death. Urinary tract infections from E. coli can be caused by poultry consumption or handling. Plant-based diets on the other hand may help prevent genitourinary infections. Eating a serving of oatmeal a day’s worth of fiber may significantly extend women’s livespan.

Pregnant and nursing vegan/vegetarian women may want to get tested for a vitamin B12 deficiency and regardless, definitely use supplements or fortified foods to ensure sufficient levels (see also here, here). This may also be true for iodine. Caffeine during pregnancy should be limited to under 300mg per day. Pregnant women should consider avoiding diet soda and other aspartame-containing foods. The vapors released during cooking meat may be hazardous to fetal development and may increase the risk of cancer. Women of childbearing age may want to also avoid canned tuna and corn syrup due to the mercury levels (see also here, here, here). Pregnant women may also want to avoid undercooked meat, fish and other meat in general, dairy, licorice, aspartame, iron supplements and perhaps choose tap water over bottled. Eating meat and dairy during pregnancy may increase the risk of gestational diabetes. The breast milk of vegans is significantly less polluted than omnivores with persistent organic pollutants, so pregnant women eating mixed diets may want to start to detox even before getting pregnant. Vegan women also have five times fewer twins than omnivores possibly due to the hormones naturally found in animal products. Once the baby is born, exclusive breast-feeding for at least six months is best. Feeding infants cow’s milk formula may affect their metabolic programming and lead to childhood obesity. These persistent organic pollutants find their way into the diet of pregnant women (predominantly through animal products) and gets passed along to the fetus, associated with giving birth to babies with smaller brains, lower IQs, and other cognitive impairments (see also here). These children can detox over time on a healthy diet, though many stay contaminated for decades. But the consumption of peanuts by pregnant women does not appear to increase their child’s risk of peanut allergies. 93% of pregnant women and 80% of umbilical cord blood was found to contain a GMO crop protein. This insecticidal protein may have adverse affects on human placental tissue. Consumption of garlic or raisins may lower the risk of having a premature birth. Exposure to high levels of pesticides may have negative effects on brain development in children.

The number one cancer killer of women in the US is lung cancer. Broccoli appears to be protective against the lung cancer spreading throughout the body. Having lived with either a cat or dog appears protective against future cancer. And coffee drinking has been associated with lower cancer rates in women as well.

Topic summary contributed by Katie.

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