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Breast Cancer Survival and Lignan Intake

One teaspoon of flax seeds may double one’s daily production of lignans, phytonutrients that appear to play a role in both breast cancer prevention and survival.

March 29, 2012 |
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Sources Cited

Acknowledgements

Images thanks to Aka, stu_spivack, Rasbak, Jitujetster, and Sanjay Acharya via Wikimedia Commons.

Transcript

Breast cancer is initially so slow growing that women may have tumors years or even decades before they’re diagnosed. So it makes sense that the same dietary factors that helped grow the tumor in the first place would keep goading it on both before and after diagnosis.
This is not always the case. Alcohol, for example, is strongly associated with breast cancer risk, but once you already have a full-blown tumor it may not make a difference if you continue to drink or not.
But in general, the same diet that helps prevent breast cancer appears to be the same type of diet that’s going to help prolong survival. That seemed to be the case in this recent new york study. Started out with about a thousand women, with breast cancer. Ended up with, less than a thousand. It must be so sad to do these survival studies; you never know who’s going to make it to the end.
Several investigations have suggested that plant-based diets rich in fruits, vegetables, and grains, as well as their related nutrients may have a beneficial effect on survival after breast cancer. Evidence pointed to ligans, phytonutrients found throughout the plant kingom. We know they may prevent breast cancer. Now we know dietary lignin intake is associated with improved survival among postmenopausal women with breast cancer. In fact, it appeared to cut mortality risk in half!
Where do you find it?... There’s some in red wine, whole grains, vegetables like kale, big jump to sesame seeds, and then meteoric rise to flaxseeds. Let me squoosh down the scale. Look at that. Nothing comes close to flax.
The Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project estimated the quantity of lignans long Island women average on a daily basis. From their entire diet, about 6 mg a day. That’s how many lignans are found in a single teaspoon of flax seeds. So you add just a teaspoon to your diet and you may have just doubled your entire intake for the day.
Just maybe not during the last two trimesters of pregnancy, as preliminary data suggests flax use may increase the risk of preterm delivery.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

This is the third of a five-part video series on improving survival for those diagnosed with cancer. See also Breast Cancer Survival and Trans Fatand Breast Cancer Survival, Butterfat, and Chicken. For more on exploiting the slow growing nature of breast cancer, see Cancer Prevention and Treatment May Be the Same Thing and Slowing Growth of Cancer. I have 10 more videos on flaxand some more precautionary pregnancy videos such as Caffeine During Pregnancy and Iron During Pregnancy. In this video I mentioned alcohol consumption and mortality—more on balancing the risks in Alcohol Risks vs. Benefits. And if that's not enough I have hundreds of other videos on more than a thousand subjects. Note that two of the sources for this video are open access--so you can download them by clicking on the links above in the Sources Cited section--and lignans are not the same as lignins, in case anyone is confused.

Please also check out my associated blog posts for some more context: Breast Cancer Survival and SoyHealth Food Store Advice: Often Worthless or Worst, Treating an Enlarged Prostate With DietGerson Therapy for Cancer?How Tumors Use Meat to GrowMushrooms for Breast Cancer Prevention,  Foods That May Block Cancer FormationFlaxseeds for Prostate CancerFlax and Breast Cancer Survival , and Treating Breast Pain with Flax Seeds

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

    This is the third of a five-part video series on improving survival for those diagnosed with cancer. See also Breast Cancer Survival and Trans Fat and Breast Cancer Survival, Butterfat, and Chicken. For more on exploiting the slow growing nature of breast cancer, see Cancer Prevention and Treatment May Be the Same Thing and Slowing Growth of Cancer. I have 10 more videos on flax and some more precautionary pregnancy videos such as Caffeine During Pregnancy and Iron During Pregnancy. In this video I mentioned alcohol consumption and mortality—more on balancing the risks in Alcohol Risks vs. Benefits. And if that’s not enough I have hundreds of other videos on more than a thousand subjects. Note that two of the sources for this video are open access–so you can download them by clicking on the links above in the Sources Cited section–and lignans are not the same as lignins, in case anyone is confused.

    • http://twitter.com/CocoBliss1 Coco Bliss

      Thanks Dr. Greger!  One quick question – Is it true that flax seeds must be ground in order to reap their health benefits? Or can they be eaten either whole or ground? Thanks:)

      • http://www.facebook.com/tom.cooper.39 Tom Cooper

        I have been reading lots about flax seeds and it always states that you have to ground it first and always eat it in quark or yoghurt so your body absorbs it better….but I am not medically trained (unfortunately)

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          • Toxins

            Its because the cell wall of the seed is too tough to digest. Another, more tedious option would be to bite every single side before swallowing.

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            Guess it is better to ground them :)

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  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/hemodynamic/ HemoDynamic

    As always, a resounding THANKS!!!!! Your efforts help me tremendously in practice. Nearly everyday I have a patient that has or had BRCA and this whole series has been fantastic, but todays vid on the usefulness of a teaspoon of Flax is a pound of wise prevention.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/randy/ randy

    Very interesting data and report, thank you for all the great work.

    I am curious if the present data support a beneficial effect of lignans for other cancers, particularly prostate. Certainly would seem the case but It seems several years prior flax or perhaps flax oil had a detrimental relationship to this cancer.

    Certainly more research to other cancers (lung, colorectal, pancreas, prostate, brain) would be warranted, as flax’s (lignans) positive results to breast cancer is tremendous and well documented.

    Thank you!

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/randy/ randy

      My question was partially answered in the video, “Just the Flax Mam” concerning prostate cancer. Very nice Texas study archived from the notes.

      Other cancers might also be positively influenced by these Flax powerhouses. Sure would make the substance for some large scale research studies, as in the prostate cancer study.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/thea/ Thea

    Awesome info. Thanks. I know you have covered flax seeds in the past, but I think that repeat info when new studies also support the same conclusions are very helpful. One study may not be all that convincing. But study after study is certainly convincing to me.

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  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/stefanjuhl/ stefanjuhl

    Thanks – interesting info again. Some authors warn against to much flaxseed because of high content of cadmium. Do you have a comment?

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/valnaples/ valnaples

    I’m 54 yr old female…I take 2 TBSP of ground organic flax each day…hope it’s not TOO much regarding the cadmium…so easy to include in Greek yogurt, oatmeal, or on a green salad, etc. Nice video, Doc! Thank you!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/robertaj/ Robertaj

    Facebook headliner says one tablespoon and this subtitle says 1teaspoon. I watched it this morning on DVD 8 and it said 1 teaspoon. Pls clarify. Thx

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      Hi Robertaj: the Facebook intro was posed as a T or F question, hence why ‘tablespoon’ was mentioned. 1 teaspooon is the correct answer. Hope that helps!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/lidia/ Lidia

    I am wondering about flax seed interactions with aromatase inhibitors. Has any research been done on the topic? Thanks.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please also check out my associated blog post, Breast Cancer Survival and Soy!

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    Thank you very, very much. This is information I will be getting out to the masses.

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  • paulette3

    One needs to grind the flax seeds to absorb the lignans, correct?

  • http://jolkapolkaskitchen.blogspot.com/ WholeFoodChomper

    Dr. Greger, could you please add the citation for the last study you mention in the video (the one indicating that “preliminary data suggests flax use may increase the risk of preterm delivery”) to the “Sources Cited” section? Currently, it is not listed.

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  • Guest

    The media is riveted by Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy to address her doctor’s prediction that she had an 87% risk of breast cancer due to defects in her BRCA1 and/or BRCA2 genes, yet I’ve seen no mention of epigenetics and its effects on cancer development in relation to this story, thus no mention of the power of diet or lifestyle in cutting one’s breast cancer risk. Dr. Greger, given the current heightened level of attention to this topic, would you please write a blog post or make a nutrition video summarizing known reliable research on this topic?

    Dr. Dean Ornish published remarkable research showing how men with incipient prostate cancer effectively turned off dozens of their cancer-promoting genes by using a vegetarian or vegan diet, regular exercise, and regular meditation practice. Has there been any similar study done on women (and men) with defects in their BRCA1 and/or BRCA2 genes? Must women lop off functioning, important organs to reduce their risk of cancer significantly (Jolie’s doctor estimated she reduced her risk from 87% to 5% by having the surgery) without having to take drugs on a regular basis?

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  • Sandy

    Dr. Greger,
    I am a breast cancer survivor of 8 years. Was diagnosed with ER positive breast cancer at the age of 39. I follow your video’s religiously and incorporate 2 tablespoons or more of ground flax in my diet daily as well as eat a mainly vegan diet. I have had other breast cancer survivors tell me their oncologists tell them NOT to eat the flax seeds because of their estrogenic effects on ER positive breast cancer. Is there any validity to this? I always feel that the ground flax seeds is helping to keep my breast cancer from coming back, but do these oncologists concerns hold any validity?

    • Jessica Hess

      Sandy, as a Registered Dietitian often working with breast cancer survivors, this has always been a point of confusion for me too. I hope that Dr. Gregor can explain why some oncologists/doctors have this theory and then give us the information we need to explain otherwise.

  • Sandy

    Dr. Gregor,
    Is it okay to take flax seeds if you are a ER positive breast cancer survivor. For some reasons breast oncologists are saying because it is a phytoestrogen to be cautious about using flax seed in your diet if you have been diagnosed with ER positive breast cancer?

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    Your reports are important in helping people understand the importance of nutrition.

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  • lorna

    I think cottage cheese is good to eat ground flax seeds with, thanks to the work of Budwig. Helps absorption. Exercise is important to promote health too, check out my fitness fips blog at http://www.passionateaboutfitness.com I dont beleive in chopping off body parts to prevent cancer, surely that is a bit concerning? We can do lots to reduce our risk, maybe people are looking for a quick fix and not prepared to put the work in…..

    • Sandy

      I think there is a lot of misinformation out there. Angelina Jolie is not just someone at heightened risk. She carries the BRCA gene. I have spoke with many women with this gene. These women have lost their mothers, sisters and aunts (yes, lost 3, 4 or 5 close relatives) in their lifetimes to this disease. When you have lived with that devastation, losing a breast is far less daunting than losing your life. For goodness sake, they are not losing their sight, or hearing or a hand. They are losing their breasts and gaining security that they will live to a ripe old age. Until I have walked in these women’s shoes, I will never comprehend what they have to live with, and I will not judge their decision to do anything they can do so that they will be there to be able to take care of their families for a long, long time. I feel confident in saying these BRCA carriers are not looking for a quick fix.

    • justin mcmillin

      Chopping off parts? Whoa yeah thats a tad extreme. He was correct though in mentioning mixing alcohol with any kind of therapy be it chemical or natural. Reduces the effects considerably to plain destroying any chance of cure. Im a syrong believer in “Al Natural”
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  • Lisa

    Thanks for the information. Really appreciate it.

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    It is interesting to know there are people like you who never stopped sharing relevant information such as this. We are not against synthetic medicines but there are also numerous breast cancer survivor who survived using alternative medicines or homeopathic remedies.

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    Nutrition is the key to all matters concerning Prevention and Cures. I think cottage cheese is good to eat ground flax seeds with, thanks to the work of Budwig. Studies how proven that food is your most powerful medicine. Current information points out that vegetarian diets play an important part in cancer prevention.Information found at Healthy Organic Vegetarian which also gives a page devoted to breast cancer, gives a clear picture into the importance of food.Exercise is important to promote health too,We can do lots to reduce our risk, maybe people are looking for a quick fix and not prepared to put the work in..

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    • Mike

      Nice information, people have a very hard time dealing with it.

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  • Rachel ChaChingQueen

    Thank for this info. I’m a young breast cancer survivor. I was diagnosed at age 31.

    • Thea

      31! That’s shockingly young! I’m happy to hear you are a survivor.

      Note: Dr. Greger has a large number of wonderful videos and blog posts on cancer in general and breast cancer in particular. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend searching through this website for yet more info.

      Best of luck to you.

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    oh doctor thanks for this great inormations i like it i want to ask you about Tuna Salad Recipe if it good for health

    • Thea

      Hicham:

      This is what NutritionFacts has to say about fish:
      http://nutritionfacts.org/topics/fish/

      This is what NutritionFacts has to say about cheese:
      http://nutritionfacts.org/topics/cheese/

      Bottom line: That recipe is not really so healthy. I recommend looking for some good vegan “tuna” recipes. I have tried a couple different types in recipe books that I own, but I think there are some free recipes on line too. Try looking up “tuno”? Anyway, if you don’t like the first one you try, keep looking. There are lots of options, almost all of which I would expect to be healthier than the recipe you list above.

      Good luck!

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    I like the Budwig Diet use of flax seeds – cottage cheese, flax seed oil and fresh ground flaxseed mixed in my Nutribullet. I add sugar free Walden Farms flavor syrup for taste. This doctor turned me on to healthier choices http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUbz3u3qFNs

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      Maybe you can turn that doctor onto healthier choices by pointing to this site. ;-)

      Also, you may want to re-think that flax seed oil. Those are just empty calories.

      Good luck!

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  • Teddy Jaffee

    Thanks Dr. Greger! This is good information. Does flax help with heart disease too?

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    Thanks – interesting info again. Some authors warn against to much flaxseed because of high content of cadmium.

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    After a diagnosis of breast cancer, women tend to re-evaluate their nutrition and health practices. i wonder what diet food should be followed?

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