Breast Cancer and Diet

Image Credit: Pascal Maramis / Flickr. This image has been modified.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a concept invented more than 25 years ago by Imperial Chemical Industries with the curious mantra “Early Detection Is Your Best Prevention.” Of course early detection (by definition) doesn’t prevent breast cancer at all; it just attempts to mediate the impact of the cancer once it’s already there. As one of the largest producers of petrochemicals and pesticides in the world, the multi-billion dollar chemical company may not have been particularly interested in getting at the root causes, especially after having subsequently developed the leading breast cancer chemotherapy drug.

Breast cancer remains the leading cancer killer of young women in the United States. In recognition of this epidemic, spent last week releasing five new videos highlighting some of the latest research on preventing the disease in the first place.

Monday’s video Cancer Prevention & Treatment May Be the Same Thing underscored the fact that since breast tumors can take decades to grow, “early” detection is actually very late, and in some cases too late. Tuesday’s Vegetables vs. Breast Cancer video, though, points to exciting new research that mushroom consumption may be beneficial for prevention, with Wednesday’s Breast Cancer Prevention: Which Mushroom Is Best? comparing the potential anti-cancer activity of a dozen different types leading to a surprising result. Thursday’s Multivitamin Supplements & Breast Cancer highlighted new research suggesting that multivitamin use may significantly increase the risk of breast (and prostate) cancer, while Friday’s video, Relieving Yourself of Excess Estrogen, offered a natural strategy to reduce one’s risk. has five dozen videos on women’s health, including many others on breast cancer, suggesting that a plant-based diet may be beneficial in preventing, slowing, and treating breast cancer, despite flawed or deceptive studies to the contrary.

Diets containing less meat may reduce the risk of breast cancer by lowering one’s exposure to anabolic steroids, heterocyclic amines, and industrial pollutants. Dairy contains hormones that may increase breast cancer risk directly, or indirectly by contributing to premature pubertyMelatonin suppression by meat and dairy may also play a role. Eating a half an egg a day has been associated with nearly three times the odds of breast cancer.

There are also some plant foods, though, that one may want to avoid. Kimchi, acrylamide in crispy carbs, and alcohol may increase one’s risk, and from a breast cancer perspective, folate in beans and greens may be preferable to folic acid in pills.

The good news is that numerous vegetables may be protective against breast cancer. The most useful are likely cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, kale, and cabbage) and allium family vegetables (such as garlic and onions).

Among fruits, organic strawberries appear to preferably block cancer cell growth and, like other berries, may block breast-cell DNA damage. Apples also appear to reduce breast cancer risk.

Soy foods have the distinction of both helping prevent breast cancer (in part by supporting normal pubertal development) and improving survival, even for women on Tamoxifen.

To further decrease risk of breast cancer, look to daily tea consumption (including a few herbal varieties) flax seeds, black beans, the spice turmeric, and an hour of exercise every day.

Please consider sharing this post with your loved ones to promote lifelong health. This week, daily new videos will focus on colon health (i.e. the scoop on poop).

 – Michael Greger, M.D.

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