GMO Soy and Breast Cancer

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In response to concerns raised about the toxicity of Monsanto's roundup pesticide, which ends up in GMO foods (See Is Monsanto's Roundup Pesticide Glyphosate Safe?), Monsanto's scientists countered that these in vitro experiments used physiological irrelevant concentrations, meaning dripping roundup on cells in a petri dish at levels far above what would be realistically found in the human body.

Sure, it's probably not a good idea to mix up your alcohol with your roundup and chug the stuff, or try to commit suicide by drinking or injecting it. And there are rare cases of Parkinson's reported after getting directly sprayed with it, or working for years in a pesticide production plant, but that's not your typical consumer exposure.

As shown in my video GMO Soy and Breast Cancer, some of the researchers responded to the accusation claiming they used the kinds of concentrations that are used out in the fields. Therefore every little droplet we spray worldwide is above the threshold concentration they found to cause adverse effects. Monsanto's folks responded saying, "Yes, that's the concentration we spray, but that's not the concentration that human cells are bathing in. Once it gets into drinking water or food, it's highly diluted." And, they're quick to point out, if we look at people with the greatest exposure--pesticide workers--the vast majority of studies show no link between the use of Roundup and cancer or non-cancer diseases. There are a few suggestive findings suggesting a link with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. One study of pesticide applicators suggested an association with multiple myeloma, and one study of the children of pesticide applicators found a tentative association with ADHD, but again these are folks experiencing a much greater exposure level than the general population that may just get a few parts per million in their food. But there had never been any studies done on the tiny levels found circulating in people's bodies, until now.

In a study out of Thailand, the maximum residue levels were set at parts per million (the concentrations found within human bodies is measured in parts per billion). The study found glyphosate can activate estrogen receptors at a few parts per trillion, increasing the growth of estrogen receptor positive human breast cancer cells in a petri dish. These results indicate "that truly relevant concentrations of the pesticide found on GMO soybeans possesses estrogenic activity."

But consumption of soy is associated with lower breast cancer risk (See BRCA Breast Cancer Genes and Soy), and improved breast cancer survival (See Breast Cancer Survival and Soy).

That may be because most GMO soy in the U.S. is fed to chickens, pigs, and cows as livestock feed, whereas most of the major soy food manufacturers use non-GMO soy. Or it could be because the benefits of eating any kind of soy may far outweigh the risks, but why accept any risk at all when we can choose organic soy products, which by law exclude GMOs.

The bottom-line is that there is no direct human data suggesting harm from eating GMOs, though in fairness such studies haven't been done, which is exactly the point that critics counter. This is why we need mandatory labeling on GMO products so that public health researchers can track whether GMOs are having any adverse effects.

It is important to put the GMO issue in perspective though. As I've shown (See Lifestyle Medicine: Treating the Causes of Disease), there are dietary and lifestyle changes we can make that could eliminate most heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and cancer. Millions of lives could be saved. A healthy enough diet can even reverse our number one killer, heart disease. So, I'm sympathetic to the biotech industry's exasperation about GMO concerns when we still have people dropping dead from everything else they're eating. As one review concluded "consumption of genetically modified food entails risk of undesirable effects... similar to the consumption of traditional food." In other words, buying the non-GMO Twinkie isn't doing our body much of a favor.

For more on the public health implications of genetically engineered crops in our food supply, check out the these videos:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image: Nesbitt_Photo / Flickr

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Preventing Breast Cancer with Flax Seeds

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I've previously discussed the role of dietary lignans in the reduction of breast cancer risk and improvement in breast cancer survival, based on studies that showed that women with breast cancer who ate the most lignans appeared to live longer (Flaxseeds & Breast Cancer Survival: Epidemiological Evidence and Flaxseeds & Breast Cancer Survival: Clinical Evidence). However, lignans are found throughout the plant kingdom--in seeds, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, berries--so how do we know lignans aren't merely a marker for the intake of unrefined plant foods? For example, those who eat lots of plants--vegetarians--have about eight times the lignan intake than omnivores.

In a petri dish, lignans have been shown to both have direct anticancer growth activity against human breast cancer cells and to prevent cancer cell migration. But it wasn't until 2005 that it was put to the test in people. Researchers from the University of Toronto conducted a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial (as seen in my video, Can Flax Seeds Help Prevent Breast Cancer?) of flaxseeds, the world's most concentrated source of lignans in breast cancer patients. The researchers found that flax appears to have the potential to reduce human breast tumor growth in just a matter of weeks. Therefore, I started recommending ground flax seeds to breast cancer patients.

Can lignans also help prevent breast cancer in the first place? High lignan intake is associated with reduced breast cancer risk, but again lignan intake may just be saying an indicator of high plant food intake in general. So researchers from the University of Kansas gave women at high risk for breast cancer a teaspoon of ground flaxseeds a day for a year, and found on average a drop in precancerous changes in the breast.

What about women who regularly eat flax seeds? Outside of an experimental setting, there just weren't a lot of women eating flax seeds regularly to study--until now. Matching 3,000 women with breast cancer to 3,000 women without, a study published in Cancer Causes and Control found that consumption of flaxseed (and of flax bread) was associated with a 20-30 percent reduction in breast cancer risk. The researchers note that, as flaxseeds are packed with lignans, only a small daily serving of flaxseed is required to attain the level of lignan intake associated with a reduction in breast cancer risk. Researchers concluded: "As it appears that most women do not consume flaxseed and that small amounts may be associated with reduced breast cancer risk, interventions to increase the prevalence of flaxseed consumption might be considered."

The latest review summarizes the association between flax and decreased risk of breast cancer, better mental health, and lower mortality among breast cancer patients. The only other study of flax and brain health I'm aware of was an exploration of 100 commonly used drugs and supplements on cognition in older adults, which found that flax is one of the few things that appears to help.

How else may flaxseeds aid in preventing and treating breast cancer? There's an inflammatory molecule called interleukin-1, which may help tumors feed, grow, and invade. Our bodies therefore produce an interkeukin-1 receptor antagonist, binding to the IL-1 receptor and blocking the action of IL-1. The activity of this protective inhibitor can be boosted with the drug tamoxifen--or by eating flax seed. In premenopausal women, the proinflammatory profile of interleukin-1 can be counteracted by a dietary addition of a few spoonfuls of ground flax. One month of flax may be able to increase the anti-inflammatory inhibitor levels by over 50 percent, better even than the drug.

Yes, having one's ovaries removed may reduce breast cancer risk as much as 60 percent, but at the cost of severe side-effects. The drug tamoxifen may reduce the incidence of breast cancer by more than 40 percent, but may induce other severe side effects such as uterine cancer and blood clots. That's why less toxic (even safe!) breast cancer preventive strategies such as dietary modifications need to be developed. These lignan phytoestrogens in flaxseeds may be one successful route given the data showing reduced breast cancer risk and improved overall survival.

Lignans are not a magic bullet to prevent breast cancer--we can't just sprinkle some flax on your bacon cheeseburger--but as a part of a healthy diet and life-style, they might help to reduce breast cancer risk in the general population.

Flaxseeds may also help fight hormone-mediated cancers in men. See Flaxseed vs. Prostate Cancer and Was It the Flaxseed, Fat Restriction, or Both?

What else can these puppies do? See:

I have another 100+ videos on breast cancer if you want to become an expert and help take care of yourself and/or the women in your life. Here's a few recent ones to get you started:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

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Breast Cancer Cells Feed on Cholesterol

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One in eight American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. There are a number of compounds in plant foods that may protect against breast cancer by a variety of mechanisms. I've talked about the benefits of broccoli, flaxseeds, and soy foods before (See Breast Cancer Survival Vegetable, Flaxseeds & Breast Cancer Prevention, and Breast Cancer Survival and Soy) but a recent German study reported something new. The researchers found that sunflower and pumpkin seeds were associated with reduced breast cancer risk. They initially chalked the association up to the lignans in the seeds (See Breast Cancer Survival and Lignan Intake), but their lignan lead didn't pan out. Maybe it's the phytosterols found concentrated in seeds? (See Optimal Phytosterol Source).

There is evidence that phytosterols may be anticancer nutrients and play a role in reducing breast cancer risk. I thought phytosterols just lowered cholesterol? (See How Phytosterols Lower Cholesterol) What does cancer have to do with cholesterol?

Increasing evidence demonstrates the role that cholesterol may play in the development and progression of breast cancer. Cancer feeds on cholesterol. Transformed cells take up LDL, so-called "bad" cholesterol, and it's capable of stimulating the growth of human breast cancer cells in a petri dish.

The ability to accumulate fat and cholesterol may enable cancer cells to take advantage of people eating high fat and high cholesterol diets and at least partially explain the benefit of a low-fat diet on lowering human breast cancer recurrence. Although the data has been mixed, the largest study to date (highlighted in my video, Cholesterol Feeds Breast Cancer Cells) found a 17% increased breast cancer risk in women who had a total cholesterol over 240 compared to women whose cholesterol was under 160. However, the researchers could not rule out that there may be something else in cholesterol-raising foods that's increasing breast cancer risk.

Tumors suck up so much cholesterol that LDL has been considered a vehicle for delivering antitumor drugs to cancer cells. Since cancer feeds on cholesterol, maybe we could stuff some chemo into it like a Trojan horse poison pill?

The uptake of LDL into tumors may be why people's cholesterol levels drop low after they get cancer--the tumor is eating it up. In fact, patient survival may be lowest when cholesterol uptake is highest. "High LDL receptor content in breast cancer tissue seems to indicate a poor prognosis, [suggesting] that breast tumors rich in LDL receptors may grow rapidly [in the body]." We've known about this for decades. You can tell that wass an old study because, when it was published in the '80s, only 1 in 11 American women got breast cancer.

If cholesterol increases breast cancer risk, what about the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs? See Statin Cholesterol Drugs and Invasive Breast Cancer.

More videos on broccoli and soy's protective effects against breast cancer:

Some I didn't mention include:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

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4 Things To Help Prevent Most Disease

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Though I was trained as a general practitioner, my chosen specialty is lifestyle medicine. Most of the reasons we go see our doctors are for diseases that could have been prevented. But lifestyle medicine is not just about preventing chronic disease--it's also about treating it. And not just treating the disease, but treating the causes of disease.

If people just did four simple things--not smoking, exercising a half hour a day, eating a diet that emphasizes whole plant foods, and not becoming obese--they may prevent most cases of diabetes and heart attacks, half of strokes, and a third of cancers. Even modest changes may be more effective in reducing cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and all-cause mortality than almost any other medical intervention.

The key difference between conventional medicine and lifestyle medicine is instead of just treating risk factors, we treat the underlying causes of disease, as Drs. Hyman, Ornish, and Roizen describe in their landmark editorial Lifestyle medicine: treating the causes of disease. Doctors typically treat "risk factors" for disease by giving a lifetime's worth of medications to lower high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, and high cholesterol. But think about it: high blood pressure is just a symptom of diseased and dysfunctional arteries. We can artificially lower blood pressure with drugs, but that's not treating the underlying cause. To treat the underlying cause, we need things like diet and exercise, the "penicillin" of lifestyle medicine (See Lifestyle Medicine: Treating the Causes of Disease).

As Dr. Dean Ornish is fond of saying, disregarding the underlying causes and treating only risk factors is somewhat like mopping up the floor around an over-flowing sink instead of just turning off the faucet, which is why medications usually have to be taken for a lifetime. As Dr. Denis Burkitt described, "if a floor is flooded as a result of a dripping tap, it is of little use to mop up the floor unless the tap is turned off. The water from the tap represents the cost of disease, and the flooded floor represents the diseases filling our hospital beds. Medical students learn far more about methods of floor mopping than about turning off taps, and doctors who are specialists in mops and brushes can earn infinitely more money than those dedicated to shutting off taps." And the drug companies are more than happy to sell rolls of paper towels so patients can buy a new roll every day for the rest of their lives. Paraphrasing poet, Ogden Nash, modern medicine is making great progress, but is headed in the wrong direction.

When the underlying lifestyle causes are addressed, patients often are able to stop taking medication or avoid surgery. We spend billions cracking patients' chests open, but only rarely does it actually prolong anyone's life. Instead of surgery, why not instead wipe out at least 90% of heart disease through prevention? Heart disease accounts for more premature deaths than any other illness and is almost completely preventable simply by changing diet and lifestyle, and the same dietary changes required can prevent or reverse many other chronic diseases as well.

So why don't more doctors do it?

One reason is doctors don't get paid to do it. No one profits from lifestyle medicine, so it is not part of medical education or practice. Presently, physicians lack training and financial incentives, so they continue to do what they know how to do: prescribe medication and perform surgery.

After Dean Ornish proved you could open up arteries and reverse our number one cause of death, heart disease, with just a plant-based diet and other healthy lifestyle changes (see Resuscitating Medicare and Our Number One Killer Can Be Stopped), he thought that his studies would have a meaningful effect on the practice of mainstream cardiology. After all, he had found a cure for our #1 killer! But, he admits, he was mistaken. "Physician reimbursement," he realized, "is a much more powerful determinant of medical practice than research."

Reimbursement over research. Salary over science. Wealth over health. Not a very flattering portrayal of the healing profession. But if doctors won't do it without getting paid, let's get them paid.

So Dr. Ornish went to Washington. He argued that if we train and pay for doctors to learn how to help patients address the real causes of disease with lifestyle medicine and not just treat disease risk factors we could save trillions of dollars. And that's considering only heart disease, diabetes, prostate and breast cancer. The Take Back Your Health Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate to induce doctors to learn and practice lifestyle medicine, not only because it works better, but because they will be paid to do it. Sadly, the bill died, just like millions of Americans will continue to do with reversible chronic diseases.

By treating the root causes of diseases with plants not pills, we can also avoid the adverse side effects of prescription drugs that kill more than 100,000 Americans every year, effectively making doctors a leading cause of death in the United States. See One in a Thousand: Ending the Heart Disease Epidemic and my live presentation Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations More Than an Apple a Day and From Table to Able.

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Can Eating Soy Prevent Breast Cancer?

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In my video, Increased Lifespan From Beans, I discuss how beans may be the single most important dietary predictor of a long lifespan. But why do people who eat legumes such as beans, chickpeas, split peas, and lentils live longer? It may be because men and women who eat legumes have been shown to be lighter, have a slimmer waist, lower blood pressure, lower blood sugars, lower cholesterol, lower triglycerides, and better kidney function. Interestingly, bean intake is a better protector against mortality in women than in men. This may be because cancer--especially breast cancer--was the leading killer of women in the population studied.

Breast cancer survivors who eat soy foods, for example, have a significantly lower likelihood of cancer recurrence. A 2012 review looked at the three studies done to date on the link between soy and breast cancer survival. It showed that women who ate the most soy had a 29% lower risk of dying from breast cancer and a 36% lower risk of cancer recurrence. A fourth study has since been published that reaffirms these results. With an average intake of soy phytonutrients above 17 mg/day--the amount found in about a cup of soymilk--the mortality of breast cancer may be reduced by as much as 38%.

In my video, BRCA Breast Cancer Genes and Soy, you can see a five-year survival curve for Chinese women with breast cancer. After two years, all of the breast cancer survivors that ate lots of soy were still alive, while only about two-thirds of the women who ate the least amount of soy were alive. After five years, 90% of the tofu lovers were still alive and kicking, whereas half of the tofu haters had kicked the bucket. There is a similar relationship between breast cancer survival and soy protein intake, as opposed to just soy phytonutrient intake.

How does soy so dramatically decrease cancer risk and improve survival? Soy may actually help turn back on women's BRCA genes. BRCA is a so-called "caretaker gene," an oncosuppressor (cancer-suppressing) gene responsible for DNA repair. Mutations in this gene can cause a rare form of hereditary breast cancer, popularized by Angelina Jolie's public decision to undergo a preventive double mastectomy. But only about 5% of breast cancers run in families; 95% of breast cancer victims have fully functional BRCA genes. So if their DNA repair mechanisms are intact, how did breast cancer form, grow, and spread? It does so by suppressing the expression of the gene through a process called methylation. The gene's fine, but cancer found a way to turn it down or even off, potentially facilitating the metastatic spread of the tumor.

And that's where soy may come in.

The reason soy intake is associated with increased survival and decreased cancer recurrence may be because the phytonutrients in soy turn back on the BRCA protection, removing the methyl straightjacket the tumor tried to place on it. To find out if this is indeed the case, a group of researchers put it to the test.

In the video mentioned earlier, BRCA Breast Cancer Genes and Soy, you can see normal cells side-by-side with three different types of human breast cancer cells, specially stained so that the expression of BRCA genes shows up brown. Column 1 (far left) shows what fully functioning DNA repair looks like--what normal breast cells should look like--lots of brown, lots of BRCA expression. Column 2 shows raging breast cancer cells. If you add soy phytonutrients to the cancer (columns 3 and 4), the BRCA genes get turned back on and DNA repair appears to start ramping back up. Although this was at a pretty hefty dose (equivalent to about a cup of soybeans), the results suggest that treatment with soy phytonutrients might reverse DNA hypermethylation and restore the expression of the tumor suppressor genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. Soy appears to also help with other breast cancer genes as well, and women at increased genetic risk of breast cancer may especially benefit from high soy intake.

No matter what genes we inherit, changes in diet can affect DNA expression at a genetic level. No matter what bad genetic cards we've been dealt, we can reshuffle the deck with diet. For examples, see:

I've previously covered the available science in Breast Cancer Survival and Soy. Other effects detailed in:

It may be possible to overdo it, though. See my video How Much Soy Is Too Much?

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

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A Low Methionine Diet May Help Starve Cancer Cells

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When designing an antibiotic, we can't create a drug that destroys DNA because that's something that both humans and bacteria share in common. It would kill bacteria, but it might kill us, too. Instead, many antibiotics work by attacking bacterial cell walls, which is something bacteria have that we don't.

Similarly, antifungals can attack the unique cell walls of fungus. Pesticides can work by attacking the special exoskeleton of insects. But fighting cancer is harder because cancer cells are our own cells. So fighting cancer comes down to trying to find and exploit differences between cancer cells and normal cells.

Forty years ago, a landmark paper was published showing for the first time that many human cancers have what's called "absolute methionine dependency," meaning that if we try to grow cells in a Petri dish without giving them the amino acid methionine, normal cells thrive, but without methionine, cancer cells die. Normal breast cells grow no matter what, with or without methionine, but cancer cells need that added methionine to grow.

What does cancer do with the methionine? Tumors use it to generate gaseous sulfur-containing compounds that, interestingly, can be detected by specially trained diagnostic dogs. There are mole-sniffing dogs that can pick out skin cancer. There are breath-sniffing dogs that can pick out people with lung cancer. Pee-sniffing dogs that can diagnose bladder cancer and--you guessed it--fart-sniffing dogs for colorectal cancer. Doctors can now bring their lab to the lab!

It gives a whole new meaning to the term pet scan :)

Methionine dependency is not just present in cancer cell lines in a Petri dish. Fresh tumors taken from patients show that many cancers appear to have a biochemical defect that makes them dependent on methionine, including some tumors of the colon, breast, ovary, prostate, and skin. Pharmaceutical companies are fighting to be the first to come out with a drug that decreases methionine levels. But since methionine is sourced mainly from food, a better strategy may be to lower methionine levels by lowering methionine intake, eliminating high methionine foods to control cancer growth as well as improve our lifespan (see Methionine Restriction as a Life-Extension Strategy).

Here's the thinking: smoking cessation, consumption of diets rich in plants, and other lifestyle measures can prevent the majority of cancers. Unfortunately, people don't do them, and as a result hundreds of thousands of Americans develop metastatic cancer each year. Chemotherapy cures only a few types of metastatic cancer. Unfortunately, the vast majority of common metastatic cancers, such as breast, prostate, colon, and lung, are lethal. We therefore desperately need novel treatment strategies for metastatic cancer, and dietary methionine restriction may be one such strategy.

So, where is methionine found? In my video, Starving Cancer with Methionine Restriction, you can see a graph of foods with their respective methionine levels. Chicken and fish have the highest levels. Milk, red meat, and eggs have less, but if we really want to stick with lower methionine foods, fruits, nuts, veggies, grains, and beans are the best. In other words, "In humans, methionine restriction may be achieved using a predominately vegan diet."

There are also compounds in animal products that may actually stimulate tumor growth. See, for example, How Tumors Use Meat to Grow: Xeno-Autoantibodies. Animal protein may also boost levels of the cancer-promoting hormone IGF-1 (The Answer to the Pritikin Puzzle). Combined, this could all help explain why plants and plant-based diets have been found effective in potentially reversing some cancer processes. See Cancer Reversal Through Diet?, Strawberries versus Esophageal Cancer, and Black Raspberries versus Oral Cancer.

So why isn't every oncologist prescribing a low-methionine diet? One researcher notes that "Despite many promising preclinical and clinical studies in recent years, dietary methionine restriction and other dietary approaches to cancer treatment have not yet gained wide clinical application. Most clinicians and investigators are probably unfamiliar with nutritional approaches to cancer." That's an understatement! "Many others may consider amino acid restriction as an 'old idea,' since it has been examined for several decades. However, many good ideas remain latent for decades if not centuries before they prove valuable in the clinic....With the proper development, dietary methionine restriction, either alone or in combination with other treatments, may prove to have a major impact on patients with cancer."

Why might the medical profession be so resistant to therapies proven to be effective? The Tomato Effect may be partially to blame.

In my video, Anti-Angiogenesis: Cutting Off Tumor Supply Lines, researchers come to the same plant-based conclusion from a different perspective, starving cancers of their blood supply.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image Credit: PNNL - Pacific Northwest National Laboratory / Flickr

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Breast Cancer and Wine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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After diagnosis, women with breast cancer may cut their risk of dying nearly in half by just instituting simple, modest lifestyle changes—5 or more servings of fruits and veggies a day and walking 30 minutes a day, 6 days a week. But what about preventing breast cancer in the first place?

If we follow the advice of the official dietary guidelines for cancer prevention, does it actually reduce our risk of cancer? If we manage our weight, eat more plant foods, less animal foods, less alcohol and breastfeed, based on the largest prospective study on diet and cancer in history, we may significantly lower our risk of breast cancer, endometrial cancer, colorectal cancer, lung cancer, kidney cancer, stomach cancer, oral cancer, liver cancer, esophageal cancer, and all cancers combined.

Of all the recommendations, the “eat mostly foods of plant origin” appeared the most powerful. For example, a study in the UK found that in just one year in Britain there were 14,902 excess cases of cancer caused by something participants were exposed to 10 years earlier. What was that something that ended up causing thousands of cancers?  

Deficient intake of fruit and vegetables.

If that was instead, some chemical spill causing 14,000 cancers, people would be up in arms to ban it—but instead when that killer carcinogen is not eating their “fruit and veg” (as the Brits would say), it hardly gets anyone’s attention.

What if we throw in smoking, too? Researchers created a healthy lifestyle index, defined by four things: 1) exercise;  2) a dietary shift away from the standard American diet high in meat, dairy, fat, and sugar towards a more prudent dietary pattern—for instance more green and yellow vegetables, beans, and fruits;  3) avoidance of tobacco; and 4) avoidance of alcohol. Young women scoring higher on those four things cut their odds of getting breast cancer in half, older women cut their odds of breast cancer by 80%!

We’ve covered how even light drinking can increase breast cancer risk (see my video Breast Cancer and Alcohol: How Much is Safe?), but for women who refuse to eliminate alcohol, which is less carcinogenic: red wine or white? Some studies, outlined in my four minute video, Breast Cancer Risk: Red Wine vs. White Wine, actually suggest less or even no risk from red wine, and we may have just figured out why. Remember how mushrooms were the vegetable best able to suppress the activity of aromatase, the enzyme used by breast tumors to produce its own estrogen? (from my video Vegetables Versus Breast Cancer). Well, if we run the same human placenta experiments with fruit, strawberries get the silver, but grapes get the gold.

For more on the aromatase story, see:

But what kind of grapes? The wimpy green grapes used to make white wine barely worked compared to those used for making red.  Bottom line: “red wine may serve as a nutritional aromatase inhibitor, which may ameliorate the elevated breast cancer risk associated with alcohol intake.” But why accept any elevated risk? Just eat whole grapes! And if you do, choose ones with seeds if you can, as they may work even better. More on grapes in Fat Burning Via Flavonoids and Best Fruit Juice.

Wasn’t there a study that found that fruits and vegetables weren’t protective against cancer, though? See my video on the EPIC Study.

What if you already have breast cancer? Well, Cancer Prevention and Treatment May Be the Same Thing, but I do have a few studies on breast cancer survival and diet:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

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Flax and Breast Cancer Survival

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial of flaxseeds in breast cancer patients found that flaxseeds appear to have the potential to reduce tumor growth in just a matter of weeks. Scientists believe this is due to a class of phytonutrients known as lignans, which are present in flaxseeds at levels up to 800 times other plant foods.

Lignans can be thought of as the Western equivalent of the isoflavone phytoestrogens found in soy foods popular in traditional Asian diets, as they share many purported anti-cancer mechanisms. Since soy food consumption is associated with both preventing breast cancer and prolonging breast cancer survival, one might expect the same to be found for lignans. In Flaxseeds & Breast Cancer Prevention I covered the population-based, in-vitro, and clinical evidence supporting prevention, but what about for women already diagnosed with the dreaded disease?

Three studies were recently published that followed a total of thousands of women diagnosed with breast cancer. The first study from New York reported substantially reduced risks of overall mortality and especially breast cancer mortality associated with higher lignan intakes in postmenopausal women.

The next population study was out of Italy. At surgery, when the women were getting their primary breast tumors removed, they had some blood drawn; within 5 years those who had lower circulating levels of lignans were significantly more likely to die from their cancer coming back than those with more lignans in their bloodstream. The researchers concluded “Lignans might play an important role in reducing all-cause and cancer-specific mortality of the patients operated on for breast cancer.”

The latest and largest study to date was performed in Germany. Postmenopausal patients with breast cancer who had high blood lignan levels appeared to have better survival, and the higher the better. You can see the survival curve in my 3-min video Flaxseeds and Breast Cancer Survival: Epidemiological Evidence. Those who had the most lignans in their blood lived the longest and tended to live the longest disease free.

The population data looked so promising that researchers decided to put lignans to the test by feeding women flaxseeds, the most concentrated source of lignans, to see what would happen.

One of the ways the chemotherapy drug tamoxifen works is by boosting the levels of angiogenesis inhibitors like endostatin, which is a protein the body makes to try to starve tumors of their blood supply. Using a technique called microdialysis, you can stick a catheter into a woman’s breast and suck out some of the fluid bathing the breast cells. If you give women tamoxifen for 6 weeks, the levels of endostatin within the breast tend to go up, and the same thing happens when you instead add three and a half tablespoons of ground flaxseeds to their daily diet. As you can see in my video Flaxseeds and Breast Cancer Survival: Epidemiological Evidence, the flaxseed doesn’t seem as powerful as the chemo, but the results were so exciting that researchers undertook a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical trial of flaxseeds in breast cancer patients.

Breast cancer patients were randomized into either the treatment or the placebo group; either a flaxseed-containing muffin or a control placebo muffin every day between the time of their first biopsy and surgery. Researchers then had tumor samples before and after about a month of flaxseeds or no flaxseeds. Those lucky enough to be randomized into the flax group saw, on average, their tumor cell proliferation go down, cancer cell death go up, and their c-erbB2 score go down (a marker of cancer aggressiveness and potential for forming metastases and spreading).

The researchers concluded: “Dietary flaxseed has the potential to reduce tumor growth in patients with breast cancer. If the therapeutic index seen in this short-term study can be sustained over a long-term period, flaxseed, which is inexpensive and readily available, may be a potential dietary alternative or adjunct to currently used breast cancer drugs.”

For more on breast cancer survival, see:

What about the role of flaxseeds in preventing breast cancer in the first place? See my video Flaxseeds & Breast Cancer Prevention.

A study similar to this was also carried out in prostate cancer patients: Flaxseed vs. Prostate Cancer.

See Anti-Angiogenesis: Cutting Off Tumor Supply Lines for more on the role diet plays in angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels to enable tumors to grow. I also have touched on briefly in Cancer as an Autoimmune Disease and How Tumors Use Meat to Grow: Xeno-Autoantibodies.

This is the final installment of my latest video series on flax. Feel free to check out the role flaxseeds may play in helping diabetes and sensitive skin.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image credit: TipsTimes / Flickr

 

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