Posted on April 01 2018
Dr. Michael Greger’s chapter on breast cancer in his book, How Not To Die, brings new and interesting facts to light that can raise hope for remission and a long life for the quarter of a million women who are diagnosed with breast cancer every year (40,000 of whom die). I am pleased to share these facts with you in this blog.
Up until reading this chapter I was under the vague impression that you either “had” or “didn’t have” cancer. And while that might be true at some level, in reality people can “have” cancer but not know it, and indeed, cancer cells may be present in the body but the body is able to successfully constrain their growth so that the cancer does not become a significant enough threat to be detected. It is this premise that impresses me as hopeful. Let’s see why.
Cancer cells, such as breast cancer cells, can mutate and multiply at remarkably different rates. Cancer cells, which by definition grow in an accelerated fashion, can rapidly double in number in as few as 25 days or as slowly as every 1000 days. At the faster rate a tumor will begin to cause trouble and become detectable in just about two years. At the slower rate, the tumor would not begin to cause trouble for about 100 years. Obviously, the more slowly the cancer grows, the less danger it presents.
Autopsy studies of women who have died from causes other than cancer show that about 20% of women between the ages of 20 and 54 have gone through the “initiation” stage of cancer and have hidden breast cancers growing inside them. The key to longer living is to not promote the rapid growth of those cancer cells. Since it is reasonable to assume that about one in five women may already have cancer cells growing inside them, but not enough of them to be detectable using mammograms or other diagnostic tools, wouldn’t it be prudent for every woman to take preventative measures to restrain the promotion and growth phase of cancer development?
What can you do to inhibit the growth of cancer cells that may already be present in your body? The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends that you adopt a diet that emphasizes whole plant foods like vegetables, whole grains, fruits and beans, as well as limit alcohol consumption and maintain a healthy body weight. Reducing animal protein consumption decreases a cancer-promoting growth hormone called IGF-1 and helps slow down the growth rate of cancer cells. A study of 30,000 postmenopausal women over seven years with no history of breast cancer showed that doing these three things reduced the risk of breast cancer by 62%.
Are there particularly helpful foods that reduce the risk of breast cancer? Yes. Plant foods high in fiber can help. According to a number of studies, women can reduce their risk of breast cancer by 14% for every 20 grams of fiber they consume daily. Apples (actually the antioxidants in the skin of the apple) can also provide protection. A study showed that women who ate an apple a day had 24% lower odds of getting breast cancer than those who consumed less than an apple a day. And, of course, cruciferous vegetables like brussels sprouts and broccoli have been shown to detoxify carcinogens, and sulforaphane, a dietary component of cruciferous vegetables, has been shown to suppress the ability of breast cancer stem cells to form tumors.
And, there is more good news. Flaxseeds have been tested and found to be a potential dietary alternative to currently used breast cancer drugs. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study of women who were scheduled to undergo surgery for breast cancer, one randomly selected group of women were given a muffin with flaxseed in it every day, while a second randomly selected group of women were given an identical muffin with no flaxseed in it. After their surgeries (typically about five weeks later) the pathology of their tumors removed during surgery were compared to their biopsies taken at the beginning of the study. The women who ate the flaxseed muffins experienced a decrease in their tumor cell proliferation, an increase in their cancer-cell death rates, and lower c-erB2 scores (c-erB2 is a marker for cancer aggressiveness, the lower the score the less likely the cancer is to spread and metastasize). And, soy appears to lower breast cancer risk as well as increase survival rates for women with breast cancer. A single cup of soy milk may reduce the risk of breast cancer returning in survivors by 25%. In one study, 90% of the breast cancer patients who ate the most soy after diagnosis were still alive five years later, while half of those who ate little or no soy were dead.
Reducing animal protein consumption of meat and fish cooked at high temperatures is particularly helpful in reducing cancer risk, including breast cancer. When muscle tissue is subjected to high temperatures, cancer-causing substances called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are formed. The longer these foods are cooked, and the higher the temperature at which they are cooked, the more HCAs are formed. The Iowa Women’s Health Study found that women who preferred their meat “very well done” had nearly five times the odds of getting breast cancer as compared to women who preferred their meat served rare or medium. HCAs are particularly bad actors because they can initiate, promote and accelerate cancer cell growth. HCAs are also present in cigarette smoke, so not smoking is another way to lower the risk of breast and other cancers.
It is interesting to note that while hundreds of studies show that even modest alcohol consumption (as little as one drink per day) is associated with a slight increase in breast cancer risk, the relationship does not appear to hold with respect to red wine, possibly due to the presence of an estrogen synthase suppressor in the skins of grapes used to make red wine. Estrogen synthase is an enzyme which provides fuel to help cancer cells grow. It appears that strawberries, pomegranates, and white mushrooms may also suppress this enzyme, so if you don’t like red wine you can still enjoy this benefit. In one study of 1000 breast cancer patients compared to 1000 healthy subjects who were similar in terms of their age, weight, smoking and exercise habits, the women who ate (on average) at least one-half of a mushroom per day had a 64% lower risk of breast cancer compared with women who didn’t eat mushrooms at all. And, those who drank green tea and ate mushrooms had a 90% lower risk of breast cancer!
Maintaining a healthy body weight partially through vigorous exercise is also helpful in reducing the risk of breast cancer. While light exercise can help prevent some cancers, that does not appear to be the case with breast cancer. According to the largest study ever published on breast cancer and exercise, only women who worked up a sweat at least five or more times per week appeared to enjoy significant protection.
Whether you are ready to adopt a vigorous exercise regime or not, you can certainly adopt some of the other scientifically-validated recommendations such as increasing your intake of plant-based nutrients and reducing your consumption of animal proteins. And Juice Plus can help. The three different Juice Plus capsules contain whole-food nutrition from 30 different fruits and vegetables, and the Juice Plus Tower Garden allows you to pick your own organically-grown herbs and vegetables from a compact, soilless and efficient aeroponic gardening system. For more information, come into Objects of Desire Artful Living and let’s chat.