Should Women at High Risk for Breast Cancer Avoid Soy?


Five studies have been performed on breast cancer survival and soy foods, involving more than 10,000 breast cancer patients. And, those who eat more soy live longer, and have a lower risk of the cancer coming back. But, what about women who carry breast cancer genes? Fewer than 10% of breast cancer cases run in families. But, when they do, it’s most likely mutations to one of the tumor suppressor genes—BRCA1 or BRCA2—that defend the integrity of our genes. They are involved in DNA repair, and so, if either one of them is damaged, or has mutations, chromosomal abnormalities can result, which can set us up for cancer.

This idea that we have tumor suppressor genes goes back to famous research in the 60s that showed that if you fuse together a normal cell with a cancer cell, the cancer cell doesn’t turn the normal cell malignant. Rather, the normal cell suppresses the cancerous one. Tumor suppressor genes are typically split up into two types. There are gatekeeper genes that keep cancer cells in check, and caretaker genes that keep the cell from going cancerous in the first place. And, BRCA genes appear able to do both—that’s why their function is so important.

breast-cancer-and-soy-concernsUntil recently, dietary recommendations for those with mutations focused on reducing DNA damage caused by free radicals, by eating lots of antioxidant-packed fruits and vegetables. If your DNA-repair capacity is low, you want to be extra careful about damaging your DNA in the first place. But, what if we could also boost BRCA function?

In my last video on the topic, I showed how, in vitro, soy phytoestrogens could turn back on BRCA protection suppressed by breast cancer, upregulating BRCA expression as much as 1,000% within 48 hours. But, does that translate out of the petri dish and into the person? Apparently so.

Soy intake was only associated with 27% breast cancer risk reduction in people with normal BRCA genes, but a 73% risk reduction in carriers of BRCA gene mutations. So, a healthy diet may be particularly important in those at high genetic risk. Meat consumption, for example, was linked to twice as much risk in those with BRCA mutations—97% increased risk, instead of just 41% increased risk of breast cancer in those with normal BRCA genes.

Doctor’s Note

What about for women without breast cancer genes, or for women who have already been diagnosed? That was the subject of my last video, Is Soy Healthy for Breast Cancer Survivors?. The older video I referred to is BRCA Breast Cancer Genes & Soy.

What is in meat that may increase risk? See, for example:

Featured Image From Authority Nutrition and Livestrong.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous “meat defamation” trial. Currently Dr. Greger proudly serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United

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