Preventing Breast Cancer with Flax Seeds

Flaxseeds prevent breast cancerI’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.

ger, 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 States.

Flax Seeds & Breast Cancer Prevention

Flax Seeds For Breast Cancer PreventionA quarter century ago, a theory was put forth as to why those eating plant-based diets have lower cancer rates. Vegetarians appeared to have about twice the level of lignans circulating within their bodies, related to the amount of grains and other plant foods they were eating. Back in 1980 a new compound was described in human urine, a compound X, originally thought to be a new human hormone, but later identified to be from a large group of fiber-associated compounds widely distributed in edible plants known as lignans. Population studies suggest that high intake reduces breast cancer risk, but where’s it found?

Seeds, whole grains, vegetables, fruits and berries. So why isn’t it just like the fiber story where lignan intake is just a surrogate marker for healthy plant food intake. Well in a petri dish lignans do directly suppress the proliferation of breast cancer cells but only after the plant lignans are converted into human lignans by the bacteria in our gut. That’s why we want to use antibiotics judiciously, because a few days on antibiotics dramatically drops your body’s ability to make these anticancer compounds from the plants that we eat, and it can take weeks for our gut bacteria to recover. That’s why women with urinary tract infections may be at higher risk for breast cancer, because every time they took a course of antibiotics they were stymying their good bacteria’s ability to take full advantage of all the plants they were eating, though this remains little more than a hypothesis or educated guess at this point.

This is the National Cancer Institute study that provided the strongest evidence to date that there may indeed be something special about this class of phytonutrients for breast cancer prevention. They took a bunch of young women at high risk for breast cancer, meaning they had a suspicious breast biopsy, showing either atypical hyperplasia or carcinoma in situ, or already had breast cancer in the other breast, and gave them a teaspoon of ground flaxseeds every day for a year before getting a repeat needle biopsy to see if there was any change. Yes, there are lignans in sesame seeds, nuts, whole grains, legumes, certain fruits, and veggies, but they’re most concentrated in flax seeds. They could have instead asked women to eat ten cups of strawberries a day for a year, but they’d probably get better compliance with just a teaspoon of flax.

So what happened by the end of the year? The primary end point was the expression of a proliferation biomarker associated with cancer called ki-67. In 9 of the 45 women it went up, those in red, but in the other 80% of the women it went down. And indeed on average they found less cellular proliferation in their breast tissue, and fewer precancerous changes. For those that don’t like the taste of flaxseeds, sesame seeds may work just as well. Even though flaxseeds have significantly more lignans than sesame, you appear to produce about the same amount of lignans from them, though this was comparing them whole, and when you feed people whole flaxseeds some may not get chewed and they can pass right through you, so ground flaxseed may be best.

Doctor’s Note

Today starts a three-part video series on the role flaxseeds may play in the prevention and treatment of breast cancer. I covered their role in prostate cancer in Flaxseed vs. Prostate Cancer and Was It the Flaxseed, Fat Restriction, or Both?. Then for blood sugar control (Flaxseed vs. Diabetes) and skin health (Flaxseeds For Sensitive Skin).

When I say “why isn’t it just like the fiber story” I’m referring to the previous video Fiber vs. Breast Cancer. The graph comparing the lignan contents of various foods is from this video: Breast Cancer Survival and Lignan Intake. Sorry if I covered the UTI-breast cancer connection a little fast—more background on the role our good bacteria play in Flax and Fecal Flora. As I note in the Flaxseeds For Sensitive Skin video, ground flax stays fresh even at room temperature for at least a month.

What if you or a loved one has already been diagnosed with breast cancer, though? Hopefully you’ll find the next two videos useful: Flaxseeds & Breast Cancer Survival: Epidemiological Evidence and Flaxseeds & Breast Cancer Survival: Clinical Evidence.

For some context, please also check out my associated blog posts: Treating Sensitive Skin From the Inside OutFlax and Breast Cancer Prevention , and Flax and Breast Cancer Survival  

Featured Photo Source: barbaramendeznutrition.com

Michael Greger M.D.About Michael Greger M.D.Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, 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 States.

Blueberry-Flax Smoothie

Blueberry-Flax Smoothie Recipe on Breast Cancer Authority BlogStart your day with a blueberry-flax smoothie as part of a cancer prevention plant base diet of fruits and vegetable. Make your diet rich in organic fruits and vegetables that are full of micronutrients and bioflavonoids which are duly noted to help prevent breast cancer or other cancers. Five or more servings per day is recommended by the American Cancer Institute. Red and blueberries hold a significant amount of the necessary cell builders and anti-cancerangetic properties that are a necessity on our tables. For more information read: Maximum Nutrition:Transitioning Toward a Plant-Based Diet With Michael Greger, M.D.

Blueberry-Flax Smoothie Recipe
Ingredients
  • 2 Tbls. flax seed (brown or golden)
  • ½ frozen banana, the riper the better
  • ½ c. frozen blueberries
  • Other fruits (optional)
  • 1 c. organic nutmilk
Directions
  1. Place flax seeds in blender, spice grinder, coffee grinder or food processor and grind into meal.
  2. Blend ground flax seeds, frozen fruit and nutmilk in blender until smooth.
  3. Serve immediately

This delicious blueberry-flax smoothie can be a part of an anti-cancer lifestyle that includes a variety of exercise, organic foods and clean pure water and air. There are a few easy steps to keep the body safe and healthy. Cultivate awareness of what goes into your body; stop and take notice of habits. Ask yourself “Is this good or bad for me? “Will it make me feel better or worse?” We all want to feel alive and vital.

Dawn Breast CancerAbout Dawn Bradford Lange:  Co-founder of Breast Cancer Yoga. Dawn is making a difference with Breast Cancer Yoga therapeutic products designed to support you emotionally and physically during breast cancer . We want to give you the attention and personal service you need so please email us at info@breastcanceryoga.com if you have questions.

Can Flax Seeds Help Prevent Breast Cancer?

Flax Seeds Help Prevent Breast CancerI’ve previously discussed the role of dietary lignans in the reduction of breast cancer risk and improvement in breast cancer survival, based on studies like this that showed that women with breast cancer who ate the most lignans appeared to live longer, but lignans are found throughout the plant kingdom—seeds, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, berries—so how do we know lignans weren’t just a marker for the intake of unrefined plant foods? For example, those that eat lots of plants, vegetarians, have about 8 times the lignan intake of omnivores, and the one that ate the most plants, the vegan, was off the charts.

Well in a petri dish, lignans were shown to not only have direct anticancer growth activity against human breast cancer cells, but also prevent their migration, so it was finally put to the test. A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial of flaxseeds, the world’s most concentrated source of lignans, in breast cancer patients found that flax appears to have the potential to reduce human breast tumor growth in just a matter of weeks. So I started recommending ground flax seeds to breast cancer patients, but what about preventing breast cancer in the first place?

Similarly, high lignan intake was associated with reduced breast cancer risk, but maybe that’s just saying high plant food intake help in general. So they gave women at high risk for breast cancer a teaspoon of ground flaxseeds a day for a year, and they showed, on average, a drop in precancerous changes. But what about flax seeds and breast cancer itself? 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, they found consumption of flaxseed alone, and of flax bread, was associated with a 20–30% reduction in breast cancer risk.

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. As it appears that most women do not consume flaxseed and that small amounts may be associated with reduced breast cancer risk, we might want to consider interventions to increase the prevalence of flaxseed consumption.

The latest review summarized the association between flax and decreased risk of breast cancer in the first place, 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, that found flax to be one of the few things that appeared to help.

In terms of why flaxseeds may play a role in preventing and treating breast cancer, there’s an inflammatory molecule called interleukin-1, which may help tumors feed, grow, and invade, so our body produces an interkeukin-1 receptor antagonist; it binds to the IL-1 receptor and blocks the action of IL-1. And the activity of this protective inhibitor can be boosted with the drug tamoxifen or by eating flax seeds. In premenopausal women, the pro-inflammatory profile of interleukin-1 could be counteracted by a dietary addition of a few spoonfuls of ground flax. One month of flax was able to increase the anti-inflammatory inhibitor levels by over 50%, better than even the drug.

Yes, having one’s ovaries removed may reduce breast cancer risk as much as 60%, but at the cost of severe side-effects. The drug tamoxifen may reduce the incidence of breast cancer by more than 40% 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 diet modifications need to be developed, and these lignin phytoestrogens in flaxseeds may be one successful route because of very recent epidemiological data.

Now lignans are not a magic bullet to prevent breast cancer—you 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.

Doctor’s Note

The first half of the video is basically just a review of all the flax and breast cancer work I’ve already cover:

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:

Featured Photo Source: WhatWomenNeeds.com

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.
Michael Greger M.D.About Michael Greger M.D.Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, 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 States.

Flaxseed & Breast Cancer Survival: Clinical Evidence

Flaxseed For Breast Cancer SurvivalBy Michael Greger, M.D. NutrionalFacts.org

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. The incidence of breast cancer is increasing in the Western world and there is an urgent need for such studies.

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, where you can stick a catheter into a woman’s breast and kind of 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, which is a good thing, because it helps stop tumors from hooking up a blood supply. And the same thing happens when you instead add a little under a 1/4 cup of ground flaxseeds to their daily diet. The flaxseed doesn’t seem as powerful as the chemo, but further study was definitely warranted…

And here it is: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial of flaxseeds in breast cancer patients. Between the time of first biopsy and surgery, patients were randomized: either the treatment or the placebo group; either a flaxseed-containing muffin or a control placebo muffin.

Why flaxseeds? Again, they’re the richest source of lignans, with levels up to 800 times higher than that of 5 dozen other plant foods tested in the vegetarian diet.

They went all out: the muffins were wrapped up, labeled with numerical code, and the coded muffin packages were then dispensed.

So what happened? Well, muffin compliance was good. (A sentence you don’t often read!) Remember they got a biopsy of the tumor before the study started and then a little over a month later, went in for surgery to get the tumor removed. So they had tumor samples before and after 5 weeks of flax or no flax. 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, which is a marker of cancer aggressiveness and potential for forming metastases and spreading.

They concluded: “Dietary flaxseed has the potential to reduce tumor growth in patients with breast cancer.” And this was just in 5 weeks! “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.”

Michael Greger M.D.About Michael Greger M.D.

Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, 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 States.

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