How Not to Die from Cancer

vegan-diet-for-breast-cancer-preventionAfter Dr. Dean Ornish conquered our #1 killer, he moved on to killer #2. What happens if you put cancer on a plant-based diet? Ornish and colleagues found that the progression of prostate cancer could be reversed with a plant-based diet and other healthy lifestyle behaviors—and, no wonder.

If you drip the blood of those eating the Standard American Diet onto cancer cells growing in a petri dish, cancer growth is cut down about nine percent. Put people on a plant-based diet for a year, though, and their blood can do this. The blood circulating within the bodies of those eating plant-based had nearly eight times the stopping power, when it came to cancer cell growth.

Now, this was for prostate cancer—the leading cancer killer specific to men. In women, it’s breast cancer—the #1 cancer killer of young women. So, researchers wanted to repeat the study with women, using breast cancer cells instead. But, they didn’t want to wait a whole year to get the results. Women are dying now. So, they figured, let’s see what a plant-based diet could do after just two weeks against three different types of human breast cancer.

Cancer growth started out powering away at 100%, and then dropped, after eating a plant-based diet for 14 days.

Here’s the before picture. A layer of breast cancer cells is laid down in a petri dish, and then blood from women eating the Standard American Diet is dripped on them. And, as you can see, even the blood of women eating pretty poor diets has some ability to break down cancer.

But, after just two weeks eating healthy, blood was drawn from those same women. So, they acted as their own controls. Same women; two weeks later; their blood dripped on a new carpet of breast cancer cells. And, this is all that’s left. Just a few individual cancer cells remained. Their bodies cleaned up! Before and after, just two weeks eating healthy. Their bloodstream became that much more hostile to cancer.

Slowing down the growth of cancer cells is nice. But, getting rid of them is even better. This is what’s called apoptosis, programmed cell death. After eating healthy, their own bodies were able to somehow reprogram the cancer cells, forcing them into early retirement.

This is what’s called TUNEL imaging, measuring DNA fragmentation: cell death. So, dying cancer cells show up as little white spots. So, again, this is the before, what the blood of your average woman can do to breast cancer cells. She can knock off a few. You can see one dying cancer cell there, in the upper left.

But then, after 14 days of healthy plant-based living, her blood can do this. It’s like you’re an entirely different person inside!

The same blood now coursing through these women’s bodies gained the power to significantly slow down and stop breast cancer cell growth—after just two weeks eating a plant-based diet.

What kind of blood do we want in our body? What kind of immune system? Do we want blood that just kind of rolls over when new cancer cells pop up? Or, do we want blood circulating to every nook and cranny in our body, with the power to slow down and stop cancer?

Now, this dramatic strengthening of cancer defenses was after 14 days of a plant-based diet, and exercise. They had these women out walking 30 to 60 minutes a day. Well, if you do two things, how do you know what role the diet played? So, researchers decided to put it to the test.

This is measuring cancer cell clearance. This is what we saw before; the effect of blood taken from those who ate a plant-based diet (in this case, for an average of 14 years), along with mild exercise—just like out walking every day. Plant-based diet, and walking—that’s the kind of cancer cell clearance you get.

Compare that to the cancer-stopping power of your average sedentary American, which is basically nonexistent.

This middle group, though, instead of 14 years on a plant-based diet—14 years of a Standard American Diet. But, 14 years of daily, strenuous, hour-long exercise, like calisthenics.

The researchers wanted to know, if you exercise hard enough, if you exercise long enough, can you rival some strolling plant-eaters over there?

And the answer is, exercise helped—no question. But, literally 5,000 hours in the gym was no match for a plant-based diet.

Same TUNEL imaging as before; even if you’re a couch potato eating fried potatoes, your body’s not totally defenseless. Your bloodstream can kill off a few cancer cells. But, exercise for 5,000 hours, and you can kill cancer cells left and right. But, nothing appears to kick more cancer tush than a plant-based diet.

We think it’s because of animal proteins—meat, egg white, and dairy proteins increase the level of IGF-1 in our bodies. Insulin-like growth factor 1, a cancer-promoting growth hormone involved in the acquisition and progression of malignant tumors.

Here’s the experiment that really nailed IGF-1 as the villain. The same as last time; go on a plant-based diet. Cancer cell growth drops; cancer cell death shoots up. But then, here’s the kicker. What if you add back to the cancer just the amount of IGF-1 banished from your body because you started eating healthier? It effectively erases the “diet and exercise” effect. It’s like you never started eating healthy at all.

So, the reason one of the largest prospective studies on diet and cancer found the incidence of all cancers combined was lower among those eating more plant-based may be because they’re eating less animal protein, less meat, egg white, and dairy protein—so, end up with less IGF-1, which means less cancer growth.

How much less cancer? Middle-aged men and women with high protein intakes had a 75% increase in overall mortality, and a four-fold increase in the risk of dying specifically from cancer. But, not all proteins—specifically animal protein; which makes sense, given the higher IGF-1 levels.

The academic institution sent out a press release with a memorable opening line: “That chicken wing you’re eating could be as deadly as a cigarette,” explaining that eating a diet rich in animal proteins during middle age makes you four times more likely to die from cancer—a mortality risk factor comparable to smoking cigarettes.

What was the response to the revelation that diets high in meat, eggs, and dairy could be as harmful to health as smoking? Well, one nutrition scientist replied that it was potentially dangerous to compare the effects of smoking with the effects of meat and dairy. Why? Because a smoker might think, why bother quitting smoking if my ham and cheese sandwich is just as bad for me? So, better not tell anyone about the whole animal protein thing.

That reminds me of a famous Philip Morris cigarette ad that tried to downplay the risks by saying, hey, you think secondhand smoke is bad (increasing the risk of lung cancer 19%). Well, hey, drinking one or two glasses of milk every day may be three times as bad (62% higher risk of lung cancer). Or, doubling your risk frequently cooking with oil. Or, tripling your risk of heart disease by eating non-vegetarian. Or, multiplying your risk six-fold by eating lots of meat and dairy. So, they conclude, let’s keep some perspective here! “…[T]he risk of lung cancer from second-hand smoke” may be “well below” that of other “everyday…activities.” So, breathe deep.

That’s like saying, don’t worry about getting stabbed, because getting shot is so much worse.

Uh, how about neither? Two risks don’t make a right.

Of course, you know, Philip Morris stopped throwing dairy under the bus once they purchased Kraft foods. Just sayin’…

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

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.

Which Dietary Factors Affect Breast Cancer Most?

Dietary Factors That Effect Breast CancerBy: Dr. Michael Greger, Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States.

American Institute for Cancer Research recommendation compliance associated not only with cancer prevention and survival but less heart and respiratory disease mortality and a longer lifespan.

My favorite cancer-specific charity is the American Institute for Cancer Research, shown here lauding the China Study and the documentary Forks Over Knives, with which they share the same bottom-line message. The healthiest diets are those that revolve around whole plant foods. This increased awareness of the importance of plant-based eating is something all of them at AICR welcome.

They then translate that advice into their Ten Recommendations for Cancer Prevention. Do we actually have evidence, though, that those that follow such advice are actually protected against cancer? We do now.

Breast cancer risk was reduced by 60% in women who met at least five recommendations compared with those who met none. The most important dietary advice was be as lean as possible within the normal range of body weight, eat mostly foods of plant origin, and limit alcoholic drinks.

What about other cancers? Greater adherence to the AICR dietary guidelines was associated with significantly less breast, endometrial, colorectal, lung, kidney, stomach, oral, liver, and esophageal cancer. In other words, adherence to dietary recommendations for cancer prevention may lower the risk of developing most types of cancer. The drop in bladder cancer did not reach statistical significance, but a larger follow-up study following 469,000 people for 11 years, the largest to date, found that just a 3% increase in the consumption of animal protein calories was associated with a 15% higher risk of bladder cancer whereas just a 2% increase in plant protein was associated with a 23% lower risk.

AICR recommendation #10 is that cancer survivors should follow the recommendations for cancer prevention. The same diet that can help prevent cancer in the first place and be used to help save your life after diagnosis.

Adherence to the guidelines for cancer prevention was found to be associated with lower mortality among older female cancer survivors, or breast cancer and other cancers in general.

A cancer diagnosis is considered a teachable moment to get people eating and living healthier. They revel at the growth in the number of cancer survivors in this country, now 10 million strong and growing. It’s great that those with cancer are living longer, but even better to prevent it in the first place so we can all live longer.

Not only does adherence to the guidelines lower cancer risk, but extends our lifespan, because they’re also significantly associated with a lower hazard of dying from heart disease and respiratory disease, suggesting that following the recommendations could significantly increase longevity.

Just like eating to prevent cancer helps to prevent heart disease, eating to protect your heart helps prevent cancer. I know it sounds self-evident, but adherence to a healthy lifestyle is associated with a lower risk of mortality. And the more healthy behaviors we have, the longer we get to live. That can mean not smoking, or walking every day, or eating green leafy vegetables almost daily.

To help differentiate the effects of diet from other lifestyle behaviors like smoking and drinking on cancer incidence, Adventists was recently compared to Baptists. Both discourage alcohol and tobacco, but the Adventists go further, encouraging a reduction of meat. In general, the Adventists had lower cancer hazard rates than the Baptists, and within Adventist populations, the vegetarians did even better, and those eating the most plants did the best.

 

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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