Best Ways To Eat Flax Seeds For A Breast Cancer Diet

flax-seed-recipes-for-breast-cancer-dietFlax seed is one of the original health foods, treasured for its healing properties throughout the Roman Empire, and was one of the original medicines used by Hippocrates.  Mahatma Gandhi himself was right when he said, “Wherever flax seeds become a regular food item among the people, there will be better health.” Dr. Andrew Weil, one of the more reputable alternative medicine physicians, says that if we can make only a single dietary change, it should be to add flax seeds to our diet. Okay, but where do we find them, and how should we eat them?

Flax seeds are almost always in the bulk section of any natural food store. For about a dollar a pound, you’ve got like a two-month supply. There are brown ones and golden ones. They’re the same nutritionally, so pick your favorite color, I guess. They come with nature’s own finest packaging: a hard natural hull that keeps them fresh for up to a year, in an airtight container. Unfortunately, nature’s packaging is actually a little too good; if we eat flax seeds whole, they are likely to pass right through us, come out the other end, and not do us much good. So chew them really well, or grind them up in a coffee or spice grinder, a mini food processor, or a good blender. After they’re ground, store them in the refrigerator, and they’ll last a few months.

An easy way to get our daily intake is with a morning smoothie. Just put two tablespoons of flax seeds in a blender, grind them to powder, throw in some frozen berries, maybe half a frozen banana, some soy milk or almond milk (any of the so-called “motherless milks”). Flax seeds have this binding quality that makes for these thick, rich kind of milkshake-y type smoothies. In fact, you can use ground flax seed to replace eggs in baking. Just blend one tablespoon of ground flax with three tablespoons water, until it gets all kind of gooey, for each egg in the recipe.

Ground flax is better than the flax seed oil. The seeds are little nutrition powerhouses, and we lose much of the nutrition when we just press out the oil. Not only are flax seeds the richest source of lignans, they are a great source of iron, zinc, copper, calcium, protein, potassium, magnesium, folate, soluble fiber—which can lower our cholesterol and triglycerides—even boron, a trace mineral important for optimum bone health. We don’t get any of those, though, with just the flax seed oil. Another example of the importance of eating whole plant foods.

Flax seeds are incredibly powerful at dampening the effects of estrogen. Eating just a single tablespoon of ground flax seeds a day extends the length of a woman’s menstrual cycle—not the menses itself, but the whole month-long cycle—by an average of about one day. So you have fewer periods throughout your life, which means less estrogen exposure, and lower breast cancer risk.

There’s an interesting story behind this; we’ve known for a long time that young women who have frequent bladder infections were at an increased risk for breast cancer. Frequent bladder infections tied to breast cancer? It seems strange, and used to be a big mystery, but now we think that repeated antibiotic treatments for the bladder infections were probably wiping out all the good bacteria from the colon, which take the lignans in our diet, and turn them into these powerful anticancer compounds. So eating flax, the world’s best source of lignans, may indeed help prevent breast cancer.

It’s good for men, too. Flax seeds were recently compared to a leading pharmacological treatment for enlarged prostates. The standard drug costs about $300 a year versus only about $10 for daily flax. This new study found they both work just as well as each other. But what about the side effects? Well, the drug can cause headaches, dizziness, diarrhea, and all sorts of abnormalities. Flax has some side effects too, though: it improves our cholesterol and blood sugar, controls our blood pressure, and helps control hot flashes—though that’s not usually a big problem in sufferers of enlarged prostates.

More about flax seeds in the prevention and mediation of breast cancer:

And for a few of the latest videos on flax seeds and prostate health:

For more context, check out my associated blog posts: Breast Cancer and DietIs Caffeinated Tea Really Dehydrating?Stool Size and Breast Cancer RiskVitamin B12: how much, how often? Treating an Enlarged Prostate With Diet; and Flax Seeds for Prostate Cancer.

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

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.

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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