Waking Up | The Role of Diet in Breast Cancer Prevention
One in eight American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. The United States ranks among the highest in the world for the disease. Although we live with the most advanced technologies and medical treatment options available, mothers, daughters, sisters and girlfriends routinely perform breast exams and submit to mammography radiation in hopes of confirming they are healthy, or at least "catching it early."
According to The China Study, written by Dr. Colin Campbell, in dealing with breast cancer risk, there are several issues in the forefront of the discussion. Carrying the BRCA-1 gene, BRCA-2 gene, or both, environmental exposure to dioxins, PCBs and PAHs (shown to interfere with hormone function), and the use of hormone replacement therapy have been linked to higher rates of breast cancer. If these factors are present, prophylactic use of Tamoxifen and even double mastectomy are viable prevention approaches.
However, just because a person has the gene for a disease, such as BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 for breast cancer, doesn’t mean they are destined to get cancer. A Nurses' Health Study showed that only a tiny minority of cancers (less than three percent) can be blamed solely on genes. The vast majority of breast cancer in American women is not due to family history or genetics. Genes need to be “expressed” in order to participate in disease formation.
While it is important for our nation and globe to work together to rid our environment of toxic poisons, one person may not have the ability to avoid exposure to certain carcinogens, leaving a sense of hopelessness for those who want to reduce their risk. Fortunately, some new studies may offer insight that what we eat can dramatically inhibit the progressive phase of tumor growth.
There are four significant factors that increase risk of breast cancer, according to The China Study, which has been touted as the most comprehensive study of nutrition and disease ever conducted: early age of first menstruation, late age of menopause, high levels of female hormones in the blood, and high cholesterol. Significantly, it is important to note that a diet high in animal foods and refined carbohydrates contributes to exactly these four risks: lowering the age of first menstruation, raising the age of menopause, and increasing female hormone and cholesterol levels in the blood.
Confronting cancer through nutrition is a relatively new concept; a simple and inexpensive solution doesn’t provide a lot of financial incentive for the 300 billion dollars a year pharmaceutical industry to pursue. But studies conducted for, and documented in The China Study, reflect dramatic associations between cancer growth and nutrition – specifically correlating protein intake with the disease. The general commercial message in the United States seems to be that the more protein we consume, the better. But in fact, tumor proliferation is found in both rodents and humans when dietary protein consumption levels comprise 10 to 20 percent of their diet, while very little advancement is seen when protein consumption is below 10 percent.
Furthermore, the type of protein we consume also seems to be significant. Plants (fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds and nuts) have fewer and less concentrated protein levels, which allows for slow but steady amino acid synthesis for new proteins. Excessive protein from animal sources such as meat and dairy creates an acidic blood environment and requires our body to leach calcium from the bones to neutralize the pH levels. (Consider that countries with the highest rates of dairy consumption also have the highest rates of osteoporosis.)
Resigning yourself to an inevitable cancer diagnosis ignores the amazing power of awareness and personal responsibility. The truth is, cancers form in our bodies every day, and healthy metabolic functions at the cellular level disable and dispose of them along with other pollutants, bacteria and invaders that pose us harm. So, maximizing our immune system and optimizing our blood chemistry by eating a diet of fiber-filled, low fat, plant-based foods promotes and prolongs our health. In fact, according to The China Study, such food can even reverse the damage and disease already in progress, so it's never too late to make changes.
The global results are in: people who eat the most plant-based foods are the healthiest and tend to avoid chronic disease. As such, the most significant weapon you have against breast cancer and other diseases is what you choose to put in your mouth. If disease is an accumulation of choices made at each meal instead of a random assignment of fate, then ultimately, good health is something we can create one bite at a time.
Photo by Tony Frantz