I’m currently reading “How not to die” (UK/US)* by Dr Michael Greger. I’ve talked about the book before in this blog post back in February, and it’s one of those books that you read with a pen and notebook. I’m learning a lot, and I recommend you get yourself a copy no matter if you’re an omnivore, vegetarian or vegan. The book is full of science-backed claims about the relationship between food and disease. Surprise, surprise, plants are winning.
I’ve already devoured the information on heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, brain disease and different types of cancer. But when I reached the chapter about breast cancer, something clicked. For two reasons: most of the Green Zen Fit audience is women, and it tackles the “isn’t soy dangerous?” question. Both very good reasons for me to take notes and share them with you.
Breast cancer facts
Every year, about 230.000 American women are diagnosed with breast cancer. Approximately 40.000 die from it.
It doesn’t happen overnight
What doctors call “early detection” is not really early, because the tumour can start developing 10-20 years before becoming something that a mammogram can see. It can even develop in the womb, and be caused by the pregnant mother’s diet.
It can be treated, halted and prevented
To quote Dr Greger: “you can die with your tumour, rather than from it”. Because it takes a long time for the cancer to be big enough to be picked up, you have plenty of opportunities to change your lifestyle and stop the cancerous cells growth. Your next dinner can be the turning point for a little cell that’s already formed and ready to split into multiple ones over time.
Risk factors for breast cancer
The World Health Organization states that when it comes to breast cancer, no amount of alcohol is safe. However, here’s one interesting fact: the carcinogen is not the alcohol itself, but the toxic breakdown product that forms in your mouth. You don’t even have to swallow it. Which means, that if you use a mouthwash containing alcohol, you’re at the same risk as someone that drinks – ok, just from a breast cancer point of view, because they might die from other cancers.
Low levels of melatonin
Melatonin is the hormone that’s secreted after night falls, to make us go to sleep. People who travel a lot and have to fight jet lag probably have melatonin pills in their suitcase. But because we have artificial lights and keep them on much later than mother Earth would want us to, melatonin levels are much lower. And what other job has this hormone, except for regulating our sleep? It suppresses cancer growth. Studies show that we can do a few things about it: turn the lights off, eat lots of vegetables and reduce meat consumption.
HCA (Heterocyclic amines)
Sorry for the science talk, but they don’t have a more human-readable name. But here’s what they are: cancer producing chemicals formed when muscle meat, including beef, pork, fish, and poultry, is cooked using high-temperature methods. These methods include roasting, pan frying, grilling and baking. So boiling is your safest option. Women who eat more grilled, barbecued, or smoked meats over their lifetimes have as much as 47% higher odds of breast cancer. However, diet is not the only source of these carcinogens. A smoking vegetarian has similar levels as a non-smoking meat eater.
Breast cancer cells FEED on cholesterol; they just love the stuff. I had a little moment of panic when reading this because at the moment my LDL cholesterol even if in a normal range, it’s pushing close to the accepted limit. So it’s something that I’m currently working on. If you haven’t had a test in a while, I recommend having a look at my Thriva review.
Ok, so it seems that the answer is no drinking, no smoking, more veggies, less meat, and a healthy cholesterol level. But let’s see some particular advice from Dr Greger.
Preventing and treating breast cancer
Inadequate fibre consumption may also be a risk of breast cancer. So make sure you eat plenty of plant foods – the only place fibre is found naturally.
Do not peel your apples. I repeat. Do not peel your apples. Researchers found something in the peels of apples that appears to reactivate a tumour suppressor gene called maspin. Maspin is one of the tools your body uses to keep breast cancer at bay. Breast cancer cells find a way to turn it off, but apple peels seem to turn it back on.
It seems that cruciferous veggies, broccoli in particular, have the ability to boost our liver’s detoxifying activity. So if you’re still considering that meaty barbecue, give yourself more chances by adding a big bowl of vegetables to reduce the amount of toxins your body will have to fight after the meal.
If there’s a food that can really be considered superfood, that’s the flaxseed. It contains high levels of phytoestrogens, that can dampen the effects of the body’s own estrogen. A tablespoon a day will help prevent breast cancer and reduce breast menstrual pains in case you have them. For those who already have breast cancer, flaxseeds appear to make it less aggressive, so it’s a good addition to whatever medical treatment is already given.
Soy is another food that contains phytoestrogens, but a different type than the flaxseeds. The “estrogen” part in “phytoestrogens” is what scares people into thinking that soy CAUSES cancer.
I’ll avoid all the technical terms and just give you the conclusion: soy seems to lower breast cancer risk, but can also reduce menopausal hot-flash symptoms. For cancer patients, researchers have found that women diagnosed with breast cancer who ate the most soy lived significantly longer and had a significantly lower risk of breast cancer recurrence.
The secret of Asian women
Asian women are 5 times less likely to develop breast cancer than American women. Why is that? One reason might be soy consumption. But they also use 2 more helpful foods: green tea and mushrooms. In research, eating mushrooms and sipping at least half a tea bag’s worth of green tea each day was associated with nearly 90% lower breast cancer odds.
Although any type of exercise is a good thing to do, for breast cancer only moderate or vigorous exercise seems to be effective. A slow walk in the park doesn’t do anything for this type of cancer prevention but increase the pace, and you’ll start reaping the benefits. Have a look at my PIIT28 review if you want to try Pilates Intense Interval Training.
I tried not to bore you with the medical terms, but if you do want to know more, Dr Greger gives loads of explanations in the book. And not only about breast cancer, but many other lifestyle diseases. I hope you found this one useful and please let me know if you want more similar posts.
And before I go, tell me, what food will you introduce or exclude from your diet after reading this?
*Links to Amazon are affiliate links. That means that if you buy the book, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. It’s just a thank you from Amazon for spreading the word.