Plant-Based Diet for Breast Cancer Prevention
Breast cancer is a scary disease, but studies point to some silver linings. For one, when breast cancer is caught early, when it’s considered stage I, the 5-year survival rate is 100%. For stage II, survival is still an impressive 93% (1). Even with these favorable odds, the best bet is to limit your risk of getting the disease in the first place.
We can never know with certainty why any one person gets cancer and another one doesn’t. We do know healthy diet and lifestyle choices can reduce the risk of breast cancer, and a plant-based diet is a great place to start (2).
Plants & Breast Cancer Risk
Earlier this year, researchers analyzed dietary patterns and breast cancer risk in 52,730 women, finding that a plant-based diet may reduce breast cancer risk by as much as 27%. While a “meat and potatoes” dietary pattern was associated with up to 31% increased breast cancer risk (3). The conclusion: “Adherence to a plant-based diet that may be associated with reduced risk of breast cancer, particularly in postmenopausal women.”
One study even found that after breast cancer diagnosis, a healthy diet helps. Women who had the highest quality diet—one with plenty of plants and fewer empty calories—had less cancer-related fatigue (4). Results are mixed on whether a plant-based diet reduces risk of breast cancer recurrence, however, it is clear that following this type of diet is associated with lower risk of dying of non-breast cancer-related causes among women with a history of breast cancer (5,6). That means less risk of death due to heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and stroke.
Five for the Fight:
1. Crunch on Cruciferous – Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, arugula, cabbage, collards, watercress, kohlrabi, turnips, and rutabagas (plus a few more!). These foods have special importance for women. Cruciferous vegetables are believed to improve estrogen metabolism in a way that decreases breast cancer risk. They also help the body “detox” by assisting in the metabolism and excretion of carcinogenic (cancer-causing) substances (7,8).
2. Keep the Color – Focus on as many different colors of plant foods as possible. Enjoy red beans, yellow peaches, purple berries, orange carrots, green kale, white cauliflower, and brown rice. The more color, the better.
3. Avoid Food Ruts – We tend to eat the same few foods over and over. Even if they are healthy foods, we miss out on additional health benefits by not including more variety. Red, yellow, blue, purple, green, orange, white, and brown all deserve a place on your plate.
4. Go Non-GMO – Whenever possible, select foods that are certified Non-GMO or organic. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization, just published a research paper noting that glyphosate (Roundup, which is the most widely produced herbicide) is a probable carcinogen (9). Unlike many soy based foods or alternative meat brands, Tofurky always uses organic, domestically grown soy, non-GMO ingredients, and whole tofu blends (rather than protein isolates).
5. Move More – Regular, moderate exercise is a proven way to reduce breast cancer risk. You don’t need to run a marathon. Regular, brisk walking, just 20 to 30 minutes
per day, can reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.
Fact or Fiction: Does All Soy Feed Cancer?
Fiction! Most people (including health care providers) use the term “phytoestrogens” to describe soy nutrients, which makes it very easy to get hung up on the word “estrogen.” But phytoestrogens are not the same thing as female estrogens produced by the body, and soy foods do not contain estrogen. It’s unfortunate that people think of soy in relation to its so-called “estrogenic” effects. This gives the impression that the only health effects of soy foods are related to soy’s impact on estrogen or estrogen receptors in the body, but this simply isn’t true.
Health experts who study soy note that it has many beneficial effects in the body, including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities and the ability to alter cell behavior down to the molecular level. Soy foods seem to enhance a cell’s ability to withstand damage. Soy nutrients also can encourage damaged cells to die, in a process called apoptosis, before they go on to become cancerous.
For women with a history of cancer, there is no reason to avoid organic or certified Non-GMO soy. In fact, the latest research suggests that breast cancer survivors who eat more soy appear to have the lowest risk of recurrence (10-12).
So keep calm, and veg on!
1. American Cancer Society. Breast cancer survival rates, by stage. Accessed September 17, 2015: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/detailedguide/breast-cancer-survival-by-stage.
2. American Institute for Cancer Research. Research Spotlight: Plant-Based Diet Can Lower Risk of Breast Cancer. Accessed September 17, 2015: http://www.aicr.org/health-at-work/011-nov-2013/haw-plant-based-diet-lower-breast-cancer-risk.html.
3. Catsburg C, Kim RS, Kirsh VA, Soskolne CL, Kreiger N, Rohan TE. Dietary patterns and breast cancer risk: a study in 2 cohorts. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;101(4):817-23.
4. George SM, Alfano CM, Neuhouser ML, Smith AW, Baumgartner RN, Baumgartner KB, Bernstein L, Ballard-Barbash R. Better postdiagnosis diet quality is associated with less cancer-related fatigue in breast cancer survivors. J Cancer Surviv. 2014;8(4):680-7.
5. Izano MA, Fung TT, Chiuve SS, Hu FB, Holmes MD. Are diet quality scores after breast cancer diagnosis associated with improved breast cancer survival? Nutr Cancer. 2013;65(6):820-6.
6. Kim EH, Willett WC, Fung T, Rosner B, Holmes MD. Diet quality indices and postmenopausal breast cancer survival. Nutr Cancer. 2011;63(3):381-8.
7. Morris ME, Dave RA. Pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of phenethyl isothiocyanate: implications in breast cancer prevention. AAPS J. 2014;16(4):705-13.
8. Morrison J, Mutell D, Pollock TA, Redmond E, Bralley JA, Lord RS. Effects of dried cruciferous powder on raising 2/16 hydroxyestrogen ratios in premenopausal women. Altern Ther Health Med. 2009;15(2):52-3.
9. Guyton, Kathryn Z et al. Carcinogenicity of tetrachlorvinphos, parathion, malathion, diazinon, and glyphosate. The Lancet Oncology. 2015;16(5):490-491.
10. Oncology Nutrition, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Soy and Breast Cancer, 2013.
11. Caan BJ, et al. Soy food consumption and breast cancer prognosis. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2011;20(5):854-8.
12. Nechuta SJ, et al. Soy food intake after diagnosis of breast cancer and survival: an in-depth analysis of combined evidence from cohort studies of US and Chinese women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;96(1):123-32.