Breast Health and Diet

by John G. Connor, M.Ac., L.Ac. edited by Barbara Connor, M.Ac., L.Ac.

Useful Foods
Foods to Avoid
Nutritional and Herbal Support
Lifestyle Recommendations

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide and accounts for about 30% of all newly diagnosed cancers in women in the United States.  Barbara and I are always on the lookout for foods, vitamins, supplements and herbs than show promise in preventing breast cancer and we feel that the old adage “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” holds true in this case.  Since nutritional supplementation is no substitute for dietary and lifestyle risk reductions we have also included a short section at the end of this article on lifestyle recommendations. We hope you find the information in this article helpful in maintaining excellent breast health.  For more information on diet and cancer prevention we invite you to read our article entitled Cancer Prevention and Diet on our website. Please refer to our Integrative Oncology Consultations Program article to find out more about how we work with cancer.

• Cruciferous vegetables, Brussels sprouts, cabbage (especially Savoy), broccoli, turnips, bok choy, kale and cauliflower contain indoles which inhibit the development of potentially cancerous cells in the breast. They convert estrogen in the body from cancer-promoting forms to forms that actually protect against breast cancer. They are best eaten raw except for persons with cancer who should not eat them raw as they contain high amounts of goitrogens — thyroid suppressing agents — that are removed during the cooking process.

• Vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and legumes. These foods contain phytonutrients (plant nutrients such as polyphenols), compounds that protect against cellular damage and inhibit cancer growth. In one Harvard study women who ate the most vegetables had a 48 percent lower incidence of breast cancer than those who ate the least; those who ate the most fruit had a 32 percent lower incidence than those who ate less fruit.

• Organic fruits and vegetables. Organic produce is free of pesticides such as DDT and other environmental toxins that have been linked to a higher risk of breast cancer. According to Devra Lee Davis, Ph.D. of the World Research Institute in Wash. D.C. organic fruits and vegetables contain higher levels of vitamins and minerals than nonorganic produce.

• Fiber from fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. Fiber interrupts the body’s metabolism of estrogen and decreases the blood levels of estrogen. A study done by The National Cancer Institute of Canada showed a strong association between the risk of breast cancer and saturated fat intake in postmenopausal women. Vitamin C was protective, as was fruit and vegetable intake in general, in part because of fiber. By changing their diets about 20 percent of women might prevent the development of breast cancer. Six out of seven studies of breast cancer patients have shown that fiber rich foods protect against breast cancer.

• Fish oil. Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. North American Eskimo women who eat a diet extremely rich in omega-3 oils have no breast cancer at all. Omega-3 oils inhibit the effects of series 2 prostaglandins which are associated with the promotion of tumor growth. A study done at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in Toronto found that the more fish people ate the less breast cancer they developed. They attributed the protective effect of fish to the omega 3 fatty acids

.• Olive oil. Cook with virgin or extra-virgin olive oil. A study in Spain demonstrated a lower risk of breast cancer in those who were consuming the most olive oil

.• Flaxseed oil. Lilian Thompson, Ph.D. has found that a daily dose of flaxseed (one tablespoon of oil or 3 tablespoons of ground seeds) can actually reduce breast cancer tumor size. In a study at the Univ. of Illinois it was found that flaxseed oil (but not fish oil) reduced the growth of breast cancers and metastases.

• Green tea. Green tea contains about half the caffeine of coffee. Green tea contains the cancer fighting antioxidants and polyphenols which reduce the damage done by free radicals.

• Dill, mint, caraway, celery seeds, lemon peels, orange peels and lavender oil contain limonene, a phytochemical important for breast protection. Limonene stimulates detoxification enzymes that break down carcinogens.

• Soy products such as tofu, miso and tempeh. Soybeans and other soy products contain genistein, a natural plant estrogen that binds to receptors in the breast, making it impossible for potentially cancer-causing forms of estrogen to connect with breast cells. Soy also decreases angiogensis (the development of blood vessels that feed a tumor), it increases apoptosis (cancer cell death) and it contains enzymes that break down carcinogens in the body.

• Soybeans, cereal grains, green tea, cruciferous vegetables, celery, parsnips, carrots, parsley, tomatoes, flaxseed, turmeric, red grapes, blueberries and rosemary – contain flavonoids, a large group of plant chemicals found in every plant we consume. Flavonoids protect against breast cancer by protecting the liver, increasing immunity and inhibiting enzymes that produce cancer.

• Dark green leafy vegetables, cold pressed vegetable oils, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, brown rice, eggs, kelp, desiccated liver, milk, oatmeal, soybeans, sweet potatoes, watercress, wheat, wheat germ, flaxseed and dong quai contain vitamin E. Vitamin E therapy may correct an abnormal progesterone/estradiol ratio in patients with mammary dysplasia, with implications on reducing future risk for malignant breast disease. Vitamin E has also been shown to reduce the toxicity of chemotherapy.

Raw sesame seeds, all raw nuts, kelp, dulse, all leafy green vegetables, figs, dates, prunes, yogurt, sardines and salmon
 contain calcium. In an experiment using rats biochemists at the Univ. of Western Ontario concluded that the less calcium and vitamin D the rats received the greater their risk of breast cancer.

• Beans, cereal grains, legumes, peas, dark green leafy vegetables and meats contain molybdenum which was shown in one study to produce an inhibitory effect on the formation of breast cancer.

• Garlic, onions, leeks, and shallots (allium vegetables). According to the National Cancer Institute garlic is one of the best foods for protection against cancer. It contains the anti-cancer mineral selenium, which stimulates white blood cell production and induces apoptosis (cancer cell death). Alliums contain compounds that stimulate the production of enzymes that neutralize the free radicals linked with cancer. Alliums also contain saponins, which prevent cancer cells from multiplying. According to a study done at Penn State aged garlic extract powder significantly delayed the onset of tumors and reduced the total number of rats developing mammary cancer.

• Tomato paste and sauce, spaghetti sauce, ketchup, pink grapefruit, watermelon and dried apricots contain lycopenes which belong to an important class of antioxidant phytochemicals called carotenoids and surpasses all other carotenoids in protection against free radicals. Although lycopene is usually associated with prostate health researchers are just beginning to realize it is also a significant protector against breast cancer.

• Tangerines contain a plant chemical called tangertin which is actually 250 times more powerful than genistein at squelching breast cancer cells.

• Seaweeds such as kelp and nori. Jane Teas, Ph.D. of the Harvard School of Public Health found that rats fed kelp had less breast cancer than those not fed kelp.

• Organic dairy products and meats. Organic dairy products and meats are free of hormones like bovine growth hormone which has been shown to promote the growth of breast cancer cells. Avoid beef and poultry that is not certified to be free of artificial hormones because breast cancer can be estrogen dependent. Be aware that fish are very much contaminated since most of our fresh and coastal waters are polluted. There is a lot of mercury in the fish we eat.

• Pistachios, almonds and other such nuts, as well as milk and eggs contain arginine which was shown to increase natural killer cell* activity in a study of breast cancer at Tohoku Univ. School of Medicine. *Natural killer cells are a type of white blood cell which recognizes changes in infected or cancerous cells, binds to those cells and kills them.
Cancer Res. 2010 Mar 1;70(5):1925-31. Epub 2010 Feb 23.

Bitter Melon (Momordica charantia) Extract Inhibits Breast Cancer Cell Proliferation by Modulating Cell Cycle Regulatory Genes and Promotes Apoptosis.
Ray RBRaychoudhuri ASteele RNerurkar P.Authors’ Affiliations: Departments of Pathology and Internal Medicine, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri and Laboratory of Metabolic Disorders and Alternative Medicine, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii.Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers among women in the United States. Although there are effective drugs for treating advanced stages of breast cancers, women eventually develop resistance. One of the approaches to control breast cancer is prevention through diet, which inhibits one or more neoplastic events and reduces cancer risk. In this study, we have used human breast cancer cells, MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231, and primary human mammary epithelial cells as an in vitro model to assess the efficacy of bitter melon (Momordica charantia) extract (BME) as an anticancer agent. BME treatment of breast cancer cells resulted in a significant decrease in cell proliferation and induced apoptotic cell death. Apoptosis of breast cancer cells was accompanied by increased poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase cleavage and caspase activation. Subsequent studies showed that BME treatment of breast cancer cells inhibited survivin and claspin expression. Fluorescence-activated cell sorting analysis suggested that MCF-7 cells treated with BME accumulated during the G(2)-M phase of the cell cycle. Further studies revealed that BME treatment enhanced p53, p21, and pChk1/2 and inhibited cyclin B1 and cyclin D1 expression, suggesting an additional mechanism involving cell cycle regulation. Together, these results show that BME modulates signal transduction pathways for inhibition of breast cancer cell growth and can be used as a dietary supplement for prevention of breast cancer. Cancer Res; 70(5); 1925-31.

• Fat.  A diet high in fat – especially animal fat –  is known to increase the risk of breast cancer. A high fat diet produces chemicals in the intestine that bacteria convert to carcinogenic estrogens. These estrogens can then be stored in the fatty tissue of the breast making cells in this area more susceptible to cancer growth. In some studies, overall fat intake has shown a modest increase in risk, but fried food and refined fat (hydrogenated and transfatty adds) continues to demonstrate a much stronger and more conclusive risk factor. Obesity, particularly in women with upper-body fat, is a significant risk factor.

• Trans fats or hydrogenated oils found in margarine and vegetable oils are linked with an increase in breast cancer. Avoid canola oil, safflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, sesame oil as well as margarine

.• Saturated fats found in dairy products and red meat cause the body to produce higher-than-normal levels of insulin according to Arnot. In a study at the Univ. of Toronto, Pamela Goodwin, M.D. found a 283 percent increased risk of breast cancer in women with high insulin levels.

• Cooked meat mutagens. Heterocyclic amines (HCAs), a food derived mutagen found in “blackened” or overcooked meat, has long been shown to induce breast cancer in rodents. Recent studies, however, have demonstrated a strong association between eating overcooked meats and breast cancer in human subjects

.• Alcohol.  According to Simone, women who have 2 to 4 alcoholic drinks per week have a 2 to 3 times higher risk of developing breast cancer than those who don’t.  

• Siberian ginseng. One study found that Siberian ginseng produces an immune-boosting effect on white blood cells in both cancer patients and healthy controls. This study pointed to Siberian ginseng’s ability to stimulate resistance and boost the Immune system in patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer.

• Evening primrose oil is an abundant source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). In one study GLA killed human breast, lung and prostate cancer cells selectively. It may work by causing deadly free radicals to form in cancerous — but not in normal — cells.

• Vitamin E, vitamin C and beta-carotene are all effective free radical scavengers. Free radical scavengers might counter the free radical damage that is the result of radiation therapy. Free radicals can initiate irregular cellular behavior and DNA damage, causing some cancers to proliferate at a faster rate.

• Shiitake mushrooms contain lentinan which is an immune booster and which may also prevent the increase of chromosomal damage induced by anticancer drugs. In a study at Osaka Univ. on breast cancer patients lentinan when added to the chemotherapy made the patients live longer. Lentinan also prevents chemicals and viruses from triggering cancer and is considered one of the most effective agents for controlling small metastases. Lentinan is not yet legally marketed in the United States.

• Sunshine. Sunlight helps the body to produce vitamin D which has been linked to lower breast cancer rates. Spend 15 minutes a day, 3 times a week in the sun without using the popular PABA type of sunscreen during that period. Using sunscreen may actually block the very kind of light necessary to produce vitamin D, while ironically allowing exposure to precisely the kind of light that promotes skin cancer.

• Exercise. Get 4 hours of vigorous aerobic exercise a week. A study of 1,000 women showed that those who exercised 3.8 hours or more a week had less than half the rate of breast cancer of those who did not exercise.

• Stay within 12 pounds of your ideal body weight. In many studies, obesity has been correlated with a higher risk of breast cancer. Excess body fat produces estrogen which can then be stored in breast tissue and trigger the growth of cancer cells.

• Use hormone replacement therapy with caution. Some researchers link supplementation with DHEA and other hormones with an increased risk of breast cancer, though no conclusive information is available yet.

• Dark hair dyes. One study showed that women who dyed their hair to change its color (rather than to camouflage gray) were at a three times greater risk for breast cancer.

• Stop Smoking. One study of close to 85,000 women showed a higher risk of breast cancer in smokers than in nonsmokers.

• Support groups. In a study in the late 1970’s by Dr Spiegel he found that patients with terminally ill breast cancer who attended once-weekly mutual support and discussion groups lived twice as long as those who did not attend such groups.

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Compassionate Acupuncture and Healing Arts, providing craniosacral acupuncture, herbal and nutritional medicine in Durham, North Carolina. Phone number 919-309-7753.

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