Cancer and Diet

The foods we eat can either feed or fight cancer. In some cases, foods can even encourage your blood to kill cancer more effectively. The amount of hormones and toxins or antioxidants and phytochemicals the foods you choose to eat have can paint a very different picture of your personal cancer risk. 

Hormones play a significant role in cancer development. In particular, higher lifelong estrogen increases risk of breast cancer, the most common cancer in women. Estrogen and other hormones from dairy products pose a threat as they do affect our own hormone levels. As this study mentions,

“Dairy products…account for 60–80% of intake of estrogens from foods in Western countries.”

Milk can lower blood levels of testosterone by 1/4 after drinking.

This study found that drinking milk lowered blood levels of testosterone by 25% and increases estrone (an estrogen) by 20%. These finding were statistically significant and offer a possible explanation for how the Adventist II population study found that while vegans had 29% less female cancer, vegetarians had a 5% increase.

There are many components of a vegan diet that are shown to reduce cancer. In particular the rich antioxidant content of plant foods, the lower recorded levels of cancer-fueling IGF-1 in vegans, and the lower observed cancer rate in the literature. One meta-analysis for example found that vegans have 15% less total cancer. This is following a standard vegan diet that includes processed and heavily refined foods so it is hard to saw what effects a whole food vegan diet would have on cancer levels. But it is clear that reducing exposure to preservatives and toxins in general are good for preventing cancer.

As this study mentions, 95% of persistent organic pollutant (POP) exposure comes from animal fat in the western diet, POPs being industrial toxins that are bioaccumulated through the food chain. Since meat and other animal products are higher on the food chain, ambient environmental toxins in plants or water are concentrated in the animal flesh and byproducts that we consume. When testing for POPs, this study says “we found that vegans were significantly less polluted than omnivores….” The researchers mention that since the vegans were breast fed from animal-product consuming mothers and raised eating animal products that the results were ‘striking.’

There are also toxins that naturally form in meat like hetercyclic amines during cooking, a mutagen which means causes genetic mutations, and endotoxins which are left over from bacteria that colonized eggs, meat, dairy and other food. In meat these accumulate between the time the animal was killed and the time it was cooked. While the bacteria don’t survive, these substances endure the cooking process. This study found that eating cream, for example, can lead to a spike in blood levels of endotoxins while orange juice and water did not. 

Eliminating animal-based foods put you in a good place for lowering your risk of cancer, but there are also ways to be exposed to carcinogens on a vegan diet. One example is pesticide exposure – though pesticides also bioaccumulate in meat. Since chemical pesticides are not allowed in organic farming, eating organic as much as you can manage is a good strategy. This study found that urinary pesticides levels when down to undetectable amounts during times of organic eating, unlike before and after the organic period. If buying all organic is not affordable for you, you might want to become familiar with the the plant foods with the highest pesticide levels.