What we eat has a profound impact on our health. And, that includes your risk of developing certain types of cancer. In fact, the majority of cancer is related more to what we eat and our environment rather than our genetics and family history. So, can eating a plant based diet actually decrease the risk of developing cancer?
Ok, I’ll give you the answer right away: yes, eating a plant based diet can decrease your risk of developing certain types of cancer. Skeptical? Read on for the convincing evidence…
What is Cancer
First, what exactly is cancer?
Cancer begins as a single abnormal cell that multiplies out of control. Groups of these abnormal cells form into masses (tumors). Then, they invade healthy tissue. Often, it then spreads to other parts of the body (metastisizes).
Carcinogens are substances that help facilitate the development of cancerous cells. Common carcinogens include tobacco, UV rays, polluted air, alcohol, and certain types of food (such as processed meats).
Some carcinogens are neutralized in the body (by the immune system and antioxidants) before they cause damage. Other carcinogens go on to attack the cell’s genetic material and altar the cell’s DNA. After that, the cancer has the ability to replicate and grow out of control.
Symptoms of cancer vary widely based on the type of cancer and location within the body. In addition, most symptoms are vague and don’t necessarily point to cancer immediately.
However, common symptoms include:
- weight loss without trying
- changes in appetite
- unexplained fatigue
- sores that do not heal
- changes in skin
- cough or hoarseness that doesn’t go away
- unusual bleeding
- recurrent nausea or vomiting
5–10% of cancers are inherited through genetics.
Therefore, about 90–95% of cancers stem from environmental and lifestyle factors-and are potentially preventable.
Cancer starts in our genes and can be changed with chemicals. Cancer comes from a cluster of genes that have been damaged and mutated. Plants produce phytochemicals that may protect cells from damage.
Animal foods, such as meat and poultry, cheese, milk, and eggs are one of the primary causes of common cancers. It is estimated that 33% of cases are due to food choices.
Eating a plant-based diet provides many benefits against a multitude of cancers with virtually no negative side-effects.
In addition to diet, other risk factors for cancer include:
- smoking or tobacco use (account for 25–30% of cancers)
- alcohol intake
- chronic inflammation
- meat and dairy cause inflammation in the body
- on the contrary, plant foods cause virtually no inflammation within the body
- age and hormones
- sunlight exposure
- prolonged exposure to chemicals and other carcinogens
Your health is not predetermined.
“Proven environmental diseases, such as colon cancer, coronary artery disease, and adult-onset diabetes, all run in families-not necessarily because of genes, but because family members share the same dietary patterns.” -Dr. John A. McDougall
Cancer and the Plant Based Diet
Studies have shown that the prevalence of certain types of cancer is significantly lower in those following a plant based diet. Specifically, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer. In fact, some animal foods are listed by the CDC as carcinogenic.
A healthy, balanced whole food plant based diet includes:
- Vegetables (and dark leafy greens)
- Plant-based protein sources
- Whole grains (no refined grains)
- eliminating or eating less added sugar and oil
- eliminating or eating less processed foods
Breast, Prostate, Colon Cancer
Breast, prostate, and colon cancers are most commonly caused by what we eat. And, according to The China Study:
High fiber diets reduce risk of cancers in the digestive tract. Studies show that countries where diets are high in fiber from plant based sources, have fewer cases of colon cancer. Additionally, animal products do not contain fiber.
Those countries with the highest levels of fat consumption have the highest death rates from breast and colon cancer. In addition, meat and dairy intake is also linked to prostate and ovarian cancers.
Meat products stimulate growth hormones and promote cancer growth. For example, the growth hormone IGF-1 is most commonly found in cow’s milk. Additionally, this hormone encourages rapid cancer cell growth. As a result, it leads to higher rates of breast, prostate, and ovarian cancers.
There is a common misconception about soy intake and breast cancer. In a plant based diet, this includes soy milk and soy based products, such as tofu and tempeh. In fact, soy is linked to lower breast cancer risk. So, studies have shown women who consumed more soy lowered their risk of breast CA by 30%.
Further, soybeans contain anti-carcinogenic substances (including lignans and phytoestrogens).
On the other hand, cow’s milk has been linked to cancer. Casein is the main protein present in milk and cheese. Dr. Campbell found casein to be the factor that promoted liver cancer. In addition, he also discovered that high casein intake promotes breast cancer.
In addition to what we eat, being physically active and regular exercise has been shown to lower risk of cancer.
“Genetics loads the gun, but environment pulls the trigger.”
The China Study
The China Study was led by Dr. T. Colin Campbell. The study looked at mortality rates from cancer and other chronic diseases in 65 countries in China between 1973–1975. Those data findings were correlated with dietary surveys and blood work from 100 people in each of these 65 countries between 1983–1984.
The China Study examines the link between the consumption of animal products and chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers (breast, prostate, and bowel).
The study concluded that those countries with a high consumption of animal-based foods were more likely to have higher death rates from heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. In contrast, the researchers concluded that those countries who consumed more whole plant based foods were less likely to die from chronic diseases and cancer.
The American Cancer Society says that American males have a 47% lifetime chance of getting cancer; females 38% chance.
You can read more about The China Study here. And if you haven’t already, I highly recommend reading this book by Dr. Campbell. It’s a life-changer!
Prevention and Early Detection
Prevention is your best course of action against cancer. After that, early detection is extremely important. So, be sure you are routinely following up with a physician. Additionally, bring any concerns to your doctor’s attention immediately. After that, don’t be afraid to get second and third opinions regarding diagnoses and treatments. ❤️
If you would like additional resources regarding health and the plant based diet:
“Change the way you eat, and you can transform your health for the better.” -T. Colin Campbell