Last October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so the Forks Over Knives community hosted a webinar, “Breast Defense: Cancer-Kicking Strategies,” by world-renowned breast cancer surgeon Dr. Kristi Funk.
Funk has treated celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Sheryl Crow, and is the best-selling author of “Breasts: The Owners’ Manual.”
“One in eight women will get a breast cancer diagnosis in her lifetime. Women who are getting older will be at higher risk,” she said.
The good news is that only 5 percent to 10 percent of all breast cancer is genetic; the rest of those diagnosed do not have immediate family with breast cancer. This means we can do something about it.
But even with those who do have breast cancer in their family, Funk attributes the dietary and lifestyle patterns of that family to the activation of cancer in the family line. This supports the popular plant-based adage: Genetics loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger.
“When you eat animal products, estrogen levels skyrocket, and growth factors like IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor) go through the roof,” she said. “An excess of IGF-1 only exists as a response to consuming animal protein and animal fat.”
Funk cited a 2014 study on cell metabolism in over 6,000 adults ages 50-65 who were followed for 18 years. Higher animal protein levels led to a 430-percent increase in cancer deaths and a 7,300-percent increase in diabetes.
This is why she promotes “plant warfare,” the consumption of phytonutrients.
The curcumin in turmeric, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) in green tea, resveratrol in red grapes, omega-3 fatty acids from flaxseed and avocados, procyanidins from berries, genistein from soy, lycopene from tomatoes, anthocyanidins from apples, and limonene from oranges all combat cancer.
She revealed how, in the first 18 years of her practice, she misguidedly advised her patients to avoid soy. That is until she started doing research for her book and discovered all the studies that debunked a common myth.
High levels of estrogen has been linked to increased risk of breast cancer. Soy contains the plant estrogen isoflavone, which some believed to increase breast cancer risk.
“It turns out that soy is absolutely antiestrogenic and anticarcinogenic,” Funk admitted. She also disclosed how she started as a typical physician, who never got any nutrition education through medical school, residency, fellowship or practice.
“I’d started out researching to prove the way that I had always recommended was correct, which was largely the Mediterranean diet: lean meat—chicken, turkey and fish—with lots of fruits and vegetables. I went into the science and was so utterly blown away … The cellular response to basically all animal protein and all animal fat is nothing but detrimental to your health,” she said.
The lowdown on soy
In the 2009 Shanghai Women’s Health Study, which followed over 73,000 women, soy consumption led to a 59-percent decrease in premenopausal breast cancer.
American Asian women who had 1.5 servings of soy a week in childhood had a 58-percent drop in adult-onset breast cancer, according to a 1996 study.
Even among Korean BRCA gene mutation carriers, there was a 43-percent lower incidence of breast cancer correlated with eating soy in a 2013 study.
Meanwhile, in a 2020 study by the International Journal of Epidemiology, when comparing 90th to 10th percentiles of dairy milk consumption, there is a 50-percent increase in breast cancer.
Almost 2,000 multiethnic breast cancer survivors on tamoxifen—a drug used to treat breast cancer—followed for over six years experienced a 60-percent lower recurrence. In a 2012 study, just half a cup of soy milk daily among almost 10,000 breast cancer survivors led to a 25-percent drop in recurrence.
Funk also shared a 2021 study that concluded isoflavones and soy are not endocrine disruptors. There are no adverse alterations in thyroid function, estrogen levels, ovulation in women and semen levels in men, or negative effects on children.
Top 12 breast superfoods
Unsurprisingly, soy tops her list of breast cancer-fighting superfoods, followed by cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens.
Flaxseeds came in third. She referred to a 2005 study where participants ate a flaxseed muffin a day, and cancer cell suicide rates increased by over 30 percent, while cancer markers dropped 71 percent and cell division rate decreased by 34 percent.
Fiber (from beans, lentils, peas, avocado, berries, barley and broccoli), about 30 grams daily, translates to a 40-percent reduction in breast cancer.
Berries, apples, tomatoes, mushrooms, garlic (including onions, leeks, shallots, chives, scallions), turmeric and spices (like black pepper), seaweed and cacao round up her recommendations.
To beat breast cancer, Funk advocates, “whole food, plant-based eating that prioritizes vegetables, fruits, 100-percent whole grains and legumes, whole food soy, and ground flaxseed.”
“Eliminate all meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs. Minimize saturated fat, simple sugars, processed foods and refined cereals. Exercise moderately five hours per week or vigorously 2.5 hours per week. Minimize or eliminate alcohol. And keep your body-mass index below 25,” she added. —CONTRIBUTED
Take Dr. Kristi Funk’s four-week challenge at letsbeatbreastcancer.org; pinklotus.com.
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Angelina Jolie’s doc: Eat soy-rich diet to fight breast cancer