Check your cheese fetish

By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Every October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Every year several million women die of breast cancer. My mother died of it. Many of my friends have it. Some have had their breasts removed. Some are undergoing chemotherapy and have lost their hair. It is no longer a hidden disease that one doesn’t talk about.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, breast cancer is among the most common causes of death in women. In 2016, 2,45,299 new cases of female breast cancer were reported, and 41,487 women died of breast cancer in the US. In India, the figures are 10-fold. One in four women get it and each one of us are nervous that we may be the next victim.
Many product manufacturers cash in to this month by putting pink ribbons on their products, or by colouring them pink. Unfortunately, many of these food products actually increase the risk of breast cancer and the manufacturers are aware of this, so it seems very cynical for them to take part — something like cigarette companies asking for funds for lung cancer research. Kentucky Fried Chicken has pink buckets for their dreadful mess of greasy chicken parts. Bars have pink martinis, sausage companies have pink ribbons.
But the worst is cheese. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which has more than 12,000 doctors as members, on October 3, 2019, petitioned the Food and Drug Administration in America to order that cheese manufacturers put a label on their product saying, “Dairy cheese contains reproductive hormones that may increase breast cancer mortality risk.”
“Instead of cheese manufacturers, like Kraft, slapping a pink ribbon on products like Philadelphia Cream and Macaroni & Cheese, as they have done during previous Breast Cancer Awareness Months, they should be adding warning labels,” says Physicians Committee president Neal Barnard, MD, author of The Cheese Trap and Your Body in Balance. “We want women to be aware that dairy cheese could put them at risk of dying from breast cancer.”
Estrogens are considered the major pathway to breast cancer. Dairy products contain estrogens from cows, and, when milk is converted to cheese, the estrogens become more concentrated. These estrogens increase breast cancer mortality. A study called Life After Cancer Epidemiology Study, of 2,321 early breast cancer survivors, done by Caan, Sternfeld, Gunderson, Coates, Quesenberry, Slattery, was started in 2000 to examine how behavioural risk factors affect the quality of life and long-term survival.
The study followed women for 13 years and found that those women previously diagnosed with breast cancer, who were consuming one or more servings of high-fat dairy products (e.g., cheese, ice cream, whole milk) daily, had a 49 percent higher breast cancer mortality, compared with those consuming less than one-half serving daily. Dairy products included milk on cereal; milk by itself, butter, cream, or creamer in coffee or tea, cheese, dairy desserts like ice cream; pudding; custard or flan; low-fat or non-fat frozen desserts and yogurt.
The study also found that women who had higher levels of physical activity, lower alcohol intake and did not smoke – but ate the highest amount of dairy – were still at great risk for a recurrence of cancer.
A 2017 study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, compared the diets of women diagnosed with breast cancer to those without breast cancer, and found that those who consumed the most cheeses had a 53 percent increased risk for breast cancer. The authors say that components in dairy, such as insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) and other growth hormones, may be some reasons for the increased risk for cancer.
The first ever study, to assess the association between low and high-fat dairy and breast cancer survival was done in 2013. The authors, led by Candyce Kroenke, was funded by the National Cancer Institute and published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
“Consuming plant-based milks or non-fat dairy products may be a reasonable approach for limiting risk of adverse outcomes,” the study suggested.
Dr Kroenke summed up the study: “In short, this study suggests that to improve survival, breast cancer survivors might shift away from high-fat to lower-fat dairy options, reduce high-fat dairy intake, and shift toward plant-based foods and milks. “Dairy products have been positively associated with other hormonal cancers such as those of the prostate, endometrium, and ovaries and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” the authors point out.
What can be done to stay alive after being diagnosed with breast cancer – or how not to get it? The answer is the same, no matter which doctor you consult: “Eat plant-based foods, fruits, wholegrains like brown rice and oats, beans like soya, and lentils, exercise, limit alcohol, and aim for a healthy weight. These methods help with weight loss, reduce estrogen levels and give you complete nutrition. In one study women who consumed more soya lowered their breast cancer risk by 30 per cent. Soya contains protective substances like isoflavones. Avoid meat, specially processed: hot dogs, bacon, lunch meats, sausages etc.

(To join the animal welfare movement contact
gandhim@nic.in,
www.peopleforanimalsindia.org)

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