Thursday, October 15, 2015

Green over pink

More than one million women every year receive the dreaded diagnosis of breast cancer, making it the most common type of cancer among American women. More than 460,000 die from it every year making it one of the leading causes of death. Among others, I’ve known three different young women to receive the terrible news that they had breast cancer – sadly one of them lost her battle after fighting for more than 3 years.

There are no words to adequately express how terrible this disease is.

But are pink ribbons really the answer?

While nothing in life is ever a guaranteed, the medical literature suggests that there is a link between diet and this type of cancer, and it seems that at least sharing some of this information - so that every person can make an informed and educated decision -is a worthwhile pursuit.

By now, I hope this isn’t coming as a surprise, but a strict whole food, plant-based diet is considered to be the most beneficial form of eating to reduce ones risk, and may potentially prevent the disease altogether.

Look, I can go on with tons of data and research from different papers. For instance, I can talk about a paper that followed 4,000 women with breast cancer for seven years who found a strong link between saturated fat and mortality. One paper found that just 2 weeks of plant-based eating and exercise can slow tumor growth rates (in vitro) by 20%. I can cite a meta analysis of 12 papers that claims for every 10 grams of fiber consumed, the risk is reduce by 7%. But in all honesty, does it matter?

The truth is, sometimes eating healthy and exercising isn’t enough. And I know a lot of us our guilty of pretending otherwise. Even this blog tends to act as if just going vegan, or whole-food plant based is the answer every time.

And sometimes it is. Far too many people, not just women, eat terrible diets that harm our bodies every single day and ultimately impact our health. But others, to no faults of their own, still end up with the disease.

My good friend who recently passed away was like that. She was vegan for as long as I knew her, at least 8 years. Yet we all watched, horrified, as the disease returned time and again. 

It’s hard to reconcile something like this, my friend was young, charismatic, and beautiful. She exercised and ate well, and yet, that wasn’t enough.

I’ve read far too many pieces about the face of this disease, but for me, the only face this disease has is the face of my friends. The fear I’ve seen in their eyes and the fear that was in my own.

But the face of this disease is two fold because it can also be surprisingly beautiful. I chose to remember my friend as the vibrant, smiling person she was when we met. I chose to remember the fun and the laughs we shared together. But even as the cancer and the chemo wore on her body, the strength and courage she demonstrated is one of the most beautiful memories I have of her. When we all realized that her struggle was coming towards a close, the outpouring of support and love for her was truly overwhelming.

Maybe diet can’t change the world, it didn’t for my friend. But that also doesn’t mean that we should just give up and accept our fates. I wouldn’t be doing justice to my friend or her legacy. I wouldn’t be doing justice to my other friends who are struggling with this disease either. 

I don’t believe in pink ribbons.

I believe in living your life. I believe in laughing and crying together. I also believe in eating your broccoli.

As some may have noticed, I took a month off from posting as I need some time to find the motivation to continue writing this blog. Many of my posts, particularly the research heavy ones, are very time consuming. And while research and writing this post, I’ve decided that if the news I share can help a single person, than that this is a worthy pursuit. My friend spent her time on this earth helping others. I hope to do the same. 

In loving memory. SLN 1981-2015 


Gonzalez, Barnard, et. all., “Effects of a low-fat, high-fiber diet and exercise program on breast cancer risk factors in vivo and tumor cell growth and apoptosis in vitro,” Nutrition and Cancer 55(1) 2006.

Cade, J.E. “Dietary fiber and risk of breast cancer in the UK women’s cohort study.” International Journal of Epidemiology 36 (2): 2007.

Newcomb, Beasley J., e.t all., “Post-diagnosis dietary factors and survival after invasive breast cancer,” Breast Cancer Research Treatment 2011.

Aune, D., et. all., “Dietary fiber and breast cancer risk: A systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies,” Oncology 23(6) 2012.

As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.