103. Should Everyone Avoid Dairy Because of Results with Breast Cancer?

In the previous blog I explained how Jane Plant successfully cured breast cancer by changing her diet. Essentially she stopped eating milk and dairy products as well as any foods which contained them. (1)

However it is absolutely crucial to appreciate that the experience of Jane does not provide evidence to recommend that everyone should refrain from consuming dairy products. While I accept that the case for not smoking it extremely convincing, we have a long way to go before the same can be said of cows’ milk and any products derived from it.

First of all, although I do not question the success of the strategy for Jane, this certainly does not prove that it will work for everyone else. It is possible that this is so but it is equally possible that it may work for 50%, or 5% or 0.5%,.we simply do not know. Secondly, Jane was receiving chemotherapy at the same time, so did this treatment have a role? Thirdly were there special features about Jane that had a bearing on the outcome. She tells us she used to consume plenty of dairy produce so it may be that eliminating dairy produce from the diet is only effective in such people.

Milk is a very complex food, which consists of a wide range of different constituents. As the elimination of all dairy products prevents breast cancer, we still do not know which particular constituents of milk actively contribute to the development of the cancer. It is important to recognise that there is good evidence that some nutrients present in cow’s milk are particularly valuable. These include the short chain fatty acids which meet the demand for energy quickly and efficiently. Milk fat, especially from cows which have been fed a grass-based diet is one of the few good sources of vitamin K2. Recent research has demonstrated the critical role of Vitamin K2 in the effective utilisation of Vitamins A and D, as well as the mineral calcium (2, 3).

In a meta-analysis based on 6 studies it was found that those with the highest dairy consumption had a reduction of 13% in all-cause mortality compared with those who had the lowest consumption (4). With heart disease an analysis based on 9 separate studies also found a small reduction in death rate for those with a high intake of milk and milk products. For both ischaemic and haemorrhagic strokes the death rates were reduced in those with the highest dairy consumption. There were 5 different studies on the relationship between dairy consumption and diabetes: all of them found that there was a reduction in the incidence with a relatively high intake of milk and milk products. In the light of the totality of these results the authors commented that:

The similarity of the estimates of risk is remarkable and, although conclusions have to be tentative, it seems not unreasonable to conclude that there is no evidence that dairy foods as a total group are associated with harm to health either in terms of death, heart disease, stroke or diabetes, but are probably beneficial in relation to these disease outcomes.”

What is undoubtedly true is that Jane’s result raises many questions which can only be answered by major projects. To the best of my knowledge these have not been started and I doubt if any are planned for the near future. The fundamental problem as Jane herself recognises is that the research emphasis is in finding a drug which is a “magic bullet”. To quote her:

“…modern medical research in general, and especially in the case of cancer research , is aimed at trying to find pure form of a chemical compound which….can be administered in quantitative doses and shown in statistically designed clinical studies to significantly affect the outcome of the disease.”

She goes on to question the validity of this approach and concludes that if this is so, no amount of research and no amount of expenditure will produce the answer. The record to date suggests that she is correct because despite the enormous expenditure on cancer research, the progress achieved has been disappointing to put it mildly.

As mentioned above, the health professionals which Jane encountered showed little interest or understanding of the causes of her breast cancer. This type of attitude seems to be very widespread within the NHS. In fact it is characteristic of most of the medical establishment, especially in the USA, which has a major impact on medicine generally in the West. Nevertheless it is self-evident that unless the actual causes are removed as far as possible then the risks that the cancer will return remain high. In fact these risks may be increased even further by radiotherapy and chemotherapy which damage the immune system and therefore impair the body’s ability to deal with any incipient cancers which occur.

The reality is that the present focus in both research and treatment of cancer is on curing the disease. However if real progress is to be made there must be much greater emphasis on identifying the causes so that preventative action can be taken. It is highly relevant that one of the few areas has been with lung cancer where smoking where smoking tobacco was shown to be a major cause. Consequently the incidence has fallen in men as a result of a decline in the numbers who actually smoke cigarettes. Rather ironically the opposite applies to women, as more and more of them take up the habit.

Finally I must re-iterate the success achieved by Jane Plant. So despite what I have said here, I certainly would not wish to dissuade anyone from eliminating dairy from their diet in an attempt to cure or to prevent breast cancer. In the final analysis it is imperative that individuals makes up their own mind about what will be most suitable for each person.


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