"Give up dairy products to
leading scientist, who has been fighting breast cancer since 1987,
says the disease is overwhelmingly linked to animal products
1993, the breast cancer that had plagued Jane Plant since 1987
returned for the fifth time. It came in the shape of a secondary
tumor a lump in her neck the size of half a boiled egg.
Doctors told her that she had only months to live.
a mother of two young children, Professor Plant recalls the shocked
discussion she had with her husband, Peter. As scientists
she is a geochemist, he a geologist they had both worked
in China on environmental issues, and knew that Chinese women
had historically very low rates of breast cancer: one epidemiological
study from the Seventies showed the disease affected one in 100,000
Chinese women, compared with one in 12 in the West.
had checked this information with senior academics, Professor
Plant says. Chinese doctors I knew told me they had hardly
seen a case of breast cancer in years. Yet if Chinese women are
on Western diets if they go to live in the U.S. or Australia,
for example within one generation they got the same rate.
I said to Peter, 'Why is it that Chinese women living in China
dont get breast cancer?
husband recalled that on field expeditions his Chinese colleagues
provided him with powdered milk because they did not drink it
themselves. He pointed out at that time they did not have
a dairy industry. It was a revelation.
she had nothing to lose, Professor Plant switched to a dairy-free,
Asian-style diet virtually overnight, while also undergoing chemotherapy.
Having already cut down on animal protein such as meat, fish and
eggs, she now cut out all milk products, including the live organic
yogurt she had religiously eaten for several years.
Within six weeks the lump in her neck had disappeared; within
a year, she was in remission and remained cancer-free for the
next 18 years. Convinced that her diet had helped, she devised
the Plant Program a dairy-free diet, relying largely
on plant proteins such as soy
similar, she says, to the traditional diet in rural China.
was originally intended to help other women with breast cancer
and, later, men with prostate cancer. Her book about her experience,
Your Life in Your Hands, caused a sensation when it was published
in 2000, with many cancer patients claiming it helped them to
in 2011, Professor Plants breast cancer returned for the
sixth time, with the discovery of a large lump beneath the collarbone
and some small tumors in her lungs. Under stress writing an academic
book, she had become lax about both her diet and lifestyle
regularly eating, among other forbidden items, calves liver
cooked in butter at a restaurant, and falafel made from milk powder.
went straight back to my oncologist, who prescribed Letrozole
[an oestrogen suppressor]. But I also went back on my strict diet,
as well as walking regularly and doing meditation. After
a few months, her cancer was again in remission.
of which may sound too good to be true, but Plant, 69, is no crackpot.
Professor of geochemistry at Imperial College London, where she
specializes in environmental carcinogens, she is highly regarded
in her field, having been awarded a CBE in 1997 for her services
to earth science; and her approach to cancer is supported by some
eminent scientists. Her latest book, co-written with Mustafa Djamgoz,
professor of cancer biology at Imperial, has a foreword from Professor
Sir Graeme Catto, president of the College of Medicine, who describes
its findings as illuminating
even, at times, shocking
but all backed up by scientific research.
Plant, however, is not dismissive of conventional cancer treatment,
having had, at various times, a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy
and irradiation of her ovaries to induce menopause.
believes new and wonderful anti-cancer treatments
are vital but so, she argues, is a dairy-free diet, as
well as other diet and lifestyle measures, such as stress reduction.
of the advice in the new book, Beat Cancer, chimes with
current guidance on how to reduce cancer risk, such as eating
more plant food and less red meat, salt, sugar and fat; taking
regular exercise and reducing stress.
also advises going organic, using complementary therapies where
there is good evidence they help recovery, and avoiding potential
pollutants such as pesticides.
her far more radical message is that a diet that totally excludes
dairy products milk, cheese, butter and yogurt can
be successfully used to help stop the disease in its tracks,
by depriving cancer cells of the conditions they need to grow.
have all been brought up with the idea that milk is good for you,
says Professor Plant. But there is evidence now that the
growth factors and hormones it contains are not just risky for
breast cancer, but also other hormone-related cancers, of the
prostate, testicles and ovary.
dairy-free, she says, may also help patients with colorectal cancer,
lymphoma and throat (but not lung) cancer. Cows milk
is good for calves but not for us, she adds.
the relatively new science of epigenetics, scientists now understand
that cancer-causing genes may not become active unless particular
conditions arise that switch them on and if those conditions
change, they may be switched off. This means that what you
eat can have an impact at the genetic level, says Professor
cells, scientists now believe, are hypersensitive to chemical
messenger proteins called growth factors, as well as (in the case
of hormone-dependent cancers) hormones such as oestrogen. Produced
by our own bodies, growth factors perform vital tasks such as
making cells grow. Other substances called binding proteins normally
control them, including their potential impact on cancer cells.
The risk of cancer arises when we have abnormally high levels
of unbound growth factors (or hormones) circulating
in our blood.
can happen, say Professors Plant and Djamgoz, because the same
growth factors and hormones as we produce are found in food that
comes from animals, providing the very fertilizer
that cancer cells need. Casein, the main protein in cows
milk, is considered most dangerous. One eminent U.S. nutritional
scientist, Professor Colin Campbell at Cornell University, argues
that it should be regarded just like oestrogen as a leading
milk [organic or otherwise] has been shown to contain 35 different
hormones and 11 growth factors, says Professor Plant. High
circulating levels of one such growth factor in milk, called IGF-1,
is now strongly linked to the development of many cancers. Research
has also found that unbound IGF levels are lower in
vegans than in both meat-eaters and other vegetarians.
means that a vegan diet is lower in cancer-promoting molecules
and higher in the binding proteins that reduce the action of these
molecules, she argues.
second growth factor implicated in cancer spread is VEGF, found
at high levels in cancer patients and a target for some newer
anti-cancer drugs. Professor Plant points out that in the udders
of cows with mastitis, VEGF is present to help fight infection.
Mastitis is thought to affect nearly half of all cows in Britain.
There are increasing numbers of papers about high levels
of VEGF in milk, particularly from high-yielding cattle breeds
typical of modern industrialized dairy units.
seems likely that if a cancer patient is consuming dairy products,
they are also consuming VEGF, especially if the milk originated
from cows with mastitis. That is not helping to defeat their illness
and it may be making things worse.
is particularly worried about the fashion for high-protein diets,
pointing out that there is evidence that too much protein generally
particularly from animals is at best unhelpful
and at worst dangerous to those at risk of cancer.
second theory around diet concerns the levels of acid in our bodies.
Professor Plant explains that if we consume too much acid-generating
food, our bodies become acidic an environment in which
cancer cells can flourish. The foods highest in generating acid
(not, as might be assumed, citrus fruit) include eggs, meat, fish
and dairy with cheese the most acid generating-food of
those with cancer or at high risk of the disease, Professor Plant
advocates, among other things, cutting out all dairy from
cows, sheep and goats, and whether organic or not. If you
have active cancer, there are no half-measures here. [Technically,
everyone is at risk of cancer, so if you want the best
odds of avoiding it, regardless of what level of predisposition
you may have, the evidence is clear: avoid all dairy products.
also recommends limiting consumption of other animal protein,
such as meat, fish and eggs, replacing this with vegetable protein
such as soy the main source of protein, she points out,
in a traditional, rural Chinese diet. [Note: All fruits and vegetables
contain protein, and they contain enough protein as long as you
don't cook them. Since people who eat a 100% fruit and greens
diet are able to get enough protein, we don't need to turn to
soy for protein, especially since soy products have
their own issues. Don B.]
if the evidence that cutting out dairy can successfully beat
cancer is that strong, why havent we been told?
Plant puts it down to vested interests the dairy industry
represents about 12 per cent of Britains GDP and
medical conservatism: oncologists, she says, might be excellent
at conventional treatments but are not experts in nutritional
biochemistry. The big cancer charities, for their part,
place too much emphasis on drug development. As a result, if
you rely solely on the cancer prevention advice from government,
charities, health professionals or the media, you will be missing
out on vital and potentially life-saving information.
Research UK argues that so far studies investigating a link between
cancer and dairy products have not given clear results.
no good evidence to support avoiding all dairy with the aim of
reducing cancer risk, said Martin Ledwick at Cancer Research
UK. It isnt known if avoiding dairy plays a role in
stopping cancer coming back. Patients should speak to their doctor
or a qualified dietitian before making any changes to their diet.
Plant acknowledges that advising cancer patients and anyone
keen on prevention to change what they eat so radically
is a big ask. Yet her own menu for that day
Weetabix and soy milk with molasses and linseeds for breakfast,
wholegrain bread with hummus and salad for lunch and for that
night, minestrone soup with cannellini beans, followed by pasta
with homemade tomato sauce is not so alien.
always worry about where they will get calcium if they give up
dairy, she says. But you can get it from many plant
sources. Growth factors and hormones should be labeled on
all dairy products, she argues, although eventually a wholesale
shift away from dairy is needed.
her 70th birthday, Professor Plant has so far survived 27 years
and six diagnoses of cancer and is a pretty convincing advert
for the diet she advocates. Her story, though, has a sting in
its tail: two weeks ago, a scan undertaken for a broken collarbone
picked up two small secondaries, one in each lung. She is now
taking Tamoxifen and seems confident that a combination of medical
treatment, diet and relaxation will knock this recurrence on the