Waist line and Breast Cancer, Vegetarian Diets, and Liver Detox

Waist line and Breast Cancer, Vegetarian Diets, and Liver Detox

Q: How could fat around my waistline possibly be increasing my risk of breast cancer?
Q: If plant-based diets are recommended for lower cancer risk, does that mean that a vegetarian diet is best?
Q: Do regimens for detoxifying the lymph system really help weight loss?


Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: How could fat around my waistline possibly be increasing my risk of breast cancer?
A: That extra fat around your waist is not just sitting there, weighing you down. It is actively secreting proteins that promote low-grade inflammation throughout the body, a condition that may make the body more susceptible to cancer. Excess body fat can also lead to insulin resistance, a condition in which higher levels of insulin and substances called growth factors can stimulate cancer development. Lastly, increased levels of estrogen that are produced by extra body fat may be particularly significant for hormone-related cancers of the breast and uterus. Different types of cancer can be affected by different influences, so some of these mechanisms may be more important for some cancers than others. Research now strongly links excess body fat with increased risk of at least six types of cancer: colon, endometrial (uterine), kidney, esophageal, pancreatic and post-menopausal breast cancer.

Q: If plant-based diets are recommended for lower cancer risk, does that mean that a vegetarian diet is best?
A: Not necessarily. Two recent studies, one in Britain and one in China, repeat previous findings showing that simply being a vegetarian does not necessarily mean lower cancer risk or better health. Diets heavy on red meat and sweets – sometimes referred to as Western diets – have been linked with greater cancer risk. Note that poultry and seafood consumption show no link to increased cancer risk. Some research even suggests high-omega-3 fish may offer some protection. Although a few studies have shown a somewhat lower cancer risk among vegetarians, much of that may be due to the overall healthier lifestyles of many vegetarians (for example, higher activity levels and tobacco avoidance). In considering the health impact of a vegetarian diet, it's important to look not only at what is not eaten, but also at what is eaten, namely vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans. Simply omitting animal foods while loading up on sweets, chips, French fries and refined grains is not likely to produce the same protection as a diet rich in plant-based foods. In addition, now that maintaining a healthy weight is clearly identified as an important part of reducing cancer risk, choosing a diet that supports this goal is equally important.

Q: Do regimens for detoxifying the lymph system really help weight loss?
A: The lymph system is a major component of the body’s immune system, consisting of organs, nodes, ducts, and tubes that produce and transport lymph, a fluid that carries infection-fighting blood cells. It is not related to weight control. Furthermore, no solid research supports the use of “detoxifying” programs for any benefit to the lymph or immune systems. While some programs that use fasting, enemas and herbal supplements may produce short-term weight loss, those losses stem from losing significant amounts of fluid. Loss of body fat comes from burning more calories than you consume. Experts emphasize that successful weight loss is best achieved by getting some form of physical activity nearly every day, limiting food portions and eating a balanced diet that focuses on vegetables, fruits and whole grains.

Reprinted with permission from the American Institute for Cancer Research