Impolite Conversation is a place where we can talk about the things we were told not to discuss in polite company - politics, sex, spirituality & religion and money - as well as science, culture, personal development and more. Our content is not all risqué or even rude: When we use the word "Impolite", we're talking about an attitude - one of not blindly following conventions or authority, especailly when they divide (or even oppress) us. Are you Impolite? Find out more about us here and join or community here

Eating for Beating Cancer

Bestselling author Prof Jane Plant of Imperial College London on diet, dairy's risks and more.

 

 

IC:

So Jane, you've sold millions of books around the world about using diet to help beat cancer by complementing conventional treatment yet you're a professor of geochemistry; what makes you an expert on cancer?

 

JP:

Well I've had it six times myself, and I think if I hadn't helped myself I wouldn't be here to tell the story. In fact I'm pretty sure that that's the case. When I had it for the fifth time, my doctor told me, “You have two months to live, if we are lucky.” That was after I'd had radiotherapy, goodness knows how much surgery, I'd had my ovaries irradiated to induce the menopause and I'd started on chemotherapy, which wasn't working. Nothing was working until I discovered what was causing my problems and changed my diet. Having changed my diet, and still on chemotherapy, within six weeks the huge, very horrible tumour I had in my neck had totally gone.

 

IC:

So did you not start looking at diet until the fifth time you had cancer?

 

JP:

No, actually the first time I had it I was told “it hadn't spread, it was just one tumour in your left breast, there was no spread at all, so just go away and forget it and live a normal life.” Being me I couldn't do that, so I started looking around and found the then Bristol diet and unfortunately it was very much: change from meat to things like yoghurt. I followed this faithfully for four and a half years until I became aware that the cancer was back with a big lump under my left arm, but I didn't really get into my own diet until the time the registrar had just told me, “You have two months to live if we are lucky,” which will be 20 years ago this year.

 

IC:

Right.

 

JP:

And then I started looking into it.

 

IC:

Where did you start or what did you find when you looked into it?

 

JP:

Well what happened – it was almost serendipity – was that the Chinese, with whom I'd worked on environmental problems, heard about my predicament and sent me some horrendous-looking herbal suppositories, which was their treatment for breast cancer then. I heard that at that time 1 in 100,000 women in China developed breast cancer (the rate here was 1 in 12)…

 

IC:

Wow!

 

JP:

…And this triggered the thought, “Why don’t Chinese women in China get breast cancer?” So I checked these figures out with their minister of health and it really was the case. I also knew that when Chinese women came and lived in the West they developed breast cancer at the same rates as us so it clearly wasn't genetic; it was something about lifestyle. So I asked Peter, my husband, who’s a geologist and has also worked in China, “What is it about women in China that they don't get breast cancer? Why don't they?” And he thought about it for a few minutes and then he said: “Remember they don't have a dairy industry? I've never seen a cow in China. Remember when we go in the field with them they have to take powdered milk for us?” And suddenly it all added up: For example, I'd once had a delegation of Chinese people visiting and our wonderful Foreign office had said that they loved ice cream. So we had a huge ice cream pudding and they asked what it was and when I told them it was as if somebody had offered them a bowl of cockroaches; they really didn't want to know.

 

IC:

Really? (laughs)

 

JP:

And then, there were things like they called breast cancer 'rich woman's disease'. When you asked them “Why do you call it that?” they would say that the people who got breast cancer ate Hong Kong food, which was much more western than traditional Chinese food. So at that time I had been eating just two organic low-fat yoghurts a day, really to repopulate my gut after chemotherapy. Within six weeks of giving them up, the huge lump in my neck had completely disappeared, and I later learnt that I had had other secondaries (tumours) and they had gone too.

 

IC:

That's incredible.

 

JP:

And I was clear then for eighteen and a half years.

 

IC:

And since then, you and other scientists have come to the conclusion that meat and all animal protein may be cancer forming. How did you come to that realisation?

 

JP:

Well about six years after the dire prediction that I was going to die, I was going to give a lecture at Reading University and I got off the train and literally had a very strange eureka moment. I got off the train and thought: “Gosh, I'm not dead; it's six years now and I'm not dead!” because all of the time I'd been expecting to die. And then it occurred to me, “I have to let other women know about this,” but being a scientist, I was aware I couldn't just write a book saying, you know, “Give up dairy and all will be well,” so I had to do an awful lot of literature research. In my earlier career I had worked a lot with vets and doctors on diseases caused by trace element excesses or deficiencies in the ground, mostly in developing countries, which of course was a very helpful background. I found initially some very important, but not overwhelming, evidence that implicated dairy. Since my first research there's been masses and masses of evidence that dairy is an important factor in breast cancer and prostate cancer.

 

IC:

And in other cancers as well?

 

JP:

Yes, in other cancers too. It contains hormones like oestrogen and testosterone, which are important in some types of breast and prostate cancer. It also contains tiny proteins called growth factors which stimulate lots of cancers; different ones stimulate different cancers. So I just don't think it's a food we have evolved to eat. As regards meat, although some people do find it difficult physiologically if they don't have any and are clearly not designed to be vegan, I've never known anybody suffer from giving up dairy, which confirms with me you're not meant to eat the stuff.

 

IC:

I've heard that people from the Far East think that we Westerners smell of stale cheese or sour milk.

 

JP:

Oh absolutely – sour milk!

 

IC:

And what about the increasing evidence that any animal protein can cause cancer?

 

JP:

Well people like Professor T Colin Campbell, who wrote The China Study, did a very detailed epidemiological study and he found that as soon as people had any animal protein all their indicators would get worse: their blood cholesterol, hormone levels, and growth factor levels. But I’ve honestly found quite a few people I treat don't do well if they're not allowed any meat at all. I'm not sure whether they become deficient in certain vitamins and minerals, although I tell them which vitamins and mineral supplements to take. Some people seem to need a small amount of meat and so for them I suggest a little grass-fed meat, not grain or soya-fed meat: lamb, venison, rabbit or something like that.

 

IC:

And is your advice that the general population, people who don't have cancer, avoid meat?

 

JP:

I think small amounts of meat are OK for most people but I don't think anybody should have dairy. Cows used to produce a few pints of milk a day; now they’re producing far more, which drives growth factors up far more.

 

IC:

You don’t seem to have as much of an issue with children having dairy products…

 

JP:

I’d rather they didn’t have it. I think the Chinese had it right; the only time in your life when you need milk is when you’re a baby. If the Chinese couldn’t breast feed they’d find a wet nurse, which is not a good idea in the days of HIV, but when I used to work in China in the 80s they would never give cow’s milk to children, never.

 

IC:

So are breast cancer rates and prostate cancer rates in China rising now as dairy consumption increases?

 

JP:

Yes they are.

 

IC:

Do you know the incidence now?

 

JP:

Not off the top of my head; it’s in my latest book but I don’t remember it . Wherever populations switch to the Standard American Diet (SAD) all sorts of health issues increase. I was looking yesterday at the increase in obesity and diabetes in America between 1991 and 2001; both have absolutely rocketed.

 

IC:

Due to diet?

 

JP:

Other senior scientists and doctors think certainly it’s a factor.

 

IC:

So what does your diet propose?

 

JP:

Lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, small amounts of meat if you’re eating meat, unrefined cereals, pulses and soya. Herbs and spices are good too. I suggest organic because I prefer to have fewer man-made chemicals in my diet, you can find out more in my books “The Plant Programme” and “Eating for Better Health.”

 

IC:

Lots of people will be asking where one gets one’s calcium, if not from dairy.

 

JP:

Well, from fruit and vegetables. The idea that you take in calcium from milk is crazy. The time we need most milk is when we’re babies, and human milk has got just the right amount of calcium for babies in it. Cow’s milk has got approximately five times that amount, which is totally over the top, and the idea that people need calcium pills does not make sense to me as a scientist. I mean, lobbing a calcium pill into the stomach, which is meant to be a bag of acid, means the stomach then has to top up the acid and may give people acid reflux. And if you look, even orange juice has more calcium in it than mother’s milk. Even the World Health Organisation have put out a statement saying that the western diet, even if it’s totally vegetable, is not going to be deficient in calcium.

 

IC:

I understand you’re working on a book at the moment with the Professor of Cancer Biology at Imperial College London. Can you tell me more about it please?

 

JP:

Yes, his name is Professor Mustafa Djamgoz and he’s a biophysicist. He works on the electricity in the body and specialises in looking at how excitable tissue, like neurons, communicate. Such tissues have a particular way of exchanging electrical activity, for example by swapping sodium ions with a positive charge. One day he had a Eureka moment and realised cancer communicates in the same way and he is now regarded as a world expert in this field.

 

IC:

And your book with Professor Djamgoz is…

 

JP:

“10 Steps to Beat Cancer”. It’s published on 12th September this year.

 

IC:

One final question, I’ve heard people say stress can cause diseases such as cancer. What are your views on this? Is it only diet or are there other factors? And if so, what are the other factors?

 

JP:

There are other factors: the other two main factors, and they’re interconnected, are stress and strain. Unfortunately doctors use stress to mean both the applied force, the applied problem and your body’s reaction to it. They’ve pinched this from engineers; stress is the applied pressure and strain is the body being stressed. So for example if you apply stress to copper wire it will bend; the strain is the bend and it’s when you have strain that there is a problem because it does affect your physiology, it does it increase levels of cortisol which does drop your levels of immunity and make you prone to other illnesses. It’s basically chronic stress that causes that. You know, if you just have a quick row with your partner and then you settle down that’s not going to do much damage, but if you’re under chronic stress, that causes strain…

 

IC:

Emotional stress?

 

JP:

Yes, that causes strain in your body, so your physiology is disrupted. I believe that is a big factor in cancer. We now know that cancer is an epigenetic disease, not a genetic disease, which means cancer genes can be switched on but they can also be switched off, according to the latest scientific thinking. The three most important factors in switching cancer genes off are considered to be a diet, such as the one I’ve described, stress management and exercise. Exercise interacts with strain because basically strain is when you have a fight or flight reaction switched on. For example, to deal with an angry bear, your body produces chemicals like the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline to help you fight it or run away. So if you burn up those hormones or nasty chemicals in other ways, by exercising, then that’s going to help you too. So those are the three main pillars of tackling cancer.

 

IC: Thank you very much.

 

Professor Jane Plant CBE, FREng, FRSM, FRSE is one of the world's leading geochemists, and was chief scientist of the British Geological Survey (BGS) from 2000 to 2005, as well as Professor of Geochemistry at Imperial College, London. Her books have sold millions of copies worldwide include 'Your Life In Your Hands: Understand, Prevent and Overcome Breast Cancer and Ovarian Cancer', 'The Plant Programme: Recipes for Fighting Breast and Prostate Cancer' and 'Eating for Better Health". They contain hundreds of references to the peer-reviewed scientific literature behind her work.

 

Jane graduated with a Class I Honours degree in geology at Liverpool University in 1967, gaining her PhD in geochemistry at Leicester University ten years later. She worked at the British Geological Survey for her whole professional career, taking a leading role from the start in developing Britain's national geochemical database, with its direct applications in mineral exploration - and most significantly (and at first unexpectedly) in the new field of environmental health: during the 1970s it was Jane Plant's team which identified links between deficiency diseases in livestock and the geochemistry of the land on which they lived.

 

Alongside her BGS position, Jane has held other senior posts, including: Chief Scientist, Head of Geoscience Resources and Facilities Directorate 2000-02 and Vice President, Middleton Exploration during a sabbatical year in 1988-89.

Staff Writer

About the Writer

no pic yet

 

Please log in to comment. You can join our community here.

 

Comments are moderated in line with The Guardian's community standards

Comments

Interesting. What does Jane think about organic milk, I wonder. Does organic milk also contain these harmful hormones she talks about?

Sorry for the delayed reply. We've passed your question on to Jane and she's replied that organic milk does contain the harmful hormones; the mythical Chinese Emperor Shen Nung said in his book written 5,000 years ago that one should not have food that starts its life as liquid udder and that stood the Chinese in good stead until recently, when they started to adopt a western diet and srarted to suffer from western diseases. Indeed, the rate of increase in breast cancer there is now one of the highest in the world.

What's Hot


Dan Steiner applauds our 10th edition with a brief look at clapping's origins



What if you weren’t born where you were?
Which nationalities would you rather and rather not be?



Our Deputy Editor, who was bullied at school, believes we need to take a much broader view on bullying to properly tackle the problem


X