Ask the Nutritionist
Q: I have breast cancer that is estrogen related. Can I still eat plant-based estrogen products like soy or prunes, or animal products like cows’ milk, etc.?
Linda, Worcester, Massachusetts
A: There is a lot of controversy surrounding consumption of phytoestrogens and soy products for patients with estrogen sensitive cancer.
Soy does contain isoflavones, a plant based nutrient, which exert a weak estrogen-like effect on the body. It is still unknown whether or not excessive consumption of soy isoflavones may fuel the growth of estrogen-dependent breast cancer cells. Please refer to Soy Lecithin and Breast Cancer for information on safe soy foods.
In fruits and vegetables, the benefits greatly outweigh any potential negatives of their minimal phytoestrogen content. Any phytoestrogen effect from vegetables or fruits, such as prunes, is negligible and has not been shown to be harmful in any way. Phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables promote immune support and detoxification in the body and are excellent sources of disease-fighting nutrients.
There has been no conclusive evidence of hormones in meat or dairy contributing to breast cancer risk. However, for many reasons, it makes sense to choose a low-fat version of these foods and to keep red meat intake to 4-6 ounces per week at most and choose organic, grass-fed or hormone free, when possible. A local farm that offers a dairy and meat CSA (community supported agriculture) is a great choice.
Please read more about the potential phytoestrogen effect of flaxseeds.