Breast feeding

Breast feeding


Originally published in September 2002 icon

Checking the breast

Breast Feeding and Reducing the Risk of Breast Cancer...

The Bush people of the Kalahari Desert in Africa live in a most inhospitable terrain. The majority of their diet comes from vegetable sources with the odd, lean and usually small animal as a treat. Of course, they have no stress, pollution and electro magnetic radiation to worry about. Seven per cent of their population is over 65 years of age.

Apart from a lack of animal fat and dairy, they take in no salt.

Interestingly, their blood pressure falls as they age, whereas in the Western world ours increases. They also have worn but not bad teeth, whilst in some parts of Europe, a third of the population has no teeth at all.


Naturopaths have often looked at such populations with a knowing delight, particularly as the Bush people view an individual’s illness as something linked to events within the community as a whole.

Breastfeeding is the norm, and continues until the child is four to five years old.

Open quotesChildren who are breastfed are ill less than those fed on substitute productsClose quotes


In the West, some mothers do not breastfeed their children at all, whilst many rarely exceed six months. But natural breast milk contains important agents affording protection against infection. Scientists have clearly shown that children who are breastfed are ill less than those fed on substitute products.


Now in a recent Danish research study, breastfeeding doesn’t just make babies healthier, it also makes them cleverer.

The study involving 9,000 Danish women and men indicated that those who were breastfed to month nine scored significantly higher than those not breastfed beyond month two. Scientists believe breast milk contains nutrients that nourish brain cells.

Now Cancer Research UK has published the definitive study on breastfeeding and breast cancer. It concludes that the more time women spend breastfeeding in her life, the less her risk of breast cancer.

Doctors have long been concerned in the West about the the lengthening years of fertility in women. One hundred and fifty or more years ago a woman was likely to have been fertile from the age of 16 to her late thirties. Without contraception she may have had four children, and these she would have breastfed for nine months or so. The current New York female may have menstrual cycles lasting from her twelfth to her fiftieth birthday, and have two or less children en-route.

This increases her total number of periods from around 240 to around 440 - and that’s a lot more natural oestrogen production and hormone fluctuation. Doctors believe this is reflected in, for example, increasing incidence of endometrioses and polycystic ovary syndrome. Diet and lifestyle are the main overall causes.

Doctors have shown that the fewer menstrual cycles a woman goes through in her life, the lower her chance of breast cancer.

Open quotesThe more time women spend breastfeeding in her life, the less her risk of breast cancerClose quotes


The collaborative group Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer Research UK, published findings in the Lancet on ’Breast Cancer and Breast Feeding’ in late July, 2002.


Having reviewed over 50,000 women with breast cancer and 97,000 without, in 47 studies across 30 countries they concluded that women with breast cancer:

  • Had, on average, fewer births (2.2 vs 2.6)

  • Breastfed for less time in their lives (9.8 vs 15.6 months)

Overall, the relative risk of breast cancer decreased by 7% for each birth, plus 4.3% for every 12 months of breastfeeding.

These figures seem to apply whether one is studying a developed or developing country.

The conclusions stressed that if women had larger families and longer durations of breastfeeding, the culmative incidence of breast cancer in developed countries would fall from 6.3% to 2.7% of women by the age of 70 years.

The report concluded by stating that there were approximately 470,000 women in developed countries with breast cancer, and if women had 2.5 children on average and breastfed each child for 12 months longer than they currently do, approximately 11% (50,000) breast cancers would be prevented annually.

(N.B. For further information, contact Professor Valerie Beal, Cancer Research UK, Epidermology Unit, Gibson Building, Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford OX 26 HE)

In the report the main reason responsible for these findings is that, the more periods a woman has, the greater her overall oestrogen production during her lifetime. Oestrogen is known to have a negative effect on the breast tissue, causing it to become dense, and dense breast tissue is risky breast tissue.

Open quotesThe fewer menstrual cycles a woman goes through in her life, the lower her chance of breast cancerClose quotes


Hormones are very, very powerful chemical substances. Other factors can and do increase the total hormone content in a woman’s body, some of which are external. Recently published research data specifically links time spent using the oestrogen birth control pill, especially in the 40 plus age band, and Hormone Replacement Therapy to significantly higher breast cancer rates.


In July 2002, Cancer Research UK published research findings on the clear benefits of Soya. A study involving two new pieces of research between Cancer Research UK, The National University of Singapore and the US National Cancer Institute found that a diet rich in soya products can affect the make up of breast tissue, potentially reducing breast cancer.

Comparison was made between two groups of women, one with high soya consumption and one with much lower. The protection seems to come in three ways:

  1. From the isoflavones or plant oestrogens, which whilst not as strong as human oestrogens, can compete for the receptor sites on breast cell surfaces - preventing the natural human oestrogen causing problems.

  2. The Plant oestrogens also seem to lengthen a woman’s menstrual cycle, meaning that women who have high soya consumption have fewer menstrual cycles. As indicated above, the fewer the number of menstrual cycles the lower a female’s risk of breast cancer.

  3. Women who consume the most soya are 60% less likely to have dense breast tissue, and dense breast tissue is risky breast tissue.


The study’s co-author, Dr. Stephen Duffy of cancer Research UK’s Mathematics, Statistics and Epidememology Department in London says:


"There has always been a question mark over a connection between soya and breast cancer. Some studies have suggested a link, but others haven’t. This research shows for the first time how the amount of soya a woman eats may have an effect on breast tissue, and in turn may potentially reduce her risk of breast cancer".

Open quotesDense breast tissue is risky breast tissueClose quotes


None of this is helped by dairy consumption. The high-yield dairy machine (commonly called a cow) is a veritable concentration of hormones these days. Its milk is designed to promote the rapid growth of an herbivore with four stomachs (a calf) to full size - in no time at all, compared to you or me, or our children.


Our babies become intolerant of their own mother’s milk in years four to five, so then we give them cow’s milk! Not just in overt dairy products, but in a host of cakes, biscuits and processed foods. Cow’s milk promotes the hormone Insulin Growth Factor 1, which has been proven to promote prostate cancer growth, and is known along with oestrogen, to accelerate malignant cell growth through the ’poisoning’ of receptor sites on breast cells - turning healthy cells malignant. Excessive calcium intake from cow’s milk futher inhibits vitamin D, and this in turn encourages malignant cell growth.

Women may have a lot of reasons for not breastfeeding their children. None of these can possibly be that modern alternatives are better. Not for the mother, and certainly not for the child.

Women who come from a family with a history of breast cancer would do well to heed these various findings

A more basic and natural dairy-free and vegetable based diet, aided by good soya intake, seem the logical way forward. Or is it the way back?

Certainly longer spent breastfeeding each child and an avoidance of the pill and HRT both seem very, very sensible.

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