The Soya-Dairy Controvesy

Cancer Prevention - Diet and Lifestyle

The Dangers of Cows’ Dairy

Originally published in icon, issue 4 2006

PlantAs many of you will know, Professor Jane Plant was herself once diagnosed with breast cancer.  Worse, after various orthodox treatments and yet further recurrences, Jane was told she had but a few months to live.  So she set about trying to find what had caused and was maintaining her cancer and ‘cured’ herself, much to the surprise of her medical consultants.  We recommend you read her story in her excellent book,  ‘Your Life in Your Hands’, follow this link for a review of the book. There’s no doubt that Jane’s decision to give up dairy and implement a strict diet programme saved her life at the time. Sadly a decade later she succumbed to a recurrence.

Jane was an author of several books and sat on several Government and Interest Committees connected with Health and Cancer. Her ’Plant Programme’ was widely respected as a ‘diet and more’ for people wanting to beat cancer and she launched a website, with her friend Laura Jones describing it as, ‘‘like an interactive ‘Your Life in Your Hands/Plant Programme, which I can keep updated’’.

A couple of years ago at icon we wrote an article (The White Stuff - soya, cows’ dairy and genestein), which we updated in 2016, and recommended cancer patients stayed away from cows’ milk. The article met with some protest and even two cases of doctors refusing to treat their female patient if they didn’t ‘Get off soya and go back on to dairy straight away’. Sad, but true. So, at the risk of yet more medical controversy, we asked Jane to give us her views and evidence for why she believes soya, not dairy, should be used by our readers.  

The soya-dairy controversy, by Professor Jane Plant

In Marilyn Glenville’s book about natural alternatives to HRT she strongly recommends soya products, with their high contents of phyto (plant)-oestrogens as a means of reducing menopausal symptoms. In my own books about overcoming breast cancer and prostate cancer I also recommend soya to replace dairy, as do many other independent health writers, including  Professor T. Colin Campbell, Dr John MacDougall and John Robbins, all authors of international best-selling books about food and health. So what is the problem with soya? Why, over the past few years, has there been so much anti-soya propaganda? Why is it that even some health professionals tell women not to have soya because it contains phyto-oestrogens, especially if they have had breast cancer? Worst of all is the slur that those recommending soya as part of a healthy diet are in the pay of the soya industry.

Go To: The Rainbow Diet

According to Marilyn Glenville the problem is that, “The good publicity for soya tends to alarm another section of industry, the pharmaceutical giants, who stand to lose a lot of money if alternatives to HRT are found. The dairy industry, which would lose out if the population shifts to soya instead of milk and other dairy products, is also affected.” In his authoritative book on nutrition and disease, Professor T. Colin Campbell recounts a particularly unpleasant smear campaign mounted against him in which the (US) National Dairy Council were involved. He states, “Prevention of cancer with low cost, low profit plant foods was not welcomed by the food and pharma-medical industries. With support from a trusting media, their combined power to influence the public was overwhelming”.

So what is the scientific evidence against soya and does it stand up to scrutiny? To understand the situation we must compare the health effects of soya and dairy.

First, there is good scientific evidence that animal protein plays a key role in the initiation, promotion and proliferation of many types of cancer. In experiment after experiment, all published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature - and with many experiments reproduced by others - Campbell  has shown convincingly that animal protein dramatically increases cancer (including of the breast, liver and pancreas) rates in experimental animals, irrespective of the dose of powerful carcinogens they were given. What was the animal protein used in the experiments? It was casein, cow’s milk protein. Campbell checked if soya had the same effect. In his famous book ‘The China Study’ he states, “We also examined whether soy protein had the same effect on (cancer) foci development. Rats fed 20% soy protein did not form cancer foci just like those on wheat protein diets. Suddenly milk protein was not looking so good.” He goes on, “Like switching a light switch on and off, we could control cancer promotion merely by changing protein, regardless of initial carcinogen exposure. But the cancer-promoting factor was cow’s milk protein. It was difficult enough for my colleagues to accept the idea that protein might help cancer grow but cow’s milk protein. Was I crazy?”  I, for one, don’t think so. Casein is the component in milk that contains growth factors such as IGF-1 and EGF that carry ‘grow and develop’ messages to baby calves and which are identical in their chemistry to the growth factors that promote cancer cells and cause them to proliferate.

The epidemiology is also clear. Countries such as China that traditionally obtained most of their protein from soya and had little or no dairy had much lower rates of breast and prostate cancer and other cancers of affluence than in the West. The famous cancer atlas of China, commissioned in the early 1970s when the Chinese premier Zhou Enlai was dying of cancer, shows a (raw) background rate of breast cancer of 1 woman in 100,000 there, compared to one woman in 10 (now 9) in the West, a difference of about 10,000 times.

Plant2There are several reasons why soya is protective.   Soya does not contain growth factors, or animal oestrogens, and it is unlikely to bio-accumulate endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Dairy, on the other hand, contains growth factors and contributes 60-80% of our dietary intake of oestrogen, the remainder coming mostly from meat. A high intake of animal oestrogens over a lifetime has been shown to increase oestrogen exposure by about 2.5-3 times. The consequences of this are early age onset of menstruation, late menopause, and high levels of circulating female hormones in the blood. All of these are powerful risk factors for breast cancer, although most health professionals - and many charities - seem unaware of their connection with diet. Many endocrine-disrupting chemicals are fat soluble and bioaccumulate up the food chain, becoming particularly concentrated in milk. A recent study in Singapore showed that women who kept to the traditional soya based Chinese diet were 60% less likely to have high risk breast tissue.

Go To: Is breast cancer programmed by childhood diet?

There has been some comment that the Chinese use of soya was linked several thousand years ago to their ability to ferment it. But soya beans are pretty much the same as most ‘beans’ in terms of dietary benefit. In fact when the ‘China Study’ was carried out in the 1980’s, by Professor Sir Richard Peto and Professor T. Colin Campbell, the Chinese were eating soya in a variety of forms, such as bean curd or soya milk etc. This study was done at about the same time as the Cancer Atlas of China, referred to above, which showed only 1 in 100,000 women were affected by Breast Cancer and did not bother to record prostate cancer because the incidence was so low. Indeed, I began to visit China at about this same time, and the Chinese were certainly eating soya in all the forms and as all the products I recommend - and I talked to doctors who had hardly seen a case of breast cancer in their careers

But what about phyto-oestrogens (a word simply meaning plant oestrogens)? These are the substances in soya being used by health professionals, who really should know better, to persuade their patients to avoid soya. As I pointed out in my book Your Life in Your Hands, most vegetables and fruit contain phyto-oestrogens or substances converted to them in the gut. Such foods include whole grain cereals, seeds such as linseed, sesame and sunflower seeds, garlic, spices, peanuts cabbage, hops, tea, herbs such as sage and fennel, rhubarb, strawberries, cranberries, bilberries and peas and beans, legumes which - of course - include soya. Doctors keep recommending lots of fruit and vegetables, so why be so inconsistent? Have they been persuaded to be anti-soya and not found out the facts for themselves? The key point about plant oestrogens is that, although chemically similar to mammalian oestrogen, their potency is between 1/500th to 1/1000th less than that of animal oestrogen. Indeed their anti breast cancer activity is thought partly to reflect their ability to attach to receptors in breast tissue and prevent the much more powerful animal oestrogen affecting it (in a similar way to that in which Tamoxifen is thought to work).  Phyto-oestrogens, especially those in soya, are also antioxidants that inhibit cell proliferation and the ability of tumours to develop their own blood supply. So what do the real scientific experts say?

The Royal Society is one of the most authoritative independent scientific organisations in the world. After consideration of all the evidence on plant oestrogens and human health they state:  “Many foods contain plant oestrogens; soya is one of the richest sources. Paradoxically, plant oestrogens may reduce exposure to endogenous (the body’s own) oestrogens and therefore be beneficial”. The same report considers that, “Human exposure to oestrogens has likely increased due to increased consumption of dairy, especially since pregnant cows continue to be milked, a practice that began during World War II”.

Finally, on the question of cancer, people often say, “Well yes, Chinese people do have much less breast cancer and prostate cancer than people following a Western lifestyle but -  of course -  they have much more stomach, cervical and liver cancer”. That is true. But whereas breast cancer, prostate cancer and other hormone-dependant cancers and colorectal cancer are cancers of affluence, with a strong dietary component, the common cancers in China have been the cancers of poverty. They are related to chronic infection by the hepatitis B virus (liver), Helicobacter pylori (stomach and oesophagus), human papilloma virus (cervix) or to eating food contaminated by micro-organisms called aflatoxins. As China becomes increasingly Westernised, the cancers of affluence are taking over from the cancers of poverty.

Some of the other advantages of soya for health generally are that it is free of lactose and free of saturated fats and cholesterol; it contains antioxidants, and calcium and magnesium in a ratio much better for bones than dairy. Also it has lots of fibre as well as B vitamins and lecithin. Importantly, it contains all the essential amino acids, so just one portion of tofu a day will help ensure you have an adequate intake of protein. Just one problem: soya, like lots of other vegetables - such as broccoli and watercress, for example, contains substances called goitrogens which can cause the thyroid to under-perform. For this reason I always recommend people take a good quality kelp supplement. Also I eat only non-GMO soya that has been organically grown and I eat only traditional foods such as Miso, Bean Curd/ Tofu or Natto. I never eat imitation bacon or cheese or other such foods made from soya and I recommend against taking soya extracts such as genistein. Finally soya should be eaten as part of a healthy varied diet such as the Plant Programme. This Programme, that I used to help myself and others recover from cancer, recommends that a healthy diet includes at least 33 different ingredients a day. I know - from the many communications I continue to receive - how helpful the Plant Programme is in helping to prevent, treat and overcome not only breast cancer but many other types of cancer as well.

One final question for the dairy industry: If soya is such a poor food, why is so much used as animal feed – especially by the dairy industry to feed cows??

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