Top High Lignan Foods that Lower Breast Cancer Risk

by Dr. Nalini Chilkov

Brown Flax Seeds.
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Postmenopausal women who consume diets rich in a plant chemicals called lignans have a lower risk of breast cancer. A review of 21 studies  from the German Cancer Research Center in Neherberg, Germany found that postmenopausal women with high lignan intakes in their diets were 14% less likely to develop breast cancer when compared to women who consumed diets low in lignans.  Other studies have shown that diets high in lignans also reduce risk of ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer. (The endometrium is the lining of the uterus.)  So, we can see that a high lignan diet impacts the estrogen related cancers in women.

Lignans are a type of plant estrogen and a fat soluble antioxidant that is found in  high concentrations in flax seeds, sesame seeds and in smaller amounts of fruits, vegetables such as kale and broccoli, whole grains and legumes such as soybeans. Plant lignans are the principal source of phytoestrogens in the diets of people who do not typically consume soy foods.

Flaxseed is by far the richest dietary source of plant lignans, and lignan bioavailability can be improved by crushing or milling flaxseed. Lignans are not associated with the oil fraction of foods, so flaxseed oils do not typically provide lignans unless ground flaxseed has been added to the oil.

Researchers at the University of Alabama School of Medicine found that lignan rich soy helps postmenopausal women lose weight.

Here is a chart of the top Lignan containing foods:

Although lignans are “plant estrogens” they actually block the effects of a woman’s own more powerful estrogen, thus reducing overall estrogenic effects. And lignans also exert an anti-estrogenic effect, a protective effect on the breast, ovarian and uterine tissues while have a positive effect on bone density in women at risk for bone loss, osteoporosis and hip fracture.

Lignans prevent free radical formation and oxidative stress leading to cell damage. Lignans scavenge free radicals that have already formed. Black sesame seeds contain higher levels of antioxidants than  the more common brown sesame seeds.  Black sesame seeds can be found in Asian grocery stores.

Lignans also reduce risk of cardiovascular disease which kills more women overall than  does cancer.  One study showed that adding just 40 grams (two heaping tablespoons) of flax seed meal daily  lowered high risk  LDL cholesterol by 10%. Flax seeds are also high on Omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids which have positive effects on both cardiovascular risk and cancer risk.  Similar more recent studies have shown the value of sesame lignans as well.

Clearly, adding lignan rich foods to the diet on a regular basis will reduce the risk of the primary diseases that threaten women’s health.

Add whole flax seeds,  ground flax seed meal, sesame seeds and  whole sesame butter ( not tahini) to your diet on a regular basis. Add soybeans and soy products.  Add kale and broccoli also rich in cancer protective sulphoraphanes,  as well as deeply colored apricots, strawberries, all high in protective  carotenoids and plant antioxidants.  Not only will you reap the benefits of ligans and fatty acids, but you will also be getting Vitamin E and added fiber.  When we include a variety of plant based superfoods we get more than one gift from each plant.  That is the beauty in the design of nature.

How do you use flax seeds and sesame in your diet?  Do you have some special soy or kale dishes?

You may also like

Anti Cancer Shopping List and Check List

Is Soy Safe? Breast Cancer and Menopause

Foods That Starve Cancer: A Video by Dr. William Li, MD

References

Buck, K., Zaineddin, A. et al: Meta analysis of lignans and entrolignans in relation to breast cancer risk.  Am, Jl. of Clin. Nut. 2010 May 12

Christie, D., Grant. J, Metabolic effects of soy supplementation in postmenopausal  Caucasian and African American Women.  Am Jl of Ob&Gyn 2010 April 21

Linus Pauling Institute Reseach Newsletter

Yamashita, K. Comparative effects of flaxseed and sesame seeds Lipids. 2003 Dec;38(12):1249-55.


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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jaya Bodele, Dr. Nalini Chilkov. Dr. Nalini Chilkov said: Lower Breast Cancer, Ovarian , Uterine with Flax and Sesame http://ow.ly/3ECGl [...]

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  3. [...] breast cancer treatment, many women are prescribed aromatase inhibitors* to prevent recurrence of estrogen sensitive tumors. These drugs can cause joint pain that leads many women to stop using them, thus increasing their [...]

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  5. [...] breast cancer treatment, many women are prescribed aromatase inhibitors* to prevent recurrence of estrogen sensitive tumors. These drugs can cause joint pain that leads many women to stop using them, thus increasing their [...]

  6. nanabella15 says:

    I am 51 and still ovulating! My gyn put me on Loloestran FE and since starting it, I haven’t had a period, which is not a bad thing. I am 5’3″, 185 lbs, and exercise lazily!!! I have a 2-story townhome so I am up and down 17 stairs 50 times a day. With the birth-control pills, is flax meal ok to ingest? Do I need anymore estrogen in my system by way of phyto-estrogens? Would the benefit of the lignans override the possible overdoing of the estrogen running through my system? Thanks for any answers you can give me!

  7. Dr. Nalini Chilkov says:

    I am not in favor of using birth control pills in a woman of your age due to increased risk of blood clots. However, this is a discussion and decision between you and your doctor. The lignans in flax seeds are not contraindicated while using birth control pills. In order to determine your hormonal status, testing should be done with your physician. Each woman is unique. Decisions must be made with information. I would recommend that you reduce your per cent body fat. This will contribute to more normal hormone balance, less inflammation and oxidative stress as well as lower risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and joint stress.

  8. [...] To get started right now, read about the Top High Lignan Foods that Lower Breast Cancer Risk [...]

  9. Dear Nanabella, Only your health care provider can guide you in terms of estrogen needs.  You may wish to request a blood test to make an informed decision together with your doctor.  I am not in favor of drugs that stop menstruation, a natural sloughing off of the lining of the uterus, a place where cancer cells can arise.  Eating high lignan flax seeds is not a “treatment” for low estrogen or for menopause.  Flax is a highly nutritious food, and can be a therapeutic food. It is not a drug.  Flax seeds and lignans provide a healthy source of fiber, healthy fats, and phytochemicals that scavenge free radicals and oxidative stress (protecting cells).  Because the flax lignans bind to estrogen receptors and block a woman’s own estrogen, there may actually be an anti-estrogen effect.  This is thought to be protective against hormone receptor positive cancers. There  should be no harm and no drug-food interactions eating a table spoon of flax meal or flax seeds daily.

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