Hormones, Cancer and Dairy: What is the relationship? A dive into The Metabolic Approach to Cancer: Chapter 10

By Dr. Kirsten West, ND, LAc

Unfortunately, some of the primary cancers we see here, at Optimal Terrain, (and in fact, across the board in the oncology community) are hormonal and colorectal cancer. It does beg the question of why? Why are breast, prostate, ovarian and colorectal cancers on the rise? And what can we do to prevent risk? While a crystal ball is not within our physician tools, we, as healthcare professionals can only postulate, hypothesize and continue questioning those things in the world and the clinical practice. In fact, we are good at sleuthing. Doctors must be, as we are always attempting to elucidate a cause.

It is clear that our environment has changed greatly from what we once knew as foragers and gatherers. The majority of the population has shelter, body care and household products as well as food whenever we should need. The days of going without meals, either because a hunt was unsuccessful or because the harvest was bare, are no more. And, while we are exceedingly lucky to live without those stressors now, it is may be the lifestyle now adopted which is serving more harm than good. The case for hormonal and colorectal cancers is a clear example of this, and Chapter 10 dives into the reasons why.

Primary causes, which I have come to know well through patient case taking, are those associated with exogenous estrogenic and growth hormone-like substances found in our food and in our environment. While there is not time to go into all of these factors here (and why reading the book is a great idea!), one stands out clearly, and that is the production and consumption of modern dairy (and animal) products. In fact, depending on the type, dairy sourced from modern/mass-produced farming practices, may not be so innocent. Here is a great explanation why:

One of the most common ways to force greater milk production is with injection of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), a genetically engineered artificial hormone. A Monsanto product, rBGH was approved by the FDA in 1993, but again, Canada and the European Union have banned its use in dairy cows due to its health risks both for humans and cows. Meanwhile, nonorganic cheese, yogurt, ice cream, butter, whey protein isolates, or any US product with milk derivatives that is not organic, there is a good chance it contains rBGH (and other growth-promoting hormones).

These products have been found to also contain higher levels of IGF-1, the hormone that regulates insulin function and carbohydrate metabolism and also causes the pituitary gland to induce cell growth and replication. Many studies have found higher levels of IGF-1 associated with increased risk of breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer. The primary action of the breast cancer drug tamoxifen is to reduce blood IGF-1 levels, so we know how powerful its effects are. In fact, IGF-1 is widely considered the number one driver of “triple negative” cancers and most ovarian cancers. If you currently have a high IGF-1 level, your first step should be to stop eating commercially raised animals and dairy products. If you have been eating very clean meat sources (100 percent pasture-raised, organic) and your IGF-1 levels are still high, then you want to drastically decrease meat consumption to approximately 5–10 percent or less of the diet and stick to eggs, fish, and chicken bone broth until levels drop. Meanwhile, for everyone else, there is never a time to eat or drink meat, milk or milk by-products that are not labeled organic or have been treated with hormones. Ever.”

For this reason, the consumption of organic dairy from grass fed cows is imperative. And, as noted, the truth about dairy consumption, and its effects on health may be associated with IGF-1 levels. Overall, IGF-1 can be managed and its risk factors therefore mediated. Intermittent fasting, a ketogenic diet and of course, the intake of select dairy (or avoidance of dairy all together) may all help. The Metabolic Approach to Cancer explains how.