Breast Health Tip #5: Fats to Avoid

BREAST HEALTH TIP 5: Fats to Avoid Avoid saturated animal fats, trans fats, and excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids. All of these fats have been linked with an increased risk of breast cancer.

Certain types of fat are very bad for your body. They damage your overall health and significantly increase your risk of breast cancer and other serious diseases. The worst types of fats are saturated fats—especially animal fats—and fats that have been chemically altered, called trans fats or hydrogenated fats.

Saturated Fats

Eating a diet high in saturated animal fats, like those found in red meat and high-fat dairy, notably increases your risk of breast cancer. A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2003 interviewed 90,655 women and found that young, pre-menopausal women between the ages of twenty-six and forty-six who consumed the highest amounts of red meat and high-fat dairy had a higher risk of breast cancer than those who ate only a small amount of these fats.

What’s interesting, according to the study’s principal researcher, Eunyong Cho, is that this study “found that earlier [dietary habits] have a stronger impact on later breast cancer risk. In other words, women had an increased risk if, as young adults, they had a higher intake of animal fat, mainly from meat and dairy fat.” But don’t think that this means there’s nothing you can do now to reverse the damage. You can. Remember, other studies show that decreasing your saturated-fat intake lowers your estrogen levels and significantly reduces your danger of developing breast cancer.

When you eat saturated animal fats, they make the cells throughout your body more insulin-resistant, and consequently increase the level of insulin in our blood. This seemingly innocent, normal response actually brings on a flood of increased risk; high insulin levels are one of the biggest risk factors and promoters of breast cancer. Women with abnormally elevated insulin levels have a 283 percent higher risk of developing breast cancer than those with normal insulin levels.

Saturated animal fats are a storehouse for concentrated toxic chemicals such as pesticides. Some of these chemicals mimic estrogen and make cell division in the breast speed up rapidly. The faster cells divide in your breast, the higher will be your risk of breast cancer. If the animals and animal products you eat were not organically raised, the level of toxic chemicals in them can be quite high. In addition, these animals are commonly given hormones and growth factors that, when you ingest them, speed up breast-cell division. These hormones are also very dangerous for women with breast cancer, because they cause breast tumors to grow more rapidly.

Organic, but Not Toxin-Free

Organically raised animals, by law, must be fed only organically grown foods. They cannot be given any antibiotics, hormones, or growth factors. Despite this, organically raised animals aren’t always completely toxin-free. Some of them may have small amounts of toxic chemicals concentrated in their fat. Why are there toxins in organic animals? Primarily because, instead up being confined in stalls, they graze in pastures. Although being outdoors is a good thing, our environment is contaminated with hundreds, if not thousands, of toxins. Rainwater may, and often does, contain poisonous chemicals. When it rains, these dangerous compounds fall onto the pasture and into the ponds where organic animals eat and drink.

There’s another reason why organically raised animals may contain toxins. Harmful chemicals are generally very persistent in our environment. That means that they don’t break down easily. For a farm to become certified organic, no synthetic or questionably safe chemicals may have been used on the land for a minimum of three years. But some of these toxins persist in the soil for much longer than three years. In fact, it’s not unusual for them to last twenty years or more.

IGF-1: A Top Breast-Health Enemy

Insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) is a huge promoter of breast cancer, as well as prostate and colon cancers. In fact, scientists have found that there’s nothing we know of that stimulates breast cancer or prostate cancer more than IGF-1! This growth factor is like throwing rocket fuel onto the flames of cancer.

You can avoid inundating your body with excessive amounts of IGF-1 by steering clear of conventional dairy products. In the United States, cows are routinely injected with a genetically engineered growth hormone called “recombinant bovine growth hormone.” When rBGH is injected into a cow, it causes a natural growth factor, IGF-1, to be released into the body of the cow. Cows injected with rBGH have been found to have unusually high levels of IGF-1 in their fat and milk. When you consume IGF-1 in animal products, it normally breaks down in your stomach and causes no harm. But when IGF-1 is consumed in milk, it doesn’t break down. The protein in milk, called casein, prevents IGF-1 from breaking down, so it’s all absorbed into your body.

A study published in the British journal The Lancet in 1998 documented the enormous risk associated with IGF-1. The risk of breast cancer among pre-menopausal women younger than fifty-one who had the highest levels of IGF-1 in their blood was found to be 700 percent higher than the average.

The reason that the IGF-1 bite is so venomous is because there are IGF-1 receptors on breast cells, just as there are estrogen receptors. Research has found that IGF-1 and estrogen interact. According to a study from Georgetown University published in 2002, estradiol and IGF-1, through a complex “cross-talk” mechanism, stimulate normal breast cells to start dividing.

In summery, when you eat the non-organic saturated animal fats found in meat and dairy products, your risk of breast cancer escalates from a triple threat:

  1. High insulin levels (as a response to the saturated fats),
  2. High IGF-1 levels (from rBGH-injected cows), and
  3. Toxic estrogenic hormones and chemicals (either injected into or fed to the cows).

This is why you should avoid non-organic red meats and dairy as much as possible. If you love dairy products, you can minimize your risk by eating only that which has been organically produced and is low in fat.

Trans fats: Another Top Breast-Health Enemy

Of all the fats you can eat, trans fats are the most dangerous. Trans fats are man-made. They are natural fats that have been chemically altered by adding extra hydrogen atoms. That’s why they are also called “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” fats. Chemical engineers created these fats in an effort to make processed foods taste better and to increase their shelf-life. They were successful. Hydrogenated fats make foods such as potato chips crispier, and they increase the shelf-life of processed foods such as crackers, chips, cookies, and baked goods. But what they didn’t know was that the fats they created also promote serious diseases, including heart disease and cancer.

The reason that trans fats are so bad for you is because they promote oxygen free radicals—molecules that cause damage to your cells and DNA, damage that can lead to cancer. Trans fats also encourage inflammation, which, in turn, creates more oxygen free radicals. Chronic inflammation has been identified as a key factor in the initiation and progression of breast cancer.

All these ill effects add up to a high probability of developing breast cancer. Research has found that women with the highest amounts of trans fats in their bodies have a 40 percent increased risk. And if that isn’t bad enough, cancer isn’t the only disease provoked by chronic inflammation. It’s thought to play a big role in many degenerative diseases, including heart disease, the #1 killer of American men and women.

Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Fats are made up of smaller units of molecules called fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are needed by your body to function properly. But if you eat too much of them, they increase your risk of breast cancer. Studies have found that women with the highest amounts of omega-6 fatty acids in their bodies have a 69 percent increased risk of breast cancer. If you have breast cancer, eating large amounts of omega-6 fatty acids can make your prognosis—and your chance of survival—worse. These fatty acids increase the likelihood that your cancer will metastasize, spreading to other parts of your body.

Oils High in Omega-6 Fatty Acids


Commercial salad dressings



Grape seed








Protective Fats

Not all fats are bad for you. There are some that are highly protective and health-promoting. Omega-3 fatty acids found in flax seeds and flax oil is considered the healthiest type of fat that you can eat.

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Written by Christine Horner MD FACS

Explore Wellness in 2021