Food is a Powerful Preventative Medicine + More News from the 2022 NAMS Annual Meeting

6 minute read

By: Corinne Menn, D.O.|Last updated: June 14, 2023
Grey haired woman in pigtails shopping for vegetables at a green market. AW534

Last month I attended the North American Menopause Society’s annual meeting and learned even more about midlife nutrition that I wanted to share.

My biggest takeaways:  

  1. We need to think of food as powerful preventative medicine. 

  2. A plant based, whole grain, high fiber diet will do more to prevent heart disease and breast cancer than anything else you do.

  3. Your gut health matters—a lot! 

  4. The right nutrition + hormone therapy = a powerful duo for menopausal women.

Breast Cancer, Prevention and Nutrition

Some startling facts about cancer risk:

  • 33% of Breast Cancer is preventable!

  • A plant based diet rich in fruit, vegetables and whole grains leads to a 21% reduced breast cancer mortality and 15% overall mortality in women with breast cancer

  • Overwhelming evidence tells us that estrogen therapy, with or without bio-identical progesterone at menopause does not raise your risk of breast cancer and is safe in all women, including those at high risk due to family history or BRCA+ mutation. 

The Gut Microbiome, Hormones, & Bone Health

Your GI tract is your body’s first line of defense! A high fiber, plant based diet promotes the good bacteria in your gut, limits bad bacteria, and maintains a healthy gut lining. Menopause and the lack of estrogen directly affects your GI tract lining, making it more “leaky” and allowing more inflammatory factors to get into your blood vessels and your bones. At menopause, a poor gut microbiome is directly linked to more rapid bone loss and osteoporosis. The exciting news is that recent research showed that taking a high quality probiotic improves gut health, decreasing this “leakiness,” and prevents bone loss. Add HRT and a probiotic to a healthy diet and you have a powerful toolkit for bone protection!

The Science Is Clear On The Best Way to Eat

There is strong scientific evidence that the Mediterranean Diet or a plant based diet significantly decreases risk of being obese and overweight which in turn lowers breast cancer risk. You will get maximal cancer prevention benefits with five servings of fruit and vegetables a day. Remember, not all plant based diets are created equal! A healthy, plant based diet reduces breast cancer risk by almost 15%, but an UNHEALTHY plant based diet (sugary fruit juices and smoothies, refined grains, potatoes) has a 20% INCREASE risk of breast cancer. 

Calcium & Vitamin D Myths Busted!

Calcium is crucial for bone development in children and teens, but once bones are formed–additional calcium neither prevents or treats bone loss! Forget calcium supplements at menopause, as they are poorly absorbed, and multiple studies have shown they may cause an increase in calcium build up in your arteries and may raise risk for colon polyps and cancer. Women should get the recommended 1200 mg per day of calcium from their diet. Plants are the original source of calcium absorbing minerals from the soil. Excellent sources include almonds, oranges, figs, soybeans, garbanzo beans, kale, spinach, and broccoli. Salmon is also one of best non-dairy sources of calcium. 

Lay off the meat!

Regular intake of processed meats like bacon, hot dogs, salami, cold cuts, and chicken nuggets raises your cancer risk by 18%. The WHO considers processed meats Group 1A Carcinogen. Women who regularly consume red meat, especially well done meat, have much higher rates of breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends limiting red meat intake and choosing other proteins like fish and beans instead. Replacing 1 serving of red meat a day demonstrates a 23% reduced risk of premenopausal breast cancer, and 15% reduction in breast cancer at any age. 

Whole Soy Is Safe!

There are lots of myths out there about soy but we have clear guidelines. The American Cancer Society states that soy food consumption lowers the risk of breast cancer mortality and recurrence and is safe for all women to eat, including women with breast cancer. Eat traditional soy foods such as tofu, tempeh, edamame, miso, and soy milk. They are excellent sources of protein, and are linked to lower rates of heart disease and lower cholesterol. 

Only 3% of Americans get enough fiber each day!

Your goal should be at least 25 grams a day but aim for 40-50 grams for maximal cancer prevention benefits. If a product doesn’t have at least 3 grams, skip it! Fiber binds carcinogens, helps process hormones, improves your gut microbiome, lowers inflammation, decreases heart disease as well as breast cancer.

Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart…

Beans are the heroes of the plant world, filled with dietary fiber and protein, helping to keep you feel full longer, making it easier to maintain weight, and lowering the risk of heart disease and breast cancer. Most beans have approximately 8 grams of protein per half-cup serving, which equals two egg whites, one egg, or ounce of chicken, beef, or fish. 

Alcohol

Women who had 2-3 alcoholic drinks per day had a 20 percent higher risk of breast cancer compared to women who didn't drink alcohol. Contrary to popular opinion, alcohol is not good for the heart. At menopause, alcohol exacerbates hot flashes and sleep disturbances, which the latest studies show directly lowers metabolism, leading to weight gain. 

Calorie Density is more important than Calories 

This image says it all!!

Illustrative graphic showing Calorie density's effect on the digestive system.

For reliable, science and evidenced based non-profit sources on nutrition at midlife check out:

Food as Medicine Jumpstart from the American College of Lifestyle Medicine https://lifestylemedicine.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/ACLM-Food-As-Medicine-Jumpstart-8.5x11.pdf

Daily Dozen Meal Plan and Evidence Based Eating Guide  https://nutritionfacts.org/healthkit/

Forks Over Knives Documentary https://www.forksoverknives.com/the-film/

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