Why I believe that giving up milk is the key to beating breast cancer
Professor Jane Plant is a wife, a mother, and widely
respected scientist, who was made a CBE for her work
in geochemistry. When she was struck by breast cancer
in 1987 at the age of 42, her happy and productive
existence seemed destined to fall apart. But despite
the disease recurring a further four times, Jane
refused to give in. As she describes in an inspiring
new book, [Your Life In Your Hands] serialised by the
Mail this week, she devised a revolutionary diet and
lifestyle programme that she believes saved her life
and can cut the chances of other women falling prey to
Her theory remains a controversial one - but every
woman should read it and make up her own mind. Today,
she explains her personal breakthrough...
I had no alternative but to die or to try to find a
cure for myself. I am a scientist - surely there was
a rational explanation for this cruel illness that
affects one in 12 women in the UK?
I had suffered the loss of one breast, and undergone
radiotherapy. I was now receiving painful
chemotherapy, and had been seen by some of the
country's most eminent specialists. But, deep down, I
felt certain I was facing death.
I had a loving husband, a beautiful home and two young
children to care for. I desperately wanted to live.
Fortunately, this desire drove me to unearth the
facts, some of which were known only to a handful of
scientists at the time.
Anyone who has come into contact with breast cancer
will know that certain risk factors - such as
increasing age, early onset of womanhood, late onset
of menopause and a family history of breast cancer -
are completely out of our control. But there are many
risk factors, which we can control easily. These
'controllable' risk factors readily translate into
simple changes that we can all make in our day-to-day
lives to help prevent or treat breast cancer. My
message is that even advanced breast cancer can be
overcome because I have done it.
The first clue to understanding what was promoting my
breast cancer came when my husband Peter, who was also
a scientist, arrived back from working in China while
I was being plugged in for a chemotherapy session.
He had brought with him cards and letters, as well as
some amazing herbal suppositories, sent by my friends
and science colleagues in China.
The suppositories were sent to me as a cure for breast
cancer. Despite the awfulness of the situation, we
both had a good belly laugh, and I remember saying
that this was the treatment for breast cancer in
China, then it was little wonder that Chinese women
avoided getting the disease. Those words echoed in my
mind. Why didn't Chinese women get breast cancer? I
had collaborated once with Chinese colleagues on a
study of links between soil chemistry and disease, and
I remembered some of the statistics.
The disease was virtually non-existent throughout the
whole country. Only one in 10,000 women in China will
die from it, compared to that terrible figure of one
in 12 in Britain and the even grimmer average of one
in 10 across most Western countries.
It is not just a matter of China being a more rural
country, with less urban pollution. In highly
urbanised Hong Kong, the rate rises to 34 women in
every 10,000 but still puts the West to shame.
The Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have
similar rates. And remember, both cities were attacked
with nuclear weapons, so in addition to the usual
pollution-related cancers, one would also expect to
find some radiation-related cases, too. The conclusion
we can draw from these statistics strikes you with
some force. If a Western woman were to move to
industrialized, irradiated Hiroshima, she would stash
her risk of contracting breast cancer by half.
Obviously this is absurd. It seemed obvious to me that
some lifestyle factor not related to pollution,
urbanization or the environment is seriously
increasing the Western woman's chance of contracting
I then discovered that whatever causes the huge
differences in breast cancer rates between oriental
and Western countries, it isn't genetic. Scientific
research showed that when Chinese or Japanese people
move to the West, within one or two generations their
rates of breast cancer approach those of their host
The same thing happens when oriental people adopt a
completely Western lifestyle in Hong Kong. In fact,
the slang name for breast cancer in China translates
as 'Rich Woman's Disease'. This is because, in China,
only the better off can afford to eat what is termed
'Hong Kong food'.
The Chinese describe all Western food, including
everything from ice cream and chocolate bars to
spaghetti and feta cheese, as 'Hong Kong food',
because of its availability in the former British
colony and its scarcity, in the past, in mainland
So it made perfect sense to me that whatever was
causing my breast cancer and the shockingly high
incidence in this country generally, it was almost
certainly something to do with our better-off,
middle-class, Western lifestyle.
There is an important point for men here, too. I have
observed in my research that much of the the data
about prostate cancer leads to similar conclusions.
According to figures from the World Health
Organization, the number of men contracting prostate
cancer in rural China is negligible, only 0.5 men in
every 100,000. In England, Scotland and Wales,
however, this figure is 70 times higher.
Like breast cancer, it is a middle-class disease that
primarily attacks the wealthier and higher
socio-economic groups - those that can afford to eat
I remember saying to my husband-- 'Come on Peter, you
have just come back from China. What is it about the
Chinese way of life that is so different. Why don't
they get breast cancer?'
We decided to utilize our joint scientific backgrounds
and approach it logically. We examined scientific
data that pointed us in the general direction of fats
Researchers had discovered in the 1980s that only l4 %
of calories in the average Chinese diet were from fat,
compared to almost 36% in the West. But the diet I had
been living on for years before I contracted breast
cancer was very low in fat and high in fibre.
Besides, I knew as a scientist that fat intake in
adults has not been shown to increase risk for breast
cancer in most investigations that have followed large
groups of women for up to a dozen years.
Then one day something rather special happened. Peter
and I have worked together so closely over the years
that I am not sure which one of us first said: 'The
Chinese don't eat dairy produce!'
It is hard to explain to a non-scientist the sudden
mental and emotional 'buzz' you get when you know you
have had an important insight.
It's as if you have had a lot of pieces of a jigsaw in
your mind, and suddenly, in a few seconds, they all
fall into place and the whole picture is clear.
Suddenly I recalled how many Chinese people were
physically unable to tolerate milk, how the Chinese
people I had worked with had always said that milk was
only for babies, and how one of my close friends, who
is of Chinese origin, always politely turned down the
cheese course at dinner parties.
I knew of no Chinese people who lived a traditional
Chinese life who ever used cow or other dairy food to
feed their babies. The tradition was to use a wet
nurse but never, ever, dairy products.
Culturally, the Chinese find our Western preoccupation
with milk and milk products very strange. I remember
entertaining a large delegation of Chinese scientists
shortly after the ending of the Cultural Revolution in
On advice from the Foreign Office, we had asked the
caterer to provide a pudding that contained a lot of
ice cream. After inquiring what the pudding consisted
of, all of the Chinese, including their interpreter,
politely but firmly refused to eat it, and they could
not be persuaded to change their minds. At the time we
were all delighted and ate extra portions!
Milk, I discovered, is one of the most common causes
of food allergies.
Over 70% of the world's population are unable to
digest the milk sugar, lactose, which has led
nutritionists to believe that this is the normal
condition for adults, not some sort of deficiency.
Perhaps nature is trying to tell us that we are eating
the wrong food.
Before I had breast cancer for the first time, I had
eaten a lot of dairy produce, such as skimmed milk,
low-fat cheese and yoghurt. I had used it as my main
source of protein. I also ate cheap but lean minced
beef, which I now realized was probably often
ground-up dairy cow.
In order to cope with the chemotherapy I received for
my fifth case of cancer, I had been eating organic
yoghurts as a way of helping my digestive tract to
recover and repopulate my gut with 'good' bacteria.
Recently, I discovered that way back in 1989 yoghurt
had been implicated in ovarian cancer. Dr Daniel
Cramer of Harvard University studied hundreds of women
with ovarian cancer, and had them record in detail
what they normally ate. I wish I'd been made aware of
his findings when he had first discovered them.
Following Peter's and my insight into the Chinese
diet, I decided to give up not just yoghurt but all
dairy produce immediately. Cheese, butter, milk and
yoghurt and anything else that contained dairy produce
- it went down the sink or in the rubbish.
It is surprising how many products, including
commercial soups, biscuits and cakes, contain some
form of dairy produce. Even many proprietary brands of
margarine marketed as soya, sunflower or olive oil
spreads can contain dairy produce. I therefore became
an avid reader of the small print on food labels.
Up to this point, I had been steadfastly measuring the
progress of my fifth cancerous lump with callipers and
plotting the results. Despite all the encouraging
comments and positive feedback from my doctors and
nurses, my own precise observations told me the bitter
My first chemotherapy sessions had produced no effect
- the lump was still the same size.
Then I eliminated dairy products. Within days, the
lump started to shrink. About two weeks after my
second chemotherapy session and one week after giving
up dairy produce, the lump in my neck started to itch.
Then it began to soften and to reduce in size. The
line on the graph, which had shown no change, was now
pointing downwards as the tumour got smaller and
And, very significantly, I noted that instead of
declining exponentially (a graceful curve) as cancer
is meant to do, the tumour's decrease in size was
plotted on a straight line heading off the bottom of
the graph, indicating a cure, not suppression (or
remission) of the tumour.
One Saturday afternoon after about six weeks of
excluding all dairy produce from my diet, I practised
an hour of meditation then felt for what was left of
the lump. I couldn't find it.
Yet I was very experienced at detecting cancerous
lumps - I had discovered all five cancers on my own.
I went downstairs and asked my husband to feel my
neck. He could not find any trace of the lump either.
On the following Thursday I was due to be seen by my
cancer specialist at Charing Cross Hospital in London.
He examined me thoroughly, especially my neck where
the tumour had been. He was initially bemused and
then delighted as he said, "I cannot find it.' None of
my doctors, it appeared, had expected someone with my
type and stage of cancer (which had clearly spread to
the lymph system) to survive, let alone be so hale and
My specialist was as overjoyed as I was. When I first
discussed my ideas with him he was understandably
skeptical. But I understand that he now uses maps
showing cancer mortality in China in his lectures, and
recommends a non-dairy diet to his cancer patients.
I now believe that the link between dairy produce and
breast cancer is similar to the link between smoking
and lung cancer. I believe that identifying the link
between breast cancer and dairy produce, and then
developing a diet specifically targeted at maintaining
the health of my breast and hormone system, cured me.
It was difficult for me, as it may be for you, to
accept that a substance as 'natural' as milk might
have such ominous health implications. But I am a
living proof that it works and, starting from
tomorrow, I shall reveal the secrets of my
revolutionary action plan.
Extracted from Your Life in Your Hands, by Professor
Jane Plant, to be published by Virgin on June 8 at
16.99. Professor Jane Plant, 2000.
Evidence that reveals the dangers lurking in a pinta
Jane Plant's conviction that dairy products can cause
cancer arises from the complex chemical makeup of
milk. All mature breast milk, from humans or other
mammals, is a medium for transporting hundreds of
It is a powerful biochemical solution, designed
specifically to provide for the individual needs of
young mammals of the same species. Jane says: "It is
not that cow's milk isn't a good food. It is a great
food- for baby cows. It is not intended by nature for
consumption by any species other than baby cows. It
is nutritionally different from human breast milk,
containing three times as much protein and far more
Breast milk, like cow's milk, contains chemicals
designed to play an important rote in the development
of young cattle. One of these, insulin growth factor
IGF-1,causes cells to divide and reproduce.
IGF-1 is biologically active in humans, especially
during puberty, when growth is rapid. In young girls
it stimulates breast tissue to grow and, while its
levels are high during pregnancy, the hormones
prolactin and oestrogen are also active, enlarging
breast tissue and increasing the production of milk
ducts in preparation for breast-feeding.
Though the concentration and secretions of these
hormones in the blood are small, they exert a powerful
effect on the body. All these hormones are present in
cow's milk. IGF-1 is identical in make-up, whether in
human or cow's milk, but its levels are naturally
higher in cow's milk. It is also found in the meat of
High levels of IGF-1 in humans are thought to be a
risk factor for breast and prostate cancer. A 1998
study of pre-menopausal women revealed that those with
the highest levels of IGF-1 in their bloodstream ran
almost three times the risk of developing breast
cancer compared with women who had low levels. Among
women younger than 50, the risk was increased seven
Other studies have shown that high circulating levels
of IGF-1 In men are a strong indicator of prostate
cancer. Interestingly, recent measures to improve milk
yields have boosted IGF-1 levels in cows. Could IGF-1
from milk and the meat of dairy animals cause a
build-up in humans, especially over a lifetime,
leading to inappropriate cell division? Though we
produce our own IGF-1, could it be that the extra
amounts we ingest from dairy produce actually cause
Jane Plant already knew that one way the high-profile
drug tamoxifen, used in the treatment of breast
cancer, is thought to work by lowering circulating
levels of IGF-1.
IGF-1 is not destroyed by pasteurization, but critics
argue that it is destroyed by digestion and rendered
harmless. Jane believes the main milk protein, casein,
prevents this from happening and that homogenization,
which prevents milk from separating into milk and
cream, could further increase the risk of
cancer-promoting hormones and other chemicals reaching
She also believes there are other chemicals in cow's
milk that may be responsible for sending muddied
signals to adult tissue. Could prolactin, released to
stimulate milk production in cows, have a similar
effect on human breast tissue, effectively triggering
the same response and causing cells to become
confused, stressed and start making mistakes in
replicating their own DNA? Studies have confirmed
that prolactin promotes the growth of prostate cancer
cells in culture.
Another hormone, oestrogen, considered one of the main
risk factors for breast cancer, is present in milk in
minute quantities. But even low levels of hormones are
known to cause severe biological damage. Microscopic
quantities of oestrogen in our rivers are powerful
enough to cause the feminisation of many male species
of fish. While oestrogen in milk may not pose a direct
threat to tissues, it may stimulate the ____expression
of IGF-1, resulting in long-term tumour growth.
Jane, who has found growing support for her theories
from cancer specialists, stresses that she is not
setting out to attack more orthodox approaches. She
intends her dietary programme to complement the best
therapies available from conventional medicine, not to
Pure but deadly: Is milk potentially fatal?