Fight Breast Cancer with Plants, with Dr. Kristi Funk

Sharon Palmer

You can seriously reduce your odds of getting breast cancer with your fork. Yes, that’s right. You can help fight off this devastating disease by loading your plate with disease-fighting plant foods, rich in a rainbow of phytochemicals which can provide anti-cancer, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory activities in every bite. That’s why leading organizations like the American Institute for Cancer Research and American Cancer Society recommend a plant-based diet as a best odds diet approach to prevent and treat cancer. In addition, more and more research shows that plant-based diet patterns, including vegetarian and vegan diets, are linked with lower breast cancer rates.

That’s why I am so excited to invite my guest, renowned breast cancer expert   Dr. Kristi Funk, to my blog today. I had so much fun chatting with her during my live interview on her best tips on how you can fend off breast cancer with plants. Dr. Funk is a breast cancer surgeon known for her surgical treatment of celebrities Angelina Jolie and Sheryl Crow. She and her husband Andy are co-founders of the   Pink Lotus Breast Center   in Beverly Hills, CA. The couple decided to open the Center together as a place to offer treatment for women without insurance, or whose insurance does not cover all of the procedures they require. In Dr. Funk’s book, “Breasts: The Owner’s Manual,” she takes the broader conversation about total breast health to women everywhere with this straight-talking guide. Dr. Funk’s mission is to educate as many women as possible about what they can do to stop breast cancer before it starts. 

Check out our live chat, as well as our written interview below, where Dr. Funk shares her best advice on how to understand breast cancer and fight it with a plant-based diet. She is right in line with the benefits of eating a plant-based diet, and had some extremely powerful recommendations on how you can fight this disease with your fork.

Fight Breast Cancer with Plants, with Dr. Kristi Funk

Join Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitian as she chats with renowned breast cancer expert Dr. Kristi Funk on how you can cut your chance of breast cancer by eating a plant-based diet. Learn more at the blog that accompanies this interview here: https://sharonpalmer.com/how-to-prevent-breast-cancer-with-diet-with-dr-kristi-funk/

Posted by Sharon Palmer: The Plant-Powered Dietitian on Thursday, December 5, 2019

Check out my interview with Dr. Funk below.

Fight Breast Cancer with Plants, with Dr. Kristi Funk

Things you will learn in this episode:

  • How plant-based diets help prevent breast cancer
  • Top misconceptions about breast cancer
  • Strategies to help lower breast cancer risk
  • Lifestyle tips for breast cancer survivors
Dr. Kristi Funk

Follow Along with Dr. Funk and her Plant-Based Breast Cancer Prevention Resources:

Fight Breast Cancer with Plants, with Dr. Kristi Funk

Sharon: What inspired you to focus on breast cancer in your career?

Dr. Funk: After my surgical residency, I started a “minimally invasive surgery” fellowship at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles – you likely know that as laparoscopic surgery using long instruments and a camera inserted through tiny incisions. At that time, the Cedars Sinai breast center was brand new and was run by five men over 50. I guess they decided they could use a little more estrogen over there and offered me a directorship – I eventually switched my fellowship to surgical breast oncology. Breasts are intimately and inextricably tied to our sense of femininity and womanhood; we’re awed by their life-giving function, and saddened by their life-taking ability. I could not imagine a more rewarding career than helping women navigate all of their breast health issues.

Sharon: How did this culminate into writing your book, “Breasts: the owners manual”?

Dr. Funk: As the director of patient education at Cedars Sinai, I gave a number of community and physician lectures. Most women don’t want to hear about cancer unless they have it and need to make some decisions, so rather than bore them to tears with medical jargon, I challenged my audiences by discussing attention-grabbing studies that would incite them to alter their behavior. I delved into risk reduction and discovered all sorts of lifestyle game changers. I loved the work, and patients responded like crazy. I couldn’t wait to get to the office to spend all day examining and educating women, operating with curative intent, and becoming creative when a diagnosis or cosmetic issue became challenging. Everything I did back then and continue to do today—helping women boost their health, reduce their breast cancer risk, make sense of a diagnosis, or find their way after treatment—inspired the BREASTS: The Owner’s Manual. I didn’t want my advice and knowledge to be accessible only to the women in my own community. This book offers a way to help transform the life of any woman living anywhere in the world. So far, the book is in 9 different languages, so I feel excited that my goals are being realized.

Sharon: Why do you feel that this issue is so compelling today?

Dr. Funk: The issue of breast cancer is so compelling today because we’re seeing a catastrophic global rise in the disease at unprecedented rates. In 2012, 1.67 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer, and in 2050, that number will become 3.2 million. That’s double the rate in less than forty years. I feel as if it’s my assignment in life to teach women that they have far more control over this disease than they’ve ever been told.

Sharon: What are some of the top misconceptions people have about breast cancer?

Dr. Funk: Myths abound about breast cancer, but here are the top three:

  1. Patient after patient tells me that there isn’t any breast cancer in her family, so she’s not really at risk. Yet 87 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a single first-degree relative with breast cancer. In fact, only 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers currently prove to be hereditary, meaning that they occur because abnormal gene mutations pass from parent to child.
  2. The misunderstood stat that all women have a 1 in 8 chance of getting breast cancer is one of the most commonly quoted statistics out there. While it’s correct, truth be told, you don’t walk around every day of your life with 1 in 8 odds of getting breast cancer! If that were true, you’d probably have cancer by next month. Breast cancer risk increases as you get older. A woman’s chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer during her twenties is 1 in 1,567 (not 1 in 8); her thirties, 1 in 220; forties, 1 in 68; fifties, 1 in 43; sixties, 1 in 29; seventies, 1 in 25; finally reaching the oft-quoted 1 in 8 as a cumulative lifetime risk once she hits eighty.
  3. One of the most dangerous circulating falsehoods states that your diet and lifestyle habits do not impact breast health, which is completely bananas and wrong. What you put into your body influences estrogen levels, growth hormones, inflammation, blood vessel formation, cellular function, and destructive free radicals, to name a few cancer-related processes. Oh yes, nutrition matters, you can bet your life on it.

Sharon: What diet strategies do you recommend to help lower women’s risk for breast cancer?

Dr. Funk: The best (but not foolproof, I’m afraid) anti-cancer diet is a whole food, plant-based diet that prioritizes vegetables, fruits, 100 percent whole grains (brown/wild/black/red rice, whole oats, quinoa, freekeh, farro, popcorn, whole rye, whole barley, buckwheat, whole wheat couscous), and legumes (beans, peas, lentils) while eliminating (or at least limiting) all meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs. You want to minimize saturated fat, simple sugars, processed foods, refined cereals, all types of oil, and salt.

Sharon: How should women eat when they are fighting a diagnosis of breast cancer? 

Dr. Funk: Your plate at any given meal should be 70 percent full of fresh fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens (kale, spinach, collards), and 30 percent packed with whole grains and protein (lentils, beans, peas, soy). Don’t fear starchy veggies like sweet potatoes and butternut squash; go for a deep- colored rainbow of foods, since the color contains the cancer-fighting, immune-boosting phytonutrients.

My top four daily must-consume foods for breast cancer patients are 2-3 servings of whole food soy such as tofu, soy milk, edamame, miso, tempeh; ½ cup of raw broccoli; 1-2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds; and 3 cups of green tea with a squeeze of lemon.

Sharon: How does a plant-based diet help women battle cancer?

Dr. Funk: Plants preceded humans on this earth, and they developed some awesome weaponry to protect themselves against adversaries like the sun’s UV rays, microorganisms, and insects. A number of natural chemicals (called, phytochemicals or phytonutrients, “phyto” means plant) known to actively block the birth and growth of cancer cells (carcinogenesis) have been isolated from fruits and vegetables. When cancer seeds do form, these same phytochemicals enable or disable the soil’s microenvironment everywhere in your body—in the breast, yes, but also in the liver and lung and bone and brain—in all the places where breast cancer likes to travel. Phytonutrients include curcumin (turmeric), epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG, in green tea), resveratrol (grapes, wine), omega-3 fatty acids and lignans (flaxseeds), procyanidins (berries), genistein (soy), lycopene (tomatoes), anthocyanidins (apples), sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol (broccoli, kale), diallyl sulphide (garlic), and ellagic acid (berries, walnuts), and limonene (oranges). Research reveals that phytochemicals exude serious anticarcinogenesis powers by:

  • providing antioxidant activity and scavenging free radicals, which stop harmful things we consume and encounter (i.e., carcinogens) from becoming cancer cells in our bodies
  • preventing DNA damage
  • repairing broken DNA
  • destroying harmful cells in our body
  • tempering the growth rate of cancer cells
  • inhibiting new blood supply to tumor cells (anti-angiogenesis)
  • stimulating the immune system
  • regulating hormone metabolism
  • reducing inflammation
  • supplying antibacterial and antiviral effects

Sharon: What lifestyle tips do you have for breast cancer survivors?

Dr. Funk:

  • Exercise: 5 hours a week moderate effort (like you can chit-chat while power walking), or 2.5 hours a week vigorous, sweaty workouts (panting not talking!).
  • Lose the Love Handles: Get to your ideal body weight and stay there forever. Are you too chubby? Find out with this calculator: pinklotus.com/bmi
  • Minimize or eliminate alcohol: 7 drinks or fewer a week, favor 4 to 8 ounces of red wine. See pinklotus.com/alcoholrisk to learn more.
  • No smoking.
  • Manage stress: 20 minute daily minimum (prayer, meditation, tai chi, yoga, guided imagery, focused breathing).
  • Prioritize social connectedness: 30-minute daily minimum (no computers or phones or screens when with others in person). Examples: date night, coffee with a friend, church group, tennis team, uplifting online community, bridge club. Want a friend who has been through a journey very similar to yours? Find a thriver sister at pinklotus.com/breastbuddies.

Sharon: Can you tell us about the Pink Lotus Foundation?

Dr. Funk: The Pink Lotus Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to providing low-income, uninsured and underinsured women with 100% free breast cancer screening, diagnosis, treatment and support! PLF’s services are very unique and very needed because while billions of dollars are being raised for the fight against breast cancer, that money largely goes into research. While I’m certainly a proponent of research, it’s an elusive thing – that cure for cancer. And while we’re searching for it, women are dying. They’re making choices to buy food and gas, and to put their kids in shoes and sweaters. These are the choices nearly every woman in a financial rough spot would make. But everyone loses when women ignore their breast health. So the foundation was founded to put an end to all that madness and I’m really excited about it. See pinklotus.com/foundation.

About Dr. Kristi Funk

Dr. Kristi Funk is board-certified surgical breast specialist who founded the Pink Lotus Breast Center in 2007 with her husband and business partner Andy Funk. She is known for her surgical treatment of celebrities Angelina Jolie and Sheryl Crow. She is an expert in minimally-invasive diagnostic and treatment methods for all types of breast disease. She has helped thousands of women through breast cancer treatment, including well-known celebrities who have turned to her for her expertise. She wrote “Breasts: The Owner’s Manual: Every Woman’s Guide to Reducing Cancer Risk, Making Treatment Choices, and Optimizing Outcomes.” The book is a national bestseller. Former Director of Patient Education at Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai Breast Center, Dr. Funk opened the Pink Lotus Breast Center in March 2009, in the middle of a recession and just three months before giving birth to triplet sons. The Pink Lotus Breast Center fuses state-of-the art screening, diagnosis and treatment with preventive strategies and holistic, compassionate care.

For other interviews, check out some of my favorites: 

What is Biodynamics?
Eating for IBS on a Plant-Based Diet with Kate Scarlata
Plant-Based Indian Cooking with Vandana Sheth

Image: Green Goddess Buddha Bowl, Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN

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