14 November 2006

Ladies, Protect Your Breasts!

Yesterday I wrote about synergistic ethics: the idea that simultaneous respect for people, animals, and the environment benefits all three. Showing animals respect requires that we not cause them to suffer unnecessarily and that we not kill them for no good reason. Since we can easily meet all of our nutritional needs without killing and eating animals (and in fact can meet them better with plant-based diets), there is no good reason to kill animals for food and there is no good reason to subject animals to the institutional cruelties inherent in modern factory farming. Thus, showing animals the respect they are due requires that we refrain from eating them (at least whenever plant-based alternatives are available, which in modern societies is almost always). When we do show animals respect in this way and refuse to eat them, not only do animals and the environment benefit, we ourselves benefit through improved health and greatly reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, hypertension, and some cancers (including colon cancer).

Now we can add “hormone receptor-positive breast cancer” to the list of diseases positively correlated with red meat consumption [the majority of breast cancers fall into this category]. A recent study published in the November 13th issue of Archives of Internal Medicine found that eating red meat increases the risk of hormone receptor-positive breast cancer among premenopausal women. [Previous studies have looked at the association between red meat consumption and breast cancer, but only among postmenopausal women. This is the first comprehensive study that focused on diet-breast cancer correlations in premenopausal women.] The study is part of the ongoing Nurses Health Study that has been tracking the dietary and disease patterns of over 90,000 women since 1991. The current study, led by Dr. Eunyoung Cho, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and associate professor of epidemiology at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, found that the more red meat women in their twenties, thirties, and forties eat, the greater their risk of developing hormone receptor-positive breast cancer in the next 12 years. In particular, the study found that women who ate 1.5 servings of red meat per day had nearly twice the risk of hormone receptor-positive breast cancer compared to women who ate less than three servings of red meat per week.

In light of studies like Cho's, Eugenia Calle, managing director of analytical epidemiology at the American Cancer Society, recommends that people reduce their consumption of red meat. It’s worth noting that Calle does not advise women to protect their breasts by eating the breasts of others (i.e., the breasts of chickens). Rather, she recommends that women limit their consumption of processed and red meat, and eat fruits, vegetables, and unrefined grains instead. In short, the very same plant-based diet centered around fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes that is known to be heart healthy is also protective against the predominant form of breast cancer found in premenopausal women. Breast cancer strikes over 200,000 American women each year and kills over 40,000. You don’t have to be one of them. By doing what is right for animals and not eating them, you will be doing what is right for yourself. Simply put, not eating animals is a profound way to respect yourself, respect animals, and respect the environment. The bottom line: Breast cancer protection is yet another cog in the ethical synergy machine: What’s good for us is good for the animals and the earth.

More details about Dr. Cho's study can be found in The Washington Post's story "Breast Cancer Risk Linked To Red Meat, Study Finds" available here and in HealthDay News's story "Red Meat May Boost Breast Cancer Risk" available here.

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