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Plant-based diet improves health in women with breast cancer

A recent study reveals that women with advanced breast cancer who adopted a whole-foods, plant-based diet saw significant health improvements.

The women who participated in the study lost weight, improved their cholesterol levels, felt less fatigued, and experienced better mental clarity and overall well-being.

Plant diet for breast cancer patients

Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center and Wilmot Cancer Institute focused on individuals with stage 4 breast cancer, who are typically on lifelong treatment.

Dr. Thomas M. Campbell, an assistant professor of Family Medicine at URMC and an expert on plant-based diets, led the research.

The study included 30 patients undergoing stable treatment who could tolerate food. Participants were randomly divided into two groups: one received standard care, while the intervention group ate meals provided by the research team for eight weeks.

The plant-based diet consisted solely of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, potatoes, nuts, and seeds. Participants avoided animal-based foods, oils, and added fats, and took a daily multivitamin. Remarkably, weekly assessments showed a 95% compliance rate.

“It’s exciting to see that these major dietary changes were feasible, well-tolerated, and acceptable to the clinical trial participants,” Campbell said.

Impact of diet on breast cancer

Participants in the whole-foods plant-based group lost one to two pounds per week over the eight weeks, despite no calorie restrictions.

This weight loss is significant, as weight gain during breast cancer treatment can increase insulin levels and hormones that may fuel cancer growth.

Additionally, the researchers observed a reduction in blood levels of IGF-1, a growth factor linked to many cancers, and decreased inflammation.

“Although we cannot say anything yet about whether the diet can stop cancer progression from this small study, we saw preliminary results that suggest favorable changes within the body, which is very positive,” Campbell noted.

To further explore these findings, the team is collaborating with Dr. Isaac Harris at Wilmot in a bench-to-clinic investigation funded by the American Cancer Society. This research is focused on the effect of amino acid composition on cancer cell survival and the impact on various cancer drugs.

Adopting a plant-based diet

Patients with breast cancer should consult with their oncologists or healthcare providers before making major dietary changes – especially those on blood thinners or insulin medications.

Examples of meals provided in the study included peanut soba noodles, steel-cut oatmeal, banana flax muffins, sweet potato enchiladas, and Mediterranean white bean soup.

To get started with plant-based recipes, Campbell recommends websites such as,, and

“You only need five to ten plant-based recipes that are easy, tasty, and convenient enough that you will make them regularly to have a substantial overhaul in your diet,” noted Campbell.

Study significance

Dr. Erin Campbell published a separate study in 2023 showing that diets like the DASH diet, which are plant-based, can be cost-effective compared to standard American diets with ultra-processed foods and restaurant take-out.

Enhancing health through a plant-based diet is central to Dr. Thomas Campbell’s career. He is the founder and co-director of the UR Medicine/Highland Hospital Nutrition in Medicine Research Center and an obesity medicine specialist.

Together with his father, T. Colin Campbell, he co-authored the best-selling book “The China Study,” which examines the link between nutrition and health based on a long-term study of cancer rates.

Dr. Campbell later wrote “The China Study Solution,” offering practical advice on using a plant-based diet to lose weight and reverse illness.

Benefits of plant-based diets for breast cancer patients

This research highlights the potential benefits of a whole-foods, plant-based diet for individuals with advanced breast cancer, offering hope for improved quality of life and health outcomes.

The positive results from this small study pave the way for larger, more comprehensive trials that could further validate these findings.

Embracing a plant-based diet may not only support physical health but also enhance mental well-being, providing a holistic approach to cancer care.

As research continues, the integration of dietary strategies into standard cancer treatment protocols could revolutionize patient care and survivorship, empowering patients with an effective tool to manage their health.

The study is published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.


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