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Plant-Based Diets and Cancer: What’s the Connection?

Plant-Based Diets and Cancer: What’s the Connection?

Dr. Thomas Campbell gives insight on the benefits of a plant-based diet for your overall health, as well as the potential impact it can have on fighting cancer.


While a plant-based diet can be considered environmentally conscious or good for weight loss, there are many health benefits to consuming plants and unrefined sugars as the main part of your diet.

Plant-based diets contain more phytochemicals, which are anti-inflammatory and can protect cells from damage. A plant-based diet also means you’re probably eating more fiber, and, according to studies from the Mayo Clinic, young women who ate the most fiber-rich diets were 25 percent less likely to get breast cancer later in life. It was also found that every 10 grams of daily fiber could lower the risk of colorectal cancer by 10 percent.

“The benefits that I think [are] well established are the metabolic benefits and the weight benefits, and generally having a lot of other aspects of your health improved. Better blood sugar control, a healthier weight, better cholesterol and better insulin levels,” says Dr. Thomas Campbell, co-author of worldwide bestseller ”The China Study” and author of “The China Study Solution.”

While all cancers affect people differently, a plant-based diet in some circumstances can help in terms of general metabolic health, healthier weight and health maintenance. 

Along the lines of metabolic health, Campbell says that “we now know that [a plant-based diet] has pretty significant metabolic benefits […] it can lower cholesterol, it can lower insulin—it makes insulin work better, so insulin resistance improves. We’re finding more and more that insulin resistance seems to be a common problem across a lot of different illnesses, including cancer in some studies.” 

A plant-based diet can also reduce inflammation, Campbell notes. “If you’re talking about, for example, colorectal cancer, there is decent evidence that a western diet actually increases inflammation in the gut, and a healthier diet can reduce that. You can have a healthier weight and metabolism and change your hormones and growth factors.”

All of those aspects are helpful in reducing your risk of cancer. The T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies is a nonprofit organization bringing awareness to the impact food has on the body through its science-based education, service and advocacy. Its website contains a plant-based recipe database that is accessible to everyone, as well as articles and resources for people who want to know more about the ways their diet impacts their health.

Campbell and his father, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, published “The China Study” together, which looks at various environmental factors including nutritional factors and cancer rates. They found that a more plant-based intake was linked to better health outcomes.

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“We looked at research from people around the world who were studying nutrition and disease and finding much the same thing: That a dietary pattern of unprocessed foods rich in plants tended to be associated with better health outcomes. And not only was it associated with better health outcomes, but it was more powerful than people realized. People think of it in terms of wellness or prevention, but actually there’s a lot of research showing that some of the most effective treatment for some of our common illnesses—diabetes, heart disease—is actually food,” explains Campbell.

Apart from the Center, Campbell is involved in a research pilot study looking at testing a whole foods plant-based diet in late-stage breast cancer that he predicts will be concluded sometime in 2022.

For more information, visit nutritionstudies.org.

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