Dying Too Young: Oxalate and Breast Cancer

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breast microcalcifications
I was prompted to write this article because of the recent bad news that Kelly Preston had died of breast cancer at 57. She leaves behind a son who is just 9 – and a grieving family. She is just two years younger than I am.

I find myself sitting here, and wondering: did she try to eat “extra healthy” to get well, particularly since her diagnosis with breast cancer? Did she – like me – end up eating a very high oxalate diet in order to be the best older mom she could be? Before I learned about the impact of oxalate, my diet was simply sky high in oxalates. I shudder to think now. Was oxalate on her radar?

I’m going to make a bold statement: oxalate should be on every woman’s radar. Here is the main reason why – oxalate induces breast cancer:

“We found that the chronic exposure of breast epithelial cells to oxalate promotes the transformation of breast cells from normal to tumor cells, inducing the expression of a proto-oncogen as c-fos and proliferation in breast cancer cells. Furthermore, oxalate has a carcinogenic effect when injected into the mammary fatpad in mice, generating highly malignant and undifferentiated tumors with the characteristics of fibrosarcomas of the breast. As oxalates seem to promote these differences, it is expected that a significant reduction in the incidence of breast cancer tumors could be reached if it were possible to control oxalate production or its carcinogenic activity.”

That’s pretty definitive, but when you look into the research, it has taken some time for the understanding of oxalate and breast cancer to develop.

Oxalate and Breast Cancer: The Research

In 2003, researchers noted that women with “casting type” microcalcifications could have poor prognosis, depending on the type of cancer. Another study done in 2004 showed that casting type calcifications were associated with increased risk of death when patients had small invasive breast carcinoma. Most casting type microcalcifications are apatite-based, and so oxalate seemed to be off the hook.

By 2005, research showed that women with calcium oxalate calcifications could be associated with some types of cancer, but it was believed that the presence of oxalate was still mostly benign.

But by 2015, when researchers first tied oxalate and breast cancer together, the tide was turning.

In 2019, there was a study done indicating that, in the presence of calcium oxalate and activated monocytes, breast cells undergo a transition. This transition suggests that micro calcifications are implicated in both breast cancer occurrence and progression. Biopsies were collected from women showed that outcomes were more likely to be negative, regardless of whether the initial biopsy was benign or cancerous, in the presence of calcium oxalate calcifications.

Another important 2019 study was done to follow up on the medical observations of doctors that both hydroxyapatite and oxalate based micro calcifications are frequently observed in breast cancer tissues. The concerning conclusions of the research included both that DNA undergoes significant structural distortion when adsorbed into calcium oxalate and, that the DNA itself destabilizes when encapsulated into calcium oxalate nanopores. Nanopores may be formed when very small holes develop in a microcrystal.

Reducing Dietary Oxalate

The aforementioned research leaves us with good reason to look at oxalate and be concerned. Obviously, more research will be needed to be definitive about the level of risk that oxalate poses. This does not mean that we have to wait to take action. If you are a woman who wants to reduce your risk of oxalate-induced breast cancer, consider reducing oxalate in your diet.

Reducing dietary oxalate may be more complicated than it might seem at first glance. Oxalate values vary even between different types of the same plant food, therefore, it can take time to understand where the oxalate is in your diet, and adjust as works best for you. However, some of the highest oxalate foods are those that we consider healthy and often consume in large quantities when dieting especially if following juicing type type diet. High oxalate foods include: spinach, beets and their greens, Swiss chard, sweet potatoes, plantain, rhubarb, nopal, star fruit, Indian gooseberry, almonds and most nuts, black beans (and many other legumes), turmeric, cumin, cinnamon (and a number of spices), teff, amaranth, buckwheat, wheat bran (and other grains), as well as (unfortunately) chocolate, cocoa powder and carob. For more information on high oxalate foods, click here.

Another small step that is oxalate related could be the addition of walnut oil in your diet. It turns out that walnuts included in the diet can inhibit pathways that promote cell proliferation in breast cancers. The original research had women consuming two ounces of walnuts per day. The challenge is that walnuts are actually a very high oxalate food, with walnuts having about 40 mg of oxalate in two ounces. In this case, it may be possible that you could consume walnut oil as an alternative, and may still obtain the therapeutic effect. However, note that the study was done on a very small group of women, and so more research is absolutely needed.

While the research on the relationship between high oxalate diets and breast cancer is just beginning to be recognized, there is huge body of work demonstrating that dietary oxalates negatively impact health via bioaccumulation. If you suffer from unexplained chronic health conditions, it might be worth it to consider reducing your dietary oxalate.

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