Are There Any Healthy Sugar Substitutes?

Are There Any Healthy Sugar Substitutes?

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Are There Any Healthy Sugar Substitutes?

If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer and have come across some advice that you should avoid sugar because it helps cancer to grow, that’s good advice. So now maybe you’re wondering about whether there are any healthy sugar substitutes – I mean there are loads of these sweeteners out there, but are they safe, viable options for sweetening our food? Do sugar substitutes come with side effects?

I’ve written about this subject before in 2014 (see my article “Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe?”) and I’m writing about it again because it is still a hot topic and there is much to know.

If you are one of those that feel like certain foods or beverages can’t be consumed without some sort of sweetness being added, I get it, I truly do. But there are some important things to know about sugar substitutes, especially if you are healing from breast cancer.

Sugar Substitutes, Artificial Sweeteners

Some sugar substitutes are made up of substances that the body is unable to absorb – our bodies lack the enzymes required to digest them. Many are made from sugar alcohols, which surprisingly enough are neither alcohol nor sugar. Some are made up of acids blended with potassium, some are made from other artificial sweeteners plus other ingredients. All of these substances are many times sweeter than honey or sugar – according to Cancer.gov, sugar substitutes range in sweetness from 200 to 20,000+ times sweeter than regular table sugar. [1]

I decided to delve deeply into this subject and have a look at the research on sugar substitutes and what I discovered is that all sugar substitutes are not the same. Far from it! I’ve done my best to succinctly explain how each one is made, and which ones are safe and which are not.

I think one of the things that bothers me most about sugar substitutes is that many of them can still raise blood glucose levels – the very thing we are relying on them NOT to do. That’s a good thing to be wary of – just because a food is labeled ”sugar-free”, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is free of carbohydrates or that it won’t raise your blood sugar levels.

There are a huge number of sugar substitutes – some natural and some very decidedly not. Some are better than others. Here is a list of the major ones:

Acesulfame potassium – Brand names Sweet One, Sunett. Made from an acid plus potassium. The US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) advises over 90 studies have confirmed that acesulfame potassium is safe for consumption. Regardless of that, here’s some disturbing info that I found. A 2014 study [2] found that acesulfame potassium enhanced glucose absorption in the cells of the small intestine.That means that this sugar substitute HELPS you absorb sugar better. A 2017 animal study [3] found that acesulfame potassium given to mice for four weeks messed up their gut microbiome, reducing beneficial gut bacteria; and caused weight gain in the male mice, but not the female. While it’s true that the 2017 study used higher amounts than would normally be consumed, this one still gets a thumbs down from me. As old Ben Franklin used to say, “When in doubt, don’t.”

Advantame – Made from aspartame and vanillin (from the vanilla bean). It’s about 20,000 times sweeter than sugar. Okayed for use by the USFDA but because it’s made with aspartame, it’s on my “avoid” list (see aspartame, below).

Aspartame – Brand names NutraSweet, Equal, Sugar Twin. Made from the amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Again, the USFDA says over 100 studies have proven it safe, but see point #5 below. In addition, Harding Medical Institute (and many other doctors) consider aspartame to be a neurotoxin. [4] Definitely on my to be avoided list.

Erythritol – A sugar alcohol manufactured firstly by enzymatic breakdown of starch from corn to generate glucose. Glucose is then fermented with yeast or some other fungus to produce erythritol. This is one of the better ones – it’s easy to digest, and low on the glycemic index. Okay to consume in moderate amounts if it’s ORGANIC because of the prevalence of GMO corn. Dr Michael Greger at NutritionFacts.org has put compiled some helpful information on erythritol in his video “A Harmless Artificial Sweetener”. [5] According to Dr Greger, erythritol is the one sugar substitute that he considers to be safe enough for his family. It rates a thumbs up from me as well.

Lactitol – A sugar alcohol manufactured from whey, a by-product of cheese making. Said to be safe by government authorities. I found several studies indicating that it was being used as a remedy for constipation. [6] Many sugar alcohol sweeteners do have a laxative effect, being very poorly absorbed. If you already have gut issues or are on a low-FODMAP diet, this one is better off avoided. If you suffer with constipation, it might not be a bad one for you (TIP: for chronic constipation, look into colonic hydrotherapy and even emotional healing because this is often the result for people who have a difficult time letting things go – but that’s a whole other topic!).

Maltitol – A sugar alcohol manufactured through the hydrogenation of maltose, which is obtained from the enzyme conversion of starches, often from corn. Seems innocuous enough, but it rates pretty high on the glycemic index, can cause gut problems, and there’s that corn connection – if maltitol is made with GMO corn, it’s not safe for consumption.

Mannitol – A sugar alcohol manufactured through the hydrogenation of fructose, which is formed from either sucrose (table sugar) or starch. It also occurs naturally in certain things like strawberries, watermelon, peaches, mushrooms, celery, onions, and a few other food sources. It is low on the glycemic index, but being a sugar alcohol, it is very poorly absorbed and can cause gut issues, including diarrhea. If you already have gut issues or on a low-FODMAP diet, it’s better off avoided.

Monk fruit extract – Comes from the plant Siraitia grosvenorii. Brand names Nectresse, Monk Fruit in the Raw, PureLo. It’s up to 400 times sweeter than sugar, but quite low on the glycemic index. The sweetness of monk fruit comes from phytochemicals known as mogrosides, which the body processes differently than sugars like fructose and sucrose. No carbs, no calories, completely natural. That’s a big yes if used in moderation.

Neotame – Brand name Newtame. Made from aspartic acid, phenylalanine, a methyl ester and what is known as a neohexyl group. It’s similar to aspartame but created to only release small amounts of phenylalanine. Neotame is up to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar and low on the glycemic index, but caution is warranted. Harding Medical Institute called it a neurotoxin like aspartame [7]. A 2018 study on mice [8] found that it altered their gut microbiome, reducing the diversity of beneficial gut bacteria and increasing more harmful bacteria. In her book “Sweet Poison – How The World’s Most Popular Artificial Sweetener Is Killing Us – My Story” [9], Dr. Janet Hull states “Neotame contains all the dangerous elements found in aspartame and more…” This one gets a big thumbs down.

Saccharin – Brand names Sweet Twin, Sweet ‘N Low, NectaSweet. It comes in four forms: acid saccharin, potassium saccharin, sodium saccharin and calcium saccharin. It is made by combining methyl anthranilate (found in many fruit juices) with one of these four forms of saccharin. Saccharin is up to 700 times sweeter than sugar and has no calories. Approved for use by the USFDA. One 2008 study [10] found that in rats who were exposed to cocaine, and then given a choice between oral saccharin or intravenous cocaine, most chose saccharin. A 2018 study with rats [11] showed that given the choice between heroin and saccharin, the rats would choose saccharin. So it may be rather addictive. Further, a 1983 review of studies on saccharin [12] had this to say “A benefit-risk evaluation for saccharin showed few, if any documentable benefits from the use of saccharin and much genuine uncertainty concerning the potential risks for ingestion by man. This element of genuine uncertainty as to the extent of human risk posed to man is the crux of saccharin’s past and its foreseeable future.” Further, a 2017 animal study [13] found that saccharin caused inflammatory markers to rise in the gut of the test animals, induced liver inflammation and unfavorably altered their gut microbiome. That’s a big “NO” from me.

Sorbitol – A sugar alcohol manufactured from corn and various fruits, being synthesized via glucose reduction in which an aldehyde group (CHO) is converted into a hydroxyl group (OH). The body breaks sorbitol down with sorbitol dehydrogenase, an enzyme which converts sorbitol to fructose. The liver then converts fructose into glucose. Sorbitol is very low on the glycemic index, but being a sugar alcohol, can cause gut problems due to poor or no absorption, and may have a laxative effect. If you already have gut issues or are on a low-FODMAP diet, it’s better off avoided. Even if you don’t have gut issues, use it with caution.

Stevia leaf extracts – From the leaves of the plant Stevia rebaudiana. Brand names Truvia, PureVia, Enliten, SweetLeaf. Stevia rates low on the glycemic index, and it is 300 times sweeter than sugar. Banned for awhile in the USA because some big companies convinced the USFDA that it should be banned (we can guess why). Organic stevia made from the leaves of the plant is safe for consumption if used in small quantities. A 2018 animal study [14] found that stevia helped to lower cholesterol levels. Stevia is better than most of these sugar substitutes but it does come with a warning, though, so please see what I have to say about stevia in my 2014 article Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe? Stick with organic, pure stevia, not the processed stuff.

Sucralose – Brand name Splenda, Canderal. Made by replacing three hydrogen-oxygen (OH) groups on a sugar molecule with three chlorine (Cl) groups. A small 2014 clinical trial [15] found that Sucralose increased blood glucose and insulin levels and decreased insulin sensitivity in obese people. In addition, a 2008 animal study on sucralose [16] found that it altered the gut microbiome by decreasing beneficial bacteria by up to 50 percent, and 12 weeks after the study, the beneficial bacteria had not recovered. That essentially means that even after sucralose intake had stopped, the gut microbiomes of the animals studied were still negatively impacted. This study also found that sucralose may make certain orally administered drugs less effective by enhancing expression of enzymes that metabolize the drugs. Lastly, one of the promoted uses of sucralose is to use it in baking and cooking to replace sugar and reduce calories. It is supposed to be heat resistant, but two studies [17,18] demonstrated that when it is heated to high temperatures (such as you would in baking), sucralose degrades and releases harmful chloropropanols (considered toxic and possible carcinogenic). So sucralose is a big NO from me.

Xylitol – A sugar alcohol manufactured most often from either birch tree bark or in the lab from xylose, a wood-based sugar. It is also found in minute quantities in some fruits and vegetables. Xylose is hydrogenated into a raw form of xylitol. You’ll find it as an additive in a lot of different foods including chewing gum, desserts, syrups, jams, and even in some vitamins and supplements. Being a sugar alcohol, our bodies don’t completely digest xylitol, and if you have too much of it it can have a laxative effect, as well as some other gut disturbances. A 2019 review of studies [19] showed that xylitol had a number of beneficial properties, including improving bone mineral density, easing constipation, acting as a prebiotic, had benefits for weight management, and interestingly, modulating the immune system in animals. Xylitol stimulated innate and acquired immunity, mainly against bacterial infections. Here’s the deal though – all of the authors of the study were employees of DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences. DuPont manufactures and markets xylitol. Let’s just say xylitol is reasonably okay, but not my favorite sugar substitute.

The 7 Major Downsides of Some Sugar Substitutes

1. They Can Mess With Your Brain – Some studies [20,21] suggest that artificial sweeteners cross the blood-brain barrier and can disrupt the function of the hippocampus. This can impair signals to parts of the brain that control feelings of hunger and satiety. This effect can sabotage ability to lose weight. Artificial sweeteners can cause us to eat more because after consuming them, the gut tells the brain that there is a lack of nutrition and that makes you hungrier. Plus artificial sweeteners may be addictive, as noted above.

2. They Can Mess Up Your Gut – In reference to the sweeteners that are not broken down well by our bodies, they can pull extra water into the large intestine and cause diarrhea. They can also sit there and ferment which can lead to bloating, gas, and poor fat absorption. Because these sweeteners are not properly broken down in the gut, they can also be used for food by bad bacteria and promote their health, which can kill off the healthier, more beneficial gut bacteria. Two studies found that artificial sweeteners could induce glucose intolerance in mice and in some humans by functionally altering the gut microbiome. This can increase the risk for type 2 diabetes.[22,23]

3. They Don’t Help You Lose Weight and May Lead to Diabetes and Heart Disease – Two reviews of medical studies [24,25] found that the data in both animals and humans suggested the effects of artificial sweeteners, rather than helping reduce insulin resistance and obesity, may instead be contributing to metabolic syndrome, the obesity epidemic and increased risk of heart disease. A 2009 study [26] found that daily consumption of diet drinks was associated with a 36 percent higher risk for metabolic syndrome and a 67 percent increased risk for type 2 diabetes.

4. They Mess With Your Taste Buds – Because artificial sweeteners are so intensely sweet in comparison with natural sugars, your taste buds can become accustomed to that, and that’s not a good thing. Nutritionists agree that those who have artificial sweeteners on a regular basis can become accustomed to their mega-sweetness and it can change the palate, thus decreasing enjoyment of foods that are good for you, like fruit and vegetables.

5. They Can Mess with Your DNA – A 2006 animal study [27] found that rats given high doses of aspartame were more likely to develop leukemia or lymphoma than the animals given sugar. To be fair, those high doses were a little unnatural because the animals were fed somewhere approximating the aspartame found in 2,000 cans of diet soda each day. In response to that, the same researchers conducted another study [28], in which the rats were exposed to quite low doses of aspartame in their feed – as low as 20 mg per kilogram of body weight – from the time they were fetuses until they died a natural death. The study results showed that aspartame was indeed carcinogenic, even at doses that fell within the acceptable daily intake, which in the USA is set at 50 mg per kilogram of body weight. The study found there was a significant dose-related increase in the rate of leukemia, lymphoma and even mammary tumors. Aspartame is particularly a problem, because aspartame is broken down into three different compounds: phenylalanine, aspartate and methanol. It is the methanol that is of most concern, because it can convert into formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. I talk a little more about aspartame in my article “Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe?” See especially the part about Gulf War soldiers. Additionally, a 2015 review of medical studies [29] involving nearly 600,000 participants concluded that heavy consumption of artificial sweeteners might indeed increase the risk of particular cancers including laryngeal, urinary, leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (but then the study authors stated that the results were inconclusive. Mmm-kay.)

6. They May Trigger Migraines – Several studies [30,31] have shown that people with a high intake of artificial sweeteners like aspartame can suffer with migraines.

7. Some Are Made From GMO Corn – Some sugar substitutes are made in part from GMO corn, which has been linked with many different health problems. For more information, see my article “We Must Avoid Genetically Modified Organisms”.

I think it’s clear that some sugar substitutes are better than others. If you feel some sort of digestive upset after eating consuming, say, sugar alcohols like xylitol or sorbitol and want to keep trying, just try monk fruit or stevia. And as with most things, having sugar substitutes in moderation is pretty important. If you’re a type 2 diabetic, I say give most of these sugar substitutes a big miss altogether, except for monk fruit. That one is great for diabetics. For my breast cancer thrivers, I believe monk fruit, organic stevia and organic erythritol are safe IN MODERATION.

References:

[1] Article: Additional Information About High Intensity Sweeteners Permitted for Use as Food in the United States – https://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/additional-information-about-high-intensity-sweeteners-permitted-use-food-united-states

[2] Effect of the Artificial Sweetener, Acesulfame Potassium, a Sweet Taste Receptor Agonist, on Glucose Uptake in Small Intestinal Cell Lines – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3516624/

[3] The artificial sweetener acesulfame potassium affects the gut microbiome and body weight gain in CD-1 mice – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5464538/

[4] https://hardingmedicalinstitute.com/the-risks-of-neotame-and-how-you-can-curb-your-sweet-tooth/

[5] Video: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/a-harmless-artificial-sweetener/

[6] Efficacy and tolerance of lactitol supplementation for adult constipation: a systematic review and meta-analysis – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4103919/

[7] https://hardingmedicalinstitute.com/the-risks-of-neotame-and-how-you-can-curb-your-sweet-tooth/

[8] Effects of the Artificial Sweetener Neotame on the Gut Microbiome and Fecal Metabolites in Mice – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6017827/

[9] Hull, J. (1999). Sweet Poison How The World’s Most Popular Artificial Sweetener Is Killing Us – My Story, Far Hills, NJ: New Horizon Press

[10] Intense Sweetness Surpasses Cocaine Reward – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1931610/

[11] Heroin and saccharin demand and preference in rats – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5548646/

[12] Saccharin: a toxicological and historical perspective – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6353664/

[13] Saccharin induced liver inflammation in mice by altering the gut microbiota and its metabolic functions – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5647777/

[14] Antihyperlipidemic efficacy of aqueous extract of Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni in albino rats – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6064095/

[15] Sucralose affects glycemic and hormonal responses to an oral glucose load – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23633524/

[16] Splenda alters gut microflora and increases intestinal p-glycoprotein and cytochrome p-450 in male rats – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18800291/

[17] Sucralose, a synthetic organochlorine sweetener: overview of biological issues – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24219506/

[18] Thermal stability and thermal decomposition of sucralose – https://www.scielo.br/pdf/eq/v34n4/a02v34n4.pdf

[19] Xylitol’s Health Benefits beyond Dental Health: A Comprehensive Review – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6723878/

[20] Physiological mechanisms by which non-nutritive sweeteners may impact body weight and metabolism – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4661139/

[21] The effect of non-caloric sweeteners on cognition, choice, and post-consumption satisfaction – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25128835/

[22] Non-caloric artificial sweeteners and the microbiome: findings and challenges – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4615743/

[23] Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25231862/

[24] The Association Between Artificial Sweeteners and Obesity – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29159583/

[25] Artificial sweeteners and metabolic dysregulation: Lessons learned from agriculture and the laboratory – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27387506/

[26] Diet Soda Intake and Risk of Incident Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) – https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/32/4/688

[27] Results of long-term carcinogenicity bioassay on Sprague-Dawley rats exposed to aspartame administered in feed – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17119233/

[28] Life-Span Exposure to Low Doses of Aspartame Beginning during Prenatal Life Increases Cancer Effects in Rats – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1964906/

[29] Systematic review of the relationship between artificial sweetener consumption and cancer in humans: analysis of 599,741 participants – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26202345/

[30] Migraine provoked by aspartame – https://agris.fao.org/agris-search/search.do?recordID=US8724688

[31] Formaldehyde, aspartame, and migraines: a possible connection – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18627677/

Article Topics

About Marnie Clark

marnie clark breast cancer coach

Hi I’m Marnie Clark, breast cancer survivor turned coach. I have 20 years of experience in natural medicine.  In 2004/05 I battled breast cancer myself. You can see more about my journey on my page Breast Cancer Diary.

I’ve been healthy and recurrence-free since 2004 and in 2012 I became a Breast Cancer Coach because I became aware of the fact that whilst there is now a wealth of information on the Internet, much of it is confusing, conflicting, and sometimes just wrong!

So it is my duty to help you unconfuse and untangle all that information, and find what works for YOU.

GET MY BEST TIPS on healthy ways to beat breast cancer and prevent recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and eBooks.

You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.

Subscribe On YouTube

marnie clark youtube

Subscribe For Extra Support

Welcome to the Marnie Clark Breast Care Community. When you join my virtual family you will receive my informative newsletter PLUS my gift to you, these 2 eBooks valued at $47 to empower and support you on your breast cancer journey.

My subscribers also get a treasure trove of info on nutrition, supplements and lifestyle tips on surviving breast cancer.

“Thank you for the email and the meaningful words. I also wanted to thank you for being with me during my treatments. Your emails and posts not only gave me information but lots of courage.” Susan Z, Canada

Can I Eat Fruit If I Have Breast Cancer?

Can I Eat Fruit If I Have Breast Cancer?

free-ebooks-breast-cancer-marnie-clark

Subscribe to be notified when new articles are published. You’ll also receive my 2 free ebooks to assist you on your journey.

My subscribers also get a treasure trove of info on nutrition, supplements and lifestyle tips on surviving breast cancer.

Can I Eat Fruit If I Have Breast Cancer?

 I am asked so frequently “Can I Eat Fruit If I Have Breast Cancer? I decided to shoot a video about it! 

It’s a fair enough question, because the problem (as it is perceived) is we are told so often to avoid sugar if we have breast cancer, it would seem that fruit sugar is also dangerous, but that is NOT the case. Watch the video, you’ll see what I mean.

Hopefully that’ll clear up some questions for you! If not, be sure to comment below.

GET MY BEST TIPS on healthy ways to beat breast cancer and prevent recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and e-books.  You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates.  I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.  

 
 
 
 
 
 

Article Topics

About Marnie Clark

marnie clark breast cancer coach

Hi I’m Marnie Clark, breast cancer survivor turned coach. I have 20 years of experience in natural medicine.  In 2004/05 I battled breast cancer myself. You can see more about my journey on my page Breast Cancer Diary.

I’ve been healthy and recurrence-free since 2004 and in 2012 I became a Breast Cancer Coach because I became aware of the fact that whilst there is now a wealth of information on the Internet, much of it is confusing, conflicting, and sometimes just wrong!

So it is my duty to help you unconfuse and untangle all that information, and find what works for YOU.

GET MY BEST TIPS on healthy ways to beat breast cancer and prevent recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and eBooks.

You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.

Subscribe On YouTube

marnie clark youtube

Subscribe For Extra Support

Welcome to the Marnie Clark Breast Care Community. When you join my virtual family you will receive my informative newsletter PLUS my gift to you, these 2 eBooks valued at $47 to empower and support you on your breast cancer journey.

My subscribers also get a treasure trove of info on nutrition, supplements and lifestyle tips on surviving breast cancer.

“Thank you for the email and the meaningful words. I also wanted to thank you for being with me during my treatments. Your emails and posts not only gave me information but lots of courage.” Susan Z, Canada

The Safety of Milk Thistle for Breast Cancer

The Safety of Milk Thistle for Breast Cancer

free-ebooks-breast-cancer-marnie-clark

Subscribe to be notified when new articles are published. You’ll also receive my 2 free ebooks to assist you on your journey.

My subscribers also get a treasure trove of info on nutrition, supplements and lifestyle tips on surviving breast cancer.

The Safety of Milk Thistle for Breast Cancer

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a wonderful healing herb, most commonly used to treat liver complaints and to assist with liver detoxification. I get asked about this herb all the time, because there’s some information on the internet that tells women with breast cancer to avoid milk thistle because of its supposed “estrogenic” and possibly “carcinogenic” (cancer-causing) properties. 
 
I’ve read these articles about the supposed estrogenic properties of milk thistle, and they make me feel really irritated because they are misguided and come to incorrect conclusions. Telling women with breast cancer to avoid milk thistle is not only misguided, it is probably doing them a great disservice.
 
As usual, annoyance and irritation prods me to write an article in order to set the matter straight.
 
If you look at the scientific literature, the overwhelming majority of research studies show positive results using milk thistle. No estrogenic effects have been noted in human clinical trials. The warning stems from a couple of studies on rodents. A 2006 study [1] performed in both test tubes and with animals found that silymarin (discussed below) caused estrogen levels to rise and appeared to be carcinogenic. On the other hand, the same study found that silibinin (also discussed below) strongly inhibited the development of mammary tumors as well as lung metastasis in HER-2+ transgenic mice. Also, a 2001 Czech study found silymarin had estrogenic effects on rats that had had their ovaries removed (I feel sorry for the rats – their bodies were probably trying to create estrogen out of whatever they could – just my guess.)
 
A Discussion of Silymarin and Silibinin
 
You will see the words silymarin and silibinin being used with reference to milk thistle, but what are they? The best description I found comes from a paper titled “Milk Thistle Nomenclature: Why It Matters in Cancer Research and Pharmacokinetic Studies” [3]
 
In this paper silymarin is described as the crude commercial product of milk thistle. Silymarin is a complex of at least seven flavonolignans and one flavonoid that comprises 65-80% of milk thistle extract. 
 
Silibinin comes from silymarin – it is a semi-purified component of silymarin. Silibinin was once thought to be a single compound but is now recognized as a 1:1 mixture of 2 diastereoisomers, silybin A and silybin B. According to the authors of this paper, “The distinction between silymarin and silibinin is not only important to understanding the historical literature, but thorough characterization and use of chemically defined mixtures in preclinical and clinical studies are essential to the progress of these botanical compounds as human therapeutics.”
 
The Research on Milk Thistle
 
I delved into the research on milk thistle (one of my favorite things to do) and this is what I found. Following are the studies that I found most impressive with regard to the safety of milk thistle for breast cancer survivors. Many of them are preclinical studies as funds are usually lacking to perform human trials in most instances. Having said that, a 2007 review of clinical trials on milk thistle [4], while not deeply investigative of the benefits of milk thistle, did conclude that milk thistle extracts were known to be safe and well tolerated, and that toxic or adverse effects observed in the reviewed clinical trials were minimal.
 
A 2008 review of medical studies [5] found good evidence that silymarin from milk thistle may be beneficial for cancer patients. It was found to target several steps of carcinogenesis including tumor cell proliferation (rapid growth), cell cycle regulation, differentiation, apoptosis (planned cell death – common to all cells but lacking in cancer cells), angiogenesis (the ability of a tumor to create a system of blood vessels to feed itself), invasion and metastasis (spread to other areas of the body). In addition, silymarin was found to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties and also reduced the toxicity of chemotherapy drugs.
 
A comprehensive 2011 study [6] administered milk thistle extracts at various (and often high) dosages to both male and female mice and rats for periods of up to two years, the human equivalent of lifelong exposure. They found no evidence of carcinogenic activity, and in fact found a reduced incidence of liver cancer. 
 
A 2011 review of medical studies [7] by Italian researchers found that there were ample studies to indicate that milk thistle was a potent antioxidant, inhibited the binding of toxins to liver cells, reduced liver injury in animals caused by certain drugs and radiation, and inhibited liver fibrosis.
 
A 2011 preclinical study [8] of estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer cells found that silibinin enhanced apoptosis (defined above) and reduced tumor cell viability.
 
Another 2011 preclinical study [9] found that silibinin inhibited EGFR (Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor, a protein-coding gene, the overexpression of which is implicated in at least 30% of breast cancers). Silibinin also inhibited CD-44, a cell surface adhesion receptor that is highly expressed in many cancers, regulates metastasis and is also a bio-marker for cancer stem cells. Silibinin also reduced MMP-9, an enzyme shown to be involved in the invasion (metastasis) of other tissues, thus leading to the spread of breast cancer. 
 
Yet another 2011 preclinical study [10] with triple negative breast cancer cells found that silibinin inhibited the metastatic potential of this line of cells. It worked by reducing the stickiness of these cells, and worked in several other ways to reduce the ability of these cells to move to other parts of the body.
 
A 2012 cell study [11] involving both estrogen-receptor positive and -negative breast cancer cells (and prostate cancer cells) found that silibinin had anti-cancer activity, and inhibited a pathway (the Wnt/ß-catenin pathway) associated with the spread of these cancer cell lines to other parts of the body.
 
A 2013 preclinical study [12] with animals found that milk thistle extract protected the bones of mice that had ovaries removed by promoting the activity of bone-building cells (osteoblasts) and inhibiting the activity of bone resorption cells (osteoclasts). And a 2013 review of medical studies [13] on milk thistle found that silymarin played a crucial role in helping to prevent bone loss. Researchers specifically stated that silymarin could be beneficial for fracture healing, and could be considered beneficial for post menopausal women in the treatment of osteoporosis.
 
A 2013 cell study [14] performed by Iranian researchers found that silymarin had a synergistic effect on the therapeutic potential of doxorubicin (a chemotherapy drug commonly used for breast cancer, also known as Adriamycin). Researchers found that combining silymarin with doxorubicin was more effective against cancer cells, and also decreased the side effects of the drug. Remember, milk thistle is known to be a great detoxifier for the liver.
 
A 2015 preclinical study [15] found that silibinin inhibited a gene known as STAT3 which known to be involved in cancer tumor growth and spread (metastasis).
 
Another 2015 preclinical study [16] found that silibinin induced autophagy (a complex metabolic process by which cells are broken down and reused to make new cells) in a line of estrogen- and progesterone-receptor positive breast cancer cells.
 
Milk thistle appears to be beneficial in estrogen metabolism when combined with other ingredients, as well. A small 2010 clinical study [17] involving 47 pre-menopausal and 49 post-menopausal women investigated the use of a health supplement which incorporated a combination of indole-3-carbinol, lignans, calcium glucarate, milk thistle, Schisandra chinesis and stinging nettle. Each woman either took the supplement or a placebo for 28 days. Researchers found that those taking the supplement had significantly increased urinary output of estrogen – meaning that it helped the body to break down and excrete estrogen.
 
Milk Thistle as a Phytoestrogen
 
I have discussed phytoestrogens in several other articles (see my article: Phytoestrogens – Harmful or Beneficial for Hormone Driven Breast Cancer?). So yes, milk thistle does act as a phytoestrogen, meaning that it can dock with estrogen receptors on cells and mimic the effects of estrogen. If you’ve read my other articles, you will know that this is a good thing, and that it’s okay for someone with hormone driven breast cancer.
 
I’ve said this before, and no doubt I’ll say it again: phytoestrogens have to be amongst the most misunderstood plant compounds on the planet. Phytoestrogens include flaxseeds, soy, and milk thistle (among many others), and what we have learned about them is that because their estrogenic effects are much weaker than our own estrogen, they actually protect against the effects of stronger estrogens and also xenoestrogens (external estrogens like pesticides and other hormone disrupting chemicals). YES – that means phytoestrogens are protective for both breast and uterine tissues.
 
Also, studies have shown that many phytoestrogens have beneficial effects on bone metabolism, including milk thistle. As mentioned above, preclinical studies with milk thistle have demonstrated great promise in helping to rebuild bones by preventing the breakdown of bone by osteoclasts, while at the same time improving the building of bone by osteoblasts. 
 
Bottom Line: I have discovered NO evidence that milk thistle extract has negative estrogenic effects in humans. The preponderance of studies shows it may have tremendous benefits for breast cancer patients. 
 
The Other Benefits of Milk Thistle
 
In addition to its benefits for breast cancer, milk thistle extracts have been shown to have all of these actions:
 
• promotes improved liver health in double-blind, human clinical trials, benefits several types of liver disease, including hepatitis and cirrhosis
• liver protective 
• liver detoxifier
• antioxidant and free radical scavenger, so anti-aging
• anti-inflammatory 
• neuroprotective 
• protects against depletion of glutathione 
• stimulates the formation of new liver cells (hepatocytes) 
• reduces cholesterol levels
• reduces insulin resistance and improves blood sugar levels
 
Taking Milk Thistle
 
Milk thistle is very well tolerated by most and at the right dosage is free of major side effects. If you are using milk thistle, try to find it in a standardized extract to get the results you want. Around 150 mg three times daily is a good dosage for promoting liver health and detoxification (it may have a mild laxative effect at this dose). For general use and liver support take 150 mg once daily.
 
Milk thistle as a tea is generally not very well absorbed.
 
Some supplement makers are creating phytosomal milk thistle. Phytosomes are a combination of silymarin with phosphatidylcholine molecules to aid their absorption. If taking phytosomal milk thistle the typical dosage is 80-120 mg two to three times per day.
 
Drug interactions: Milk thistle may possibly interact with some medications, including anti-anxiety drugs, some allergy medicines, and blood thinners, among others. If you are taking medications, be sure to discuss the use of milk thistle with your health care provider to prevent any possible interactions.
 
NOTE: Do not rely upon milk thistle on its own to treat breast cancer, or any other sort of cancer. However, in combination with other treatments, both conventional and natural, milk thistle can be very beneficial.
 
References:
 
[1] Enhancement of Mammary Carcinogenesis in Two Rodent Models by Silymarin Dietary Supplements – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16597642/
 
[2] Estrogenic effects of silymarin on ovariectomized rats – http://www.vri.cz/docs/vetmed/46-1-17.pdf
 
[3] Milk Thistle Nomenclature: Why It Matters in Cancer Research and Pharmacokinetic Studies –  https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1534735407301825
 
[4] Review of Clinical Trials Evaluating Safety and Efficacy of Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum [L.] Gaertn.) – https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1534735407301942
 
[5] Multitargeted therapy of cancer by silymarin – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2612997/
 
[6] Toxicology and carcinogenesis studies of milk thistle extract (CAS No. 84604-20-6) in F344/N rats and B6C3F1 mice (Feed Studies) – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21685957/
 
[7]  Milk thistle in liver diseases: past, present, future – https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-00599834/document
 
[8] Silibinin Enhances Ultraviolet B-Induced Apoptosis in MCF-7 Human Breast Cancer Cells – https://synapse.koreamed.org/DOIx.php?id=10.4048/jbc.2011.14.1.8&vmode=FULL
 
[9] Silibinin Suppresses EGFR Ligand-induced CD44 Expression through Inhibition of EGFR Activity in Breast Cancer Cells – http://ar.iiarjournals.org/content/31/11/3767.short
 
[10] Inhibition of silibinin on migration and adhesion capacity of human highly metastatic breast cancer cell line, MDA-MB-231, by evaluation of ß1-integrin and downstream molecules, Cdc42, Raf-1 and D4GDI – https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12032-011-0113-8
 
[11] Silibinin inhibits Wnt/ß-catenin signaling by suppressing Wnt co-receptor LRP6 expression in human prostate and breast cancer cells – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0898656812002057
 
[12] Antiosteoclastic Activity of Milk Thistle Extract after Ovariectomy to Suppress Estrogen Deficiency-Induced Osteoporosis – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3678416/
 
[13] Milk Thistle: A Future Potential Anti-Osteoporotic and Fracture Healing Agent – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24093748/
 
[14] The role of milk thistle extract in breast carcinoma cell line (MCF-7) apoptosis with doxorubicin – http://acta.tums.ac.ir/index.php/acta/article/view/4369
 
[15] Silibinin and STAT3: A natural way of targeting transcription factors for cancer therapy – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25944486/
 
[16] Silibinin, a natural flavonoid, induces autophagy via ROS-dependent mitochondrial dysfunction and loss of ATP involving BNIP3 in human MCF7 breast cancer cells – https://www.spandidos-publications.com/or/33/6/2711?text=fulltext
 
[17] Effects of A Breast-Health Herbal Formula Supplement on Estrogen Metabolism in Pre- and Post-Menopausal Women not Taking Hormonal Contraceptives or Supplements: A Randomized Controlled Trial – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3018890/
 
GET MY BEST TIPS on healthy ways to beat breast cancer and prevent recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and e-books.  You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates.  I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.  

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About Marnie Clark

marnie clark breast cancer coach

Hi I’m Marnie Clark, breast cancer survivor turned coach. I have 20 years of experience in natural medicine.  In 2004/05 I battled breast cancer myself. You can see more about my journey on my page Breast Cancer Diary.

I’ve been healthy and recurrence-free since 2004 and in 2012 I became a Breast Cancer Coach because I became aware of the fact that whilst there is now a wealth of information on the Internet, much of it is confusing, conflicting, and sometimes just wrong!

So it is my duty to help you unconfuse and untangle all that information, and find what works for YOU.

GET MY BEST TIPS on healthy ways to beat breast cancer and prevent recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and eBooks.

You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.

Subscribe On YouTube

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Subscribe For Extra Support

Welcome to the Marnie Clark Breast Care Community. When you join my virtual family you will receive my informative newsletter PLUS my gift to you, these 2 eBooks valued at $47 to empower and support you on your breast cancer journey.

My subscribers also get a treasure trove of info on nutrition, supplements and lifestyle tips on surviving breast cancer.

“Thank you for the email and the meaningful words. I also wanted to thank you for being with me during my treatments. Your emails and posts not only gave me information but lots of courage.” Susan Z, Canada

Best Diet When Going Through Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

Best Diet When Going Through Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

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Subscribe to be notified when new articles are published. You’ll also receive my 2 free ebooks to assist you on your journey.

My subscribers also get a treasure trove of info on nutrition, supplements and lifestyle tips on surviving breast cancer.

Best Diet When Going Through Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

In today’s post, I’ve made a YouTube video for anyone anticipating going through chemotherapy – it covers the best diet when going through chemotherapy for breast cancer. it’s probably one of the top 10 questions I get asked the most.

Because let’s face it – you know you aren’t going to feel the best when going through chemotherapy – or at least you’ve heard all those horror stories – and you want to give yourself an edge. I get that – I’ve been there. So here are my best tips and tricks for helping you get through this.

And don’t be too surprised if you sail right through your chemotherapy treatments – yes, the suggestions in this video can make that big of a difference.

This is what I did – plus a few things I had no idea about! In the video I have covered all the best foods to have, my favorite green smoothie recipe, as well as a few things that are best avoided. So dive in, and enjoy. If you have any questions, just let me know.

GET MY BEST TIPS on healthy ways to beat breast cancer and prevent recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters. You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.

Article Topics

About Marnie Clark

marnie clark breast cancer coach

Hi I’m Marnie Clark, breast cancer survivor turned coach. I have 20 years of experience in natural medicine.  In 2004/05 I battled breast cancer myself. You can see more about my journey on my page Breast Cancer Diary.

I’ve been healthy and recurrence-free since 2004 and in 2012 I became a Breast Cancer Coach because I became aware of the fact that whilst there is now a wealth of information on the Internet, much of it is confusing, conflicting, and sometimes just wrong!

So it is my duty to help you unconfuse and untangle all that information, and find what works for YOU.

GET MY BEST TIPS on healthy ways to beat breast cancer and prevent recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and eBooks.

You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.

Subscribe On YouTube

marnie clark youtube

Subscribe For Extra Support

Welcome to the Marnie Clark Breast Care Community. When you join my virtual family you will receive my informative newsletter PLUS my gift to you, these 2 eBooks valued at $47 to empower and support you on your breast cancer journey.

My subscribers also get a treasure trove of info on nutrition, supplements and lifestyle tips on surviving breast cancer.

“Thank you for the email and the meaningful words. I also wanted to thank you for being with me during my treatments. Your emails and posts not only gave me information but lots of courage.” Susan Z, Canada

Phytoestrogen – What’s the Big Concern For Breast Cancer?

Phytoestrogen – What’s the Big Concern For Breast Cancer?

free-ebooks-breast-cancer-marnie-clark

Subscribe to be notified when new articles are published. You’ll also receive my 2 free ebooks to assist you on your journey.

My subscribers also get a treasure trove of info on nutrition, supplements and lifestyle tips on surviving breast cancer.

Phytoestrogen – What’s the Big Concern For Breast Cancer?

The role of phytoestrogen – which essential means plant-derived estrogen – especially with regard to its interaction with estrogen receptor positive (ER+) breast cancer, is a subject about which I am frequently asked. So frequently, in fact, I decided to shoot a video about it, so that I can save time answering the question!

I don’t mean to sound flippant – it’s an important subject. As breast cancer patients and survivors, we are frequently told to avoid phytoestrogens in the management of ER+ breast cancer, but is that good advice?

Please watch the video and find out what the truth is about phytoestrogens.

GET MY BEST TIPS on healthy ways to beat breast cancer and prevent recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters. You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.

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Article Topics

About Marnie Clark

marnie clark breast cancer coach

Hi I’m Marnie Clark, breast cancer survivor turned coach. I have 20 years of experience in natural medicine.  In 2004/05 I battled breast cancer myself. You can see more about my journey on my page Breast Cancer Diary.

I’ve been healthy and recurrence-free since 2004 and in 2012 I became a Breast Cancer Coach because I became aware of the fact that whilst there is now a wealth of information on the Internet, much of it is confusing, conflicting, and sometimes just wrong!

So it is my duty to help you unconfuse and untangle all that information, and find what works for YOU.

GET MY BEST TIPS on healthy ways to beat breast cancer and prevent recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and eBooks.

You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.

Subscribe On YouTube

marnie clark youtube

Subscribe For Extra Support

Welcome to the Marnie Clark Breast Care Community. When you join my virtual family you will receive my informative newsletter PLUS my gift to you, these 2 eBooks valued at $47 to empower and support you on your breast cancer journey.

My subscribers also get a treasure trove of info on nutrition, supplements and lifestyle tips on surviving breast cancer.

“Thank you for the email and the meaningful words. I also wanted to thank you for being with me during my treatments. Your emails and posts not only gave me information but lots of courage.” Susan Z, Canada

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