LIFE DOCTOR

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THE LIFE Doctor endeavours to extract the common sense from the pulp of health advice, threats and lunacy gushing from scientists and PR companies. The truly lethal combination is a scientist with a PR company, and there was a zesty one this week with the serialisation in the Daily Mail of the US bestseller The Breast Cancer Prevention Diet by Dr Bob Arnot.

The book lines up every piece of new thinking on the subject in one powerful handbook. The theory is that breast cancer is prevented by blocking abnormal oestrogens and free radicals that damage DNA and can trigger the abnormal cell growth that is cancer.

The question is: are books like this helpful or do they merely produce panic and guilt that women could have prevented their breast cancer if only they'd tried harder? I have a "high-degree" familial risk of breast cancer, but I believe you should take all medical breakthroughs with a pinch of salt (not literally since that will increase your risk of stroke).

Dr Arnot writes, "There is one new emerging concept - an overall measure of the daily siege that DNA undergoes. The `oxidative load'. External sources range from solar and ionizing radiation to cigarette smoking, air pollutants, heavy metals, ozone, organic solvents, pesticides and food additives. The lower your load, the lower your risk of cancer and certain food dramatically reduces oxidative load."

My mother (also high risk) says sniffily, "We've only to hear that the Anti-Cabbage Group has proved that eating too much cabbage gives you cancer and we'll have nothing left to eat at all. If your life is spent avoiding a certain kind of death, you'll be very miserable and die of something else."

I am pulled in two directions. I agree with my mother (who still lives a very healthy life, mark you). But I never underestimate the power of my cancer paranoia. Thanks to IBP (imaginary breast pain) I eat tofu. I have ruined T-shirts since converting to non-anti-perspirant deodorant, after reading that toxins gather in the lymph nodes if you block your pit pores.

And what if Dr Arnot is right? It's like the second coming. With so many fake Messiahs how are we to spot a real one?

"Cambridge University recently estimated that up to 80 per cent of breast cancers could be prevented with diet," says Dr Arnot. "Doctors are notoriously late to warn the public. The first link between cigarettes and lung cancer was in 1937. I believe the warning about diet and breast cancer should be made loud and clear now."

Make your own mind up. If you want his advice read on. If not, use this page for chip paper.

Avoiding breast cancer

1. Eat. Garlic, kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, onions, apple skin, berries, black grapes, tea, broccoli. Other A-list anti-oxidants: aubergine skin, tomatoes, red wine, asparagus, lemon, olives, celery, red pepper, peaches, mango, papaya, peaches, paprika and oranges. Remember: high fibre, low fat and low alcohol. Eat fish and organic meat and dairy to avoid contaminants. Lots of olive oil and no margarine.

2. Don't Eat. One study showed that having a 1,000 calories a day because of food shortage resulted in a population having a fraction of the breast cancer of wealthy Westerners.

3. Exercise. Of 25,000 Norwegian women, those that exercised for at least four hours a week had a reduced incidence of 37 per cent.

4. Vitamin D. Good news for tanning. Researchers have found that women with greater loss of skin elasticity (ie big sunbathers) had less breast cancer. Hurrah! Bring back the baby oil.

`The Breast Cancer Prevention Diet' published by Newleaf pounds 9.99.

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