Q: Dr. Sheehan,

I am 57 years old and postmenopausal. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001. (estrogen positive-ductal)I have high LDL cholesterol and my other lipid levels are at normal range. After taking statins in the past with side effects, I started taking Red Yeast Rice and CoQ10. I have read breast cancer patients should not take herbs/supplements containing Phytoestrogens. What herbs/supplements should I avoid? I am also taking a supplement called Osteo Care for osteoporosis from Healthy Choice Naturals. (website) One of the ingredients is 5 mg of bioperine for absorption. Is this be safe for me? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time.


A: Dear Wendy,

I must preface my reply to you with this: the priority for you is working with your medical doctors and after that find a competent holistic practitioner to advise you on whole food supplementation. I do NOT suggest self-treating in your case. You would benefit the most from a structured wellness program to ensure you have the best chances of regaining your health and supporting your immune system.

Let me commend you on your choice to look into natural complementary therapies, paying particular attention the safety and contraindications of them. Some of the phytoestrogen containing herbs are; Donq Quai, Red Clover, Black Cohosh, Ginkgo Biloba, and Soy, among others. These are the herbs that contain phytoestrogens in the greatest quantity. Many other herbs and foods contain phytoestrogens in varying quantities. Before making my recommendation, I would like to say that there is conflicting opinions on whether phytoestrogens encourage or discourage cancer growth. The best bet for you would be to go back to your oncologist, tell him/her about what herbs you were planning to take, and ask him/her about whether or not these would be a wise choice for you, in your specific case. Don’t take chances with this.

Bioperine, an extract of Black Pepper, however, seems like a safe bet. There seem to be no contraindications to taking, except that it increases the uptake of whatever it is taken with, so you should not take it with medications.

Looking at your history, I would also ask the following questions. Have you been using salivary hormone testing to look at your balance of progesterone to the different estrogens? How are your DHEA, homocysteine and testosterone levels? Have you heard of the Estronex test from Metametrix? It’s a great way of tracking your estrogen metabolism, which, as you know, has been clinically significant in the prevention of breast cancer. These are very important to take into account when looking at cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis prevention.

Also, what is your diet like? Do you eat a lot of vegetables, preferably raw, with low amounts of processed foods, especially starches and sugars? Are you performing weight bearing exercises to protect you from osteoporosis? If so, how much?

There’s a lot to look at. Hopefully I didn’t overwhelm you. Whenever performing holistic, whole body counseling for my patients I always take the above into account. These factors are even more important to osteoporosis, cancer, and heart disease prevention than most supplements.

Dr. Keith

Bear in mind we are not addressing anyone’s personal situation and you should rely on this for informational purposes only. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.