It’s no secret that breast cancer is the top cancer in women worldwide. American women are especially vulnerable with one of the highest incidence rates in the world (World Health Organization, 2014). While early detection is ideal for improving survival rates, preventative breast health care is one of safest ways to ensure protection against the disease.
To understand the best preventative care, let’s first discuss the many different risk factors of breast cancer.
While genetic factors are always a risk factor, one of the most common causes is increased exposure to estrogenic hormones.
Estrogenic hormones are very important, mind you, because they are responsible for the growth and development of female sex characteristics and reproduction. They also control growth of the uterine lining during the first part of the menstrual cycle, cause changes in the breasts during adolescence and pregnancy, and regulate many other metabolic processes, like bone growth and cholesterol levels (Healthy Women.org, 2015).
However, when there is an excess of estrogen, it may stimulate breast cell division, and/or support growth of estrogen-responsive tumors (Cornell University, 2002).
The good news is, you can directly affect levels of estrogen in your body with the following lifestyle changes:
1) Clean up your diet!
A diet high in dairy, meats, and total fat, and low in fiber, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and phytoestrogens is linked with breast cancer (Murray, 2000).
Consume a mostly plant-based diet full of quality Mediterranean fats, like avocadoes, wild-caught fish, nuts and seeds, and olive oil, and a variety of colorful vegetables. This will boost your anti-inflammatory antioxidants and fiber, which will aid in eliminating excess estrogen.
Include good sources of phytoestrogens, like flaxseed or flax oil, non-GMO soy, and/or lentils, too, because they interfere with the cancer-promoting effects of estrogen on breast tissue (Murray, 2000).
Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol, which decrease antioxidants and may increase breast cancer risk due to an increased amount of circulating estrogen (Cornell University, 2002).
Take a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement to boost the body’s nutrient stores, because it’s very unlikely that we’re able to get all of the nutrients we need through food. PhytoMulti™ is my favorite multi-vitamin for patients, because it delivers the antioxidant potential of 5 fruits and vegetables, in addition to supporting detoxification and DNA integrity, and supplying a host of bioavailable vitamins and minerals.
2) Optimize gut and liver function.
Healthy gut function is essential to overall health, because it is 70% of our immune system and it is involved in 50% of hormone synthesis. It also contains a large amount of bacteria (we are more bacteria than we are human!), and when the bacteria are healthy, they produce vitamins and hormones and fend off unfriendly invaders. Good gut bacteria also help the liver detoxify and eliminate excess estrogen.
Besides eating fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, taking a proven multi-strain probiotic like UltraFlora™ Spectrum will support healthy gut function. Be sure to take it on an empty stomach in the morning for ideal absorption.
Similarly, good liver function is essential to metabolizing and removing excess estrogen. One of the best ways to optimize liver metabolism of excess estrogen is by eating a healthy diet with ample fiber (see above). Other great ways to support liver detoxification of excess estrogen includes taking supportive nutraceuticals like:
- Estrium™ – This medical food has been clinically shown to attenuate PMS symptoms, which includes breast tenderness, and improve estrogen metabolism (Lukaczer, et. al, 2001).
- EstroFactors® - This relieves estrogen-related issues, such as mild mood swings and decreased breast tenderness, and supports breast health by promoting the metabolism of estrogen.
- Meta I-3-C® - This contains Indole-3-Carbinol (I3C), a phytochemical found in cruciferous vegetables that has been shown to strongly influence estrogen metabolism. It’s also a promising chemopreventative agent for breast cancer prevention (Aggarwal & Ichikawa, 2005).
3) Establish a daily habit of exercising.
Studies suggest that circulating levels of estrogen are lower in women who exercise regularly, and body fat is often reduced in women who exercise (Cornell University, 2002). Lower body fat means a lower amount of estrogen, too, because estrogen concentrates in fat cells.
Establish a regular pattern of exercise, ideally 30 minutes daily! Choose something you enjoy doing – be it walking, biking, or weight training. Even if time is limited, finding small ways to move adds up.
4) Other Lifestyle Tips
Seek a non-hormonal alternative to oral contraceptives. A recent analysis of 54 studies of women who used(d) birth control pills found a small increased risk of breast cancer among those currently taking the pills, and up to 10 years after stopping usage (Cornell University, 2002).
Similarly, avoid Hormonal Replacement Therapy options for dealing with perimenopause and menopause (more to come on this topic), because it increases the risk of breast cancer, and is unlikely to prevent or benefit heart or and blood vessel disease (Cornell University, 2002).
Avoid environmental toxins as much as possible, such as bisphenol A (BPA) found in receipts and plastic products. These environmental toxins may increase cell division and contribute to breast cancer risk, especially because they are stored in fatty tissues like breast tissue. Assess your home for alternatives to toxic cooking ware, cleaning products, and beauty care products. Also, buy organic food and produce whenever possible.
Folks, there are so many aspects of breast cancer prevention that you can directly control, like your diet, exercise, and exposure to toxins. Start with small steps. Not only will you help prevent your chances of getting breast cancer; your health will thrive!
Aggarwal, B. and Ichikawa, H. (2005). Molecular Targets and Anticancer Potential of Indole-3-Carbinol and Its Derivatives. Landes Bioscience. http://www.landesbiosceince.com/journals/cc/abstract.php?id=1993.
Breast cancer: prevention and control . (2014). World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/cancer/detection/breastcancer/en/.
Estrogen & Breast Cancer Risk: Factors of Exposure. (2002). Cornell University. http://envirocancer.cornell.edu/factsheet/general/fs10.estrogen.cfm.
Lukaczer, D., Liska, D., Darland, G., Bland, J., Schiltz, B., Tripp, M., Lerman, R. (2001). Improvement in Symptoms and Estrogen Metabolism in Women with Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) Using a Newly Formulated Medical Food. Functional Medicine Research Center. Research Report Number 110.
Murray, Michael. (2000). Total Body Tune-Up. Bantam Books: New York.
Overview. (2015). Healthy Women.org. http://www.healthywomen.org/condition/estrogen.