October is breast cancer awareness month so I thought I would review the proactive things women can do to reduce your risks.
1. Get enough sleep– Postmenopausal women who sleep less than 6 hours consistently are twice as likely to have more aggressive breast cancers than those who sleep longer. Healthy sleep allows our body’s DNA to repair at night. If that process is frequently disrupted, then DNA is not able to repair.
Also Melatonin, a brain hormone is secreted at night to help us get to sleep and stay asleep. When Melatonin is deficient due to lack of sleep, it raises the risk of breast cancer.
2. Lose weight– Breast cancer risk is increased by levels of estrogen, and fat tissue produces estrogen. Fat also raises insulin levels as well as inflammation which stimulates tumor growth. The link between obesity and breast cancer is well established. A study of more than 4000 women showed that being obese raised a women’s risk of reoccurance by 30% and her risk of death by 50% even after optimal treatments. The risk is also high for women in the overweight range.
3. Eat more cruciferous vegetables– Cruciferous vegetables such as kale, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts and cauliflower have a 62% reduced risk of breast cancer mortality and a 35% reduced risk of reoccurrence. These vegetables contain high amounts of isothiocyanates, indoles and phytochemicals which have a protective effect against many cancers. These vegetables also contain Vitamin C, carotenoids and polyphenols which are important antioxidants.
A supplement known as Bioresponse DIM contains high amounts of Indols per capsule (the equivalent to a bushel of broccoli). I recommend 300 mg per day for additional support in preventing cancer.
4. Drink alcohol sparingly– This means no more than 1 drink per day according to the American Cancer Society. Review of over 40 studies found just 2 drinks a day may raise the risk of cancer by 21% and increases the risk of reoccurrence by 19%. The reason may be that alcohol raises circulating estrogen levels in postmenopausal women.
5. Get Moving– The latest research shows that any physical activity (gardening, housework, walking the dog, etc) protects against breast cancer. It’s never too late to start. Women who exercised at any intensity for 10-19 hours per week had a 30% reduced risk of breast cancer according to Lauren McCullough of the University of North Carolina. But don’t use exercise as an excuse to eat more and gain weight. Studies show that weight gain can squash the benefits of exercise and increase risks of cancer.
6. Avoid environmental estrogens– You may think that estrogens are only produced from a women’s body. But the fact is that the most potent dangerous estrogens come from our environment. We are exposed to thousands of chemicals a day and some of these imitate estrogens, referred to as xenoestrogens, or estrogen disrupters. They contribute to breast cancer risk by mutating genes, altering breast cells to absorb more estrogen and suppressing the immune system. Xenoestrogens include petroleum-based chemicals, pesticides, herbicides and chemicals that migrate throughout plastics. Things you can do are: eat organic, avoid cooking in plastics (especially BPA), use filtered water instead of tap water, use “natural” skin products and learn to read labels. If the ingredients look like some foreign language, it’s best to choose simple ingredients that you can understand.
7. Get an estrogen metabolite test– You may only find these tests offered at integrative practitioner offices. It is a urine test that lets you know how you are metabolizing (breaking down) estrogens. This is a useful test for postmenopausal women whether you are on hormones or not, because even in menopause our bodies continue to make estrogen. The goal is to shunt estrogens in healthy pathways in the liver. There are natural ways to do this depending on your test results. It is an excellent way to really personalize your goal of reducing cancer risk. Getting a thermogram is also a risk assessment tool in which to know if you are at higher risk for breast cancer.
8. Cleansing the body and mind– Eating sufficient fiber helps keep adequate levels of friendly bacteria, like Lactobaccilli in place. When the colon is working properly, then wastes and toxins can be eliminated. If you are constipated, these toxins as well as estrogens get recirculated in the bloodstream, causing inflammation and liver congestion.
What about stress? We know that stress effects our physiology. It increases the production of certain hormones, mainly Cortisol, which compromises the immune system and creates nutritional deficiencies. It is important to find ways to reduce stress, such as exercise, meditation, yoga, deep breathing, walks in nature, living with pets or counseling.
Reference: Derflinger, T. et al. “Better Breast Health for Life” . Published by The Breast Health Education Group, 2005.