This guest post was written by Dr. Shawna Darou, who has been a practicing naturopathic doctor for over 10 years. You can check out her amazingly informative blog about all things health related here. It is a continuation of her article on doing regular self-examinations, which you can read here

The Basics of Prevention

Nutrition:

  • Emphasize plenty of vegetables in your diet, as well as mushrooms, onions and garlic. A high vegetable intake reduces your risk of breast cancer, and also improves survival if you do get cancer.
  • Include the Brassica family of vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, chard, collard greens, Brussels sprouts. These vegetables contain a compound called indole-3-carbinol which helps your body to detox excess estrogens. ‘
  • Include ground flaxseeds in your diet. Flaxseeds contain lignans which have an anti-estrogen effect. Ground flaxseeds can be sprinkled on cereal or yogurt, or added to a morning smoothie, and can even be baked into muffins. In one study, in women wit breast cancer who were waiting for surgery, the addition of one flax muffin daily for 32-39 days was found to lead to significant reduced cell proliferation of tumor cells (3).
  • Reduce animal protein in general, and avoid charred meats. Emphasize more vegetarian proteins such as beans and lentils, and if you are eating meats, choose organic chicken, grass-fed meats, wild fish and organic eggs. Avoid charring meats as this produces heterocyclic amines, which are carcinogenic compounds.
  • Minimize dairy intake, as dairy raises blood levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) which is also associated with increased breast cancer risk. (4,5,6,7)
  • Include green tea, with up to 3 cups per day to reduce your breast cancer risk.
  • Minimize sugar intake, and especially fructose containing processed foods. Sugar and fructose can speed up cancer growth.

Lifestyle:

  • Ensure that you are getting sufficient sleep, with at least 7 hours per night.
  • Reduce light exposure at night by blacking out your bedroom. Light exposure in the night inhibits melatonin production and can increase breast cancer risk.

Estrogen exposure:

When we think of estrogen exposure, the first thing that comes to mind is hormone replacement therapy. Yes, this has been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, but there are other sources of estrogen exposure to be wary of too, namely xenostrogens. Xenoestrogens are estrogen-mimicking chemicals found in plastics, food additives, pesticides, canned food liners, personal care products, and household cleaning products.

Body weight:

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Obesity raises the risk of breast cancer after menopause. Studies show that 17% of breast cancer cases have can be attributed to obesity alone (8).

Exercise:

Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do to reduce the likelihood of developing breast cancer, and it can decrease your chance of dying of it by 50%, once diagnosed (9)

Even as little as a brisk 30 minute walk five times per week has a positive effect on reducing breast-cancer risk. An analysis of 73 studies concluded that women with higher levels of physical activity had a 25% reduced risk of breast cancer (10).

Alcohol and smoking:

Alcohol appears to have a very significant affect on breast cancer, with significant risk with more than seven or more glasses of alcohol per week, and recent research showing that even a few glasses per week also increases breast cancer risk by 15%, compared to non-drinkers. The best advice is to save alcohol for rare occasions, and definitely limit to no more than 4 drinks per week (11,12)

As I’m sure you are aware, smoking increases your risk of many cancers, including breast cancer by exposing your body to many known carcinogens.

Supplements to consider:

  • Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) and di-indoylmethane (DIM) are powerful supports of estrogen detoxification.
  • Green tea polyphenols can come from supplement form, or simply drinking green tea (up to 3 cups daily).
  • Optimize your vitamin D levels, as this has been shown to be one of the most important vitamins for cancer prevention in general. If you live in a Northern climate, vitamin D supplementation through the winter months is essential.
  • Curcumin (turmeric extract), the amazing anti-inflammatory herb can be taken as a supplement, or added to foods. People who eat turmeric regularly have lower rates of cancer, including breast cancer. The extract curcumin may prevent the spread of cancer.

Self-Exams

Proper self-exams are a vital part of any breast cancer prevention program. You can read about how to do one and what to look for here.

References:

  1. Mette Kalager, M.D., Marvin Zelen, Ph.D., Frøydis Langmark, M.D., and Hans-Olov Adami, M.D., Ph.D. . Effect of Screening Mammography on Breast-Cancer Mortality in Norway.N Engl J Med 2010; 363:1203-1210. September 23, 2010.
  2. Miller, AB, To, T, Baines, CJ, Wall, C. Canadian National Breast Screening Study-2: 13 Year Results of a Randomized Trial in Women Aged 50-59 Years. J Natl Cancer Inst 2000; 92(18): 1490-1499.
  3. Thompson LU, Chen JM, Li T, et al: Dietary flaxseed alters tumor biological markers in postmenopausal breast cancer. Clin Cancer Res 2005;11:3828-3835.
  4. Rinaldi S, Peeters PH, Berrino F, et al: IGF-I, IGFBP-3 and breast cancer risk in women: The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). Endocr Relat Cancer 2006;13:593-605.
  5. Lann D, LeRoith D: The role of endocrine insulin-like growth factor-I and insulin in breast cancer. J Mammary Gland Biol Neoplasia 2008;13:371-379.
  6. Shi R, Yu H, McLarty J, et al: IGF-I and breast cancer: a meta-analysis. Int J Cancer 2004;111:418-423.
  7. Baglietto L, English DR, Hopper JL, et al: Circulating insulin-like growth factor-I and binding protein-3 and the risk of breast cancer. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2007;16:763-768.
  8. American Institute for Cancer Research. New Estimate: Excess Body Fat Alone Causes over 100,000 Cancers in US Each Year [http://www.aicr.org/site/News2/153571380?abbr=pr_&page=NewsArticle&id=17333&news_iv_ctrl=1102 ]
  9. Holmes, MD, Chen, WY, Feskanich, D, et al. Physical activity and survival after breast cancer diagnosis. JAMA. 2005: 293(20:247902486.
  10. Friedenreich CM: The role of physical activity in breast cancer etiology. Semin Oncol 2010;37:297-302.
  11. Chen WY, Rosner B, Hankinson SE, et al: Moderate alcohol consumption during adult life, drinking patterns, and breast cancer risk. JAMA 2011;306:1884-1890.
  12. Boyle P, Boffetta P: Alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk. Breast Cancer Res 2009;11 Suppl 3:

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Naturopathic Doctor
Contributor to The Hearty Soul.