October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and you’ll see all sorts of activities and events being held to support the cause including Pink Walks, the Button Run, and the more extreme Bikini Downhill ski race at Turoa ski field. There’s more awareness now about what to look out for if you suspect breast cancer, and there’s a lot of encouragement for women to have regular mammograms from the age of 45 years. If you want to read more about what to look out for and what tests and checks you can have done, visit the Breast Cancer Foundation website.
In this blog post, I thought I’d offer some tips and ideas about breast health. If you like to be pro-active about your health, what can you do to reduce your risks of developing breast cancer? I came up with 10 things you can do to keep yourself and your breasts healthy.
But before I start, I’d like to mention the BRCA gene defects. If you have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, it increases your risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer, but it isn’t a death sentence! Individuals with close relatives who have had breast cancer may be eligible for genetic testing through the medical system. If you think you may be eligible, please discuss this with your doctor. Only a small percentage of breast and ovarian cancer have direct genetic causes.
10 Things you can do to Reduce your risk of Breast Cancer
1. Increase your exercise and activity level
The World Health Organisation recommends that adults (18 – 64 yrs) should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise, or an equivalent combination of both per week. For additional benefits, 300 minutes of moderate – intense exercise is recommended. I generally suggest to my clients to try to fit in an hour of exercise or activity every day, which fits with WHO’s guidelines. Women who are active have a reduced risk of developing cancer. It’s also a good way to reduce stress, get some sunshine, and improve general health and metabolism.
2. Increase consumption of Brassica vegetables
Brassica’s include broccoli, cauliflower, bok choi, (and other Asian greens), cabbage, kale, rocket, turnips, swedes, radishes, Brussel’s sprouts and mustard. These vegetables are rich in many nutrients including folate, calcium and beta carotene, but their primary ‘anti-cancer’ properties are due to the presence of isothiocyanates, which increase liver detoxification of oestrogens – high levels of which increase risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Although there’s no conclusive evidence that brassica’s will ‘cure’ cancer, there is evidence to support that eating more vegetables including brassica’s reduces your risk of cancer.
3. Include linseeds in your diet
Linseeds, otherwise known as flax seeds, are a source of lignans which act as phytoestrogens. These compounds competitively block oestrogen receptors from our own endogenous oestrogens, thus reducing their effect. Excess oestrogen, which acts as a growth hormone, contributes to development of hormonal cancers. 1 – 2 tablespoons of ground up linseeds can be added to yogurt, a smoothie, or sprinkled over breakfast cereal.
4. Reduce your alcohol consumption
The more alcohol you drink, the more you increase your risk of breast cancer. There is a direct relationship between alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk in women. According to the Cancer Society of NZ’s position statement on alcohol and cancer risk, “Even low levels of alcohol consumption, e.g. up to 1 drink per day, increases the risk of breast cancer for females.”
5. Reduce your sugar consumption
There are a number of forces at work here. I was taught many years ago that cancer cells cannot metabolise proteins and fats for fuel, and hence rely on glucose as their primary fuel source. Restricting sugar and carbohydrates effectively starves cancer cells as our healthy cells can utilise other fuel sources. Other reasons why sugar consumption may be linked to cancer include the fact that excess sugar causes weight gain, and obesity is a risk factor for cancer. Also, if you’re eating a lot of sugar it means you’re not eating as much nourishing, wholesome food that will keep you healthy.
6. Sunbathe to absorb vitamin D
Vitamin D is an amazing nutrient that’s a joy to consume! Lying out in the sun absorbing the health-giving rays seems decadent, and was once a recommended health practice. 30 years of bad press about skin cancer has made many people shy away from the sun, yet the health benefits of vitamin D for cancer prevention have been proven. Now that the sun is out, get outside and enjoy it (but don’t get burnt). For more on vitamin D and it’s benefits to your health, click here.
7. Manage weight appropriately, especially post menopause
Obesity is a risk factor for cancer, including breast cancer. Post menopause it’s quite common to gain weight as metabolism slows down. But fatty tissue, especially around the abdomen, provides a source of oestrogens that are no longer necessary and thus contribute to breast cancer. Managing weight appropriately means focussing on good habits to lose or manage weight – adequate exercise and a balanced diet. Cutting back on sugar and alcohol will make a difference too.
8. Ensure good levels of vitamin B12 and folate
Folate and B12, along with other B vitamins and amino acids are necessary for a process called ‘methylation’, which is needed for liver detoxification, regulating DNA expression, and cellular division. Compromised methylation is linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. B12 is sourced from animal protein such as eggs and fish, and folate from legumes and green vegetables. Some individuals are unable to metabolise folate effectively, and may need to supplement with an appropriate alternative. Methylation defects can be picked up through a DNA test.
9. Get regular sleep
Disrupted sleep caused by shift work, and long term night shift workers are at increased risk of developing breast cancer. Getting good quality, regular sleep will reduce your risks. Assessing why you’re not sleeping well and taking steps to correct the problem will make a big difference to your overall health long term. If you’re a night shift worker, make an effort to get some sunshine outside of work hours.
10. Stop eating and drinking foods in plastic packaging
Soft plastics contain substances called phthalates, which have a strongly oestrogenic effect. When food or drinks are packaged in plastic (wrapping or bottles) the phthalates absorb into it, and we ingest them along with the food or drink. This causes an increase in oestrogen levels, which can contribute to hormonal cancers such as breast and ovarian cancer. Reducing the amount of packaged and processed food you consume by eating a more natural and wholesome diet – free from plastic wrapping – will provide greater overall health benefits and reduce your breast cancer risk. Purchase a glass or stainless steel water bottle and avoid drinking from plastic water bottles – especially if the water has been sitting in it for some time.
What to do Next
If you really want to be pro-active about your health, reduce your risk of breast or any other type of cancer, and know of any potential risks before problems arise then DNA testing would be hugely beneficial. Although I can’t test for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, there are a number of others genetic factors that can have an impact on your risk factors for breast and other types of cancer. The CYP1A1 and CYP1B1 liver detoxification enzymes have an effect on how you metabolise oestrogens, and the MTHFR and COMT genetics are also implicated in your risk for breast and other types of cancer. Your antioxidant protection genetics, carbohydrate metabolism genetics, and vitamin D genetics are also relevant. Knowing your genetic risk factors, and having a strategy to minimise their effect enables you to feel a lot more in control of your health, knowing that you’re doing the best you can do for yourself.
If you have any questions or comments, please post below or contact me directly to discuss.
Wishing you health and wellness,