Breast cancer is probably one of the most publicized and researched cancers around. It is the most common cancer affecting women. If you have breast cancer or someone you love does, I feel for you. It takes tremendous strength to be on either side of this devastating disease. Breast cancer is unique because there is a huge hormonal element along with an unignorable genetic component. The objective of this post is a review of tips you can use to stay healthy, keep your hormones in balance, and prevent breast cancer.
Why hormones? In many clinical studies, dominance and abundance of the hormone estrogen is the primary culprit in breast cancer tumor growth.
What is the best way to keep estrogen levels in a healthy balance?
- Get enough sleep and sleep in the dark. This 2012 study showed a strong correlation between more aggressive breast cancer and lack of sleep. Sleep is essential for hormone balance and research shows that sleeping in complete darkness (no faint blue lights or clocks etc.) is the most effective in restoring balance.
- Stay a healthy weight. Numerous articles have documented in obese women that extra fat tissue actually produces its own estrogen, which can be very highly concentrated and lead to the growth of tumors. Post menopause, when the production of estrogen moves from the ovaries elsewhere, this outside production of estrogen can a bit out of control, so it becomes especially important to maintain a healthy weight.
- Get moderate exercise, go outside, and breathe fresh air. Getting good oxygen to cells helps starve cancer cells from growing.
- Do not smoke. Smoking increases the risk of breast cancer and it is a nasty habit!
- Get some extra iodine in your diet. The Japanese diet includes up to 25X the iodine we consume. In fact, many studies point to the success of iodine therapy in treating some forms of breast cancer. Food sources of iodine include sea vegetables, strawberries, cranberries, navy beans, and raw cheeses. Iodine can also be found as a supplement in the supermarket or online.
- Eat sea vegetables also for their minerals. “Kelp and other seaweeds are used by the Chinese to soften hardened masses in the body; they contain a range of minerals, including trace minerals, often deficient in people with degenerative diseases.” 1 Minerals help the vitamins and enzymes in the body serve their function. Also make sure to use mineral-rich sea salt when salting your food and cooking.
- Breastfeed for at least 6 months (or longer, if you can). It helps lower your risk in developing the most fatal tumors. Women who breastfed were most likely to beat the cancer and developed less aggressive tumors.
- Eat flax seeds for their antitumor, anti-estrogenic, and antioxidant properties. Dosage: 3 to 4 tablespoons of soaked or crushed seeds per day, chewed thoroughly; or take the unrefined, recently cold-pressed oil twice daily in 1 tablespoon doses. Soaked flax seeds are also great for getting your bowels moving — an added benefit!
- Steer clear of non organic (conventionally grown) and grain or soy fed meats. Synthetic hormones in meats are not good for your body and many studies link to breast cancer with excessive meat consumption. When eating meat, it is best to search for unprocessed cuts of local, grass fed meat and keep your portions limited.
- Eat a balanced, plant based diet. Watch out for foods with “sweet” flavors, refined sugars and “white carbs.” Please refer to my cancer and sugar article for more about why.
- Avoid excessive amounts of sodium. Excess sodium causes an imbalance in important minerals like potassium.
- Avoid fats that cause oxidative damage: trans fats, margarine, safflower oil, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, and others. The best quality oils are contained in whole foods: coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado oil.
- Strengthen and balance your liver. See this post for some tips.
- Remember that excessive protein consumption (even the plant based kind) is very hard on your system. It is always best to get protein from whole food sources. Soy protein in particular has been shown to turn on genes that promote breast cancer growth.
- Eat vegetables. This may sound repetitive, but it is REALLY IMPORTANT. For breast cancer prevention, focus on the brassica family for their antioxidant, liver stimulation, and other anti-cancer properties. Veggies in the brassica family include cabbage, turnip, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, and brussels sprouts. Other great vegetables to focus on are carrots, asparagus, radish, parsley, celery, beets, mushrooms, and nightshade vegetables if you can tolerate them.
- Supplement with Vitamin C (even small amounts throughout the day) and foods rich in Vitamin C. It is considered a liver metabolite, lowers bad cholesterol, and helps the liver metabolize fats.
- If you know your hormones are out of balance you may want to try a plant based foods detox. However, please make sure you consult a professional about how best to help flush the toxins released during the cleansing.
- Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum. They used to say that 1 glass a day was okay, but the statistics have changed…
- Regular home self breast exams and regular mammograms as suggested by your physician are a great way to monitor breast tissue. They’re also great ways to stay connected with any changes going on in your body that may leave you more susceptible to breast tumors.
- Try to stay mindful and eliminate unnecessary stressors in your life. Take time for yourself and practice an activity that promotes gratitude and joy for the little pleasures in your life. Stress and unfavorable coping styles have been linked to the incidence of cancer and survival rates. Whether as a cancer prevention effort or a cancer survivor strategy, meditation has shown to help keep cancer at bay.
I know many of these tips are not always easy to follow every day. Incorporating these tips into daily habits will make them sustainable, which will maximize their long term effect.
If you are experiencing symptoms of estrogen dominance or would like to know more about how to keep your hormones in balance, please contact us about a consultation. For a deeper dive about cancer, please refer to our recent post about cancer.
1 Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition by Paul Pitchford