It’s October, and all of this pink reminds us of breast health. As a Functional Medicine physician and a breast cancer survivor, I want to do more for breast cancer prevention than just focus on early detection. We also need to look deeper and work toward prevention. Early detection includes:
- Getting to know your body and your breasts
- Regular breast exams from your physician
- Screen modalities such as mammography and thermography
Early detection is important and saves lives: it saved mine! And, in addition to the importance of early detection, research studies show there are many things we can do to decrease our risk of getting cancer in the first place.
The most important thing to do for the prevention of cancer is to create a healthy environment in the body so that cancer is less likely to develop and grow. Think of this healthful environment as terrain or soil. If that soil is fed correctly, it won’t support the development or growth of cancer. To achieve this healthful environment, we work to balance many different systems in the body.
First, we work to balance the hormones, starting with insulin. Insulin helps keep blood sugar in balance, and when insulin doesn’t work properly, the risk for many diseases — including breast cancer — increases. (Countless studies show that if we become more resistant to our insulin, then insulin levels increase, and the risk of breast cancer increases, as well. High levels of insulin circulating in the body also cause weight gain around the belly, and cause other things to grow including breast cancer.) See the steps at the end of this article for simple ways to keep insulin in balance, and for a more detailed plan read The Blood Sugar Solution by Dr. Mark Hyman.
Estrogen is another hormone that needs balancing. Breast cancer often grows in times of high estrogen. Because of this, we need to support the body in detoxifying and eliminating estrogen after it does its job. Certain foods are very helpful for estrogen metabolism: cruciferous vegetables should be the focus. Additionally, ground flax seed, fish oil, and a diet rich in fiber all help keep your estrogen in better balance.
When planning your meals: think phytonutrients! These components help plant foods survive in nature and have been found to help our bodies survive. Many phytonutrients strengthen the immune system and help stop cancer-cell growth. Eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables every day. In other words, eat a vegetable or fruit from every color of the rainbow each day. Did you have your red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and white/tan foods today?
Finally, avoid toxins and support the body’s detoxification system. Some toxins in the environment act as hormones and increase the risk of breast cancer. These include BPA (found in plastics, cans, and shiny receptacles) as well as pesticides and parabens.
These 10 tips and Top 10 foods will help you keep your breasts healthy!
- Choose whole foods. Whole foods are nutrient-dense, providing vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that promote health. Non-processed foods also help increase your insulin sensitivity and prevent insulin resistance.
- Get 3-5 hours of exercise per week. Aim for 45 minutes, 5 times per week. This keeps your insulin working well, and helps you maintain a healthy percentage of body fat.
- Increase your fiber intake. Your goal is 35 grams per day. High-fiber goods include vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds (such as ground flax seeds), and whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, and buckwheat.
- Have protein at every meal or snack of the day. Good protein sources include: fish, lean poultry, beans, nuts, eggs, and whole or fermented soy foods. Make sure you include a few vegetarian options in your daily protein intake.
- Maintain a healthy weight. This is the best-studied, most agreed-upon step women can take to decrease the risk of breast cancer.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Sleeping well helps with weight control, insulin sensitivity, and supports the immune system. All of this is important for preventing cancer.
- Avoid excess toxic exposure in the following ways:
- Read labels on all products, avoid pesticides, herbicides, BPA, parabens, and phthalates
- Choose organic products for lawn and garden
- Avoid dry cleaning
- Instead of plastic bottles (especially #7 that has BPA), get yourself a reusable stainless-steel or glass water bottle, and store food in glass containers
- Limit intake of medications like Tylenol that are extra work for your liver to process
- Look for body-care products free of parabens and phthalates
- Take probiotics. Take 10 to 20 billion organisms twice per day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Having the right balance of bacteria in your digestive system helps with the mobilization and detoxification of estrogen and other toxins.
- Limit your alcohol intake to no more than 1 drink per day and 5 per week. Less is better. Remember 1 drink is 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of hard alcohol, or 12 ounces of beer.
- Eat 8 to 10 ½-cup servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Organic produce is lower in pesticides, some of which can mimic estrogen in the body. Cruciferous vegetables help the body detoxify toxins and estrogen. Ideally try to get 1-2 servings of cruciferous vegetables each day. Cruciferous vegetables include:
Top 10 Foods for Breast Wellness
- Green tea – organic
- Blueberries and other organic berries
- Whole organic soy – like edamame, tofu, miso, and tempeh
- Beans and legumes
- Ground Flax Seed
- Garlic and Onions
- Fatty fish like salmon and sardines
- Seaweed and Nori
Remember, early detection is very important. And, it’s also important to create a healthy environment in the body to help prevent cancer from growing in the first place. Follow the above 10 tips to help decrease your risk of breast cancer: little things we do each day can make a big difference in breast (and entire body) health!Breast Wellness by Dr. Elizabeth W. Boham