When it comes to breast health, a lot of emphasis is put on cancer treatment. Words like ‘survivor’ and ‘early detection’ are common this time of year. What is discussed less frequently is prevention. We now know that certain behaviors and choices can contribute to healthy breast tissue, reducing the chances of disease. The World Cancer Research Fund estimates that 38% of breast cancer in the United States could be prevented with diet, physical exercise, and weight management. Why is it that this isn’t discussed as much as how to detect cancer?
Cancer has touched my family tremendously. I lost my young mother to endometrial cancer in 2008. After her death, it seemed as if every year brought with it a cancer diagnosis for a close family member. Grief stricken, I began to wonder if getting cancer was inevitable. There came a point, however, in which I had to decide to not let fear consume me. Educating myself on what I could do (instead of focusing on things beyond my control) has been empowering. Here is some scientific support for breast cancer prevention that I’ve discovered in my quest to take ownership of my health.
Diet and Nutrition
It is widely known that eating antioxidant-rich foods (mostly fruits and vegetables) reduces cancer risks. Research on cancerous breast tissue shows high levels of chemicals such as aluminum and parabens. Eating fresh, organic vegetables and fruits instead of commercially raised and packaged produce can greatly reduce exposure to chemicals. It will also limit exposure to estrogen-like compounds (said to be a possible contributor to cancer in high amounts) often found in food additives and plastics. Limiting processed foods is also important for reducing breast cancer risks and improving breast health.
Two nutrients that have made names for themselves in breast health are vitamin D and omega -3 fatty acids. It is very important for women to get their vitamin D levels checked regularly through a simple blood test. Currently, normal range is considered 32-100 ng/ml. Women should inquire what their actual number is; falling in the range is great but having optimal levels is even better. A study by prominent vitamin D researchers indicates that women whose levels are above 52 ng/ml have half the risk of the general population of developing breast cancer. As for the omega-3s, researchers in China analyzed the results of 26 international studies involving nearly 900,000 women; 20,000 of whom had breast cancer. They concluded that the women who consumed the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids from fish had a 14% reduction in breast cancer risk, compared to those who ate the least. Scientists found that for each 0.1 gram of fish oil women consumed daily, risk of breast cancer dropped by five percent. These findings support the World Health Organization’s recommendation to include at least two servings of oily fish per week in your diet.
It is hard to talk about disease prevention without including the role of exercise. Breast health is no exception. In addition to helping one maintain a healthy weight–obesity is a contributing factor to many cancers–exercise improves circulation and lymphatic flow, helping remove toxins from the body. Movements like running and jumping rope are beneficial, because they increase the flow of lymph through the lymphatic system, aiding immune function. Yoga, Pilates, and other resistance workouts improve hormone responses and lower blood sugar levels. Exercise also reduces stress and balances moods by boosting serotonin. Like to exercise outdoors? You get an extra bang for your buck with sun exposure: vitamin D and an even bigger dose of serotonin!
While we can’t isolate all the variables that contribute to cancer risk, other lifestyle choices can also improve woman’s chances of maintaining optimal breast health. Here are some key factors in decreasing and increasing the risk of breast cancer. Some of them might surprise you!
Having more than one child
Having one child before age 20
Breast feeding each child for at least six months
Maintaining a healthy weight
Eating a diet rich in antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids
Having vitamin D levels over 52 ng/ml
Getting adequate sleep
Not having children
Having first child over age 30
Not breast feeding
Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol; smoking
Having low vitamin D levels
Being exposed to hormone-mimicking chemicals
Poor sleep habits
So, although breast cancer has sadly become all too familiar, arming yourself with this knowledge and taking preventive measures can help you maintain good health.
Here’s to doing what you can do… you have two hands and two tatas… take control ladies!