In light of breast cancer awareness month I’d like to talk a little bit about keeping your girls healthy and happy and cancer-free. The fact is that there are lots of simple things you can do to stay healthy and help prevent breast cancer. Simple changes can really add up – but don’t forget the most important thing you can do, which is monthly breast self-exams. As with any cancer, breast cancer is easiest to treat if you catch it early and take definitive action and so checking regularly is just great self-care. Here’s my favorite way to remind myself:
Keeping Your Breasts Healthy Naturally:
- Manage your estrogen – One of the biggest contributors to breast cancer is estrogen dominance, which means that your estrogen levels are too high relative to progesterone levels. We’ll talk about this in more detail because managing estrogen dominance is one of the most important considerations in keeping your breasts healthy naturally.
- Don’t take extra estrogen if you’re high risk – if you have genetic risk or a family history of breast cancer than just don’t use birth control or HRT that adds estrogen into your system. That means no birth control pills, no implants, no shots, no patch. If you really need a birth control method that isn’t condoms, then consider an IUD – the Mirena IUD actually secretes a small amount of progesterone and so would be very balancing for a woman who normally has high estrogen. The copper IUD lasts longer (about 10 years for one IUD) but can cause heavy bleeding. Talk with your doctor to find a solution that is right for you.
- Help your Breast tissue – dense or fibrocystic breasts are one of the precursors to breast cancer and also make early detection more difficult. Dense, disorganized or cystic breast tissue may indicate an iodine deficiency. Iodine helps your tissues to grow smoothly and in an organized pattern and so when tissues start to form nodules or changes in density patterns it’ may be an indication that iodine levels are low. Iodine deficiency can also affect thyroid and other hormone levels so this can be a complex problem. It’s really important to check with your doctor or practitioner if you have thyroid problems before you start taking iodine. GLA, the beneficial fatty acid from Borage or Evening Primrose Oil can also be extremely helpful for fibrocystic breasts and for keeping your breasts healthy in general. Breast tissue can change and soften with the right nutritional influences and this will help you with both prevention of breast cancer (which is more likely to appear in fibrocystic breasts) and also easier detection. Also for some women caffeine consumption contributes to breast density, sensitivity and nodularity and so limiting caffeine can be beneficial.
- Limit the estrogenic chemicals in your life – cut out the phthalates (the chemicals that make plastics soft), the BPA in hard plastics (and if you don’t know about the horrible substitute they’re using called BPS then read up here), the chemical cleaning products, the pesticides and herbicides. All of these chemicals mimic estrogen in your body and so have the same potential cancer causing effects. Switch to organic foods when you can, especially in meat, milk, butter and eggs. The reason these categories are so important is because antibiotics and hormones are not permitted in organic meat animals or organic dairy animals, but are widely used in conventionally raised animals. If you’re high-risk then this is especially important but I believe every woman should protect herself and her children.
- Exercise – This really does make a huge difference in every aspect of your health, especially your risk for chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. In terms of keeping your breasts healthy, exercise increases circulation, increases the rate of lymphatic detoxification in breast tissue and also reduces the total estrogen burden.
- Breast self-exams – Breast self exams, as explained by the hunky gentlemen in the previous video who really just want to take care of your breasts (thank you god), help you to ensure that no lumps pop up quickly. You can use circular motions to feel the whole area of breast tissue, including under your arms on both sides. Look for lumps or knots. Also make sure you look at your breasts in the mirror – dimpling, puckering or inverted nipples can indicate a problem – especially if it starts suddenly. Also watch for sores or ‘bug bites’ that don’t go away – it is much more rare but there is a form of breast cancer called inflammatory breast cancer that just looks like a sore or an itchy rash-like spot on the breast that doesn’t heal. Although, I’d suggest watching the video a few times to ensure you have it right. 🙂
- Lose Weight – I know. I say that like it’s simple, right? The issue with carrying extra weight is that fat tissue generates its own estrogen and so carrying extra fat means you are also dealing with extra estrogen – and extra estrogen is the biggest and most important risk factor for breast cancer outside of the BrCA gene.
- Eat your veggies and cut down on the meat and dairy – a more plant-based diet helps to reduce your risk and protect your body from many types of cancers, including breast. This diet gives you higher fiber (which helps detoxify estrogens) and more antioxidants and complex polyphenols that reduce your risk even further.
- Screening – mammograms are suggested for women over 40 and although there is some radiation exposure they also help with early detection so talk with your doctor about what is right for you. For women who are truly high risk having a thermogram, or thermal imaging, of the breasts done yearly can be extremely helpful. Thermal imaging will show problem areas far before you would be able to feel a lump or find anything on a mammogram, although if a spot shows up you will still need to get a mammogram to pinpoint the exact location. Thermal imaging essentially acts as an early warning system that shows you what to watch. It also gives you the opportunity to take more aggressive steps if something does show up to prevent it from growing into cancer.
Managing Your Estrogen and Recognizing Estrogen Dominance
Estrogen in women is responsible for all kind of issues and generally it promotes cell growth, weight gain, and moodiness if it’s out of balance or present in high doses. Estrogen dominance is one of the major factors in breast disease including fibrocystic breasts and breast cancer. Keeping your breasts healthy means recognizing estrogen dominance when it is happening and working to reduce your estrogen burden. Some of the symptoms or indicators that you may be prone to estrogen dominance include:
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Breast tenderness and heaviness
- Water retention in hands and feet
- Irritability, mood swings
- Uterine fibroids
- Severe cramping
- Heavy bleeding and clotting
- Family history of breast cancer
- Breast cancer
Reducing your estrogens:
30-50 g fiber daily
Exercise – at least 10 minutes daily
B complex supplement
DIM or I3C
Lots of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale
Reduce calorie intake or portion sizes to help yourself lose weight
Boost your water intake to flush out excess estrogen.
Broccoli, cabbage and kale may seem like a strange step, but there is a supplement with the active ingredient from cruciferous vegetables taken out and concentrated. You can find it under two different names. One is DIM (Di-indole Methane) or I3C (Indole 3-Carbanol). These are essentially the same thing, just at different points in the metabolic pathway. Cruciferous vegetables and both of these supplements are powerful estrogen “chelators”, which means that they bind to estrogen to help your body eliminate them.
Fiber and water are both important for this elimination pathway as well because estrogen binds to fiber in your digestive tract which stops it from being reabsorbed. Water helps to flush everything out of your system, estrogen included. Fiber and water are two of the most important steps towards keeping your breasts healthy naturally.
Losing weight is one of the most important steps you can take to balance your estrogen, simply because your fat tissue makes it’s own estrogen. How terrifying is that? In both men and women, fat cells actually make estrogen.
All of these seem like small steps, and it’s true they won’t change your estrogen levels overnight, but sadly, nothing will short of drugs like tamoxifen that are used in breast cancer. Still, taking these steps for three months will produce noticeable results in your PMS, mood swings, estrogen related weight gain and cycle. Also, if you happen to be using tamoxifen then it is imperative that you read this article about preventing tamoxifen resistance using melatonin.
Take care of your breasts ladies – it’s incredibly important. These days it seems like everyone knows and loves someone who has been touched by breast cancer. We all have mothers or aunts or sisters or friends who have faced this beast, but together we can help to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Make sure your friends know how to take care of themselves, raise your children doing breast self-exams and practicing good eating habits. It is never too early or too late to start keeping your breasts healthy naturally.