Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. It is also the disease women fear most.
In America, over 200,000 women are diagnosed with some form of breast cancer each year and around 40,000 die from it. About one in eight or 13% of U.S. women will develop breast cancer during her lifetime.
A major risk factor for breast cancer is, of course, family history of the disease; about 20-30% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history. However, inheriting the genetic mutations (like BRCA1 and BRCA2) is only half the equation. It is like having a loaded gun but you still need to pull the trigger. The environmental and lifestyle factors are your actual trigger.
That means a great proportion of breast cancers can be avoided using diet and lifestyle strategies. The following are some simple, proven steps that every woman should be aware of as they can dramatically reduce your risk of breast cancer.
1. Manage your blood glucose levels
Twelve independent studies from the U.S. and Europe found that elevated fasting blood sugar levels were significantly associated with subsequent occurrence of breast cancer. These are compelling findings that showed increased risks ranging from 23% to 170% in both pre and postmenopausal women.
Americans eat a lot of sugar, about 130 pounds per person per year, which is equivalent to about one-third of a pound everyday! When you consume excess starches and sugars, it leads to a spike in blood sugar. In response to the high blood sugar, your body produces a great amount of insulin to take the sugar out of the bloodstream.
Insulin is the catalyst that fuels many types of cancer, including breast cancer. Cancer cells have insulin receptors on their surface. When insulin binds with the insulin receptors, it signals the cancer cells to start consuming sugar. Because sugar is cancer’s favorite food, the more you eat, the faster it grows.
- Break the sugar habit. Sugar is the most addictive legal substance that we have ever had. Like cocaine, it activates the brain to produce dopamine, which is a chemical that controls the brain’s pleasure center. Just like a drug addict, if you are addicted to sugar, you will need to eat more and more for you to sense the reward. Beware that all carbohydrates break down to sugar, therefore, watch your portions even if you are eating whole grains. Needless to say, sodas and fruit juices are just mostly sugar.
- Improve your insulin receptor sensitivity. Exercise is the best way to enhance insulin sensitivity and the most effective exercises are cardio, especially high intensity intervals, and strength training. Stretching or flexibility work, such as yoga, will not affect insulin receptors but will help prevent you from getting injured and stopping your other exercises.
2. Optimize your vitamin D
Vitamin D is a steroid hormone that influences virtually every cell in your body and is easily one of nature’s most potent cancer fighters. Not only can vitamin D regulate genetic expression, it can also enter cancer cells and trigger apoptosis or cancer cell death. Vitamin D works synergistically with every cancer treatment and has no adverse effects.
The health benefits of optimizing your vitamin D levels, either by safe sun exposure or oral supplementation, cannot be overstated. For healthy people, your vitamin D level should be between 50 to 70 ng/ml. If you are being treated for cancer, your level should be between 70 to 100 ng/ml. A simple blood test can determine your vitamin D level.
3. Maintain a healthy body weight
If you are overweight or obese, it is extremely important to lose the excess body fat as fat produces estrogen, a hormone that may trigger breast cancer. To determine whether you are overweight, calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI), 25 or above is considered overweight.
BMI = Weight in pounds x 703
Height in inches x Height in inches
4. Get plenty of high quality, animal-based omega-3 fats
Omega-3 deficiency is a common underlying factor for cancer. First, omega-3 can effectively slow down tumor growth in estrogen-sensitive breast cancers.
Second, omega-3 reduces inflammation which is the universal cause of all chronic diseases including cancer. Modern diets are generally heavy in vegetable oils that are rich in omega-6 fats. Too much omega-6 promotes inflammation. Hence, the more omega-6 you eat, the more omega-3 you will need to maintain health.
The best sources of omega-3 fats are fish caught from pristine cold waters, such as wild Alaskan salmon, and grass-fed animals and their dairy products.
5. Avoid meats and dairy from factory-farmed animals
Many health advocates believe that eating meat, in particular, red meat, causes cancer. However, there is a world’s difference between meats from factory-farmed animals and organically-raised, grass-fed animals.
Factory-farmed animals are raised in feedlots under miserable conditions. These are grim places with crowded animals living in their own manure. They are given antibiotics, growth hormones, and other veterinary drugs that get stored in their tissues. They eat a diet mainly of corn and soy and their fat composition is very high in omega-6 fats with hardly any omega-3 fats.
Grass-fed animals, on the other hand, get to roam about in their natural habitat. They eat their natural diet of grass and leaves and whatever is in their reach. Their fat composition is high in omega-3 fats, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), B-vitamins, beta-carotene, vitamin E, K, and trace minerals like magnesium, calcium, and selenium.
In short, the only type of meat that you should eat on a regular basis is organically-raised grass-fed meats.
6. Avoid xenoestrogens
Xenoestrogens are breast cancer promoters. They are chemicals that mimic the estrogen naturally produced by the body. Xenoestrogens in the environment and the personal care products that you use everyday mimic the effects of your own estrogen and disrupt normal hormonal function. Combined with the estrogen naturally produced by the body, these foreign chemicals create an excess level of estrogen in your system.
- Avoid BPA found in the linings of canned goods and in plastics.
- Use chemical-free, chlorine-free, biodegradable household cleaning products.
- Use all natural, chemical-free personal care products. Make sure they are free of parabens, phthalates, sodium lauryl sulfates, petrolatum, mineral oil, and artificial colors.
7. Increase consumption of plant foods
Plants are packed full of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. They also have hundreds of phytochemicals that are like natural medicines, some of them behave exactly like chemotherapy.
One group that stands out is the family of cruciferous vegetables such as arugula, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, and kale. They contain indole-3-carbinol, calcium D-glucarate, and sulforaphane, which have anti-cancer properties that inhibit the growth of breast cancer. Make sure you include these in your diet frequently.
8. Get proper sleep
It is important to get enough sleep, at least 7 or up to 8 hours, as well as sleeping between the ideal hours of 10 pm and 6 am.
If you go to bed at 10, you have higher levels of the sleep hormone melatonin because you are already sound asleep when the body produces melatonin between midnight and 1 am. Working against your biology by staying awake when you should ideally be sleeping interferes with your body’s hormonal production.
Melatonin is not only a sleep hormone, it is also a very powerful antioxidant. It decreases the amount of estrogen the body produces and it boosts the immune system. If you go to bed after 10, you are increasing your risk of breast cancer.
9. Watch out for excessive iron levels
A number of compelling studies show that free iron concentrations in breast tissue, especially the ductal tissue, plays a major role in stimulating cancer development. The extra iron works as a powerful oxidant, increasing free radicals and raising your risk of breast cancer. If you are post menopausal or if you have breast cancer, you want to make certain that your ferritin level is not above 80. Ferritin is the iron transport protein and iron is needed for DNA replication in rapidly dividing cells. If your ferritin is elevated, you can simply donate blood to reduce it.
- Researchers found that women who have more than two alcoholic drinks a day significantly increase the iron concentration in the breast tissue and have a higher incidence of invasive breast cancer.
- They also noted that women who have excessive aluminum accumulation in the body have higher ferritin levels. Possible sources of aluminum include underarm antiperspirants and vaccine adjuvants. The purpose of using adjuvants is to boost your immune system, or to make it react as intensely as possible for as long as possible. Unfortunately, the aluminum stays and accumulates in your body.
10. Avoid alcohol
Avoid drinking alcohol or at least limit your drinks to no more than one a day if you want to lower your breast cancer risk. A standard drink is 12 oz of beer, 5 oz of wine, or 1.5 oz of hard liquor.
11. Stop smoking
The risk of breast cancer rises significantly with the number of years and the number of cigarettes smoked. If stress is contributing to your desire to smoke, you should find alternative ways to handle your stress.
12. Address your stress and adopt a positive attitude
Researchers found that women who lead unrelenting stressful lives have twice the risk of developing breast cancer than women who manage to stay cool, calm, and collected. Stress activates the body’s “flight or flight” response system and causes changes in hormone levels which affect healthy cell growth within the breast. Women who have the most stress are also more likely to have a more aggressive form of breast cancer.
There are many healthy strategies to cope with stress. The bottom line is to find ways to help your mind and body unwind so they can just let go.