As we embrace breast cancer awareness month, I thought it would be a great idea to consider some ways to reduce our risk of getting the disease. As many of you know, I feel that prevention is the key! Physical exams and screening techniques are extremely important as well all know, but let’s talk about other options to reduce our risk.
If we consider that breast cancer may occur if we have too much of one of our main female hormones- that being estrogen- then we should consider ways to either reduce the level of that hormone, balance that hormone( with other hormones) or avoid use of artificial forms of that hormone ( called xenoestrogens). Women produce two main hormones in their bodies- estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen promotes growth of the cells (acts like the accelerator or gas pedal) and progesterone acts to slow down the growth of the cells (acts like the brake). Estrogen has a fondness for the breast tissue hence, too much of this hormone may be one the reasons that women get breast cancer due to too much growth of the breast cells.
Estrogen is made in our ovaries and is usually balanced by progesterone (also made in our ovaries) but unfortunately, our progesterone production begins to decline in our late 30’s through our 50’s when our menstrual cycles eventually stop. During that time in our lives, our breast cells may see the effects of too much estrogen even if we are not taking any extra hormone supplementation because there is not enough progesterone to keep us balanced. Estrogen levels can appear to be increased in women who are under a great deal of stress, have excess weight, have low thyroid hormone levels or problems with their sugar and insulin(another hormone required for help with our blood sugar) balance. Estrogen levels can be increased when we come into contact with artificial or synthetic estrogens that are found in the environment. This type of estrogen is hiding in different forms such as toxins found in plastics ( called BPA), pesticides, styrofoam or by hormones given to animals that may give us our supply of meat, milk or eggs. Farmers sometimes give animals hormones to increase either their size or their production.
Some women will have normal levels of estrogen but the liver will not metabolize or break it down correctly creating chemical compounds that may put us at an increased risk for cancer. Our liver is responsible for the removal of many of our hormones from our body.
So what can we do?
The first thing on the list should be to reduce our exposure to any outside or false forms of estrogen. Try to reduce your use of plastics either as water bottles, plastic containers or plastic wrap. Try to avoid the use of plastics and styrofoam when microwaving as the heat concentrates the toxins. Consider buying organic or hormone free meats, milk and eggs. You also may wish to consider avoiding foods that are likely to be contaminated by pesticides. Each year the environmental working group publishes a list of foods that we should strive to keep organic- I have published that list for you in another article. Another area that toxins hide is your cosmetics and hair products- you want to be sure that your products do not contain the toxin or chemical called “parabens”.
You may wish to engage in a weight loss program if you or your physician feel that you are overweight. There are many weight loss programs ( such as weight watchers) available at a low cost if you wish to add you some support to your efforts. Weight loss is typically more difficult when your hormones are not balanced. Adding light exercise is always a great idea. Reducing our levels of stress is also suggested- sometimes just slowing down and trying to do one thing for ourselves will help. You may wish to consider balancing your hormones for help in this area as well.
Lastly, we can try to improve the health of our liver metabolism or breakdown of estrogen by decreasing any alcohol intake and increasing intake of nutrient rich foods we eat, such as broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and cabbage, all of which belong to the cruciferous vegetable family. These types of foods provide our liver with a chemical that helps break down the estrogen in a healthy way. This natural chemical is called diindolylmethane or DIM- which can also be taken as a supplement if you feel that you cannot consume enough of the healthy vegetables.
I hope that you will be able to try some or all of the suggestions as we work together to not only reduce our incidence of breast cancer but improve our overall health as well.