Patients come to me every day asking what they can do to decrease their risk of getting breast cancer. They keep up with regular screenings (including breast exams, mammography and thermography) because early detection can save lives -- it saved mine! But, as a Functional Medicine physician and breast cancer survivor, I want to share more than what we can do for early detection. I want to talk about cancer prevention and support people with what research studies show decreases our risk of getting cancer in the first place.
For cancer prevention, creating a healthful environment in the body is the most important thing you can do, 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 a healthful terrain, we work to balance and support many different systems in the body.
First, we work to balance the hormones, starting with insulin. Insulin helps keep blood sugar in balance. If the body becomes resistant to insulin, then more insulin is needed to keep blood-sugar levels in the right place. Countless studies show that if insulin levels increase, then the risk of breast cancer increases, as well. High levels of insulin circulating in the body cause growth -- such as weight gain around the belly and the growth of breast cancer.
Estrogen is another hormone that needs to stay in balance. Breast cancer often grows when estrogen levels are high. 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 (types of cruciferous vegetables are listed below) should be the focus. Additionally, ground flax seed, fish oil, and a diet rich in fiber all help keep estrogen in better balance.
Second, we work on eating well -- using food as medicine. When planning your meals, think phytonutrients! These components help plant-foods survive in nature and have been found to help our body survive. Many phytonutrients strengthen the immune system and help stop cancer-cell growth. I tell my patients to eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables every day. In other words, eat vegetables or fruits from every color of the rainbow each day. Did you have your red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and white/tan whole plant-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!
1. 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.
2. Get 3-5 hours of exercise per week. Aim for 45 minutes, five times per week. This keeps your insulin working well, and helps you maintain a healthy percentage of body fat.
3. Increase your fiber intake. Your goal is 35 grams per day. High-fiber foods include vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds (such as ground flax seeds), and whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, and buckwheat.
4. 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.
5. Maintain a healthy weight. This is the best-studied, most agreed-upon step women can take to decrease the risk of breast cancer.
6. 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.
7. 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 (learn more at the Environmental Working Group.)
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. Eat 8 to 10 half-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 eat a serving of cruciferous vegetables each day. Cruciferous vegetables include:
Here are my Top 10 Foods for Breast Wellness:
2. Green tea -- organic
3. Blueberries and other organic berries
5. Whole organic soy -- like edamame, tofu, miso, and tempeh
6. Beans and legumes
7. Ground Flax Seed
8. Garlic and Onions
9. Fatty fish like salmon and sardines
10. 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.
For more information on how to create the optimal cancer-preventing terrain in your body, join Heidi Spear and me in our DVD, Breast Wellness: Tools to Prevent and Heal from Breast Cancer.