10 Tips to Prevent and Beat Breast Cancer
Beating breast cancer starts with smart prevention strategies. Do all you can to promote optimal health while also being armed with strategies to beat cancer.
The following recommendations can help promote health during ongoing breast cancer treatment and serve as preventive tips to lower the risk of developing breast cancer. Keep in mind that some factors are simply beyond our control, such as genetic factors; being born female increases your risk as does getting older. However, there are many things within our power that we can change or influence. If you are being treated for breast cancer, always speak to your oncologist before making any lifestyle changes.
- Maintain a healthy weight. This is absolutely the number one risk factor that you can control. Being overweight and gaining weight after menopause both increase the risk of breast cancer. Fat cells (adipose tissue) increase estrogen in the body and estrogen levels are related to breast cancer. Weight should be managed with a combination of healthy eating and physical activity. Sustainable lifestyle changes are always better than crash or fad diets.
- Get your yearly labs done. Of particular importance — vitamin D, thyroid, iodine, cholesterol (lipid panel), organ function (CMP), and anemia (CBC) should be done.
- Vitamin D is an important regulator in the body, affecting calcium metabolism, bone health, gut health, mood, and immune function. Many women are deficient in vitamin D, but it is best to check your Vitamin D levels before considering taking Vitamin D supplements.
- The thyroid regulates metabolism, and if thyroid function declines, weight gain can quickly become an issue (see #1).
- The body perceives anemia (due to iron- or B-12/folate deficiency) as stress. “Stress” obviously comes in many forms, but the effect is the same. Read more about this later in this article.
- A CMP (Comprehensive Metabolic Panel) will look at blood sugar, electrolytes, protein levels, kidney, and liver function. Excess blood sugar can lead to increased fat tissue (see #1); liver issues can decrease the body’s ability to metabolize and eliminate estrogen.
- Iodine is a crucial nutrient for both thyroid health and breast health. Many women are deficient or borderline deficient in this critical nutrient. Seafood (shrimp, lobster, scallops, clams, oysters, seaweed, and ocean fish) is the best iodine source. You may also consider mixing your Himalayan pink salt with a 1:1 ratio of sea salt (naturally iodine-rich). Pink salt contains a multitude of minerals except for iodine.
- Always consult your healthcare provider before making dietary or supplement changes.
- Get screened! Do yearly or biennial mammography, thermography from a licensed professional, and monthly breast self-exams (BSE). Early detection gives you the best odds.
- Eat a healthy, varied diet. Emphasize lean meat and seafood (grass-fed, free-range, wild-caught), lots of fruits and veggies, and whole grains. Minimize processed food, fast food, fried foods, vegetable oils, and added sugars. Aim for 5-9 servings of vegetables and 2-3 servings of fruit each day and eat the rainbow (eat foods of all different colors)—Cook with heat-tolerant oils like coconut or avocado.
- Of particular benefit is the cruciferous family of vegetables — broccoli, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, arugula, bok choy, cabbage, radish, and others. The Brassica family vegetables contain high amounts of glucosinolates, which have various cancer-protective properties. In addition to minerals, Vitamins C, E, and K, they also contain sulforaphane, which helps your body process estrogen. Broccoli sprouts are considered one of the foods highest in this protective phytochemical.
- Consider swapping out your caffeine source. Many of us enjoy a steaming cup of coffee in the morning to get us going. You may consider a cup or two of green tea instead of coffee. Green tea has additional antioxidants and contains less caffeine than coffee. You will still get a little boost while doing something good for your body. Matcha green tea is particularly healthy as you are consuming the whole tea leaf.
- Consume alcohol in moderation. There is a very well established link between increased alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk. No amount of alcohol is considered “good.” But moderation is defined as 1 drink or less per day for women. Particularly high alcohol intake during adolescence and young adulthood increases breast cancer risk. This is not meant for you to beat yourself up for past decisions but rather to empower you with information that you can pass on to the next generation of young women.
- Get and stay active. Studies have linked physical activity to a lower risk of developing breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends “…adults get at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week (or a combination of these), preferably spread throughout the week.” So much of what we do is connected because the body is an integrated whole. Exercise helps to relieve stress, can help keep us regular, and improves our cardiovascular fitness. Exercise also promotes maintaining a healthy weight, which is a separate risk factor for breast cancer. Bonus points if you exercise outside and receive the benefit of Vitamin D synthesis from sun exposure.
- Stay regular. Having at least one daily bowel movement is considered “regular.” Bowel movements should be formed and easy to pass, neither watery nor hard pebbles. There is evidence that suggests that if you are constipated, the estrogen that your body is trying to eliminate may get reabsorbed into the large intestine. Excess estrogen is one of the well-established risk factors for breast cancer. Eating a healthy diet with lots of fiber and drinking plenty of hydrating fluids throughout the day are two simple ways to get regular. If you experience persistent constipation, talk to your primary care doctor, a holistic health practitioner, or naturopathic doctor about what else you can do to address this.
- Talk to your doctor about any hormonal irregularities. Excess estrogen is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer. If you have irregular cycles, no period, very long or heavy cycles, talk to your doctor about possible hormone imbalances.
- Collaborate! The best research reviews suggest that cancer patients who get the best outcomes are those who utilize conventional and alternative medicine. Work with qualified professionals who understand how to integrate the best of both worlds. This may include surgery, radiation, and/or chemo in addition to dietary recommendations, supplements, mind-body medicine, hyperbaric oxygen, etc. I wish I could say that we can reliably beat cancer using only natural therapies, but the research is not robust enough to suggest this. So, even though chemo and radiation are not easy treatment regimens to go through, they represent the most successful approaches to fighting breast cancer.
- Manage stress. High levels of stress increase cortisol (our stress hormone). Stress does not always come as a crisis; our daily stressors are just as relevant — bills are due, kids are sick, I’m running late, etc. Cortisol can cause increased blood sugar and even lead to diabetes. Cortisol disrupts our hormonal balance, bone health, sleep cycle, and mood. It can lead to weight gain around our midsection (which can be another source of stress!). Make sure to prioritize stress management: a spa day, a 10-minute guided-meditation, walking in nature, journaling, talk therapy, a support group, a weekend away, a pedicure. Stress relief looks different for all of us and is an often-neglected part of our self-care routine.
Another resource for a general preventive lifestyle is Anti-Cancer Living by Lorenzo Cohen.