Breast Cancer is the most common cancer among women and the second leading cause of death in women today. American women have as high as a one in eight chance of getting breast cancer. These facts can seem overwhelming and leave you feeling powerless, but there are steps you can take to change your odds.
I have attempted to condense an entire book into a few pages, however breast cancer research is very complicated and new information is being discovered everyday. This is by no means an end-all solution but a great place to start!
I highly recommend that you read, The Breast Cancer Prevention Diet, by Bob Arnot. The book is based on over 3000 scientific studies, and the top 130 studies are listed in the book. For brevity's sake, I have not listed all the specific studies, articles, and books that I have quoted from. You can refer to this book for that information and for the specific tables referenced in this article.
1) Block Estrogen Receptors
The drugs tomoxifen (decreases breast cancer by 45%) and raloxifene (decreases breast cancer by 90%) both work on this principle but can have long term negative side effects. Soy and flaxseed are the best natural source for blocking estrogen receptors. Chinese women had 50% lower numbers of breast cancer when consuming 55 grams of soy per day. Genistein is the active ingredient in soy. There is controversy about consuming soy once you have developed breast cancer, so please consult with your health coach regarding this matter. Flaxseed binds to estrogen and helps escort it out of the body. It is a high source of Omega 3 (good fat), and needs to be ground fresh daily so that the oils do not go bad. Flaxseed has also been shown to help with many other health problems as well.
AVOID soy oil. It is 61% omega 6 (bad fat) and is sometimes hydrogenated (even worse).
DO try to get 35-60 grams of soy per day. You will probably need to do a soy protein powder (look for high amounts of genistein – you want 40-60 milligrams per day. Daily consume 25 grams of freshly ground flaxseed.
See table pg. 52 “Protein Content of Various Soy Foods”
See table pg. 56 “ Genistein Content of Soy Foods”
2) Eat Good Fats/ Avoid Bad Fats
Breast Cancer usually starts in the milk ducts, which are surrounded by the fat deposits filled with whichever type of fat you eat. Are they good or bad? Good and bad is an oversimplification. We should eat a ratio of 4:1, Omega 6/Omega3 fats. The average American eats 20:1. This is one of the problems. So for now, I’ll refer to omega 6 as “bad”. A study on 61,471 women found that if they had diets of increased omega 6, they increased their risk of breast cancer by 69%. Another study on 34,388 women showed that if they had diets with high amounts of omega 6, they increased their risk of breast cancer by 50%.
Examples of Omega 6 sources: margarine, mayonnaise, commercial salad dressings, tuna packed in oil (get the one in water), safflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, peanut oil, cottonseed oil, and sesame oil.
The worst omega 6 foods are those that are altered into Transfatty acids through processing. This process is called hydrogenation (examples are potato chips, fried foods, and cookies). This gives food a longer shelf life and can give you a shorter one. The worst types of fats are saturated, where every bondsite has a hydrogen atom on it. Saturated fats are found in whole fat dairy products, such as cheese and meats. Combining refined carbohydrates and sugar makes a particularly bad saturated fat called Palmytic acid, which increases your triglycerides.
Neutral oils – Omega 9: olive oil and canola oil. These are much better for you than Omega 6 oils. Use these for your salads and for sautéing vegetables.
Good oils – Omega 3: the best source for these are cold water fish, such as salmon, and flaxseed. You’ll usually need to supplement these with a product like “EPA DHA.” (Hint: buy from a company that uses a good clean source and puts vitamin E into it so that the oils don’t start breaking down). “EPA DHA” also helps with hormone formation, inflammation, rheumatoid arthritis, MS, and heart disease.
AVOID: Omega 6 oils, saturated fats, hydrogenated foods, fried foods, refined carbohydrates and sugars, and fake fats.
DO: eat good oils, plenty of cold-water fish, flax seed, and supplement with EPA DHA (2- 10 grams/day depending upon your personal risk factors).
See tables pgs. 88-89 “Omega 3 Fatty Acids in Fish”
3) Eat a lot of Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables contain a lot of vitamins and antioxidants, indole-3-carbonyl (I-3- C). They include bok choy, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, horseradish, kale, mustard seeds, radishes, rutabaga, turnips, and watercress.
There are good estrogens (2 O H) vs. bad estrogens (16 and 4). Bad estrogen damages DNA, mutates cells, and has been found to be twice as high in women with breast cancer as those without. “I-3-C” helps the body produce good estrogen and has been shown to turn off an enzyme necessary for cancer cell growth. One study showed women who ate a lot of cruciferous vegetables had 40% lower risk of breast cancer.
AVOID: mixing anti-acids with I-3-C, they interfere with absorption.
DO: eat 1-3 servings per day and also supplement with Indole-3-Carbinol (300-500 mg./day, depending on your risk).
4) Lower Insulin
Studies by Pamela Goodwin, University of Toronto, found that there was a 283% increase of breast cancer in women with high insulin. Abdominal weight gain is usually a sign of sugar imbalances and an increase in insulin levels. Breast cancer cells have insulin receptors, when insulin lands on them it turns them on and they grow, spreading the cancer. To check your insulin, have your physician do an overnight fast test. 80 is nice and low, 190 is high.
AVOID: sugars, refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, obesity, and empty calories.
DO: eat fiber, quality protein, and get plenty of exercise (it increases insulin receptor sensitivity-so the body produces less insulin).
5) Lower Glucose Load
Your body works best with consistent blood sugar levels. Some foods wreak havoc by shooting blood sugar levels too high. Then too much insulin is released and the blood sugar level plunges down too low. Serious health problems can result from blood sugar levels being too high or too low. The rate at which glucose is released in the bloodstream is called glucose load and is affected by a food’s glycemic index value. You want to eat mostly low index foods such as many fruits, vegetables, legumes, and beans.
If you are at your ideal body weight (or within 10lbs.), then it is okay to eat some medium index foods. Stay away from high index foods such as refined carbohydrates, soda, pasta, potatoes, and breads. Eating high quality protein and soluble fiber can help moderate your glucose load or blood sugar level.
AVOID: High Glycemic foods and moderate glycemic foods as often as possible, especially if you are overweight or have blood sugar issues.
DO: Consume mostly low glycemic foods, high quality protein at each meal, and soluble fiber (at least 10 grams per day).
Suggested reading materials on this subject are:
The Zone Diet Series, by Dr. Barry Sears PhD, and
Reversing Diabetes, by Julian Whitaker M.D.
See table pgs. 105-107 “High Glycemic Foods Index”
See table pgs. 108-109 “Moderate Glycemic Foods Index”
See table pgs. 110-111 “Low Glycemic Foods Index”
6) Increase Fiber
Fiber affects the estrogen pathway by decreasing blood levels of estrogen in the body as much as 36%. One study showed 54% decrease in breast cancer in women who had high fiber diets. Fiber helps decrease the glucose load, decrease hunger (which helps decrease weight), lower cholesterol, and decrease the risk of heart disease as well as some cancers. You want both soluble and insoluble fiber in your diet. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is very low in fiber (5-10 grams/day).
DO: eat 30-50 grams of fiber daily (10 of which should be soluble), whole grains, bran muffins, beans, and lentils.
See table pgs. 115 – 117 “High Insoluble Fiber Foods"
See table pgs. 119 -121 “High Soluble Fiber Foods”
7) Increase Antioxidants
Excessive free radicals cause health problems by damaging DNA. Something has to turn the cancer gene on and DNA damage is one way that this occurs. Free radicals come from fat metabolism, solar radiation, cigarette smoke, air pollution, heavy metals, the ozone, organic solutions, pesticides, and food additives.
Antioxidants escort free radicals out of the body. There are many different types of free radicals and it takes a wide variety of antioxidants to work on them. Fruits and vegetables are great sources. You want to eat organic and a wide variety of colors. Cartenoids give fruits and vegetables their colors and have strong antioxidant and anticancer qualities. Try new vegetables, new recipes, and new preparation methods i.e. sautéing, barbequing, juicing. Green tea is a good antioxidant. Some master antioxidants are CoQ10, Lipoic Acid, Glutathione, Vitamins C and E, and selenium.
DO: Eat 5-9 servings of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables each day (wide variety). Drink green tea daily. Supplement with a high quality and wide spectrum of antioxidants. A few are listed below:
CoQ10 = 30-100mg./day Lipoic Acid = 50-100 mg. / day
Glutathione = 100 mg./day Selenium = 50-100 mcg. /day
Vitamin E = 400-800 IU/ day (dosage depends on your risk) Vitamin C = 1000-5000 mg./day (increase dose until diarrhea starts, then back off. That is the amount that your body needs).
See table pg. 126 “Antioxidant Capacity of Some Vegetables”
See table pg. 128 “ Antioxidant Capacity of some Fruits”
See table pg. 130 “Foods with the Highest Antiox Values”
8) Avoid Chemical Estrogens
Chemical estrogen can be 100-1000 times stronger than your body’s natural estrogen. They can land on receptors and refuse to leave. They are very hard to detoxify and can end up recirculating into your system. The worst sources are pesticides, herbicides, the pill, and synthetic hormone replacement.
Check into natural hormone replacement through a naturopath or compounding pharmacy (Reed’s). One glass of milk has been shown to have the residue of 80 pesticides in it.
DO: Decrease meat and dairy consumption. If you do eat meat, make it organic; trim away the fat and the skin. Educate yourself about natural hormone replacement.
Suggested readings: Dr. Susan Love’s Hormone Book and Christine Conrad’s A Woman’s Guide to Natural Hormones.
9) Decrease Body
Fat Fat cells have an enzyme called “Aromatase” that converts testosterone into estrogen. Abdominal Fat is the worst about doing this conversion. The goal is to be within 10 lbs. of your ideal weight. If you can pinch more than 1 inch of skin by your belly button, you need to lose weight.
AVOID: Empty calorie foods (soda, alcohol, candy), bad fats, meat, and dairy.
DO: Decrease your glucose. Increase your vegetables, fiber, and exercise.
10) Limit Alcohol
Alcohol converts to acetaldehyde in our body, which has shown to increase breast cancer in animals. Alcohol depletes folic acid, which causes gene mutation resulting in higher cancer risk. Alcohol can damage your liver, which increases estrogen in the body because the liver cannot effectively detoxify it.
DO: Cut down or eliminate your alcohol intake. If you must have a drink, chose red wine. It is best due to its antioxidant effect.
11) Increase Vitamin D
One study found the less Vitamin D a person had, the higher the risk of breast cancer. Vitamin D is a potent inhibitor of the cell’s ability to abnormally divide and grow. Exposure to the sun can help your body make Vitamin D.
DO: Get 75% of your Vitamin D by getting out in the sun for 15 minutes, 3-4 times a week. Recommended doses:
Ages 19-50 200 IU per day
Ages 51-70 400 IU per day
Ages 70 + 600 IU per day
12) Get plenty of exercise
A Norwegian study showed that women who exercised 4 hours per week had a 37% less risk of breast cancer. Another study showed that women who exercised the same amount decreased their risk of breast cancer by 50%. The women in these studies raised their heart rate and broke a sweat when they exercised. Other studies have shown that breast cancer reoccurrence rates decreased when they exercised regularly. Exercise also helps decrease abdominal and body fat as well as decrease insulin levels, and increase lymphatic circulation to help rid toxins. It also helps your body make good estrogen instead of producing bad estrogen.
DO: at least 4-6 hours of vigorous exercise per week. Join a gym. Get a support partner. Choose an activity you enjoy. Think long term.
13) Find a competent Alternative Health Coach
Are they knowledgeable? Will they answer your questions? Will they treat you as an individual? Will they work with your M.D. or Oncologist? Do they sell high quality and clean nutritional products?
I will be more than happy to speak with you about your case and see if I am the right Health Coach for you. I currently work with Breast Cancer survivors. Together, we are getting very good results such as normal labs after chemotherapy, an increase in energy, an increase in mental clarity, and a decrease in depression. The nutritional products I sell are primarily Metagenics, along with Thorne and Phytopharmica.
FYI – I highly recommend “Estrobalance” a medical food made by Metagenics that is specifically designed to nutritionally support women with hormonal symptoms. It provides macro and micronutrients, natural phytoestrogens, antioxidants, fiber, flaxseed, and all the essential vitamins and minerals. It specializes in B-complex to support healthy hormone cycles. Estrobalance is based on a lot of research and has several studies proving its effectiveness. Basically it helps excess estrogen be escorted out of the body and helps the body produce good estrogen instead of bad. There are no contraindications in taking it with HRT.