RoseMarie Pierce, BSc(Pharm)
A plant-based diet, exercise, anti-oxidant supplements and staying lean are all necessary for healthy breasts
A plant-based diet, exercise, anti-oxidant supplements and staying lean are all necessary for healthy breasts.
Breast cancer is, by far, the most common cancer among North American women. There seems to be a link between this high incidence of breast cancer and the affluent lifestyle of Western countries. Diet is a big factor in this equation.
The development of fibrocystic breast disease and breast cancer may be connected to an increased estrogen to progesterone ratio. During each menstrual cycle there is a recurring hormonal stimulation of the breast. In some women a significant inflammatory process occurs. The increasing amount of estrogen instructs the breast cells to work fast, multiplying the chances of mutation.
Tufts Diet Nutrition Letter, 1996, reports, "relatively heavy 50-some-thing women who have gained more than five kilograms since they were in their 40s have about triple the risk of breast cancer." Fat is thought to influence the metabolism and secretion of hormones, notably estrogen.
Cancer-causing pesticides, industrial chemicals from the environment and chemicals on (and in) food tend to accumulate in fatty tissue. These chemicals (called xenoestrogens) have estrogen-like properties and mimic the action of estrogen in the breast.
The incidence of breast cancer among vegetarian North American women is 20 to 40 per cent lower than among women in general. Vegetarian women have a lower concentration of estrogen in their blood and have more estrogen excreted in the feces than non-vegetarian women. Vegetarian women typically consume less fat and more fibre than non-vegetarians do. Fibre is a nutritional adhesive that carries estrogen along through the intestines and facilitates the fecal excretion of estrogen.
What You Can Do
Maintaining or recovering breast health can involve many lifestyle modifications and even a dietary program.
Four hours of exercise a week can reduce estrogen levels in the blood and cut breast cancer by 36 to 72 percent says J. Glaspy, MD of the UCLA Oncology Center.
Both benign breast symptoms (breast pain, lumps or cysts) and breast cancer would benefit from the following supplements.
Take a good multi-vitamin/mineral supplement containing high levels of natural vitamin E or add vitamin E (400 to 800 international units) to your daily health program.
Studies have shown that many women benefit by taking the antioxi-dants vitamin E and A and selenium. Antioxidant nutrients are very important. They combat dangerous free radicals and help to maintain a strong immune system. Take 25,000 IU of a carotene complex and add extra lycopene (a carotenoid found in tomatoes that protects against cancer of the reproductive system). Another valuable antioxidant is alpha-lipoic acid, which acts synergistically with other antioxidants such as vitamin E, co-enzyme Q10 and vitamin C. Lipoic acid exhibits favorable test results in studies of breast cancer treatment.
Our bodies do not make essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6). We must get these oils from our diet in the form of fish oils, nut and seed oils, flaxseed oil, evening primrose oil or in a capsule supplement. When these essential fatty acids are low in our diet or not ingested in the right proportions, it causes the production of troublesome prostaglandins (a hormone-like complex fatty acid) which can promote tumor growth. Essential fatty acids reduce breast inflammation and swelling during PMS. Two to four teaspoonsful daily of the oil blends or three to six capsules of essential oils can provide the right proportions of the essential fatty acids for breast protection against cancer.
In recent studies, co-enzyme Q10 has been shown to cause regression of breast tumors and prevent metastasis (spread of cancer) in some women. The dosage used in the studies was between 90 and 340 milligrams daily.
Soy isoflavones help to metabolize estrogen and have anticancer properties. Isoflavones exhibit weak estrogenic activity and bind to estrogen receptor sites (in breast and other tissues), reducing the effects of the much more potent estrogens and xenoestrogens. The best sources are organic dried beans, soy products, red clover, sage, garlic, fennel and licorice root. Isoflavones can also be taken in a supplement of 50 to 200 mg daily. Red clover is also a blood cleanser. There are many commercially available herbal remedies containing red clover and other blood cleansers that strengthen the immune system. Herbs, such as vitex (chasteberry) or red raspberry leaves, have hormonal balancing properties that can restore the estrogen-progesterone ratio.