Breast Cancer – Reduce your risk
National Breast Cancer Awareness Month runs throughout October, aiming to increase understanding of the disease and its risk factors. During this October alone, around 5,000 women in the UK will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
Read on to discover how diet and lifestyle influence the development or recurrence of breast cancer, so you can take steps to reduce your risk.
Why does Cancer Develop?
Put simply, cancer occurs when some of your body’s cells reproduce in an uncontrolled way. Cells have a finite lifespan – once they’re past their best, they should die. Yet in cancer, this natural process goes awry, so old and broken cells are allowed to carry on functioning and reproduce. Often, their DNA becomes damaged, leading to malfunctions.
Such errant cells should be spotted and destroyed by your immune system before they can do any damage. But if your immune system isn’t doing its job properly, they won’t be detected.
Breast Cancer and Your Hormones
Breast cancer is usually connected with disturbed levels of female hormones, particularly oestrogen. This hormone tells your breast cells to grow and reproduce. Oestrogen exists in different forms, some more directly linked to breast cancer than others.
The way your body detoxifies oestrogen also has a strong effect on your risk. This process occurs largely in your liver and is influenced by genetics and lifestyle.
Lifestyle and Breast Cancer
Looking at why breast cancer develops can empower you with actions you can take to reduce your risk. Although sometimes the cause of breast cancer isn’t clear, it’s evident lifestyle behaviours can significantly reduce the likelihood of breast cancer developing.
- Stop Free Radicals in their Tracks
When your cells produce energy, unstable molecules called free radicals are produced. Your body then calls on an arsenal of antioxidants, obtained from colourful plant foods, to neutralise them. Problems occur when demand for antioxidants outstrips supply.
Load at least half your plate with different coloured vegetables to maximise your antioxidant intake.
To add to the problem, many modern lifestyle factors such as stress, too little sleep and environmental pollutants all increase free radical production. Chronic stress also weakens your immune system, while irregular sleeping patterns are known to increase breast cancer risk. Set your alarm for the same time each day, even at weekends, make sure to have at least 7 hours sleep per night, and start each day with some de-stressing yoga or Tai Chi.
- Avoid Hormone Disrupting Chemicals
Chemicals called xenoestrogens can latch onto your body’s hormone receptors – they’re many times stronger than your own oestrogen so they’ll increase your oestrogen levels significantly. The environment is awash with these chemicals – they’re found in household cleaners, personal care products, plastics and even food and water.
Avoid xenoestrogens by switching to greener cleaning and personal care products, eating organic and avoiding plastic water bottles unless they’re labelled BPA free. Never store or heat food in plastic containers.
- The Danger of Belly Fat
Fat cells make oestrogen. This is especially true for fat stubbornly sitting around your belly – it lodges around your internal organs, too. The more fat cells you have, the higher your oestrogen levels will be.
- Nurture Your Liver
Eating plenty of delicious cruciferous veggies like cauliflower, broccoli and kale can help your liver detoxify unwanted oestrogen.
A strong link exists between alcohol consumption and breast cancer. Research has found drinking only 1-2 drinks per day is associated with a whopping 30-50% increased risk. This is likely to be due to alcohol’s effect on the way your liver deals with oestrogen.
- Love Your Gut
Your gut plays a major role in eliminating oestrogen once it’s done its job. So if your gut isn’t working well, you run the risk of absorbing oestrogen back into your bloodstream instead of excreting it as your liver intended. Vitally important for this process is the resident population of bacteria in your gut, known as your microbiome.
Nourish your microbiome by eating plenty of plant foods containing natural fibre and avoiding sugar. Ground flax seeds are a great way of increasing your fibre intake.
The Functional Medicine Approach to Breast Cancer Prevention
Reducing your risk factors, supporting your immune system, and providing your body with the tools to deal with free radicals can all reduce your likelihood of developing breast cancer.
Functional testing is incredibly useful to determine your ratios of the different types of oestrogen, as well as your genetic susceptibility towards producing these oestrogens.
Functional medicine believes ill-health has its roots in imbalances in your body. It views you as a whole rather than a series of isolated parts, and by thorough investigation will aim to discover the causes of your health concerns.
If you’re concerned about avoiding breast cancer, you’ll be provided with dietary and lifestyle strategies to correct these imbalances.
I have undertaken an Integrative Medicine Fellowship in Integrative Cancer Care. To start your journey, contact me here.