Beat Breast Cancer Risks?
What specific things can women do to reduce the risk of breast cancer? It's well-publicized that early breast feeding is helpful. Can you give specific dietary recommendations or other suggestions? Thanks.
Breast cancer results from a complex interaction of genetic and environmental factors. While we do not know all the details of its origin, we can make specific recommendations for lifestyle changes that will reduce risk. Some of these are intended to reduce estrogen production in the body or limit exposure to foreign estrogens. Those hormones stimulate breast cells to grow and divide, increasing the chance of malignant transformation. Others are aimed at strengthening the body's defenses in general.
Women who start to menstruate at younger ages have higher risks of breast cancer, as do those who reach menopause at later ages. Scientists think this is probably because these women are exposed to estrogen for a longer period of time. Both having a first baby at a younger age and breast-feeding lessen the risk of breast cancer - probably by interrupting the menstrual cycle and keeping exposure down.
You may not be able to change much here, but you can make choices about your diet that will affect the amount of estrogen in your body. Animal fats contribute to increased estrogen levels in the body, and a low-fat diet has been shown to help guard against breast cancer. Commercially raised animal foods often contain residues of estrogenic hormones given to animals as growth promoters. (If you are a carnivore, you should check out Laura's Lean Beef at (800) ITS LEAN (487 5326). Laura Freeman runs a family farm outside Winchester, Kentucky, and all the beef is hormone- and antibiotic-free.) Soy products such as tofu, tempeh, and miso, which are full of weak, plant-based estrogens lower cancer risk, perhaps because they occupy estrogen receptors, protecting them from stronger forms of the hormone (such as many environmental pollutants). Compounds in cabbage block stronger surges of estrogen from other sources. A chemical in cabbage, broccoli, kale, and collard greens also may be helpful. On the other hand, alcohol, even in moderate usage, can increase estrogen production in susceptible women.
Regular, moderate exercise - four hours a week - reduced breast cancer risk before menopause by an average of 58 percent in one study. Researchers believe it lowers estrogen production. After menopause, exercise may still help by lessening body fat.
So, the most important thing to think about is protecting the overall health and well-being of your body. Exercise regularly. Minimize your exposure to environmental estrogenic pollutants by eating low on the food chain. Especially limit your intake of commercially raised meats, dairy products, and eggs. Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, soy foods, and plenty of fiber to keep estrogen levels under control and protect your genes from damage. Also take antioxidants to guard against deleterious mutations.
If you know you're at high risk, take two tablespoons of ground flaxseed on your cereal or in your juice every day. Flaxseed reduces the rate of growth of tumors in rats and lowers the chance of cancer getting started in the first place.
Finally, note that the role of psychological factors in breast cancer is not at all clear. Grief and depression may suppress immunity, allowing cancers to grow faster. But I doubt that they play much of a role in their origin. Women with this disease did not "give themselves cancer" as a result of any sort of emotional failure.