The World Health Organisation (WHO) has predicted that by 2020 the number of breast cancer cases will jump to an alarming figure and one in every eight women would run the risk of developing the disease in her lifetime.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women today. More than 1 million women world-wide are diagnosed with this cancer each year, mostly in the 50 and older age group. While many factors beyond our control contribute to risk, like age and family history, we do know of a few ways we can lower the risk of breast cancer.
Breast cancer is a topic particularly close to my heart, as my mother had to battle it when I was only 8 years old. Watching my mom go through what she had to during this time was rough, but going to the post-op doctor visits with her was quite a life lesson, that really helped me understand the link between cancer and foods we consume.
The primary causes of breast cancer are nutritional deficiencies, exposure to environmental toxicity, inflammation, estrogen dominance and the breakdown in genetic integrity and impaired immune response, primarily among those over 50. However, the toxic insults are now hitting younger generations.
Nutrition & Breast Cancer
Nutrition offers one of the greatest hopes in the fight against breast cancer, so following a proactive role is something all women should do. Research has confirmed time and time again that certain foods and nutrients can be looked at as sources of preventative medicine, and one of the most powerful tools to preventing breast cancer is what you put in your body.
Certain foods can make your body the absolute healthiest it can be, by boosting your immune system, and helping keep your risk for breast cancer as low as possible. Some items also help control treatment side effects or help your body get well after treatment, while other food choices benefit cancer treatment, helping it to work more effectively or help keep you healthy.
That said, other foods can be dangerous and may interfere with treatment and recovery, so I will also cover all those items below. Having a game plan that’s realistic and within reach is so important to deliver protection in a smart way, all while making sure that it fits into your busy lifestyle.
Healthy Weight Reduces Risk of Breast Cancer & Recurrence
Worldwide obesity has more than doubled since 1980. Obesity was once considered a problem only in high income countries, but now being overweight and obese is dramatically on the rise all over the world. As of 2008, the World Health Organization estimated that 1.4 billion adults were overweight, including 300 million obese individuals.
Maintaining a healthy weight is your first line of defense, as this can help reduce the risk of breast cancer, and the risk of it coming back if you have battled it already. Studies have shown that women who gained weight after their breast cancer diagnosis had an increased risk of recurrence.
Reports from both the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the World Cancer Research Fund conclude that there is convincing evidence that being obese or overweight causes breast cancer after menopause. A 2006 study from the American Cancer Society Cancer Prevention Study-II found that gaining weight as an adult was an even more important risk factor than current weight for post-menopausal breast cancer. The study found that women who gained 60 or more pounds after age 18 had double the risk of being diagnosed with post-menopausal breast cancer compared to women who maintained their weight.
The higher risk of breast cancer for women who gain weight is likely due to higher levels of estrogen, as fat tissue is the largest source of estrogen among women who are post-menopausal. Studies suggest that overweight women have an increased risk of breast cancer after menopause compared to women at a healthy weight.
Obesity is also associated with increased risks of the following cancer types, and possibly others:
- Colon & Rectum
- Endometrium (lining of the uterus)
A healthy eating plan should include some physical activity. Aim for 3 to 4 hours of walking per week to start. If you’re having treatment right now, you may need to start slowly and work up to this.
Top Foods For Preventing & Fighting Cancer
Studies continue to confirm the link between eating fiber and a reduction in breast cancer risk. Researchers have found that both soluble and insoluble fiber reduce the risk of breast cancer, especially for women consuming upwards of 30 grams a day. This is helpful because insoluble fiber sticks to free estrogens in the gut, and sweeps them out. Fiber can also ensure that less estrogen is free in the first place, and when less estrogen is absorbed, you end up exposed to lower amounts of the hormone, which lowers your risk of breast cancer. Whether you’re trying to shed pounds or fight cancer, you need 25 to 35 grams of fiber each day respectively.
Evidence from several studies suggests that women who consumed 30 grams of fiber per day had a significant risk reduction (32%) of breast cancer. Compare that to the women who were eating less than 25 grams a day who only had a very minimal risk reduction (2%).
Garlic has an impact on cell cycling, the process where a normal, healthy cell can become cancerous. Credit for regulating this goes to the component of garlic called allyl sulfide, that is found throughout the onion family, so adding garlic or onions to your recipes on a regular basis will aid breast cancer prevention.
Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries add color, variety, and flavor to your anti-cancer nutrition plan. They are also power-packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can aid in breast cancer prevention,
Green tea and white tea both contain catechins, extracts that seem to show benefit in breast cancer prevention.
Omega-3s are essential because your body doesn’t produce them, you can only get them from foods like fish, seeds, nuts and oils. However, another group of essential fatty acids known as omega-6s compete with omega-3s. While you do need them, most Americans already get way more than enough, as they are plentiful in the modern diet. The more omega-6s you absorb, the less omega-3s you can take in and vice-versa. You want to focus on eating more omega-3s, and limit your intake of omega-6s. We need omega-3s to help reduce inflammation that damages healthy tissue and can encourage cancer cells to grow. Omega-6s, are known to increase inflammation.
It’s important to know that there is more than one type of omega-3s (DHA, EPA & ALA), and fish contain the two that are most effective in guarding your health (DHA & EPA). The best way to get more omega-3s is to eat more fatty fish, but fish is not the only source of omega-3s, so vegetarians, vegans and non-fish eaters can choose sources like chia seeds, flaxseed and walnuts that contain ALA. Keep in mind that whole foods are always a better choice than supplements, and make sure to get 3-4 servings per week.
Cruciferous vegetables such as arugula, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, bok choy and kale are rich in sulforaphane, one of the primary phytochemicals or protective compounds found in plants that help to prevent cancer. Recent studies from the Linus Pauling Institute, also supported by the National Cancer Institute, show that sulforaphane can selectively target and kill cancer cells while leaving normal cells unaffected. Below are some of my favorite top cancer-fightingcruciferous vegetables.
- Arugula: Great in salads, it is a sulforaphane-rich and widely available on menus, so seek it out!
- Broccoli Sprouts: One tablespoon has as much sulforaphane as a pound of broccoli, and easily added to salads, and makes a great topper in sandwiches and burgers.
- Watercress: Shown to potentially retard growth of breast cancer cells, a handful (6 oz) is the ideal serving, it is a natural diuretic (fantastic de-bloater, and is practically calorie-free with on 4 calories per cup.
- Red Cabbage: Another affordable yet powerful way to supercharge a simple salad and make it a more protective one.
Foods Rich In Folate vs. Folic Acid: KNOW THE DIFFERENCE
Many people do not know the difference between Folate & Folic Acid, so here is an explanation. FOLATE is a term for a group of b-vitamins, also known as B9 naturally found in food. FOLIC ACID refers to the oxidized synthetic compound used in dietary supplements and food fortification. Unlike natural folates that are metabolized in the small intestine, folic acid undergoes an initial reduction in the liver, where conversion requires other enzymes to help the process along. Low activity of this enzyme in the liver, combined with a high intake of folic acid can result in unnatural levels of unmetabolized folic acid in the blood. Several studies have reported chronic intake of high levels of folic acid from fortified foods, beverages and dietary supplements can lead to the development of cancer.
A recent study found that women with the highest folate levels had a 44% lower risk of breast cancer than those with the lowest folate levels. To help protect yourself, you need to consume 1-2 servings of folate-rich foods a day, so aim for at least 400 micrograms daily. There is a wide range of folate-rich foods so it won’t be difficult to do and you can start with lentils, beans, certain fruits, and leafy greens are all good sources.
Below are 10 folate-rich foods:
- Brewer’s Yeast, 1 tablespoon = 313 mcg
- Lentils, 1/2 cup, cooked = 180 mcg
- Edamame, 2 cups = 179 mcg
- Romaine Lettuce, 2 cups = 152 mcg
- Black/Kidney Beans, 1/2 cup, cooked = 128 mcg
- Spinach, 2 cups, fresh = 118 mcg
- Broccoli, 1 cup, chopped and cooked = 104 mcg
- Asparagus, 1 cup, fresh = 79 mcg
- Whole-Wheat Bread, 2 slices = 60 mcg
- Orange, 1 large = 55 mcg
Foods Rich In Vitamin D
This fat-soluble vitamin which helps absorb calcium to build strong teeth and bones may also build protection against. Researchers suggest that vitamin D curbs the growth of cancerous cells. A report presented at the latest meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) showed a link between increased vitamin D intake and reduced risk. It found vitamin D to lower the risk of developing breast cancer by up to 50%.
- Fatty Fish: Common options include salmon, trout, mackerel, tuna, and eel.
- Certain Mushrooms: Mushrooms are usually grown in the dark and don’t contain vitamin D, but when certain brands are exposed to ultraviolet light, it will spur vitamin D production.
- Egg Yolks: Vitamin D in an egg comes from the yolk, not just the whites, and are easy to make for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert recipes.
- Sunlight & Ultraviolet Lamps & Bulbs: Sunlight causes the body to make vitamin D. But because of the skin-cancer risk, there isn’t an official recommendation to catch some rays. However, a small amount of sun exposure without sunscreen can do the trick. “If you’re going to get it from the sun, about 20 to 25 minutes of exposure is helpful,” says Stephen Honig, MD, director of the Osteoporosis Center at the Hospital for Joint Diseases, in New York City. People at high risk of vitamin D deficiency may resort to UV-emitting lamps and bulbs. This includes people unable to absorb the vitamin (malabsorption) or those who can’t get enough in winter months, says Michael F. Holick, MD, a professor of medicine, sociology, and biophysics at Boston University Medical Center.
Orange Fruits & Vegetables
When it comes to breast cancer prevention, think about eating more carrots, cantaloupe, and sweet potatoes, that are all foods rich in the form of vitamin A known as carotenoids. Women who have higher levels of carotenoids in their bloodstream seem to be at lower risk for breast cancer.
Soy & Breast Cancer
Soy phytoestrogens along with lignans, are naturally occurring “estrogen-like” plant compounds that are beneficial for bone and heart health, and menopausal symptoms. Lignans are compounds that form the building blocks of plant cell walls, and contain phytoestrogens that help regulate the body’s estrogen production. Estrogens are small molecules that control numerous reactions in the body. When you eat foods that contain lignans, the bacteria in your gut converts them into metabolites that produce a weak estrogenic effect, and when this happens it provides estrogenic support. What this means is that when estrogen levels are low, non-gmo soy products will make up for the deficiency. Consequestly, when estrogen levels are too high, the lignans attach to the estrogen receptors, and reduce the estrogen hormones to block their effect.
Research has shown that lignan phytoestrogens help prevent some forms of cancer by blocking estrogenic activity, to reduce the risk of breast, prostate and colon cancers, along with cardiovascular disease. Studies have also shown that high levels of lignans can support a healthy weight, glucose metabolism, reduce the risk of insulin sensitivity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
Medical research has demonstrated numerous benefits associated with phytoestrogens. In a study published in the journal Menopause, for example, half the women who participated ate a diet rich in phytoestrogens such as soybeans and flax seeds, while half ate a standard diet. In the group that ate the phytoestrogen-rich diet, the menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness, decreased significantly.
Age-group(s) at the highest risk of breast cancer
Tina Sapra explains that breast cancer is less common at a young age (30s), but younger women tend to have more aggressive breast cancers than older women. This may explain why survival rates are lower among younger women. According to the American Cancer Society, 95 per cent of new cases and 97 per cent of breast cancer deaths occurred in women aged 40 years or above.