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You will be hearing quite a bit of information about the need to find a cure for breast cancer this month of October since it is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I think it's important for everyone to know that National Breast Cancer Awareness Month was started by Zeneca Pharmaceutical (now AstraZeneca) in order to increase donations to "find a cure." What this really means is giving money to pharmaceutical companies to come up with new drugs to treat breast cancer.
This movement and many like it have been instrumental in increasing awareness of breast cancer and de-stigmatizing it for millions of women out there. But because all the fundraising is primarily targeted at raising money for new drugs, there is very little incentive to talk about prevention. In fact, some sources go so far as to say that there is nothing you can do to prevent breast cancer and also emphasize the genetic component of breast cancer – which leaves women feeling powerless and scared. I'm here to tell you that you have a lot to do with controlling your risk and I'm going to tell you how!
During the month of October, I will be sending out a special edition newsletter every Thursday night to talk about what you can start doing TODAY to lower your risk and prevent breast cancer. Each week will focus on a different area of your life that has a significant impact on lowering your risk for breast cancer. This article was the first in that series. You can visit my website to sign up for the newsletter.
Can You Prevent Breast Cancer?
More and more, modern medicine is learning about how our diet and changes in our food supply impact our risk for developing cancer. I want to give you specific things that you can start addressing today to significantly lower your risk for breast cancer (and many other cancers too). When our cells are damaged from toxins in the environment, from sun damage, from cigarette smoke, or from inflammation to name a few, the body quickly sets out to repair that damage at the level of each cell's DNA. Usually, the body does an amazing and efficient job of fixing all the damage, unless that damage is much greater than the resources the body has to fix them. In that case, some damaged cells cannot get fixed in time and they either die, or multiply as a damaged cell. If they are able to multiply and carry that damage forward, the result could be the start of cancer. But at any stage, the body can mobilize to fix any cells that it finds damaged.
Everything that you eat and drink can either add to the damaging stress to your cells, or it can add to the body's resource for fixing damaged cells. Here is a list of the things in your food choices that can add to damage of your cells and increase the risk for breast cancer.
I want to start with dairy because it has such a huge impact on our breasts, but it is really downplayed by the dairy industry. Dairy products all come from milk, which is designed by nature to make babies grow (in this case, baby cows). Milk has a "growth factor" that naturally promotes the fast growth of cells, and breast tissue is very sensitive to it. This growth factor will encourage the body to multiply cells more quickly, especially breast tissue. That increases the chance for damaged cells to slip by the body's repair mechanism.
Cows are often milked while pregnant, so that farmers can get milk from them year round. This means higher levels of all three natural estrogens (estrone, estradiol, and estriol), which can be up to 3 times higher in commercial milk than found in raw milk. Estrogen is very stimulating for the cells in breast tissue and it's what gives women breast tenderness. The reality is that dairy products these days are just too stimulating for breast tissue because it encourages the growth and division of those cells, which increases the chances that damaged cells could multiply before the body can fix them.
In addition to the natural growth factors found in milk and the high level of estrogens, many cows are given hormones, which are all fat-soluble and therefore come out into the cow's milk. Breast tissue is particularly sensitive to added hormones and you will be taking these into your body when you have any dairy product – milk, cream, yogurt, cheese, etc. This is a very big deal!
Lastly, most cows these days are feed grains grown with pesticides, which are very strong stimulators of estrogen-sensitive tissues. The pesticides are not carefully washed off (as we might do with our own food at home) because it is being fed to cows. The cows eat the grain and then the pesticides get concentrated into all of their fat tissues – both in their muscle and in the milk they produce. When you drink that milk or eat the dairy product that have any milk-fat (like milk, cream, or cheese), you are eating a concentrated version of pesticides. These chemicals strongly activate your estrogen-sensitive tissues because the body recognizes them as a form of estrogen.
Bottom line – decrease or quit dairy starting today. Even with "organic" milk, you will be getting some stimulating effects. If you don't want to stop drinking milk, choose non-fat milk to eliminate the fat-soluble hormones and chemicals. Unfortunately, this is not possible to do with cheese since cheese is mostly fat.
Any meats that are fed grain (instead of grass-fed) will have pesticides concentrated in the fat. This means that any chicken, pork, or beef that is not grass fed will have greater effects on your breast tissue. This effect is also greater with a higher percentage of fat, like ground chuck vs. ground sirloin. Unfortunately, even meat claiming to have no hormones or no antibiotics is not always grass-fed. Buying grass fed meat can be challenging, first because it's not always easy to find, and second because it's more expensive. There are studies showing that having less meat in your diet lowers you risk for breast cancer, so many women decide to eat meat less often and use the money they save to buy the grass-fed variety instead.
Bottom line – stay away from meats that aren't grass fed and try to reduce the amount of meat in your diet overall.
One of the most difficult things to reduce in your overall diet is the amount of sugar you eat. What makes it so difficult is 1) you get used to higher and higher levels of sugar in your food without realizing it, and 2) almost every prepared or processed food out there has large amounts of sugar in it.
The reason why sugar is such an important factor in the development and growth of cancer is because sugar is a super-fuel for cancer. Studies show that sugar directly feeds cancer and causes it to grow quicker than the body can stamp it out. So many foods either have large amounts of sugar in them, or they have artificial sweeteners which just cause you to crave more sugar. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to learn to eat foods without added sugar. This means foods that you prepare yourself without any premade sauces or flavorings. Also, limiting dessert and candied snacks helps get you off of the sugar addiction that is so difficult to break.
Pay attention to foods that have fructose or high-fructose in them. The liver actually creates more inflammation in your body out of fructose than it does plain table sugar (which is only half fructose). The sugars found in fruits are fructose, but the pulp of the fruit provides fiber to help balance out those effects. That is why drinking fruit juice can be too much sugar for you, but eating the fruit can be ok. Even large amounts of natural sugars, such as sugar cane or honey, still create the same effect in your body. The trick is to limit these to small amounts (1 teaspoon of honey in your tea is no big deal, but 30 grams of sugar in your soft drink is an overload for your body). I think it's important for people to realize that natural Agave is mostly fructose, so it's actually more damaging to your body than the same amount of sugar.
It's not just sugar in foods and desserts that is a problem, but also how other foods are broken down into sugar once they are in your system. Some foods have a high glycemic index, which means that your body will quickly convert it into sugar, having the same effect on your cells. Foods such as wheat products, oats, and most starches are quickly broken down to sugar in your bloodstream so that it feeds developing cancer cells the same way pure sugar would.
Bottom line – get off of your sugar addiction by reducing the amount of sweets (including artificial sweeteners) you eat.
If you stay away from wheat, you will be drastically reducing the amount of gluten in your diet. The reason why gluten can be a problem – even if you don't have Celiac disease – is because it causes inflammation in your gut that triggers an exaggerated response from your immune system. Once your immune system is off balance, it cannot fix any cellular or DNA damage as easily, so your risk for cancer is increased. Anything that causes increased levels of inflammation in your body increases your risk for cancer.
Not all fats are treated the same way in your body. There are some fats – especially artificial fats like trans fats or margarine – that cause on increased amount of inflammation in the body. Your body does not treat all oils the same way and so you should pay attention to which type of oils and fats you use. Oils that are healthier for your body include coconut, avocado, walnut, and olive oil. Oils that you should stay away from include corn oil, vegetable oil, sunflower oil, and any synthetics like Crisco. Remember that when you eat fried foods from a restaurant, not only are you unsure of what type of oil they use, but the oil has probably been used so many times that it changes the structure of the oils as well. When you eat out, stick to food that is not fried and use only healthy oils in your home.