Hormone balance is the goal of your breast cancer-free lifestyle. Diet, exercise, weight, stress and environmental toxins are important factors that play the major roles in your hormone balance and your personal breast cancer risk. Simply put, improving these fundamental aspects of lifestyle can significantly improve our odds against breast cancer.
Exercise to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk
The health enhancing, disease preventing, age defying benefits of regular exercise are backed up by reams of research attesting to the fact, that all things considered—exercise is still the best medicine!
A recent review of epidemiological studies looking at the role of exercise in prevention of cancers shows an overall 30 to 40% reduction in colon cancer, and 20 to 30% decrease in breast cancer.
Back in 1997, Norwegian researchers from the University of Tromso, reported on the potential of exercise to prevent breast cancer. They enrolled over 25,000 women aged 20–54 in the survey and followed them for 13 years. After adjusting for age and body mass index (BMI), they found that exercise actually reduced the risk of breast cancer up to 37%, even more so in women with a healthy amount of lean muscle mass!
Four years later in 2001, the same researchers compiled the results of 41 studies of over 100,000 breast cancer patients, relating risk to physical activity. They found the more significant risk reductions to be among those who carried out their physical activity at a moderate or brisk pace. A Swedish study in 2004 analyzed 23 studies that looked at the effect of exercise during adolescence and into early adulthood on risk of subsequent breast cancer. The researchers reported a 20% reduced risk of breast cancer in those who exercised vs. those who did not, leading them to concur with studies too numerous to count that any exercise at any period of life is helpful.
For starters, it decreases insulin levels and the presence of insulin resistance. This is significant because as we recall, insulin is a “growth factor” that encourages breast cancer cells to grow, multiply and divide. It also leads to an inflammatory state in the body, which is fuel to the fire in terms of breast cancer. The effects of exercise in lowering insulin, insulin resistance and inflammation in the body cannot be overstated when it comes to keeping breast cancer at bay.
In mid-life our estrogen supplies come mostly from the fat cells of the body, particularly those plentiful supplies in the breast. In fact, the concentration of estrogen in the fatty breast tissue has been shown to be 10 to 50 times higher in postmenopausal woman, putting them in a higher risk category for breast cancer. Exercise can help to reverse this state of affairs by increasing levels of binding proteins (e.g. sex hormone binding globulin) that seize and inactivate excess estrogens before they can do more damage.
Foods to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk
The fact that fruits and vegetables are abundant sources of antioxidants and bioflavanoids (plant chemicals) endows them with great potential to reduce the risk of breast (and other) cancers. They are also rich in naturally occurring enzymes and fiber content that rid the body of cancer-causing toxins by binding up toxins and preventing their reabsorption back into the system.
Women in Balance encourages women to eat fresh fruit of deep color (avoiding the high glycemic fruits like pineapple, banana etc. that raise blood sugar) and vegetables of the dark, green, leafy and cruciferous varieties, especially spinach, kale, broccoli, cabbage, etc., that assist proper estrogen metabolism. Studies looking into adequate vegetable consumption have identified enzyme properties in crucifers that promote estrogens down the more favorable “2-hydroxy” metabolic pathway, known to be protective against breast cancer.
It is always preferable to purchase organic produce if you want to avoid the hotbeds of xenoestrogens contained in fruits and vegetables that have been sprayed with pesticides. For those who can’t always buy organic, or get the optimal five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, extracts in powder or capsule form are a viable alternative. In a nutshell, the simpler and more natural the better.
Dietary Fats and Breast Cancer Prevention
We know that a low fat diet can discourage the formation of harmful estrogen byproducts while high animal fats tend to increase it. While numerous studies have documented that some fats, such as those found in olive oil, fish and fish liver oils, can slow the growth of cancer cells, the findings can be ambiguous since some fats are thought to promote breast cancer while others are not. Women in Balance joins with those who say that fat is an important nutrient but it has to be the right kind of fat:
- Bad: Animal fat from beef and pork may stimulate breast cancer
- Neutral: Dairy fats do not show an effect on breast cancer
- Good: Omega 9 fats, especially olive oil
- Good: Omega 3 fats found in nuts, fish, fish oils, flax seed oil)
Eating for Breast Cancer Prevention
Organic foods that have not been pumped up with synthetic growth hormones are essential to maintaining a normal hormone balance. A controlled diet of certified organic foods can help reduce the influx of toxic estrogens into our system.
Some of the best common sense nutritional guidelines include:
- Choosing organically produced nutritional building blocks: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and meat, poultry and seafood raised without growth hormones or antibiotics.
- Be aware that processed foods that carry low fat or nonfat labels are often overloaded with sodium and sugars.
- Kick the refined carb and sugar habit.
- Include natural fats and oils in moderation; avoid hydrogenated oils and margarines; look for extra-virgin olive oils and butter.
- Include organic fiber, the great equalizer, detoxifier, and metabolizer of toxins in the body.
- Identify and eliminate problem foods that may cause allergic reactions and inflammation in the body such as too much dairy, soy, gluten, corn, etc.
- Choose to stick with a low fat/good fat, high fiber, high-quality protein diet that is loaded with fresh fruits and leafy greens and your odds for beating breast cancer just got better!