Author: Dr. Gary Huber, DO
Take control of your breast health and learn the simple truths for long term health. The information here will help you reduce risk and improve outcome. Vital reading for everyone.
Breast cancer is so prevalent in our culture that everyone has either been affected by it, either directly or indirectly. Everyone knows someone who has had breast cancer. A great deal of attention is paid to the “Pink Ribbon” campaigns - and bravo for raising awareness - however, what we need, more acutely, are answers on how to control our risk today. There are answers in literature but they don't seem to get the same “awareness” and this needs to change. The lifestyle decisions you make on a daily basis are either increasing your risk for breast cancer or moving you towards optimal breast health. In this article we discuss the power you can have over your body and breat health, simply by increasing your awareness and making better choices.
Estrogen in isolation is not the cause of breast cancer. If it were, then every 25 year old woman would be at the oncology office. Estrogen is a wonderful hormone that keeps women (and men) healthy and productive. The problem with estrogen only arises when it becomes “oxidized”. This occurs when we consume risky foods and engage in risky lifestyle habits that produce excess oxidative stress on the body. We turn healthy estrogen into a toxin by exposing it to known toxins in our lifestyle. We choose habits that alter estrogens ability to exit our body in a safe and healthy fashion. Risky lifestyle choices greatly increase a woman’s chances of getting cancer. But no one talks about what those choices are? Did you know that your intake of alcohol or coffee can greatly influence risk? How about the chemicals contained in plastic products like water bottles? And what about your valuable immune system that is in all of us to help find and rid out bodies of cancer cells. Is it healthy? If our lifestyle choices result in increased oxidative stress and increased intake of toxins then these influences may “oxidize” our valuable estrogen turning it into a potential vehicle that can create harm.
One concept to keep in mind is the understanding that we all have cancer cells in our body all the time. Cancer cells form on a regular daily basis as the result of abnormal replication. Intake of carcinogens or cancer stimulating elements such as toxins, food chemicals, plastics, etc can increase the rate at which we are likely to form these cancer cells. Whether or not that one cancer cell can multiple into a full-blown tumor is largely dependent upon our immune system, our lifestyle and our diet. Are we feeding that cancer or are we killing it with our daily choices?
This article will highlight more than 20 different decision points that you control on a daily basis and with this information you can put a lot of distance between you and a diagnosis of breast cancer and avoid ever making an appearance in a surgical suite. This is not about running, or living in fear, it’s about taking positive action and engaging a proactive mindset to take control of your own destiny.
It is impossible to talk about breast health without acknowledging the huge impact of hormones. But just the word “hormones,” needlessly strikes fear into the hearts of so many women. Most of this fear is the direct result of a clinical study from 2002 called the Women’s Health Initiative. Drugs such as Premarin and Provera had been used for years to treat the symptoms of menopause. Lets first acknowledge that Premarin and Provera are not hormones. At least they are not human hormones. They are drug compounds that have been designed to alter human physiology. So when you hear “hormone replacement therapy” you have to ask the not so obvious question, “what are you replacing the hormone with?” Replacing them with actual hormones has a completely different and beneficial outcome compared to replacing them with drugs. The Women’s Health Initiative study of 2002 did not use any hormones in their study. They only studied drug treatment.
Premarin is one of the original drugs designed to replace estrogen and was made from pregnant horse urine by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals back in 1942. I would have loved to be there at that first meeting when that first guy raised his hand and said “how about giving women the urine from a pregnant horse”. But you know what . . . they did it. It was so heavily promoted by Wyeth that by the year 2000 it was generating 2 billion dollars yearly. Wyeth had even hired a physician by the name of Robert Wilson and paid him a million dollars back in 1966 to write a book called “Feminine Forever” that praised the wonderful virtues of this miracle drug.
They later combined a new drug called Provera to act as a replacement for progesterone. Provera does not behave anything like progesterone in the human body. Provera is in a drug class called “progestin”. Progestins are used in birth control pills to prevent pregnancy. Here’s the real difference in these two compounds: progestins like Provera have been proven to cause cancer. Progesterone on the other hand has been shown in clinical studies to protect the breast tissue against the possibility of cancer. Need more evidence? When a woman is pregnant in her third trimester she will produce upwards of 400 mg per day of progesterone to support the health of the fetus. Compare that to a progestin like Provera which will lead to birth defects. Do you really think these two compounds are the same?
Bio-identical hormone replacement is not the focus of this article but I wanted to provide a little background so that you aren't carrying some misguided belief that estrogen is the boogieman.
The BRCA genes are becoming more familiar to people outside the medical community. The BRCA (breast cancer) genes suppress cancer by producing a protein that repairs damaged DNA. A cancer cell is nothing more than a cell that got its DNA scrambled and begins to grow in an abnormal fashion. These things happen every day. Concept #1: we all have cancer cells. The real question is, can this cell survive and rapidly multiply to become a tumor. BRCA genes produce a protein that repairs broken or scrambled DNA so that these cells can be restored to normal function. BUT . . . if these BRCA genes are mutated or abnormal then they can’t produce the valuable protein that fixes DNA and so cancer cells can merrily grow and divide. These “mutated” BRCA genes can give rise to an increased risk for breast, ovarian, prostate and other cancers. Men with BRCA genes can have an increased risk for prostate cancer.
There are hundreds of known mutated BRCA genes. Women who have an abnormal BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene may have an increased risk of developing breast cancer by age 70. The occurrence rate of breast cancer in this country is roughly 12%, and this risk elevates to 65% or higher if you carry an abnormal BRCA gene. Risk of ovarian cancer is also increased from 1.5% to 30% in abnormal BRCA gene carriers. These numbers come from the National Cancer Institute but are admittedly biased as the studies used to make these estimates came from research of families with high cancer rates. The National Cancer Institute admits that lifestyle and environmental factors were not considered and may falsely elevate these numbers. It is also important to note that not all carriers developed cancer? Makes you wonder what these BRCA (+) women were doing that allowed them to avoid cancer doesn’t it?
Allow me to offer a few numbers that are a little more reassuring. The BRCA genes only exist in 1 out of every 750 women. Only 1.7% of all breast cancer cases below the age of 70 are due to BRCA 1 genes. An English study reported that in the general population, breast cancer due to BRCA are 5.3% below age 40, 2.2% at age 40 to 49, and 1.1% if you are above 50 years of age. Obviously the risk is greater for the younger population, so all the more important to manage your diet and lifestyle as early as you can and to teach your daughters the value of this important lesson. One number that has never been studied is; what percentage of women who possess an abnormal BRCA gene develop cancer when they live a healthy lifestyle and practice good nutritional habits?
Obviously your genes are not a death sentence. They are merely a preview of what “might” happen if you first turn these genes ON and secondly begin to FEED the cancer cells.
Diet & Lifestyle
You can’t change your genes but you can manage their expression. How? By what you do on a daily basis. Your hormones are also under your control and will respond to diet and lifestyle choices you make.
How large is your influence? Ninety percent of the factors that influence whether cancer grows are directly under your control - 90%! So let’s roll up our sleeves and dig into this issue of diet and lifestyle and their impact on cancer.
Each of the following elements has scientific support regarding the ability to promote healthy breast tissue or reverse abnormalities. Each has a role to play but no individual item can stand alone as THE key to success. Like most of the body’s processes it is a collective effort and our result is directly related to our consistent practice of healthy habits.
Over consumption of caffeine can contribute to fibrocystic breeast changes that are associated with an increased risk for breast cancer. Fibrocystic changes are regarded as beningn but studies show they appear in correlation with an increased breast cancer occurrence.
Caffeine has been shown to alter the p53 suppressor gene, which can increase risk for breast cancer or make it more difficult to treat. The p53 gene makes a protein that slows the growth of an abnormal or precancerous cell but this gene is adversely affected by large caffeine doses. One cup of coffee usually contains 120mg of caffeine unless it’s Starbucks and then you can just double the numbers. A venti sized regular brewed coffee from Starbucks has 400 mg of caffeine. Risk of breast changes occurs at >250 mg of caffeine and becomes severe at 400 mg per day.
Action #1: One to two cups of coffee per day is the limit. If you eat chocolate or tea or soda with caffeine then you should limit coffee even further.
Sugar & Insulin
Both sugar and insulin feeds cancer cells. Cancer cells shout with glee at the site of sugar in the diet. Studies have shown that estrogen responsive cancer cells can easily be deprived of estrogen and be fed insulin instead and they love it. So where is the sugar in your diet? It may be soda and candy but for the majority of us it lives in the form of bread, rice, pasta and potato. These starchy carbs turn to sugar within seconds of consumption. Remember the concept stated above, that we all have cancer cells right now. Are you feeding them or starving them?
Sugar will suppress your immune system. Studies show that a bolus of sugar will reduce the activity of lymphocytes and macrophages leaving you vulnerable. If your breakfast is cereal and toast (sugar), your lunch is a bread sandwich and chips (sugar and carbs) and dinner contains a potato or pasta (sugar) then you may be suppressing your immune cells all day long thus providing an environment ripe for cancer growth. Insulin is the surest way to age fast and shorten your life. Uncontrolled insulin levels lead to degenerative disease such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer.
Action #2: Try removing the high glycemic, starchy carbohydrates from your diet for a month and see if you notice a difference in how you feel. You will most likely see a difference on the scale as well. At the very least, look to identify where they are in your diet and become conscious of how prevalent they are.
Organic fruits, vegetables and meats are free of pesticides and herbicides and offer greater nutrient value with more anti-oxidants, more minerals, and more phytonutrients than traditional varieties. I often hear people state that they don’t want to pay the extra money for organic items and I truly understand your financial reservations BUT . . . the few coins you save by buying toxic fruits and vegetables will be a tiny sum compared to your medical and oncology bill as the result of consistent intake of toxins. We know the toxic chemicals are in these foods, it’s guaranteed. Why would we consciously choose to swallow them?
To help you cut corners and save where you can I offer you the following list of the Dirty Dozen. If you were to always buy organic from the list of most heavily contaminated foods and save money by buying regular varieties of the least contaminated crops, you could reduce your intake of toxins by 90%. This comes to us from the work of the Environmental Working Group and I encourage you to check out their site (www.ewg.org).
Many pesticides and herbicides mimic estrogens effect and are known as “Xeno-estrogen” or foreign estrogens. This excess of foreign estrogen is dangerous for both women and men. Many of these chemicals are known carcinogens.
Israel had one of the highest breast cancer rates in the world but when they banned organochlorine pesticides (DDT, BHC, lindane) they saw an 8% drop in breast cancer deaths while the rest of the world reported increases.
Action #3: Get in the habit of buying organic fruits and vegetables and keep a list of the “Dirty Dozen” in your wallet or purse so you can reference it in the grocery store. Ask me for a “Health Passport” which has the list written inside.
Grass fed organic beef and organic chicken and eggs offer important protein, B12 vitamins and other nutrients hard to get from vegetables. If your budget doesn’t allow you to buy ALL organic, then I recommend you spend your organic dollars on meat rather than vegetables.
Traditional meat contains hormones and antibiotics which are more dangerous in cancer promotion that the pesticides and herbicides on plants. One FDA approved hormone that is shot into cattle is called Zeranol. This hormone was studied at Ohio State University where they exposed live cancer cells to a dose of 1/30th the approved amount and found that breast cancer cells loved it and grew like crazy. Grass fed beef contains very small amounts of saturated fats and contains the beneficial omega 3 fats. Look for organic eggs that contain a higher omega 3 content (they are feeding flax seeds to the chickens). For more information on organic beef see the article on this website “Organic grass fed beef versus, traditional toxic feedlot beef”.
Action #4: Whole Foods, Red Sun Farm (Loveland), Green Acres (Indian Hill), Free Soil Farms (Symmes) all offer grass fed organic beef. Go online to “EatWild.com” and get a list of organic farms in your area.
These guys are superheroes in disguise so get to know this list very well. The active compound, indole-3-carbonal in cruciferous vegetables gets converted to diindolylmethane, which has been shown to rid the body of excess estrogen (estrone) and aid the liver in converting estrone to beneficial metabolites and preventing its conversion into carcinogens. This little nutrient has been shown in multiple studies to have a powerful effect at influencing hormone balance and reducing the risk of many different types of cancer. Put this list of cruciferous vegetables on your refrigerator and make it a part of your long and healthy life. It will also influence your husband’s risk for prostate problems. If I could get every man, woman and child to eat at least four servings of cruciferous vegetables per week, I am confident we could reduce the workload of many oncologists.
Cruciferous veggies include: broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, mustard greens, collard greens, cauliflower, watercress, cabbage, arugala, chard, turnips, radish, bok choy, rutabagas. If you have never tried bok choy then you are missing out on the good stuff. Try a few new veggies and be delighted with how delicious good health can be. Try them in stir fry or as over roasted. Need recipes? See Katherine our dietitian.
Action #5: Cruciferous vegetables once daily. One cup raw or ½ cup cooked. Keep the list of cruciferous vegetables in your wallet or purse for grocery store reference.
I am a true believer in the science behind green tea polyphenols. The medical literature is replete with articles demonstrating its powerful effects, which range from fighting cancer to improving insulin receptor function, lowering blood sugar and blood lipids, and even aiding weight loss. Green tea has been shown to directly influence breast and prostate health and suppress most cancer types. Green tea influences cholesterol levels and protects the cardiovascular system by blocking oxidation of the bad LDL cholesterol. It has been shown in studies to lower the risk of abnormal clot formation thereby reducing heart attacks and stroke. The polyphenol, (EGCG) in green tea can prevent and treat many types of cancer. Green tea extracts have been shown in lab studies to inhibit tumor growth in breast, prostate, colon, stomach and ovarian cancer. But before you head off to brew yourself a cup let me inform you that more than 90% of the good polyphenols in green tea never leave the leaf. You need to eat the green tea leaves to get their most potent benefit. Easily done, and in fact has been an oriental tradition for centuries. The other option is to purchase green tea polyphenols as a supplement which will net the greatest amount of active catechins from green tea.
Action #6: We carry Green Tea Phytosome that offers 250mg of polyphenols per capsule. I recommend 2 to 3 per day. Drinking green tea is a healthy habit but also use the organic sencha green tea powder or grind the loose green tea leaf in a smoothie. Either way you get the whole leaf and 99x more EGCG than brewed tea.
Casein protein makes up 87% of the protein in dairy products and in my view is a cancer promoter. It is not a carcinogen, but we know from multiple studies that cultures with higher milk consumption demonstrate higher rates of breast cancer. Traditional milk contains estrogen and other synthetic hormones that promote breast cancer. IGF-1 is a hormone that is plentiful in cows given bovine growth hormone. Humans who drink the milk of these cows show high levels of IGF-1 which promotes cancer growth. Organic milk is devoid of excess hormones but still contains casein protein. I cannot find one healthy reason to consume dairy. It goes well with Oreo’s, and yes ice cream is wonderful but it has no health promoting properties and does promote breast cancer. Find substitutes such as “Purely Decadent” coconut milk ice cream (delicious) or organic soy, almond, or rice milk substitute.
Action #7: Clear your house of dairy products or at least buy organic dairy and keep consumption minimal. Remember that all those dairy ads are selling a product, not health.
Vitamin D turns off onco-genes (cancer genes), and has strong anti-cancer effects. Most people in Ohio and northern climates have low vitamin D levels. Vitamin D promotes a strong immune system and is one of your best defenses against the upcoming swine flu. In a study at Harvard in 2007, they followed 31,000 women (without getting arrested) for 10 years. The women with the highest level of vitamin D and calcium had the lowest occurrence of breast cancer (for premenopausal women). For more information on vitamin D go to “Vitamin D Counsel .com.” Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin and should not be taken in high doses without measuring your blood level. But a general recommendation of 2000 to 5000 units of vitamin D3 daily should be very safe for the vast majority of people. This is one of the easiest and most beneficial things you can do for your general health and breast health in particular. Blood levels need to be kept around 50 and even higher if you are receiving cancer treatment.
Action #8: Get your vitamin D level measured and take 2000 to 5000 units of D3 daily. Adjust dose based on lab finding. Shoot for a blood level around 50 ng/ml.
High Fiber Diet
Fiber in the diet will actually bind estrogens in the bowel and aid their removal from the body. In particular the “lignans” in certain foods such as flax seeds and soy (always organic) will bind the estrogens tightly in the bowel and escort them out of the body. Fiber in the intestines also gets fermented into food to feed the bowel lining. The bowel lining contains 70% of your immune system, which is ultimately what fights cancer cells, so keeping the bowel healthy is key to longevity and cancer-free health. If you have constipation to any degree than this is putting your breast health at risk. The longer your stool lies in your colon, then the more time your body has to extract used estrogens back into the blood circulation. Does it get any grosser than that? Used poop estrogen . . . yuk!
Action #9: Track fiber intake for 3 days and calculate your average. Google, “fiber chart” to assist your calculation. Reach for 35 to 40 grams per day, every day. Rely on beans to really boost your count. Vegetables are the next best source and avoid bread as a source of fiber in general as it is not the best source of fiber and is high in sugary carbohydrates. Using White Castles to resolve your constipation, although effective, is not recommended.
Saturated fats in moderation are not as harmful as once thought. In fact the majority of studies don’t show any connection between saturated fat intake and breast cancer. Butter and coconut oil are saturated fats and are good for your health in moderate amounts. Yes, I just said that “butter” is good for you, but if I catch you eating a whole stick like it was a corn dog then we will have to talk. Rely on these fats for your baking and some cooking. They are very stable and do not oxidize easily. Butter has butyric acid which helps feed the lining of the intestines and aids your immune system which is responsible for hunting down cancer cells for destruction.
Eating more monosaturated fats resulted in less cancer than those eating more polyunsaturated fats. Monosaturated fats are more stable, less oxidation, therefore less free radicals so less DNA damage. A good example of a monosaturated fat is olive oil. Don’t cook with olive oil as it has a low smoke point and will breakdown at temperatures over 250 degrees. So for cooking use grape seed oil or coconut oil, which is more heat tolerant or stick to butter.
Avoid polyunsaturated fat such as vegetable oils like corn oil, safflower, sunflower, and canola. Corn oil and canola oil are more dangerous than saturated fat. The vast majority of corn and canola oil are from genetically modified plants that contain a Round-Up gene infused into the plant DNA. I strongly recommend avoiding genetically modified foods.
Trans fats are the worst of all for creating oxidized lipids and cell damage. We’ll discuss trans fats more below.
Action #10: Keep butter, grape seed oil and coconut oil in the kitchen for cooking. Use olive oil for any other need such as a salad dressing or drizzling over cooked vegetables.
These are the best fats to eat for a multitude of reasons. They represent the most anti-inflammatory fat in the body and reduce joint, brain, bowel and overall body inflammation. They are found most abundantly in fish and fish oil. These wonderful fats keep your brain healthy and aid the cells ability to communicate with each other. They also help insulin receptors to function better so your body doesn’t become insulin resistant (diabetes). Omega 3 fats reduce the risk of insulin resistance, heart disease, hypercholesterolemia, depression, headaches, joint pain, and BREAST cancer. Do NOT use flax seed OIL. It is the most unstable of all the oils and oxidizes easily. Do eat ground flax seeds regularly. Buy it whole and grind up 2 tablespoons in a coffee mill to sprinkle on your salad or throw into your protein smoothie. Just remember that inflammation leads to cancer and these fats are anti-inflammatory.
Most people eat too much processed food that contains lots of omega 6 inflammatory fats. You need to get plenty of omega 3 to offset this dynamic and try to keep your omega 6 to omega 3 fat ratio at a healthy 2 to 1.
Action #11: Eat fish (salmon is best) at least once a week and preferably twice a week or more. Eat ground flax seed, 2 tablespoons per day. Take a fish oil (omega 3) capsules on days you don’t eat fish or even daily. Omega 3 fatty acids at a dose of 1500 mg per day (DHA + EPA) is excellent.
Vegetable Oils & Trans Fats
These are the worst and need to be avoided as much as possible. These are the fats used in fast foods and processed foods. Vegetable oils like corn oil, safflower, and sunflower contain high amounts of omega 6 fats, which can create inflammatory prostaglandins in the body.
Inflammatory prostaglandins increase the activity of the aromatse enzyme which creates more estrogen in the body and also increases free-radical-mediated DNA damage leading to cancer.
Trans fats are man-made artificially hydrogenated fats labeled as “partially hydrogenated oil” on food packages. They can block the actions of good fats, damage blood vessels and increase risk of heart disease and cancer. Throw away any food item containing these dangerous trans fats.
Action #12: Avoid vegetable oils and margarine. Use real butter. (There’s that butter recommendation again). Read labels and avoid processed foods such as chips, desserts, and many convenience foods that have these oils in them.
Avoid Fructose: Fructose can only be metabolized by the liver and as such it will monopolize the activity of the liver leaving important detoxification processes unaddressed. It can alter the efficiency of your liver’s ability to remove excess estrogen form the body, so estrogen levels rise. When the liver does breakdown fructose, the metabolites formed are the exact ingredients needed to make triglycerides. So consumption of high fructose corn syrup will greatly elevate your triglyceride level. It also causes a dysregulation of insulin receptor leading to higher levels of insulin that feed cancer cells. Fructose consumption does not trigger leptin release so you are not going to feel full which leads to increased calorie consumption and weight gain. Weight gain is associated with cancer potential and growth.
Action #13: Fructose and high fructose corn syrup are dangerous on many levels. Avoid all products with added fructose or high fructose corn syrup. Agave nectar is 95% fructose and should be avoided.
Low Glycemic Foods
The glycemic index identifies foods that have a high sugar content and release this sugar quickly. Find a glycemic index booklet or go online (Mendosa.com) and find a glycemic index. You will see that high glycemic foods include most grain products like breads, pastas, crackers, cereal, rice, and starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn. I frequently talk with patients who state that they eat a low sugar cereal in the morning. The unfortunate fact is, there are no low sugar cereals. Look at the label. It may say 5 grams of sugar PER CUP. I don’t know of anyone that actually eats just a cup of cereal. The rest of the label says it contains 25 to 40 grams of carbohydrate. That carbohydrate will be converted to sugar within 30 seconds of eating. So the result is a huge blast of sugar to your system. Cancer says, thanks!
Any food that causes a rapid rise in blood sugar will lead to insulin resistance and diabetes over time and this is a great way to fuel cancer growth. Cancer loves sugar and insulin so anything you can do reduce these will help. Also, a sugar blast will cripple your immune system for 5 to 6 hours at a time.
When you eat high fiber foods and vegetables they release their sugar over a long time frame and don’t cause spikes of insulin. Sugary foods like ice cream, candy and others should be a treat that occurs rarely or occasionally. The less insulin your produce over the course of your life, the longer you will live with less degenerative disease including cancer.
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is so destructive to your health that it requires its own chapter. Suffice it to say that HFCS is a genetically modified food that promotes cancer, allergies, and inflammation and reduces your livers ability to clear used hormones effectively leading to estrogen dominance and elevated breast cancer risk.
Action #14: Vegetables, beans and other low glycemic foods should be the mainstay of your diet. HFCS should be avoided like the plague that it truly is.
Water is the basic elixir of life. It is life giving and precious yet many people drink very little of it. Your body needs a minimum of 60 ounces per day and generally I recommend that you take your body weight divided by 2 and this equals the ounces of water you should drink daily as a MINIMUM. It serves to flush toxins from your liver and kidneys. It makes it possible to burn fat efficiently. Marginally dehydrated people lack good aerobic capacity and have difficulty shedding unwanted pounds. Without good water intake you are at risk for constipation, which severely alters proper estrogen removal and leads to increased estrogen production form bad bowel flora.
Water should come from a good filtered source such as a home reverse osmosis or micro pore system. These systems are inexpensive and remove toxins, pesticides, drugs, and chlorine from your water. Yes I said drugs. Did you know that your local water treatment plant is not responsible for removing birth control pills, psych meds, anti-hypertensive medication, cholesterol drugs or any medication from your water and that tests nation wide have revealed universal presence of these toxins in your water? Think about that the next time you hand a glass of water to your 4 year old. Please tell me you give your 4 year old water and not just juice and Gatorade.
The chlorine in water kills your precious bowel flora, the good bacteria that digest your food. Bottled water comes in a plastic container that leaks estrogen in the form of BPA as well as phthalates right into the filtered water you desire. Biphenol A is a xeno-estrogen used in the manufacturing of most plastics and should be aggressively avoided.
Action #15: Buy a home water filtration of reverse osmosis system and store your water in stainless steel, not plastic, bottles. If your out and about and need some water then don’t sweat the whole plastic thing but try to plan ahead as much as possible and just do your best.
Do you want to make cancer cells uncomfortable? Then surround them with oxygen, they hate that. Exercise increases the oxygen content in your tissues. Studies show that the more intense the exercise the more inhibitory its effect on cancer growth. Another bonus is that vigorous exercise leads to sweating which is an excellent way to remove toxins including heavy metals from your body. Exercise aids in efficient fat burning and we know that lean people experience far less cancer than overweight people.
Action #16: Make exercise a daily part of your life. If you are not an active exerciser, then start slow and shoot for three times a week. Try yoga, resistance training, bicycling, hit a heavy bag, go rollerblading, join a workout group for a more social component. Just get moving. And if you’re under the age of 80 don’t tell me that your idea of exercise is walking the dog. That’s a nice “activity” but that’s not exercise. Get that heart rate elevated to at least 120 beats per minute and keep it there for a minimum of 20 minutes. NOW you’re exercising.
BPA (bishenol A) is a xeno-estrogen and cancer promoter. Heating plastic in the microwave and even washing them in your dishwasher heats plastics to unsafe levels and fosters the loss of these estrogens into the food you eat. Cooking with plastic utensils, storing food in the freezer in plastic containers, and squeezing plastic condiment bottles all release more estrogen and phthalates into your food. Nalgene has BPA free plastic bottles and polypropylene (triangle “5”) is non-BPA. I still don’t trust any plastics in general and have gone to great lengths to get them out of my kitchen.
Action #17: Rely on stainless steel and glass as clean storage and cooking items whenever possible. Choose stainless steel water bottles over aluminum. When using plastic make sure it’s BPA-free. But don't choose plastic.
I know there are personalities and books out there celebrating the fact that they are comfortable with their overweight bodies but as a health care professional I have to tell you that the extra weight around your middle is a health hazard in many ways. That belly fat is not just sitting there innocently.
Belly fat produces estrogen. That’s right. That fat is also producing inflammatory chemicals called cytokines that promote cancer. Obesity is directly linked to increase cancer risk, and for women obesity correlates with 62% increase risk of cancer, and men show a 52% increased cancer risk. Excess weight will literally kill you and will shorten your life as well as the quality of your life.
Action #18: I am a huge believer in the human spirit and I know from experience that when you decide to make a change in your life and commit your mind body and soul to it then ANYTHING is possible. Believe in yourself. Find others who believe in you and lean on them for support. Plot a course of action, write down a literal step by step plan and then make it happen. Lose that weight and take control of your life. If you need help then call me. We have the most successful weight loss plan available anywhere – The Huber Personalized Professional Weight Loss Program. For a free consult call Penny at 513-366-2111.
A lack of sleep leads to increased inflammatory cytokines and generalized inflammation. If you sleep less than 5 hours a night then you have a 73% increased risk for obesity and this correlates to increased cancer risk. Lack of sleep will elevate cortisol, which increases cancer risk. Melatonin is a brain chemical that you produce at night to keep you sleeping for 8 hours. Melatonin stimulates healthy immune function is has been shown in studies to reduce cancer risk. It suppressed the growth of breast cancer cells by 75% in one study.
High melatonin levels reduce estrogen production from ovaries. Stress, poor diet, consumption of the artificial sweetener aspartame, consumption of MSG (and all of its subforms) will reduce melatonin production. Sleep is critically important and will be facilitated by regular exercise and a clean diet.
Action #19: Don’t take your sleep cycle for granted. If you have bad habits then address them: don’t use the computer two hours before bedtime, have an evening ritual and a consistent bedtime that allows for 7+ hours of sleep, and exercise each day to facilitate good sleep. If you need help sleeping then try taking melatonin in doses of 3 to 15 mg and adjust to need.
Stress? What stress? I don’t have stress! Just because I have to go to work and take care of the kids and buy all the groceries, pick up the dry cleaning, and clean up after the dog, and go to the parent teacher conference next Tuesday and then spend my weekend at a lovely soccer tournament 50 miles away, that’s just normal, that’s not stress!!!!
Cortisol along with insulin are two of the most dangerous chemicals we produce. Both are critically important to our proper function but both are metabolic wrecking balls when they get out of control.
Cortisol is your body’s response to stress. If you have daily unremitting stress then your cortisol will rise and lead to inflammation, weight gain, poor insulin function, poor immune function, muscle breakdown, fatigue, sleep disorder, thyroid suppression and general destruction. This is a common and broad reaching problem for many people and is often overlooked by the medical community. If this sounds like you then find a qualified practitioner who can help guide your recovery. Adrenal fatigue is strongly related to cancer via multiple avenues.
Action #20: Take stress seriously and take measures to control it. Stop and recall the things in your life that you are grateful for and remind yourself about what is most important in life. Many people have found an early grave in search of pointless trophies. Start meditating. I recommend a book”8 Minute Meditation” by Victor Davich as a great starting point. Just 8 minutes per day. Consider using Relora or other adaptogen to address stress. We can discuss these.
Alcohol consumption is linked to breast cancer. Stop crying. A little is fine, a lot is not. Moderate intake is considered one alcoholic beverage a day for women. Women don’t metabolize alcohol as efficiently as men which, incidentally, has been driving the dating scene since the dawn of time. Sorry, couldn’t help myself.
Consuming more than one drink per day has a direct correlation with cancer risk. Some studies, such as the UK’s “Million Women Study” would suggest even less. Results show risk increased with each drink above 2 per week. If greater than 2 drinks per day then significant rise was seen. Breast cancer risk increased 12 percent and rectal cancer rose 10 percent with each daily drink. Type of alcohol didn’t matter. Alcohol increases circulating levels of estrogen.
Action #21: Enjoy your life but limit drinks to 4 per week on average. If you have breast lumps or a strong family history then this becomes a more critical issue.
Acidosis: Cancer loves an acidic state. Too much dairy, meat, coffee, or alcohol will increase acidosis. Vegetables are alkali and reverse acidosis. Excessive exercise such as distance running or cycling can create a lot of lactic acid. Just be aware of your habits and if you are not a strong vegetable eater then check your salivary pH from time to time with some simple pH paper. Try to keep your salivary pH above 6.6 and preferably around 7.0 to 7.2.
Action #22: Get some pH paper (we carry it here in the office, HPM) and check your pH twice a week just to follow your general trend. Shoot for 7.0 as an average. If you are strongly acidic (pH= 6.0) then eat more vegetables, stay away from coffee and alcohol and take a ½ teaspoon of sodium bicarb (Arm & Hammer Baking Soda) 2 or three times day until pH rises to an appropriate level. Always take bicarb away from food so as not to buffer the stomach acid right before a meal.
Drug Induced Nutrient Depletions
Many drugs lead to the loss of minerals, vitamins and other nutrients from your body. One of the worst is birth control pills which rob you of all of folic acid, all of the B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, selenium, and zinc. Selenium, magnesium, and zinc all play active roles in your body’s immune system and in your cancer defense.
Action #23: If you are a patient of mine then we are already addressing this.
Petrochemicals & Xeno-Estrogens
Beware these chemicals in your personal environment. Petrochemicals include: all plastics, all pesticides and herbicides, solvents, glues, cosmetics, nail polish and polish removers, dry cleaning chemicals, detergent breakdown products, gasoline and diesel products, car exhaust, PCB’s and dioxins, emulsifiers and waxes found in soaps.
You are surrounded by them but you can choose to eliminate as much as possible. Your tap water contains birth control pills and other chemicals. These chemicals have an estrogen effect, a true hormonal effect on your body that elevates your cancer risk. Identify where these are in your life and reduce your exposure as much as possible. Imagine the effect of wearing a dry cleaned jacket that is outgassing chemicals (perchloroethylene and trichloroethylene) right beneath your nose all day. There are more natural cosmetics that do not use petroleum products such as the Aveda and Arbonne lines as well as others.
Go The Environmental Working Group - Skin Deep and look up every beauty product, soap, conditioner and lotion that you are using to see if it has toxins or estrogens. This site lists 79,000 products and reviews their safety.
Action #24: Clean up you cosmetic use and go organic. Be aware of dry cleaning dangers and air out your dry cleaned clothes before use. Scrutinize every product in your home and slowly over time reduce your exposure to toxins.
Recent research has found a link between thyroid disease and breast cancer. For some people an alteration in their immune system from exposure to heavy metals such as mercury or lead may cause their immune system to form antibodies against their own thyroid gland. Food allergies can also irritate the immune system leading to this autoimmune (self attacking self) dysfunction. You may be totally unaware of this phenomena occurring in your body and it often goes undetected for years. The problem is that these antibodies you are forming can be attacking and damaging your thyroid response. Beyond that, this type of immune response has now been linked to breast cancer. Thyroid disease was present in 46% of all breast cancer patients compared to just 14% in controls. Blood measures of active thyroid hormones showed no difference between breast cancer patients and controls, so a simple screening test will not detect this issue. Your doctor needs to test for TPO and ATA antibodies. Breast cancer patients had a 58% occurrence of diffuse goiter or nodular goiter compared to just 30% occurrences in controls. It is not clear if thyroid antibodies are a reflection of poor immune status and driving cancer or the other way around. This clinical correlation needs further definition but simply be aware of the relationship.
Action #25: Ask your doctor to test your blood for thyroid peroxidase antibodies and antithyroglobulin antibodies.
Change is all there is: Moving forward with confidence
Life does not stand still. Everything in nature is constantly evolving and changing. Whether you have had perfect health, normal mammograms, fibrocystic breast disease, or a history of treated breast cancer, your body’s battle against cancer goes on each and every day that you are alive. Whether you participate or not, your body is changing. So the real question is; are you sitting on the sidelines allowing your environment and your circumstance to decide your future or are you in the game taking an active role and dictating the direction of your health? Your body is changing right now but under whose influence?
Take one or two of the items above that you feel confident with and start making changes today. Write down a plan and gradually shift your diet and lifestyle. Read and reread this guideline until it is etched in your brain and becomes your own personal manifesto. The changes listed above not only represent your best defense against breast cancer but are also the best way to improve your overall health. Enacting the diet and lifestyle changes will lead to the loss of excess fat, better insulin function and avoidance of diabetes and hypertension.
This conversation wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t shed some light on the issue of mammography. The issue is as clear as mud. The short answer is; it’s a not a great test and is fraught with difficulties but the reality is that it’s one of the few tests available to screen for changes in breast tissue. I will share with you a few of the hard statistics that presently exist to highlight the difficulty with mammography. I will share with you the recommendations of experts in the field.
Mammography is radiation and radiation causes cancer. The average dose of radiation from one mammogram is 1 RAD (radiation absorbed dose). Now consider that this dose is cumulative and you will be having them yearly. Dr. Frank Rauscher of the National Cancer Institute reports that 1 RAD from each mammogram will increase breast cancer risk by 1%. Other experts have suggested the number may even be 2% per year. So after 10 years of annual exams you will have raised your risk for developing breasts cancer by 10 to 20%.
DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) has increased 328% since mammography screenings were introduced. It is estimated that two hundred percent of this is due to the mammogram itself. I am not saying we should abandon mammograms but these facts are seldom shared with women. Full disclosure is important if we are to make informed decisions.
Mammograms tend to be less accurate in younger, denser breasts but are slightly more accurate in older patients. One Swedish study of 60,000 women showed that 70% of the mammograms that looked suspicious for cancer were wrong. Of course this lead to thousands of needless biopsies. 5% of all mammograms show some abnormality but the false positive rate (suspicion of cancer that proves to be benign) runs somewhere between 70 to 93% depending on which study you look at.
We might be able to justify this if mammograms were excellent at detecting cancer but unfortunately they often miss existing cancer anywhere from 25 to 40% of the time. Dr. Epstein’s book, “The Politics of Cancer” states that in women 40 to 49, mammogram misses active breast cancer detection in 25% of cases. The National Cancer Institute reports missed cancers at a rate of 40% in this same age group. The miss rate drops as women get older but is still 10% in women greater than age 50.
Now when you combine the sensitive nature of young breast tissue with the fact that younger breasts are more dense which makes mammograms less reliable, then you arrive at the following discovery: The National Cancer Institute reports that younger women are more sensitive to the radiation exposure involved in mammography and the mammogram itself could cause 75 cases of breast cancer for every 15 it identifies.
NIH reports that for women under the age of 35 the risk of breast cancer is not high enough to warrant the risk of mammography. Yet you will read from some of the mammogram zealots that you should get a baseline mammogram at age 35. For women over age 55 the benefit outweighs the risk. The questionable group are those women between the age of 40 to 50.
A Canadian study in 1992, the National Breast Cancer Study, reports that mammograms had no positive effects on mortality for age 40 to 50 and may actually increase risk. This means it did not reduce the death rate and may have actually lead to increased deaths due to more breast cancers secondary to the radiation. Our own National Institute of Health here in the US formed a consensus panel in 1997 and ruled that there was no evidence that mammograms saved lives in women age 40-49 and may do more harm than good.
The number of women screened in order to find and stop one death per year ranges from 7086 to 63,264 to infinity depending on which study you read. Most breast cancers are slow growing and are not palpable until they are greater than 1 centimeter in size. By that time a full 25% have already metastasized. The cost and inefficiency of this system not to mention the fear and pain caused by false positives leads us to pursue new answers. Something as safe and simple as thermography deserves a closer look by every woman. It detects heat patterns from increased blood flow associated with tumor growth. Thermography is not perfect either but it is a non-toxic option especially for younger women looking for a safe screening tool.
Breast “thermography” is a great adjunct that when used in conjunction with self exam and mammography would increase sensitivity (the ability to find cancer) to 98% and would reduce the need for unnecessary surgeries. MRI (non-radiation) is now also being used for breast evaluation but is very expensive and so most insurance companies won’t cover the cost until after you have already had a mammogram and ultrasound and shown a need for further testing.
I will state again that I am not suggesting we abandon mammography but we need to be aware of it’s potential harm as we formulate better recommendation strategies for the monitoring of breast cancer. It also makes the lifestyle and diet choices listed above a bit more attractive when you realize that these habits might greatly reduce the odds of your mammogram ever appearing abnormal.
If you are interested in exploring your ideal health and ensuring good hormone balance contact Huber Personalized Medicine and make an appointment to see Dr. Gary Huber or Dr. Vivian Newbold for a consult.