Proactive Health Care for your Breasts
It is common in a Naturopathic practice to see a new patient who has been diagnosed with breast cancer and wants to use natural therapies to avoid surgery or chemotherapy. It is unfortunate that it is often too late once a malignant tumor has formed in the breast tissue to rely solely on natural therapies. At this point, reversing a change in structure (when a lump has already formed and become malignant) is only rarely successful without surgery or chemotherapy. We need to be thinking about our breast health from our teen years until our senior years, before breast cancer and after breast cancer.
Breast tissue contains cells that respond to hormones and fatty tissue that stores fat-soluble toxins like synthetic hormones and pesticides. These factors make breast tissue particularly vulnerable to the cellular damage that leads to cancer. The most effective use of natural therapies is to improve cellular function and prevent cancer by promoting the normal, healthy activity of breast tissue. Preventive strategies must start early when the body is still capable of reversing abnormalities.
Promoting Breast Health
The known risk factors for breast cancer development (including family history, genetics, and prolonged exposure to estrogen) account for only 30% of women diagnosed with breast cancer. The factors affecting the rest appear to be related to lifestyle choices that we individually have the power to change. Reducing the negative effects of chronic stress and optimizing immune function are powerful tools in minimizing the changes of developing cancer.
- Sleep in complete darkness to optimize melatonin production, a hormone considered to be protective in breast cancer. Night shift workers are 60% more likely to get diagnosed with breast cancer.
- Increase your vegetable intake to 5-8 servings a day. Include green, red, yellow and orange ones to increase your consumption of anti-oxidant compounds. Try to eat seasonally, locally and organically to optimize nutritional value. You can also try Greens powders for extra nutrients.
- Eat more Broccoli and Cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Kale, and Collard Greens. These are high in a plant compound that makes estrogen less toxic to breast tissue.
- Consume fiber rich foods like raw nuts and seeds, legumes, whole grains and fruits and veggies to maintain a healthy gut microflora. This is a key component of a healthy immune system.
- Choose Organic Foods -herbicides and pesticides on produce as well as hormones found in conventional meats and dairy have been implicated in breast cancer. The most important foods to purchase organic are milk cheese, yogurt, eggs, meat, strawberries, corn based products, spinach, bell peppers, apples, peaches, celery and grapes.
- Eliminate Hydrogenated Fats and Trans fats – these cause cellular damage. Choose organic butter or organic coconut butter instead of margarine, use extra virgin olive oil, grapeseed oil at low heat for stir frying and try flax, hemp , walnut , sesame, and almond on salads instead of refined oils.
- Avoid sugar and all artificial sweeteners -sugar suppresses the immune system and can feed cancer cells. Insulin resistance caused by poor eating habits can promote cancer cells. Artificial sweeteners such as Spenda and Aspartame cause hormone imbalances.
- Exercise – 4 hours per week can result in a 37% reduction in risk for breast cancer. Yoga is an excellent form of exercise for breast health.
- Improve Lymphatic Circulation – dry skin brushing, lymphatic massage and rebounder exercises (a small trampoline sold as a special tool for exercise) help your body to eliminate toxins by improving lymphatic flow.
- Take off your Bra – wearing a bra for more than 12 hours a day increases breast cancer risk by a factor of 6. Stretchy, cotton bras without underwire allow more movement of the breasts, allowing better removal of toxins from the breasts by the lymphatic system.
- Stop Smoking- this increases your risk of breast cancer as well as most other cancers
- Do not use the birth control pill unless it is strictly for contraception. The pill is a source of synthetic estrogen and depletes your body of folic acid, B12, B6, magnesium, Vitamin C and zinc. Folic acid is especially important in cancer prevention. If you suffer from cramps, acne or other menstrual conditions, seek out a Naturopathic Doctor who will help you treat the cause of our health concerns by helping to balance your hormones.
- Know your breasts – get to know your breasts with gentle massage when you apply natural body lotion after a daily bath or shower. (Even better is applying castor oil externally on the breasts to increase lymphatic circulation, break down adhesions and increase immune cell activity in the tissues.) Being familiar with the feel of your breast tissue will help you be more comfortable and effective when you perform breast self-exams.
- Limit Radiation Exposure – repeated x-ray exposure may increase the risk of breast cancer. Using infrared Thermography as a screening tool is particularly useful for women in their 20’s to 40’s since mammography is not seen as being accurate in detecting breast cancer in this age group. Visit www.medthermonline.com for more information.
- Limit exposure to chemicals in cleaning products and all beauty care products. Women tend to use a lot of synthetic lotions, anti-perspirants, and perfumes that enter the blood stream and can be stored in the breast tissue or promote abnormal breast cells. It is well known that we are exposed to more toxins in the home that outdoors. Seek out natural versions of these products. For more information on healthy alternatives, check out www.lesstoxicguide.ca or www.cosmeticdatabase.com
- Avoid Bisphenol A whenever possible. BPA is a chemical molecule that mimics estrogen in the body. This chemical is an endocrine (hormone) disruptor that may increase the risk for developing hormonally based cancers, including breast, prostate and endometrial cancers, and may lead to infertility or affect the onset of puberty. BPA is primarily used in the manufacturing of rigid plastic products but is also found in canned foods and beverages; especially acidic fruits and vegetables where it stops the contents from eroding the metal container. Many (but not all) plastics containing BPA can be identified by a triangle symbol with the number 7 inside. BPA leaches into the contents of the container, even without the addition of heat, and then makes its way into the consumer’s body. BPA creates long term health risks for everyone, however, infants, children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, those with chemical or environmental sensitivities, and the immune-compromised are especially vulnerable. Eliminate the use of BPA-containing products by choosing fresh produce, and foods stored in glass or cardboard. Eden organics produces canned products whose lining does not contain BPA. Store, cook and reheat food in glass or ceramic containers and cookware. Avoid beverages in plastic bottles & avoid freezing beverages in plastic bottles which accelerates the leaching of plastic into the beverage. Opt for glass bottles, or take beverages with you in stainless steel containers. At home and work avoid plastic and Styrofoam cups, choosing a glass and pitcher or stainless steel or ceramic mug instead. Do not use plastic of ANY KIND (container, TV dinner, plastic wrap cover, etc) in the microwave – use tempered glass. Read labels and ask retailers about alternative products such as: Klean Kanteens, Born Free baby products, or a stainless steel Thermos
- Practice Self-Nurturance – the breasts symbolize nurturance. Many times women are so busy taking care of others that they forget to listen to their own needs.
- See a Naturopathic Doctor- In addition to these general guidelines, a Naturopathic Doctor can offer more specific recommendations like detoxification and immune support and assessments based on your individual needs. Remember that it can take ten years for breast cancer to grow to a detectable size. Proactive Naturopathic strategies encourage healthy breast function. There is no time like the present to take charge of your life, for the sake of you and your breasts.