“What can I do to minimize my risk of developing breast cancer?” asks Ann, my 28-year-old patient from Kahala, who has a family history of the disease. I tell her that numerous studies have suggested a link between breast cancer, diet and lifestyle. Many breast cancer patients choose to make diet and lifestyle changes to help prevent a recurrence, but Ann wants to be proactive in her efforts to prevent breast cancer by making immediate changes in her lifestyle and dietary habits.
One in eight women living in the United States today may get breast cancer during her lifetime. Each year 175,000 new diagnoses are made. According to Bob Arnot, M.D., author of “The Breast Cancer Prevention Diet,” many factors lead to the growth and development of a breast tumor. Genetics, such as a positive family history, is one factor; poor nutrition is another. The two combined can lead to the initiation and promotion of a tumor.
What do I tell my patients to do to help prevent breast cancer?
*Eat fruits and vegetables! The American Cancer Society reports that eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day may decrease the risk of cancer. (A serving is one cup raw – or one-half cup cooked – fruits or vegetables.) In 1994, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition stated that “the evidence is overwhelming that an abundant intake of fruits and vegetables can play an important role in reducing cancer incidence.” And remember, vitamin supplementation is not a substitute for a fresh, whole foods diet.
Antioxidants, found in many fruits and vegetables, have also been reported to help prevent breast cancer. Antioxidants are compounds that protect tissues (or cells) from damage. Antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and selenium.
One plant nutrient, Indole-3-Carbinol, found in cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage), has been shown in studies to play a significant role in the prevention of breast cancer. This compound enhances the breakdown of estrogen, a hormone known to affect breast tissue; too much estrogen can promote breast cancer.
*Decrease total fat intake! This applies especially to saturated fat found in meats. Use flax and fish oils instead. Studies have reported a decreased incidence of breast cancer in women who have high levels of these “favorable” fats in their breast tissue.
*Exercise! According to Dr. Arnot, women who exercise regularly have a lower incidence of breast cancer than sedentary women. Exercise potentially lowers body fat, which can have favorable effects on estrogen levels.
*Eat soy products! Although there has been some question about the role that soy plays in breast cancer, numerous studies have shown a positive relationship between soy consumption and a reduced risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer. A moderate intake has been reported to help block the estrogen receptors in breast tissue.
*Purchase organic food! Or, if you buy non-organic, always wash your produce thoroughly to remove any agricultural chemicals. According to Charles Simone, M.D., author of “Breast Health,” many of the pesticide residues found on food can get stored in the fatty tissue of the breast and may have a significant impact on the initiation and promotion of breast cancer.
Ann was excited to know there are steps she can take to promote breast health. She says she has never felt better since making changes in her diet and lifestyle. Her weight is down, and her energy is up. Not only is she doing everything she can to prevent the breast cancer that her mother had, but she is feeling fabulous doing it! Ann feels so good being an active participant in her health care that she is confident she will continue to make healthy choices.
Article was originally printed in the Honolulu Advertiser, honoluluadvertiser.com.