Reduce Breast Cancer Risk Naturally:
6 Tips to Help Improve Your Body’s Defences
I don’t pretend to know everything about breast cancer prevention. All I know is that it scares me. I also know that we can boost our bodies’ defenses through whole, natural foods and an active and stress-free lifestyle. Whether or not our genes play along in our efforts to defend ourselves against this awful disease is anyone’s guess. But I have to believe that my healthy choices will benefit me in the end.
And, isn’t a positive attitude one of the best things we can carry with us when it comes to maintaining good health?
What Causes Breast Cancer?
This is the million dollar question, isn’t it? If we truly knew, wouldn’t someone have found a cure? This sentiment goes for all cancers, I suppose, because if we really, truly knew what caused cancer, you’d think there would be fewer instances of it.
The fact remains that most cancer seems to be on the rise. On the plus side, breast cancer, while it may hit 1 in 10 women in their lifetime, is actually starting to decrease. Speculation on this is that more women are taking their health into their own hands, opting for healthier food choices, more exercise and better self-care.
The Strength of Your Immune System
Breast cancer, like most cancer, is most likely caused by lowered immunity. Your immune system attacks and removes mutated cells from your body all the time. Unfortunately, your immune system can become weakened by so many things that it’s tough to keep it functioning optimally.
If the immune system doesn’t have the resources it needs to eliminate those mutated cells, they tend to take over, growing beyond the capabilities of our normal defenses. Tumors develop and disease sets in.
(Some women do have genetic factors that contribute to their risk of breast cancer. It could be that the gene turns ‘on’ because of age, lifestyle, low immunity, nutrient deficiency or something else.)
Choice is Your #1 Defense
Making healthy choices to try your best to avoid breast cancer is your #1 defense. And, there are tons of options to choose from.
There are some good herbs and foods that help build up immunity. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine can help strengthen your energies and improve your natural defenses to keep you healthy. And, herbs like chasteberry, ginseng and soy extracts inhibit breast cancer cell growth. Curcumin is anti-inflammatory and lycopene in tomatoes helps reduce overall breast cancer risk.
Immunity is highly reliant on the health of other body systems. A positive outlook and acknowledgement of any anger, resentment or fear help to manage mental health and its relationship with the physical body. And, there are some important body organs and systems that need to function at their best to help boost immunity and keep you as cancer-free as possible.
Your Digestion and Gut Microbiome
Your body needs an array of nutrients to maintain good health. These nutrients must be able to get to the cells and tissues that need them; it’s not good enough to eat your fruits and vegetables every day if the nutrients are just flushing right through you.
Weak digestion is very common. Low stomach acid prevents the proper breakdown of your food into usable particles.
And, an imbalance in good to bad gut bacteria makes absorption of nutrients even harder. Undigested food particles feed bad bacteria which can then easily take over the good. Without adequate good bacteria, your body can’t manufacture some important vitamins. Plus, bad bacteria create toxins that irritate the gut, leak into the body, and cause allergies and liver toxicity.
A study from 2016 found that women with breast cancer had higher levels of bad bacteria in their gut than women without cancer. Women with healthy breasts had higher levels of Lactobacillus and Streptococcus bacterial strains; both of these are confirmed to be anti-carcinogenic.
What You Can Do
To improve digestion, chew each bite of food until it’s absolutely pulverized, up to 40 times. If you suspect weak digestion, drink a glass of water with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar about 5 minutes before a meal.
Improve the gut microbiome by taking a good-quality probiotic every day. Look for a multi-strain variety with at least 5 billion cultures. (Avoid choosing one that is too high in cultures as it may make you sick.) Eat 2-3 servings of fermented foods every day, like sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, unsweetened yogurt, kefir, or very dark chocolate. And, include at least 50 grams of fiber in your daily diet to help feed the good bacteria. Apples, asparagus, jicama, Jerusalem artichoke, whole grains and ground flaxseeds are great choices.
Your liver performs over 500 different functions to help keep you safe, healthy and alive. With respect to breast cancer, the liver helps breakdown excess hormones that may influence the growth of cancerous cells. It’s also the first line of defense for any pathogens, toxins and debris that enters the blood from the digestive tract. If the liver is overloaded with too many toxins and chemicals, these continue to circulate in the blood and the immune system is activated. Low-grade inflammation occurs, which can lead to diseases like Type II diabetes, stroke, and, yes, even cancer.
Your liver detoxifies in a two-phase system. During phase I, the body pulls fat-soluble toxins from fat cells, nerves, the brain, kidneys and other tissues. Then phase II prepares the toxins for removal from your body. If your liver is healthy and working great, these two phases function efficiently.
Some people have genetic factors that slow down either phase I or phase II liver detoxification while other may have issues depending on their toxicity levels or nutritional levels. Some foods, such as grapefruit, can slow down certain parts of phase I liver detoxification. And alcohol can use up the resources needed for estrogen detoxification.
What You Can Do
A vegetarian-based diet will help the liver perform its detoxification processes better. Red wine, green tea, turmeric, ginger and certain spices have polyphenols that help reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases. And, nutrients found in broccoli, kale, cauliflower and cabbage promote better liver detoxification.
Healthy phase II detoxification is especially important because this is where carcinogens are detoxified by the liver. Roughly 70% of all cancers are thought to be caused by the effects of carcinogens from our environments, such as from pollution, pesticides and chemicals in brand-name health and beauty products.
And, elimination needs to be working too, so that means a healthy colon and kidneys. Drink lots of water and eat a minimum of 25 grams of fiber daily. Soluble fiber from apples, flax and oatmeal are preferred.
Note: Long-term, restrictive fasts or juice-only cleanses can lower immunity and reduce liver function. They lack the nutrients needed to keep your body healthy and strong. A whole foods-based liver cleansing diet is a great way to jumpstart your detoxification process. If you need some help, check out my 10-day Total Body Reset program.
Chronic stress elevates the immune response within the body. While acute inflammation is great for taking care of a cut or a bruise, chronic inflammation is associated with disease, depression and cancer.
A study with mice found that an elevated inflammatory response can cause the immunity defense cells to proliferate out of control into cancerous tumors. Chronic inflammation from elevated stress levels alters the genetic material that helps kill of pathogens by the immune system. Instead of protecting us against foreign invaders, these same cells replicate and mutate into cancerous growths.
What You Can Do
Practice stress relief and stress management often. I recommend at least 10 minutes every day for activities that make you laugh, relax and clear your head. Exercise is great for relaxation plus skeletal movement promotes pumping of lymphatic fluid around the body to help remove any debris and toxins it has picked up.
Breast cancer risk is associated with high levels of estrogen. This is a fact.
We have 3 types of estrogen circulating in our bodies during our reproductive years. One type of estrogen is considered protective – this is our ‘good’ estrogen. The others are associated with higher risk of menopausal symptoms and cancer. Unfortunately, the ‘good’ estrogen is the easiest to displace from poor nutrition, toxins, stress and other hormones.
Progesterone is considered a protective hormone and counteracts the effects of estrogen through our reproductive years. Estrogen and progesterone are meant to keep each other in balance; much like a teeter-totter, when one goes up, the other goes down.
As women age, their progesterone to estrogen balance alters as progesterone levels lower. Estrogen becomes more prominent and problems like abdominal fat, high cholesterol and low thyroid hormone develop.
A condition known as estrogen dominance is thought to lead to breast cancer. Estrogen dominance occurs when there are low, normal or high amounts of estrogen in the body when compared to progesterone.
The balance of estrogen to progesterone can get out of whack pretty easily. The stress hormone cortisol is made with the same resources as progesterone. If those resources are scarce, cortisol takes precedence over progesterone. Chronic stress can create a chronic imbalance of progesterone to estrogen.
The adrenal glands and fat cells also make estrogen. The more fat cells we have, the more estrogen is produced. Fat cells in the abdominal area are especially good at producing estrogen. Chronic stress elevates our abdominal fat storage, which creates a vicious cycle.
We can become estrogen dominant from exposure to added hormones and endocrine disruptors in our water, food, environment and personal care products. Xenoestrogens have an estrogen-like effect on the body and bind to the ‘good’ estrogen receptors, preventing the good, protective estrogens from doing their job. Instead, ‘good’ estrogen gets flushed out of the body. Xenoestrogens are not biodegradable and are stored in our fat cells.
What You Can Do
Toss out as many personal care and hygiene products that contain known endocrine disruptors. Look for ingredients like parabans, benzophenone, and phlalates, or search for your favorite products on the EWG’s Skin Deep database.
Other sources of xenoestrogens are plastic food containers, anything with flame-retardant protection and certain ingredients in processed foods, like red dye No. 3 or BHA. Eat organic fruits and vegetables to avoid pesticides.
To help boost your estrogen detoxification, eat 1-2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed daily. Ground flaxseed helps pull toxic estrogens from the body and eliminate them.
Phytoestrogens in foods block the stronger, more damaging estrogens from binding to their receptors and act as protectors against the ‘bad’ estrogens. Herbs such as black cohosh, chasteberry, red clover or turmeric are very high in phytoestrogens.
Blood Sugar and Insulin Resistance
Cancer cells feed off sugar. A diet high in refined sugar and refined carbs, plus a stressful lifestyle, contributes to insulin resistance and sugar cravings. So, you’re more likely to want to eat sugar, which increases your risk of developing breast cancer. Another vicious cycle!
What You Can Do
Eat complex carbohydrates and avoid as many refined carbs and sugars as possible. Pair any carbs with either protein or healthy fat to slow down digestion and the insulin response. Reduce stress and practice relaxation and mindfulness every day.
See How Interconnected Things Are!
Breast cancer isn’t caused by a single entity. You can see from above that there are some very strong ties between various hormones, detoxification systems and stress and our risk of developing breast cancer. I hope this diagram gives you a better idea of how intricately connected our body systems are to each other and to our risk of breast cancer.
Your Best Food Choices to Prevent Breast Cancer
Essentially, a diet high in fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy and unrefined oils and fats, raw nuts and seeds, lean, hormone- and antibiotic-free protein sources, and fresh herbs and spices is all you need to drastically lower your risk of breast cancer. I like to promote the 90/10 rule – eat 90% healthy, clean foods and 10% ‘fun’ or indulgent foods on average.
Dark green leafy veggies, broccoli, all berries, garlic and onion help support your body’s natural healing processes. Avoid processed oils like safflower, sunflower and canola, as well as trans fats, hydrogenated fats and some saturated fats (unrefined virgin coconut oil is healthy).
And, here’s an interesting fact to leave you with: Research in Washington found that eating two to three organic peaches a day can significantly reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. There is an extract in peaches that slows down the growth and spread of breast cancer cells. Peach polyphenols protect the fruit from UV rays and they provide antioxidant effects too.
Lifestyle Tips to Keep You Healthy
Keep moving. Exercise is so important to keep elimination pathways open and to promote a healthy immune system.
And, of course, stress management. Schedule daily relaxation activities. Laugh often. Have fun!