Breast Health: Natural Way-The Natural Way-Part 1
The common nature and sometimes tragic consequences of breast cancer scare women to a degree that often challenges their emotional health. This newsletter is Part 1 of 2 focused accounts of breast health which coincides with Breast Cancer Awareness month (October 2011). The subject of breast health and breast cancer prevention is at the forefront of modern medical practices. The occurrence of benign breast lumps, cystic diseases of the breast and breast cancer are rising. Perhaps as many as one in five women will develop breast cancer and the number may be as high as one in three in certain urban locations. Breast cancer definitely varies by zip code in the U.S.
Medical literature has identified many risks for breast cancer. Those include: oxidative stress or free radical damage, poor nutrition, obesity, chemical contaminants in our food and environment, smoking, alcohol, hormonal factors, pollution, electromagnetic radiation, diminished immunity and genetic risks. There is no doubt that many of these risks can be impacted favorably by healthy lifestyle, including good nutritional practices.
Taking care of breast health is a lifelong commitment for women and few things are more important in women than regular self breast examination. Being self-aware of body structures, including the breasts, is an important initiative for women. In fact, women can benefit from keeping a personal record of self-examination of their body, including their breasts.
The whole idea about vigilance and breast health is based on the knowledge that early detection of breast cancer can lead to more chance of a cure and, at the very least, a better outcome of treatment. Women must be encouraged to follow American Cancer society Guidelines for breast cancer prevention. These guidelines involve women ages 20-30 years engaging in monthly self-examination of their breasts with an annual physical exam. Women ages 40 and older should have a mammogram every year, combined with an annual physical exam. A strong family history of breast cancer often causes a need for more stringent monitoring of breast health.
Identifying Breast Cancer Risks
Table 1. below gives an overview of the major identifiable risk factors for breast cancer.
Age—older women have a higher risk.
Body type—“apple shape” (having extra weight in the upper body and stomach), as opposed to “pear shape” (extra weight in the hips and thighs), increases risk.
Diet—poor diet (high in fat, low in fiber, deficiency of vitamins A, C, E and selenium) increases risk.
Heredity—risk is greater for women whose mothers, sisters or aunts have a history of breast cancer.
Marital status—women who have never married asre at higher risk.
Menarche—early menarche (prior to age 12) increases risk.
Menopause—late menopause (after age 55) increases risk.
Motherhood—never having given birth, or having a first child after age 30, increases risk.
Nationality—women born in North America or northern Europe have a higher risk. Recent trends indicate increased breast cancer in Hispanics, Orientals and women of African descent
Table 1. Factors identified to increase risk of breast cancer.
Some food scientists and researchers believe that all risk factors taken together may not exert as much influence on the risk of breast cancer as good nutrition. The type of diet that is known to reduce the risk of breast cancer has multiple other health benefits, including the promotion of cardiovascular health and combat against the metabolic Syndrome X. I reiterate the breast cancer-protective diet is low in saturated fat, high in omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil), high in fiber, nutrient-dense, and low in calories and simple sugars. It also must incorporate cancer-fighting substances, such as antioxidants, found in fruit, vegetables and soy.
The wise woman must avoid the potential cancer-causing agents in her environment. Some of these risky sources of cancer-promoting agents are summarized in Table 2.
Alcohol—consuming more than nine drinks per week is associated with increased risk of breast cancer.
Aflatoxins—often found in moldy nuts, seeds and grains.
Burned proteins—from charred meats off the grill.
Cyclamates—including artificial sweeteners such as saccharin.
Coal-tar-based food colorings—also found in some cosmetics.
DDT—a pesticide long since banned in the U.S., but still used in other countries.
DES—diethylstillbestrol, a synthetic estrogen.
Formaldehyde—an industrial solvent used in rugs, plastics and new clothing.
Nitrates and nitrites—found in prepared foods such as hot dogs, bacon ad luncheon meat.
Pesticides—the Environmental Protection Agency identifies more than 60 pesticides as potential carcinogens.
Radiation—low doses from environmental sources can accumulate in the body.
Smoked foods—such as bacon, ham, fish and cheese.
Tobacco-smoking or second-hand smoke.
Table 2. Potential carcinogens (cancer-causing agents).
Dietary supplements are not to be used to treat or prevent any disease and discussions about the nutritional management of breast cancer must conform with this legality stated in the U.S Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA, 1994). That said, the power of nutrition in the management of breast cancer is becoming increasingly apparent in recent research. Breast health has more to do with the promotion of healthy lifestyle in many areas than specific nutritional or drug treatments and this is apparent in emerging literature. Part 2 of this newsletter published in Breast Cancer Awareness Month will focus on some modern concepts on the use of nutrition for breast health.