While COVID-19 has become our nation's biggest health concern as of late, one must not forget that all of the other top health concerns have not miraculously disappeared. Heart disease remains the number one killer of women in America. Heart disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined. Breast cancer is still the most common cancer in women and the second most common cause of death from cancer in black, white, Asian/Pacific, and Native American women, and the leading cause of death from cancer among Hispanic women. Current statistics show that approximately 25% of women will have some form of breast cancer in her lifetime (of that number 12% will have invasive breast cancer and over 80% will have no family history of the disease).
Every October we honor Breast Cancer Awareness month (aka Pinktober). As a naturopathic doctor, I am passionate about proactive and preventive healthcare combined with holistic lifestyle choices that empower individuals to take charge of their health. Although there are no guarantees we can always prevent certain diseases like breast cancer, when it comes to promoting breast wellness and better breast health, there are certain lifestyle choices that we can make that increase overall health and lower our risk for not just breast cancer, but also heart disease, type-2 diabetes and other cancers.
Breast tissue is vulnerable to environmental toxins, including what we put in our bodies, and what we surround ourselves with. When physical or emotional stressors disrupt our body’s normal processes, our normal cells can begin to express themselves differently. For this reason, we need a self-care super shield to help block and keep those stressors at bay.
Naturopathic care includes lifestyle practices like self-care, a healthy diet, daily exercise recommendations, mindfulness-based practices, and environmental considerations. In-clinic therapeutics may include procedures such as IV- or ozone therapy, but that is a more in-depth discussion that will not be covered here. Instead, I’ve compiled a list of what may be considered best practices for better breast health:
- Stay well hydrated with pure (clean or filtered) water (ideally not from a plastic bottle) – at least half your body weight in ounces, but ideally ¾ your body weight.
- Dry brush massage – before a shower – helps to stimulate draining of the lymph system – brush towards the heart
- Self breast exams - This is perfect to do in the shower on a regular basis. You know your breasts better than anyone else and should be more sensitive to any changes in skin texture or new lumps or bumps.
- Avoid excess exposure to electric magnetic radiation: power lines, cell phone, microwave, cordless telephones, television, computers, fitness tracking devices, routers, x-rays, tanning beds
- People your life well – remove toxic relationships from your life
- Mediterranean, Plant-based (vegetable-forward, not necessarily vegan) diet – Grass-fed, organic meat and poultry, wild fish (limit crustaceans), plenty of vegetables, healthy fats and oils (avocado, coconut, olive, ghee), organic fruit (1-2 servings), and avoid processed/refined foods and starchy carbohydrates
- Eat (lightly steamed) cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale – daily
- Drink green tea
- Eat organic apples (with skin) – they contain quercetin, a potent antioxidant
- Eat pomegranate seeds – a lot of promising research on the benefits of pomegranate consumption and cancer prevention
- Consider supplementing with Vitamin D3 to increase health and lower risk for breast cancer. Women with blood levels of above 60 ng/mL vitamin D have an 80% lower risk of developing breast cancer.
Foods to Avoid
- Artificial Sweeteners – Aspartame, Saccharin, Acesulfame Potassium (Ace-K)
- Processed meats that contain nitrates/nitrites like deli meats, bacon
- Non-organic, non-grass fed animal protein
- Starchy, fried foods – contain acrylamide, which is a cancer-causing chemical found in some foods like potato chips, French fries
- Minimum of 150 minutes/week – an average of 20 to 30 minutes daily,, with an emphasis on high-intensity intervals and resistance training
* During and after breast cancer treatment, women who exercise show faster recovery from treatment, lower risk of recurrence, better mood, strength, endurance, and overall sense of well being
- Meditate/Quiet your mind with eyes closed for a minimum of 6 minutes per day. I like to recommend Loving Kindness Meditation – you’ll find many examples online.
- Gratitude journal – practice writing down 5 things you are grateful for and why you are grateful for them, every night before going to bed
I decided not to discuss supplements here because supplementing for breast cancer prevention should be uniquely determined based on your family history, your genetic expression and your current lifestyle and risk factors. I encourage you to speak to a healthcare professional who is knowledgeable in all of these areas before deciding if dietary and nutriceutical supplementation is right for you.
Regarding regular breast screening: You know your breasts better than anyone else. I recommend you check your breasts regularly. Look and feel for any changes. Red flags include any firm lumps; swelling around breast, nipple, or armpit; dry, cracked skin around nipple; blood or fluid leakage; abnormal heat or itching. Follow up for further screening with your doctor should you notice any of these changes.
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