First, before we get into this I want to make it clear that I am not making any claims about treating or preventing breast cancer. If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, treatment must be provided by a medical doctor. This article is for informative purposes only . . .
. . . because mainstream American breast cancer awareness leaves a lot to be desired. I used to get very angry when I saw the pink ribbon because it’s a total fraud — the foods promoting it (such as Hungry Howie’s Pizza and KFC) are cancer-causing themselves, and the people on the executive boards of the charities pocket most of the money they raise (specifically the Susan G. Komen foundation). All we get is a ribbon and a perpetuation of the problem — and the privilege of paying for it too, not only with our lives but with every dollar we have. The medical industry is extremely lucrative, squeezing every last drop out of people not only for treatment, but again in these cancer “charity” fund raising schemes. It’s infuriating to me the greed, lies, and corruption that have taken over what was once the noble practice of medicine and treating people well.
But I digress. In truth, there is some real, important awareness about breast cancer and how to mitigate the risk of developing it, which I am going to share in this article. Breast cancer was a murky area for me for a while, a lot of unknowns and not-talked-abouts. Even though it’s in my family, and even though culturally we are blasted by the pink ribbon, there is very little education about what is actually going on, unless you seek it out yourself.
Which is what I have done.
First of all, it’s important to know there are two female sex hormones (chemicals) made in the body: estrogen and progesterone. Females also produce a small amount of testosterone, which is a male sex hormone and a driver of libido (why men are generally obsessed with sex). But we’re going to focus on estrogen and progesterone.
Estrogen is a growth hormone (and keep in mind, cancer is an overgrowth, so it gets along well with estrogen), and progesterone is a pregnancy hormone (seeing “gest” as in “gestation” is a helpful way to remember it). During pregnancy, estrogen drops and progesterone goes way up. Low progesterone is associated with decreased fertility.
Estrogen is made in the ovaries and eliminated in the digestive tract, where the body binds it to fiber for elimination (another reason for a eating a high fiber diet). While estrogen is a natural and necessary chemical, too much of it can be a problem, which is why the body has a means of eliminating it (and which can be disrupted by eating the standard American diet, which is extremely low in fiber).
Estrogen dominance, when there is too much estrogen in the body, is associated with breast cancer, but because estrogen is a growth hormone, other cancers can be stimulated by it too. Approximately 70-80% of cancers are estrogen-sensitive, meaning they will grow in the presence of estrogen.
What factors can lead to estrogen dominance? A major one is obesity: as well as being made in the ovaries, estrogen is also made in fat cells. More fat in the body means more estrogen too. Obesity is also associated with higher levels of insulin, which is another growth hormone that cancer likes. So one extremely important way to reduce risk of breast cancer (or any hormonally-sensitive cancer) is to be at and maintain a healthy weight.
Additional risk factors include alcohol (more than 4 drinks per week) and smoking (the combustion chemicals lead to gene mutations).
Those are the main risky behaviors that you as an individual can control. Risk factors outside of your control include age (more time provides more opportunities for gene mutation), early onset of puberty and late onset of menopause (resulting in more time for estrogen to be active in the body).
Sadly, in the past 150 years, the trend has shifted to early onset of puberty. Age 13-17 was once the norm for girls to start puberty, but now age 11-12 is normal, with breasts developing as early as age 7-8. This is attributed to the presence of “xenoestrogens” — synthetic (and toxic) industrial chemicals that mimic the effects of estrogen once they get inside our bodies. One of the most dramatic instances of this is the 1973 Michigan PBB contamination of meat and dairy, which affected almost everyone in Michigan and is still being studied for its health effects today. Those include decreased fertility and breast cancer.
Even now, more than 45 years later, not much progress has been made. Michigan has lately been dealing with PFAS (another xenoestrogen) contamination in the water, and the United States in general has very lax regulations regarding chemicals: for example, in Europe a chemical has to be proven to be safe, but in the US, a chemical has to be proven to be unsafe — which generally happens only after it’s been on the market (after damage is done and ongoing), and which can be extremely difficult to the point of being prohibitive for an individual to do. For example, in the Michigan PBB incident, it took almost a year for one farmer who noticed the horrific effects on his animals to finally have his findings acknowledged by the government, and then later for the government to put a stop to the business. The contaminated products were in the food supply, being consumed by millions of people and livestock in Michigan, the entire time. Almost half a century later, people in Michigan still have elevated levels of PBB in their bodies today — and the chemical is also showing up in the bodies their children and grandchildren, with the resulting negative health outcomes too. It’s truly one of the most horrific things I have ever heard, and it’s unconscionable how it could have been done, and how chemical contamination is still continuing.
That’s why we can’t say we can totally mitigate the risk of breast cancer. The problem is made much more complex by the modern world and the toxic chemicals we are exposed to in it.
However, there are some things we can do to significantly decrease the risk.
How to Decrease Risk of Breast Cancer
In addition to avoiding the risk factors mentioned above, which means maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol, and not smoking, there are a few more things we can do to significantly decrease risk.
One is to have a full-term pregnancy before age 35 and to breast feed from both breasts. Because estrogen decreases during pregnancy and lactation, this can give your body a 2-3 year break from estrogen dominance.
Another strong risk-decreasing behavior is to eat foods from the broccoli (Brassica) family — that includes broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, brussel sprouts, broccoli rabe, and broccoli sprouts. Why? A plant chemical in broccoli called ITC (isothyocinate) was found to kill breast cancer cells in vitro — and in order to study in humans, one research team found women who were undergoing voluntary breast reduction surgeries, and had them eat various amounts of foods from the broccoli family, and then measured the level of ITC in the breast tissue removed after surgery. It was found that one cup per day was enough to get into breast tissue.
One easy way to get a cup of brassicas per day is to buy a frozen bag and add a cup to your meals each day. Our instructor puts it in a smoothie, I add mine to tomato sauce for pasta or put it in a wrap for lunch. It’s a minimal amount to the point that I really don’t even notice it, though I do enjoy those vegetables anyway.
Avoiding dairy foods is another strong risk prevention strategy. Dairy contains estrogen and IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor) which promotes all stages of growth, which is great for growing young mammals, but not necessary and even harmful after adolescence. Another fascinating study dripped blood from three different types of people onto cancer cells. The first group was couch potatoes — their blood decreased cancer growth by 10%. The second group was people who exercised — their blood decreased cancer growth by 30-40%. The final group was vegans — their blood decreased cancer growth by 80-90%. Not only were they taking in less IGF-1 by not consuming dairy, their bodies were also better at modulating their own intrinsic IGF-1, which resulted in an almost total decrease in cancer growth. (Why did blood decrease cancer growth at all? Because we have immune systems. 🙂
Avoiding dairy and replacing it with organic soy can provide even further benefits, in several ways:
- Soy turns on the “Braca” genes (Brc1, Brc2) that cancer turns off. These genes are DNA fixers — they correct errors in mitosis (cell division), which is basically what cancer is.
- Soy decreases risk of breast cancer by modulating beta estrogen receptors, which are located in breasts in high amounts, decreasing estrogen response.
- In one study, soy and Tamoxifen (the main drug used to treat breast cancer) combined were shown to have increased benefits in breast cancer patients than using Tamoxifen alone.
- Soy also increases bone mass during menopause.
These findings are very impressive, so consider drinking a high quality organic soy milk or adding organic tempeh to your stir-fry or salad. (Organic is important, otherwise it’s GMO). However, if you are allergic or just choose to avoid soy in general (as I do, since it may also contribute to acne breakouts, which have been a problem for me), try pea proten milk or flax milk. I do not recommend highly processed vegan fake-dairy products, such as vegan cheese or ice cream, as these are still junk food, although they can be a better choice than dairy if you absolutely have to fix that craving. Just keep going — once dairy foods are cleared out of the body (after approximately two weeks), the cravings for them will stop and you will be attracted to healthful, life-giving foods only. 🙂
Additionally, the World Cancer Report, “Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: a Global Perspective” is updated every year since 2007, with one hundred scientists contributing their findings over the past five years. By following their recommendations, which include eating a plant-based diet, you can decrease your cancer risk by 40%. The report is available for free and can be download here.
The information is free, and for the most part, nothing new (your health outcomes are based on diet and exercise). Then why are we not getting it? There is a struggle in being presented with dissenting information that requires you to change your behavior away from your preferences and the inertia of culture and the status quo. That requires an extremely powerful force of self-love. That’s where our real work is right now.