Every woman on my mother’s side of the family has died from breast cancer. Each one did everything “right” – yearly mammograms, self and physician check-ups, and, upon diagnosis, the “best doctors,” “best hospitals” and most up-to-date treatments – all to little or no avail.
Although my family and I have not been tested, the likelihood is that they carried – and I inherited – the BRCA gene mutation, which means I have a significant risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer.
What, then, am I to do to increases my chances of never getting breast cancer?
Medical science has shown that how we treat our bodies can have significant impact on breast cancer prevention. University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center researchers say breast cancer risk can be decreased up to 38% through lifestyle factors, including maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet.
For 25 years, I’ve been following my own path to prevention and fine-tuning my actions as more scientific information becomes available. I’d like to share with you 10 of my personal, preventative, life-affirming practices.
- Exercise. Researchers at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill found that women who exercised during their reproductive years or following menopause reduced their risk of developing breast cancer—the greatest risk reduction found in women who exercised 10 – 19 hours per week. Women who exercised less often still had reduced risk over those who never exercised. I sign up for challenging runs/bike races/rides, which guarantee I’ll be running and bike training throughout the year.
- Eat six fruits and vegetables per day. The American Cancer Society recommends consuming 5-8 daily servings. Six sounds like a lot, but I’ve found that with planning, it’s easy. Sunday nights, I make three vegetable dishes – one with a cruciferous vegetable (see pt# 3), one with an orange or yellow vegetable (carrots, squash, etc.) and one with a leafy green (kale, collards, etc.), in sufficient quantities to last the work week. I start each meal with a different fresh fruit and then eat one vegetable dish with breakfast, another with lunch, and still another with dinner. Six servings a day – voilà!
- Consume cruciferous vegetables daily. Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage are important in breast cancer prevention. A Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and Shanghai Center for Disease Control and Prevention study found that of nearly 5,000 breast cancer survivors, women with the highest quartiles of daily cruciferous vegetable intake had a 62% reduced risk of breast cancer mortality and 35% reduced risk of breast cancer recurrence, compared to women in the lowest quartile.
- Get your Vitamin D level tested and supplement if needed. A pooled analysis published in The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology found that individuals with serum 25(OH)D of approximately 52 ng/ml of Vitamin D had a 50% lower risk of breast cancer than those with serum <13 ng/ml. This serum level corresponds to intake of 4000 IU/day. I take 5000 ius (a high dosage, as I don’t absorb it well) nightly with food containing healthy fat (nuts, seeds, avocados, etc.) to help absorb this fat-soluble vitamin.
- Eat organic foods with lower levels of pesticide residue. Toxic pesticides have been shown to mimic estrogen in the body and may increase breast cancer risk. I follow the guidelines of the Environmental Working Group, purchasing organic to avoid eating the 14 conventional items that contain the most pesticides. I buy conventional produce for fruits and vegetables with inedible skins and organic for anything I’m eating as-is.
- Avoid parabens. A 2012 University of Reading study found that of 40 women with breast cancer, 99% of the women’s tissue samples contained at least one paraben, preservatives appearing ubiquitously in deodorants, shampoo, make-up, and lotions – and 60% of samples contained more than five parabens. I purchase personal care products labeled paraben-free.
- Take fish oil. A survey of 35,000 postmenopausal women found that women who took fish oil at the study’s onset were roughly half as likely to develop ductal carcinoma of the breast, the most common form of breast cancer, during follow-up years. My preferred brand is Nordic Naturals, third-party-tested and free of environmental toxins. The liquid orange tastes great with a nibble of dark chocolate!
- Consume organic flaxseeds. A German Cancer Research Centre study analyzed the levels of enterolactone (what phytoestrogens become when entering the bowel) of more than 1,000 women with premenopausal breast cancer. The mortality rate of women with the highest levels of enterolactone was 40% lower than women with the lowest levels. Flaxseeds are particularly rich in lignans, which turn into enterolactone in the bowel. They’re difficult to break down in the body, so grind in a coffee grinder and freeze. Try my Miracle Microwave Muffin recipe starring flaxseeds in the comments section of this post!
- Maintain healthy body weight. A 2012 Montefiore Medical Center study found that the higher a woman’s body mass index, the higher her risk of developing breast cancer again after treatment. From my experience in losing 25 pounds and keeping it off, I say: Keep it simple. I naturally eat less by being less hungry. I drink two or three glasses of water before meals, then I eat in this order: fruit, vegetables, protein, and carbs – approximately 25% each. By the time I get to weight-loading carbs, I’m not very hungry, so I don’t have to restrain. I keep a healthy food bar like Vega Vibrancy with me at all times, eating one whenever I get cravings. If I indulge in dessert, it’s when I choose it; my hungry body isn’t running the show.
- Avoid plastic when eating. The EWG’s testing of canned foods found that “the toxin BPA leaches from the [plastic] liner into the food…canned pasta and soups contain the highest levels.” I also avoid canned tomatoes; the acid in tomatoes may expedite BPA leaching. Bionature makes a great crushed-tomatoes-in-glass product, and Life without Plastic has a cornucopia of non-plastic containers, servers, and utensils.
May we live long and strong. L’Chaim!