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Reducing Your Risks of Breast Cancer

by Sarah Cimperman, ND

After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States. And after lung cancer, it is the second deadliest for US women. But there is some good news: breast cancer is one of the most curable cancers when detected early and studies have shown that there are several things you can do every day to reduce your risk.

Drink Green Tea

Studies have shown that consumption of green tea is associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer. Epigallocatechin-3-gallate, a compound commonly called EGCG, protects cells by preventing oxidative damage. It also slows the growth of breast tumors, inhibits migration of cancer cells, and stops angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels needed to fuel cancer proliferation.

Increase Omega-3 Fats

Women who eat high amounts of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are less likely to develop breast cancer. Good choices include olives, olive oil, avocado, raw seeds and nuts (especially walnuts), and wild-caught fish like Alaskan salmon, Pacific halibut, sardines, herring and anchovies. Search the Seafood Watch database on the website of the Monterey Bay Aquarium to find the least toxic and most sustainably harvested species (www.montereybayaquarium.org).

Consume Ground Flax Seeds

Foods high in fiber, like ground flax seeds, can reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. Flax seeds are an especially good choice because they contain omega-3 fats and lignans, compounds that positively affect the metabolism of estrogens in the liver. Flax seeds also benefit women already diagnosed with breast cancer. A study published in Clinical Cancer Research found that eating four tablespoons of ground flax seed each day for three weeks decreased tumor growth, increased apoptosis (tumor cell death), and decreased HER-2 expression, which reduces the risk of metastasis and breast cancer recurrence, and increases the chance of survival.

Eat More Soy

Soy contains cancer-protective compounds. A large meta-analysis published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute examined 18 studies on soy consumption and breast cancer risk. Researchers concluded that eating soy can reduce the risk of breast cancer. Another study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that for women diagnosed with breast cancer, soy can reduce the risk of recurrence and death. Always choose traditional soy foods like tofu, tempeh and miso over industrial soy products like soy milk.

Choose Red Wine

Studies show that red wine and fruits that contain high amounts of the antioxidant resveratrol - like blueberries, cranberries and raspberries - can reduce the risk of breast cancer by slowing abnormal cell growth and inactivating dangerous estrogen metabolites. If you don’t drink, you don’t need to start now, eat lots of red berries instead. But if you do drink, choose red wine.

Avoid Refined Carbohydrates

Reducing intake of refined carbohydrates reduces insulin levels and fat accumulation, which reduces the risk of breast cancer. Avoid processed foods, white rice, and foods made with sugar and flour. Whenever you are eating starchy root vegetables, like potatoes, always eat the peel. Not only does it contain the most of the vitamins and minerals, but the peel also contains fiber that slows digestion of carbohydrates and their absorption into the blood, which balances insulin levels and prevents fat accumulation.

Eliminate Xenoestrogens

Xenoestrogens are environmental chemicals with estrogen-like effects. This general term describes many different compounds that have been linked to an increased risk for breast cancer. Xenoestrogens can be found in industrial pollutants, pesticides and hormone residues in animal products. To reduce your risk of exposure, choose organic fruits and vegetables and meat, poultry, eggs and diary products that come from animals raised on pasture, fed their natural diet, and never exposed to pesticides or hormones.

Exercise Regularly

Regular physical activity has been shown to be protective against chronic disease and cancer, including breast cancer. And in women diagnosed with breast cancer, it can improve survival. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that walking just one hour per week at an average speed (2 to 2.9 miles per hour) reduced the risk of death by 20 percent in women with breast cancer. Better yet, those who walked three to five hours each week cut their chance of dying in half. You don’t have to hit the gym - recreational activities can count as exercise too - but aim to be active for 30 minutes or more on most days.

Get Enough Sleep

A study published in Cancer Research that followed almost 7400 women in Finland found that those who slept 9 or more hours per night had the lowest risk of breast cancer, compared to those who slept 8 hours or less each night. Sleeping longer may increase levels of melatonin, offering increased protection against cancer.

Minimize Supplemental Hormones

A study of more than 8,000 women at the Mayo Clinic Breast Clinic, published in The Breast Journal, found that long-term use of birth control pills (11 years or longer) was associated with a 200 percent increased risk of breast cancer. Researchers also found that women who took hormone replacement therapy during menopause increased their risk by 81 percent. Women of reproductive age should explore alternative methods of contraception and peri-menopausal women experiencing severe symptoms that don’t respond to other interventions should choose bioidentical hormones and take them for as short a time as possible.

Stop Smoking

The same study from the Mayo Clinic Breast Clinic found that women who smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime had a significantly increased risk of developing breast cancer. But researchers also found that quitting smoking reduced this risk. It’s never too late to quit.

Choose Thermography

Because inflammatory and vascular changes related to cancer growth can be detected sooner than solid tumors, which may take years to grow large enough to block x-ray beams and be identified on mammograms, thermograms can identify signs of malignancy in its earliest stages. Experts estimate that thermography recognizes cancerous or pre-cancerous changes up to ten years earlier than any other procedure, mammography included.

References available upon request.

Dr. Sarah Cimp-erman is a Doctor of Naturopathic Medi-cine in private practice in New York City, specializing in women’s health and chronic disease, including breast cancer. For more information, call 646-234-2918 or visit www.drsarahcimperman.com. You can read her blogs online at adifferentkindofdoctor.blogspot.com and naturopathicgourmet.blogspot.com.

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