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Joanna Foley, RD, CLT
Joanna Foley, RD, CLT, is a registered dietitian and the owner of a private nutrition consulting business at joannafoleynutrition.com.
Breast Cancer Prevention: Why it’s Important
October is breast cancer awareness month. Unfortunately, breast cancer is more common than most people realize. It is estimated that about 1 in 8 American women will develop invasive breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. Breast cancer prevention using a holistic approach can be a powerful strategy.
While nothing can guarantee prevention from getting breast or any other cancers, some foods and lifestyle habits can make your body the healthiest it can be and help keep your risk as low as possible.
Taking a holistic approach to breast cancer may both reduce your risk of breast cancer, or manage it if you’re already affected.
Diet and lifestyle tips for breast cancer prevention
1. Follow a plant based diet
Plants provide fiber, antioxidants, a slew of important vitamins and minerals and plant compounds that help protect against diseases, including many types of cancer.
Specific plant foods that have been shown to help both lower your risk and/or fight off cancer cells.
The following foods are great: cruciferous vegetables, leafy greens, garlic, onions, berries, beans, herbs and spices, and those high in the antioxidant vitamin C such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, and tropical fruits like kiwi and mango.
Following a plant-based diet does not mean having to become vegan or vegetarian, but simply to make plant foods a larger part of your diet.
You can read more about how to begin incorporating more plants into your diet in this post.
2. Pay attention to your fat intake for breast cancer prevention
Fat is an important nutrient, but the type of fat matters a lot when it comes to your health.
It is best to reduce your intake of saturated fats like butter, meats, and full-fat dairy products and replace them with unsaturated fats like nuts, avocados, fish, and olive oil.
Doing so has been shown to help reduce the risk of breast cancer and other diseases.
Omega-3 fats may be particularly helpful when it comes to cancer. They can be found in fatty fish, walnuts, chia and flax seeds as well as supplements.
3. Be moderate with alcohol for breast cancer prevention
Excess alcohol intake is a risk factor for many types of cancer, including breast. If you choose to drink, try to limit it to no more than 2 servings per week, with one serving being equal to 12 oz of beer, 5 oz of wine, and 1.5 oz of hard liquor.
Red wine is the healthiest form of alcohol thanks to the plant compounds it contains, including resveratrol.
4. Get more vitamin D
Vitamin D has numerous health benefits, including cancer treatment and prevention.
Vitamin D protects against breast cancer by helping to regulate genes and pathways that stop the growth of cancer cells and also leads to their death.
It also helps improve immune function and fights against inflammation, both of which influence cancer risk.
Research shows that vitamin D insufficiency may be linked to breast cancer development or progression.
It is a good idea to get your 25-hydroxyvitamin D blood levels checked yearly and to talk to your doctor about supplementing.
5. Achieve or maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for developing many chronic diseases, including breast cancer. This is because having more fat tissues increases your estrogen levels, which is a risk factor for breast cancer.
6. Enjoy more soy products
Soy contains the plant compound phytoestrogens, which have been linked to a reduction in breast cancer risk thanks to their ability to bind to estrogen.
Soy also provides other important nutrients like fiber, plant-based lean protein, iron and calcium.
While soy has been controversial in the media, multiple studies show that the health benefits outweigh any potential side effects.
Image by Mirko Stödter from Pixabay
7. Drink green tea
This powerful beverage is packed with antioxidants as well as a plant compound called catechins which has been shown to have anticancer effects.
Drinking between 1-4 cups daily may help with both prevention and treatment of breast cancer.
8. Consider probiotics
Probiotics are live, beneficial bacteria that live in your digestive tract. Research shows that probiotics have a potential role in both prevention and treatment of breast cancer.
They can be found in fermented foods and beverages like yogurt with live and active cultures, kombucha, tempeh, miso, and sauerkraut. They can also be taken as a supplement.
If supplementing, be sure to choose a high potency, high quality brand that contains multiple strains of bacteria for the most benefit.
9. Limit sugar
Sugar provides calories but minimal nutrients. Too much sugar can lead to insulin resistance, weight gain, and increased inflammation in the body–which are risk factors for many diseases, including breast cancer.
10. Be physically active
Exercise is well known to help reduce the risk of many types of cancer. It also supports a healthy weight, to reduce the risk factor of obesity.
Many studies have shown that physically active women have a lower risk of breast cancer than inactive women, and regular physical activity is also associated with a lower chance of cancer recurrence.
11. Consider complementary alternative medicine (CAM)
CAM is a holistic approach that serves to treat and balance the whole body–physically, mentally and emotionally. Examples include meditation, acupuncture, herbal supplements, prayer, yoga, music therapy, and massage.
CAM can be used in addition to modern medicine and should only be used with guidance of a trained health professional, especially if undergoing current cancer treatment.
Research on the effects of diet and lifestyle and breast cancer prevention is ongoing. Some things may be out of your control, but breast cancer prevention using a holistic approach can help your body be equipped to fight off whatever comes its way.
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