Fundamentals for Breast Health
by Mark J Kaylor
It has always presented somewhat of a dilemma for me to write specific advice on women’s health concerns feeling that the last thing this world needs is yet another man telling women what to do. On top of this I know that for thousands of years and for virtually all cultures around the world, women were, if not the primary healers, certainly extraordinary voices of these time honored healing traditions.
Remembering also that women have been the key holders and transmitters of the herbal-ways, bearing responsibility for gathering, growing, preparing and administering our herbal allies. So in light of this history, and in honor of it, I gently offer these fundamental tips for breast health.
Clearly the “modern” world has confusing, often conflicting and frequently negative views on women’s breasts and female/feminine energy. You see this manifesting in the disrespectful ways we talk about women’s cycles, from menses to the phase of life called menopause, turning life’s flow to something frightening and to be avoided. Christian Northrup, M.D. writes in her excellent book: “Our Culture gives girls the message that their bodies, their lives and their femaleness demand an apology.” When this is the energetic foundation is it any wonder that there would be as much breast health imbalance and distress?
With such a convoluted relationship between the physical and symbolic female breast, it is essential that authentic healing begin with loving, honoring and nourishing. A holistic point of view is called for since breast health is affected on many levels, from the larger environment to the interactions of numerous body systems all the way down to the cellular and genetic level.
Mankind has introduced numerous xenoestrogens (“external estrogen-like chemicals) into the world at large, the food supply and even the medicines. Breast tissue is very estrogen sensitive leading to externally altered hormone states. Many pesticides fit this bill, which is one of the reasons eating organic is so important.
The Big “C”
The biggest fear universally is cancer. Is the fear called for? Do you need to be worried? Concerned? Yes. Aware? Yes. But worried, no. First, the energy of worry is neither constructive nor healthy. Second, the majority of lumps are cysts, not cancerous and although they can be painful they are typically benign. They fluctuate with hormone levels and are usually caused by over stimulation by estrogen of the breast tissues, inflammation, chronic stress or excessive caffeine consumption. Third, there is much you can do in your life, with diet, lifestyle adjustments and supplements to support healthy tissues and hormones.
Several simple dietary adjustments can impact breast health profoundly: eat a plant-based colorful diet high in omega 3 fats, eliminate sugar and refined carbohydrates, and cut back on alcohol, saturated animal fat and omega 6 vegetable oils (i.e. corn, safflower and soy). Making sure your diet is nutrient rich is essential, since breast cancer risk is dramatically higher if you have even sub-clinical deficiencies of any of a number of nutrients including: carotenoids, selenium, trace minerals, omega 3 fatty acids, folate, and vitamin E.
The cruciferous veggie family, which includes broccoli, broccoli sprouts, kale, cabbage and bok choy, has numerous breast cancer fighting actions: reducing risk, favorably affecting estrogen metabolism, prevention, blocking cancer cell division, inhibiting cancer cell growth and assisting in the detoxification process while reducing the incidence and rate of chemically induced tumors. Population studies confirm that the more of these vegetables you eat the more protection you receive.
Several medicinal mushrooms may be of use preventatively as well as therapeutically, including Maitake, for immune boosting and blood sugar balancing and Reishi for maximizing overall health, reducing inflammation, boosting immunity, helping liver detoxification and reducing effects of stress. And introducing the new kid on the block in the West, Phellinus linteus, also known as mulberry ear because it grows on mulberry trees and looks like a giant ear.
One of the first large mushroom comparison studies examined the anti-tumor activity of 27 different mushrooms where Phellinus displayed the strongest response. Other cancer studies demonstrated strengthening of various immune cell types and extending life span. Research specifically with breast cancer suggests it may inhibit proliferation and colony formation of highly invasive breast cancer cells, induce apoptosis (programmed cell death), and inhibit cell adhesion, migration, metastasis and angiogenesis.
Always remember to take some time for yourself and never underestimate the power of a little (or a lot of) TLC and attention. Try a “breast health self-care” session every month with a relaxing soak in the tub and whatever other personal nurturing delights you prefer. This is an excellent time to give yourself a breast exam and get to know your breasts better. Massaging the breast and underarm area with Calendula oil and drinking some Calendula tea will help stimulate lymphatic activity and cleansing, along with balancing cellular and tissue metabolism.
Now for the advice so many want to avoid, exercise. Staying physically active helps lower weight (obesity and abdominal fat increase risk), balance hormones, keep blood sugar and insulin at healthy levels, reduce stress levels and improve sleep. And speaking of sleep, studies show a 33% reduction in breast cancer risk in women getting 9+ hours of sleep. It is also important to make sure your bedroom in as dark as possible, the slightest bit of light can detrimentally effect hormones.
Build a Foundation
Caroline Myss suggests, “The emotion behind breast lumps and breast cancer is hurt, sorrow and unfinished business generally related to nurturance.” Scientific evidence of this association can be confirmed in a women’s twelve-fold increase in breast cancer risk if she has suffered a loss or bereavement.
My personal experience in consulting with breast cancer patients over many years is the very strong tendency for them to be the caretakers of others, frequently at the neglect of their own health. Don’t wait for problems or imbalances to appear before paying attention to and taking care of yourself and your breasts. Get plenty of rest, eat right, stay active and give yourself the TLC you need and deserve.
The source and foundation of medicine is rooted in compassion, caring, nurturing and love. This is the foundation for health, healing and care of one’s self. Give yourself and your breasts (and your heart, and your bones, and your eyes, and your liver…) the time, consideration, and tenderness you need and deserve. Remember to honor yourself and the feminine within you.