Breast Cancer, There’s Much We Can Do
By Mark J Kaylor
Health and its counterpart, disease, have in many ways become much more difficult and complex. Whereas 100 years ago the leading causes of death were pretty straightforward; for instance diarrhea was #1 with tuberculosis and pneumonia right behind in #2 and #3. The causes of these then life-threatening issues also tended to be very clear and for the most part were mono-causal. Today, however, the leading causes of mortality are conditions that may take years or even decades to develop while the causes are multifactorial and complex, if they are even fully understood. Keeping this in mind it only makes sense that we become more proactive and engaged in maximizing our health and vitality; while focusing our attention on preventing these difficult to treat, complex, and expensive diseases. This certainly holds true when it comes to breast cancer.
As the leading cause of death in women aged 40 to 55, breast cancer has many risk factors, including genetic predisposition (with an emphasis on “pre”), radiation exposure, breast abnormalities, early puberty, late menopause, postmenopausal estrogen treatment, oral contraceptives, obesity, alcohol consumption, pesticide exposure, lack of exercise, and a number of dietary factors making it an excellent example of the complexity associated with the leading causes of death today.
What Can We Do
Clearly were not going to solve the complex puzzle that is breast cancer in this brief article. What I hope we can do is provide you with some solid basic, useful and effective tips for you to further explore and consider including in your health program. Our focus will be on suggestions that us the biggest bang for our buck.
It Begins With Lifestyle Choices
If we are going to talk prevention then we have to start with what may be the most powerful tool – lifestyle encompassing all the choices we make in our day-to-day lives. First choice, and the one many of us least like to hear about, is exercise. Physical activity is associated with the 24% lower risk of breast cancer recurrence and a 34% improved survival rate. Moderate exercise has been shown to strengthen the immune system, lower stress levels, help maintain healthy blood sugar levels, positively affect inflammation and hormones, improve mood and sleep, and lower insulin and insulin-like growth factor (both of which can promote cancer).
Now that we are becoming more active it is essential to get enough. Getting poor or insufficient sleep may set the stage for breast cancer. The pivotal compound when it comes to sleep and cancer is melatonin, “the sleep hormone.” Low melatonin levels may raise the risk for developing breast cancer. Melatonin can also slow the growth of breast cancer and is a powerful DNA protecting antioxidant. Melatonin can be taken in supplemental form in doses from .3 mg up to 30 mg a night.
As it is with virtually every chronic disorder managing our stress levels is essential. Stress contributes to breast cancer in a number of ways; that down regulates our immune system, increases inflammation, and imbalances our endocrine system. A study of almost 1000 women diagnosed with breast cancer found that those with the highest stress levels were most likely to have aggressive forms of breast cancer. Chronic stress also promotes the spread of breast cancer to the bone. There are a number of herbal allies that can help us manage and balance our stress response; some of my favorites are Ashwagandha, Reishi, Holy Basil and Relora.
In the past we’ve been told that moderate consumption of alcohol is safe and possibly even helpful. More recent research though suggests that even occasional drinking raises a woman’s of developing breast cancer. In a review of 113 studies alcohol was found to be causally related to breast cancer. Even one drink a day was shown to raise one’s risk by 5%.
The benefits of a healthy diet for the prevention of or as part of a treatment protocol for breast cancer deserves an article unto itself and it would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention it at all. There are a number of studies out there that are focused on various diets and their ability to either prevent breast cancer, lessen the severity of the cancer, or decrease the likelihood of a recurrence. The one thing that is consistent throughout is the importance, and impact of, a plant-based diet. One retrospective study found a 74% lower risk of breast cancer while another study found that women who ate the Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil reduced their risk by ~30%.
There are a number of foods that have exhibited promising activities as it relates to breast cancer prevention and treatment. Some of these are citrus fruits, cruciferous vegetables, mushrooms, garlic, beans, berries, pomegranates, and various leafy greens, especially parsley and watercress. Encouraging research also supports including foods high in lycopene, lignans, and/or fiber.
There are two supplements that stand out for their abilities to support breast health due to their numerous beneficial activities. The first is a medicinal mushroom long used in Asia but relatively new to the West called Meshima. This mushroom offers direct, indirect, and supportive benefits. Direct breast cancer fighting actions include apoptosis induction (cancer cell suicide), cell growth arrest, and inhibiting the effects of Nuclear Factor kappa B. Indirect actions include powerful immune boosting activity including the activation of T lymphocytes, B lymphocytes NK cells, dendritic cells, and macrophage. Meshima also offers an array of supportive actions: supporting the body’s detoxification process, liver protection, raising glutathione levels, lowering blood sugar, lessening the side effects of chemo and radiation, along with the ability to potentiate chemotherapy drugs. Research suggests that Meshima may be useful at all stages of the process from prevention to tumor inhibition to anti-angiogenesis to metastasis (Meshima inhibits cell adhesion, and cancer cell migration and invasion).
The next supplement to consider is one much more widely known in the West but also with its foundation in Asia. Green tea, and particularly the compound EGCG found in the tea, has been shown to strongly inhibit breast cancer growth. In fact one study found that only 3 ounces of green tea daily lowered the risk by 47%. Lab and animal studies show that it can inhibit cancer proliferation, induce apoptosis, inhibit angiogenesis, and inhibit cancer invasiveness. Green tea is an effective free radical scavenger, anti-inflammatory agent, and detoxification enzyme activator. A recent discovery found another compound in the tea, called Polyphenon E, as added breast cancer fighting activity. For the strongest and most effective green tea supplementation I suggest taking an EGCG supplement along with several very strong cups of the actual tea daily.
A number of supplements deserve honorable mention that we are not able to explore due to space concerns; including Vitamin D, Omega 3 fatty acids, Brazilian Propolis, Calcium d-glucarate, and the mushrooms Reishi and Coriolus.
The Evidence for Choice
If you’re skeptical with regards to the information presented above I’ll cite one more statistic; it has been estimated that more than half of all breast cancer cases could be prevented or at least postponed if some simple lifestyle conditions were embraced: healthy weight, healthy diet, less alcohol consumed, regular exercise, no smoking, and babies were breast-fed. The message here is clear; there is much we can do to lower the risk of developing breast cancer as well as impact the likelihood of the recurrence. Embrace your power and take control of your health and healing.