7 Ways To Naturally Care For Your Breasts
October is breast cancer awareness month – and as breast cancer is the most common cancer among Canadian women, with 26,300 women diagnosed in 2017, it’s important to consider that we’re all at risk. Rarely, breast cancer is also diagnosed in men – there were 230 new cases in Canada in 2017. Chances are you know and love someone who has, or has had, breast cancer. In honor of this, I’d like to share some strategies to proactively reduce your risk.
The good news is that there are many ways to be proactive in the prevention of breast cancer and promotion of breast health – what’s even better is that these steps are health promoting in general, reducing your risk of diabetes, heart disease and other chronic inflammatory conditions. Incorporating some of these practices daily is a natural and healthy way of promoting good health through your lifespan, with a particular focus on the health of your breasts!
Eat real food
Breast tissue is hormonally active, and eating a healthy diet free of processed foods, that stabilizes your blood sugar, and provides essential nutrients for detoxification promotes healthy hormonal balance. Shop the perimeter of your grocery store, choose organic when possible (check out the Dirty Dozen and Free Fifteen), and check all labels to avoid foods that contain high fructose corn syrup, refined carbohydrates (ie. pastries), and added sugar (especially refined sugar). Phytonutrients in the Brassica family of vegetables like broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts, help the liver to properly detoxify estrogen – this is key to supporting breast health. Eat foods that don’t have a label – whole fruits, vegetables, high quality protein (hormone free, pastured animal products), and healthy fats are high in nutrients and fibre to keep hormones in check.
Choose high quality fats
Both olive oil and fish oil have shown a protective effect against breast cancer in several large studies. The Journal of the National Cancer Institute demonstrated a 25% reduction in breast cancer risk in women who consumed olive oil regularly. I typically suggest wild fish 3x/week, along with daily intake of ground flaxseed and walnuts, or a daily dose of a high-quality fish oil, and 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, unheated, to ensure enough anti-inflammatory fats are consumed.
Drink less alcohol
Though there is some limited research suggesting that small amounts of red wine have a cardiovascular protective effect, we know that 7 servings of alcohol in a week increases a women’s risk of breast cancer. There are some research studies that suggest even less could impact the risk. A safe intake for prevention would be less than two 4-ounce glasses of wine in a week.
Avoid environmental toxins
There are thousands of environmental chemicals that can impact our hormonal systems negatively, and unfortunately our breast tissue is particularly sensitive to the effects of these toxins. Though we cannot avoid these hormone disruptors 100%, there are steps you can take to minimize your risks.
Even low exposures to BPA, a chemical in plastics, can increase the risk of cancer through its estrogen-mimicking activity. Never store or heat food in plastic, don’t drink water from plastic bottles, get rid of plastic utensils, and don’t buy food in cans lined with plastic.
The easiest way for these environmental toxins to find their way into our systems is through our skin. Anything you slather on your skin daily is being absorbed directly into your blood stream – have a look at the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database, and consider whether your lotion, shampoo, deodorant, makeup and fragrances could be negatively impacting your hormonal health. Get rid of your aluminum-based anti-perspirant, and swap it for something safer.
Drink purified water, at least 2L per day, and support your liver with the following detox suggestions to get those chemicals out fast!
Support your natural detoxification systems
Our bodies are equipped with an incredible ability to break down and eliminate chemicals that could negatively impact our hormonal systems – with daily exposure to environmental and food-based chemicals, there is an increasing load on these detoxification pathways. Most of the hormonal detox in the body occurs through the liver and large intestine; if this system becomes overburdened, chemicals can damage our cells. Nutrients from our foods such as protein (amino acids), B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, quercetin, and D-glucaric-acid, support phase I and II detoxification systems in the liver. Include some of the following detox super foods in your diet on a regular basis: mustard greens, rosemary, broccoli, celery, apple, onion, cherry, beans, broccoli sprouts, Brussels, tomato, cauliflower, apricots, spinach almonds, cashew, potato, lentils, avocado, halibut, orange, sweet potato, collards, red peppers, eggs, beets, kale, cabbage, liver, grass fed beef, turmeric, green tea, artichoke hearts and pomegranate. These foods are loaded with the nutrients to support your liver detox mechanisms.
Sweat regularly (aim for daily), drink purified water, limit your caffeine intake, and ensure that your bowels move regularly and function normally. Once toxins pass through the liver, they’re dumped into the small intestine where they are bound to fibre and eliminated in stool. If you’re constipated, chat with your ND about how to get your bowels moving so you can properly complete the detox process.
Reduce your stress, and move your lymph
There is one thing that will do both of the above, and that’s regular movement. As I mentioned above, sweating daily helps the body eliminate toxins that can affect breast health – but moving your body also reduces stress and moves your lymphatics. When you balance your stress hormones, it creates an overall positive effect on sex hormone balance that is protective for your breasts. Your lymphatic system here Is the second key benefit. The lymphatic system is a fluid drainage pathway in the body that houses the cells of the immune system. It links up to lymph nodes present in locations like your groin and underarm, and is the highway by which the immune cells move throughout your body. With movement, the lymphatic system flows and drains, allowing for movement of immune cells to areas where they’re needed. Immune cells naturally target and destroy cancer cells that grow out of control. I like to recommend incorporating the arm swing in your daily routine – a Taoist exercise favoured for its detox-promoting effects. Add 5 minutes of the arm swing to your morning routine, to get the lymphatics moving under your arms.
Learn how to do a self breast examination
I think it’s important to get to know your own breasts – how do they feel throughout your cycle, how do they change? You’re your breasts’ best friend. Start to notice what’s normal, so that you can detect any changes earlier than your doctor would. Once a week, in the shower, soap up and have a feel – your breast tissue starts right up in your underarm. Start with small circular motions throughout the breast, looking for any fibrous tissue, bumps, and the general feel of your breast tissue. Continue along with an inspection of how your nipples feel, and squeeze them to see if there is any discharge. The examination should not be painful, and you may notice that the texture changes throughout your menstrual cycle. If you detect any tissue that is unusually hard or stuck in place, ask your doctor to examine it.
There are numerous other ways to support breast health, and in patients with a strong family history, I’ll often test hormone and detoxification pathways to see how we can individually tailor a supplement protocol to promote healthy breasts long term. Call me for a free 15 minute consult if you’d like to chat specifics.
Dr Kali MacIsaac HBSc ND
Learn more about Vancouver Naturopath, Dr. Kali MacIsaac.