In the past, the month of October has meant orange, yellow, and other gorgeous autumn colors. Nowadays though it’s awash in the color pink. But the one aspect of breast cancer that rarely gets mass coverage in October may just be the most important, and that is how to prevent breast cancer.
Welcome to Breast Cancer Awareness Month – the season of pink ribbons and blatant consumerism. Artificially flavored, colored, and sweetened foods, candy, alcoholic beverages, buckets of chicken, toxic beauty products, useless trinkets, NFL athletes – even handguns – have been adorned with the ubiquitous pink ribbon. Nothing, no matter how egregious, seems to be off limits.
The current rate of 1 in 8 women developing breast cancer in her lifetime is truly a national tragedy.
And unfortunately, if nothing changes, the situation is only going to worsen. A recent study performed by the National Cancer Institute and reported in the L.A. Times estimates the number of new breast cancer cases will increase by 50 percent by the year 2030.
A fifty percent increase in breast cancer cases over the next 15 years is not the direction this trend needs to be heading.
Breast cancer is preventable. In 2008, researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center concluded that only five to 10 percent of cancers in general are genetic in nature. The remaining 90 to 95 percent of cancers are related to environment and lifestyle choices.
The conversation about breast cancer prevention is not about blame, though. It is about empowering women (and men) with the necessary tools to take control of their health and reduce their risk of developing the disease.
The good news is, adopting an anti-breast cancer lifestyle does not mean you have to undertake some crazy extreme diet or detox. One of the best ways to start is by adding a variety of delicious and healthful foods to your diet on a regular basis.
Not sure where to begin? Try these five remarkable (and surprising!) foods that have been shown in studies to help prevent breast cancer:
1. Mushrooms may just be one of your most potent natural cancer fighters. A 2009 study showed that eating just one mushroom per day could decrease your risk of breast cancer by more than 60 percent. Plus, when the study participants consumed both mushrooms and green tea—another breast cancer preventative—their risk decreased even further.
One reason mushrooms may protect against breast cancer is that they inhibit aromatase, an enzyme that breast cancer cells use to produce estrogen. Several breast cancer drugs used nowadays are aromatase inhibitors.
A 2001 study conducted by researchers at the Beckman Research Institute at City of Hope in Duarte, CA supports this. The researchers concluded that a diet high in mushrooms modulates the aromatase activity and may prevent cancer in postmenopausal women by reducing the production of estrogen. This is important because approximately 80 percent of breast cancers depend on estrogen to grow.
As a general rule, try to avoid eating raw mushrooms though. Mushrooms contain potentially cancer-causing compounds called hydrazines, which are inactivated by heat. Make sure the mushrooms you eat are well cooked.
2.Pomegranate is another food that acts as a natural aromatase inhibitor. According to researchers at City of Hope, pomegranate contains six chemicals that suppress aromatase, one of which was shown to be particularly effective in inhibiting the enzyme in a laboratory test. The researchers concluded that these six compounds have the potential to prevent estrogen-responsive breast cancers.
In addition to its estrogen blocking abilities, research has also shown that three components in pomegranate juice keep cancer cells together and inhibit the migration of breast cells to the bone and elsewhere. The researchers involved in this particular study concluded that these three components are potentially a very effective treatment to prevent cancer progression in general.
As a rule, fruit juice is typically not recommended because of its harmful effect on blood sugar levels. However, pomegranate juice may be the exception. A laboratory study conducted on diabetic mice study showed that pomegranate juice did not worsen blood sugar levels.
It is important to make sure the pomegranate juice you buy is the real thing and has no added sugar. And to be cautious, keep the serving size to four ounces per day or less.
3. Flaxseeds contain lignans, which are antioxidants that function as anti-estrogens or weak estrogens and may block the effects of estrogen in some tissues.
Some people believe that women who have had breast cancer should avoid flaxseeds because of this estrogenic activity. However, the opposite may to be true. One laboratory study conducted on mice fed 10 percent dietary flaxseed showed that not only do the seeds inhibit the growth of estrogen-positive breast cancer, but they also appear to strengthen the tumor-inhibitory effect of Tamoxifen.
If you have not had breast cancer, flaxseeds may be a good preventive measure. A 2013 study showed women who ate flaxseeds at least weekly had an 18 percent lower risk of developing the disease. The researchers who conducted the study concluded the findings from this study might be of public health importance with respect to breast cancer prevention.
Ten percent of dietary calories might seem like a lot. However, three tablespoons contains about 110 calories, or about 5 percent of a 2,000 calorie per day diet. Do your best and include two to three tablespoons of ground flaxseed in your morning smoothie or oatmeal, or add to home-baked muffins, cookies or other healthful treats.
4. Celery contains a compound called apigenin, which laboratory research performed on mice showed shrinks a particular type of breast cancer tumor fueled by progestin. (Progestin is a synthetic hormone commonly included in hormone replacement therapy, or “HRT”).
Apigenin inhibits these tumors by inducing programmed cell death (a good thing), inhibiting cell growth, and reducing the expression of a particular gene (HER2/neu) that can cause a tumor to be more aggressive. The researchers concluded that apigenin has potential as an agent to treat certain types of breast cancer and that combination therapy including apigenin and other chemotherapeutic drugs warrants further study.
While the data is preliminary and the amounts tested were beyond human consumption levels, adding celery and other apigenin-containing foods as a regular part of your diet may offer some protection against breast cancer. Herbs such as basil, cilantro, oregano, parsley, and tarragon, as well as certain other fruits, veggies, teas and beans also contain this compound.
5. Turmeric, the popular Indian spice, contains an antioxidant called curcumin, which was shown by MD Anderson researchers to reduce the expression of a particular molecule in breast cancer cells that causes the disease to spread to other parts of the body. In addition, this same study noted that turmeric has been found to be pharmacologically safe, with no toxicity noted at doses up to 10 grams per day.
Another study has shown that a combination of curcumin and piperine (the compound that makes both black and white pepper hot) could eliminate breast cancer stem cells without damaging healthy tissue. This is important because some breast cancer stem cells may not be destroyed by radiation and chemotherapy.
Curcumin also has antiangiogenic properties.Angiogenesis is the formation of new blood vessels, and inhibiting this process essentially cuts off the blood supply a tumor needs to grow.
It’s easy to add turmeric to your diet. Dust your eggs or veggies with it, or add it to soups, chili, and other dishes. You can even sprinkle a tiny bit in your morning smoothie – you won’t even taste it. You may also want to include black pepper with your turmeric to increase the bioavailability of curcumin by some 2,000 percent.
As a final note, it is important to understand that none of these foods are guaranteed to protect you from breast cancer on its own, especially if your overall diet is lacking in other nutritious and healthful foods. However, including a variety of protective foods at every meal is a wise practice that may reduce your risk of developing the disease.
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Kristina Sampson is a breast cancer survivor and Certified Health Coach who focuses on the effects of nutrition, exercise, environment, and mindfulness on the prevention of breast cancer and general health and wellness. Visit www.thevaildiet.com for more information.
Click here to download a free PDF of "Leave Cancer in the Dust: 50 Tips to Prevent Breast Cancer and Supercharge Your Health."
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