Breast cancer continues to be the most common cancer for women and accounts for the second leading cause of cancer deaths in Canadian women. The good news is that early detection and advances in treatment have reduced breast cancer deaths by 42% since 1986.
Aside from inherited mutations of specific genes, we still do not know the root causes of breast cancer. We do; however, know a lot of about the various lifestyle factors that can increase and reduce one’s risk.
We can only change that which we can control, so let’s take a look at some diet and lifestyle tips that you can incorporate into your daily life in order to reduce your risk of breast cancer.
Tip 1: Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
I know, I know, easier said than done, right? However, in terms of breast cancer risk this one is important. Fat cells produce estrogen. Therefore, the more fat cells one has, the more estrogen is produced. Estrogen stimulates the growth and division of most breast cancer cells. Being a healthy body weight is your first line of defence against breast cancer.
If you need a little help in dropping those few extra pounds click here.
Tip 2: Exercise
There is strong evidence that physical activity can reduce breast cancer risk. It is thought that the benefits of exercise are multifold and include:
• helps decrease body weight
• reduces sexual and metabolic hormones
• improves insulin sensitivity
• reduces inflammation
Vegetables and fruit are the cornerstone of an anti-inflammatory diet. Chronic inflammation can promote tumour growth, invasion and metastasis.
Veggies are also loaded with fibre. A high fibre intake is associated with a reduced risk of developing breast cancer. Fibre can reduce circulating estrogen levels, as well as help promote weight loss.
Further, vegetables contain powerful phytochemicals that can help protect your cells from carcinogens (cancer-causing compounds). One of the most potent family of vegetables is the cruciferous family. This family includes: arugula, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, daikon, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, radish, rutabaga, wasabi and watercress.
Cruciferous veggies may help prevent and reduce recurrence of breast cancer through multiple pathways. They contain powerful antioxidants that may act to detoxify carcinogens, promote tumor cell death, regulate our cells’ response to estrogen and stabilize cell growth.
If you aren’t eating these veggies now, it’s time to start. Check out the recipe below.
Tip 4: Cut Down on Red Meat
Studies have shown that higher red meat intake can increase your risk of developing hormone-sensitive breast cancer in premenopausal women. If you do eat red meat choose organic, grass-fed to cut down on growth-promoting hormone residues and to ensure a healthier ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids. Serving size is important as well. Aim for a 3 ounce serving no more than a couple of times a week.
3 ounce serving is the size of a deck of cards.
Tip 5: Limit Alcohol
Breast cancer has been consistently linked with alcohol consumption though the mechanism of its association is unclear. The link is dose dependent in that the more one drinks, the higher the risk. Studies have shown that binge drinking is particularly deleterious.
Women who have a family history of breast cancer or have previously been diagnosed may wish to cap their consumption at three drinks a week.
Consumption of sugar, white flour and other high glycemic foods triggers the excessive release of insulin in order to drive the sugar out of our blood and into our cells. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that insulin plays a pivotal role in the fate of our cells. In particular it may be involved with promoting uncontrolled cell growth which can eventually lead to cancer, as well as, suppressing cell death of mutated or damaged cells.
Moderate your insulin levels by eating whole, intact grains, entire fruits (not their juice) and lots of fibre-rich vegetables.
Tip 7: Vitamin D
The scientific interest around vitamin D continues to grow. Although called a “vitamin”, vitamin D acts more like a hormone in the body. It has been shown to inhibit cancer cell growth, induce cancer cell death and decrease the formation of blood vessels in tumours (angiogenesis) which are imperative for tumours to grow.
As we are heading into the autumn and winter months it will be difficult to obtain sufficient vitamin D from the sun. Rich food sources include fortified dairy, salmon, trout, eel, snapper and mackerel. Alternatively, you may wish to speak to your doctor about supplementation.
Tip 8: Green Tea
Of all foods, green tea contains one of the highest proportions of anti-cancer molecules. These molecules, called catechins, may block certain mechanism used by cancer cells to reproduce and invade surrounding tissues. Like vitamin D, it may also prevent the formation of new blood vessels within the tumours. One study showed that increased consumption of green tea was associated with decreased recurrence of stage I and II breast cancer.
They key to benefiting from green tea is to drink it regularly so that the blood levels of the catechins remain high enough to attack the precancerous cells again and again. Choose Japanese green teas and steep for 8-10 minutes to maximize these cancer-fighting compounds.
Tip 9: Probiotics
Probiotics have multiple health benefits. They help maintain friendly intestinal bacteria which may suppress the growth of harmful bacteria. Harmful bacteria can convert potentially carcinogenic compounds into active carcinogens. Probiotics also stimulate the immune system and reduce inflammation both of which can help promote a positive cellular environment to prevent the formation of pre-cancerous cells.
Tip 10: Regular Screening
Lemon Garlic Broccolini
Serves 4 as a side dish.
2 bunches broccolini
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed and rested
pinch salt & freshly ground pepper
1 tsp grated lemon rind
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat, add broccolini, salt and garlic. Stir for 1 minute. Add 1/4 cup of water and the lemon rind. Partially cover with lid and let steam for approximately 5 minutes or until tender. No water should remain. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over top and add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.