All women are at risk for breast cancer. If you have not had breast cancer, you want to stay clear of it, and if you have had it, you never want to get it again. Living without cancer starts with understanding cancer. Is getting cancer a simple case of bad genes and bad luck? Is it just a few renegade cells mutating and replicating at random? Increasingly, research suggests otherwise. The development of cancer is an indication that the body lacks the support necessary to destroy cancer cells. If we focus on the underlying conditions that may have contributed to the disease, we can likely prevent recurrence or new cancers.
Cancer is the result of damaged DNA. Cells transform into cancer cells daily (carcinogenesis), however, a normal, healthy body detects and removes these cancerous cells before they become tumors. However, sometimes this orderly process is interrupted. Scientists have learned that cancer is caused by changes in genes that normally control the growth and death of cells. Genes in cells can mutate as a result of being hit by radiation or because of damage caused by some toxin or even a deficiency of essential nutrients. Certain genes can promote the growth of cancer and certain genes can inhibit the growth of cancer and the activity of these genes can be turned on by these physiological factors. Unfortunately, there are many triggers in our environment that can either promote or suppress the actions of certain genes within cells. For example, you might have a tumor-suppressing gene built into your DNA that gets switched off by repeated exposure to pesticides, opening a gate for abnormal cell growth. How we live—what we eat, how active we are, how much alcohol we consume—impacts us at the cellular level.
Cancer is not primarily an inherited disease. Some people carry a mutated gene, but this does not mean they will automatically get cancer, it just means that the risk of getting cancer is increased. Cancer does involve the genes in cells, but that does not mean that cancer is always genetically inherited. Much is written about certain people being predisposed to cancer because of their family history. Many families who do not share the BRCA genes have a familial connection to cancer…meaning cancer seems to “run in their family.” However, when cancer does appear to run in families, it is more likely that there are other factors, such as diet, lifestyle, exposure to environmental toxins, and so forth, that those family members have in common which are contributing to the development of cancer.
If you have read my article It Is the Weak Tree That Comes down in a Hurricane, you will remember the need to fortify your tree. A moist tree does not burn in a fire, and a strong tree (your health and immune system) can help support your cells and prevent tumor growth. Most medical experts agree that, in fact, we all probably have cancer cells developing in each of us all the time, but our bodies are able to dispose of them before they rage out of control. Nature has provided the human body with the tools needed to prevent and fight cancer, it is known as the immune system and it needs your support to get the job done. If a healthy body can normally defend itself quite well against the development of cancer, why not do everything you can to keep that body healthy?
While there is no sure way to prevent breast cancer, one of the biggest myths about breast cancer is that we have no control over it. Certain lifestyle and environmental factors can change some normal genes into genes that allow the growth of cancer, while others can improve your odds for living cancer free. According to the American Cancer Society, about one third of the 550,000 American cancer deaths each year are linked to obesity, poor diet and inactivity which makes lifestyle one of the biggest contributors to cancer risk, and that’s something over which you have control. Significant risk reduction is an achievable goal. Living with cancer is difficult, living without it is grand.
Now that we understand that cancer is not some random act, what can we do to minimize our risk? Avoid the villains and embrace the soldiers.
Diet---Diet should be an important part of your anticancer strategy. The cellular level is where cancer begins and where nutrition exerts its effect. The right foods will help you prevent it, or if already diagnosed, will help you recover, protect your body during treatment, and help you avoid recurrence. The Mediterranean diet is recommended as it is rich in fish, olive oil, whole grains, vegetables, nuts and legumes. A high fiber, low fat diet lessens the likelihood that cancer cells will multiply or spread by reducing the amount of estrogen circulating in the blood. A healthy diet will support your immune system, crucial in fighting cancer. Recent science has recognized the critical role antioxidants and the immune system play in cancer prevention and in their ability to destroy cancers already present. The immune system, and specifically NK cells (natural killer cells), are able to attack and kill a wide variety of cells and patrol the circulatory system and organs of the body on an antigen seek-and-destroy mission, so keeping these super-soldiers in optimal fighting condition is necessary to beat cancer. Antioxidants protect cells and tissues and remove the free radicals created by exposure to radiation, chemicals, inflammation, etc. Scientists recognize the overwhelming importance of adequate nutrition to keep these systems running at peak efficiency in order to free your body of cancer. A lack of minerals and vitamins will decrease the activity of these soldiers and compromise the immune system. Please include a wide variety of anti-cancer foods as each nutrient plays its own role in the prevention of cancer.
To boost your immunity, consume foods rich in beta carotene (carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin) and vitamin C (citrus, bell peppers, broccoli) and Vitamin E (almonds are a great choice as they also help regulate blood sugar). Zinc is also helpful, so eat wheat germ and chickpeas. Avoid processed food, (including grains, sugars and meats), high fat meats and dairy, Trans fats and high fructose corn syrup. Limit alcohol. Whenever possible, consider organic, especially for beef, chicken and certain fruits and vegetables known to be highly tainted with toxins (please visit www.foodnews.org for information regarding “the dirty dozen and clean 15”). For more information on foods to add to your diet, please read my article Eating to Cheat Cancer.
Exercise-- Exercise and maintaining a healthy weight play a crucial role in cancer prevention. Experts think the effects of exercise on the body's hormone levels, immune function and body weight may play an important role. Obesity increases the body’s insulin levels and insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) that have a growth promoting effect on cells, especially on cancerous cells. Being overweight also boosts the body’s estrogen levels, which research shows stimulates cell growth of estrogen sensitive breast cancer, and exercise helps to reduce excess estrogen from the body. Cancer thrives on fat as fat cells may inhibit the removal of potentially cancerous cells from the body. Further, recent studies have proven that overweight and obese women have higher levels of inflammation, which provides a cancer promoting environment in the body. Try to exercise for at least 30-45 minutes a day. Any exercise is better than none, but a brisk walk or run will give you more protection.
Green tea-- Green tea contains EGCG, an antioxidant that greatly decreases the advancement of breast cancer cells by hindering the growth of blood vessels in tumors and by preventing cancer cells from multiplying and migrating to other parts of the body. The catechins in green tea, and specifically EGCG, fix cell damage and halt free-radical damage. What’s more, green tea also has the advantage of increasing thermogenesis, a process which helps you burn fat and calories and therefore may help with weight management.
A few studies suggest that white tea is even better than green tea at preventing damage to cells that could lead to cancer. The key to reaping the potential health benefits of tea is consistency. Consumed regularly over many years, white and green teas can offer substantial protection against cancer. Combined with a mostly plant–based diet, the catechins in tea could have an even greater effect as all the plant chemicals work together. Consider drinking 2-3 cups a day, spaced out during the day for maximum protection.
Please…no milk in your tea and add hot, not boiling water as boiling water compromises the catechins. Brewed is best as bottled teas typically contain far fewer catechins.
Water— Water is a basic need for cellular health. Cells both contain and are surrounded by water. Water is needed to regulate all our bodily functions, including the ability of the kidneys to expel toxins from the body. In dehydration, cell membranes become less permeable, hampering the flow of hormones and nutrients into the cell and preventing waste products such as oxidants that cause cellular damage from exiting. Dehydration in cells is known to cause inflammation, and while not all inflammations cause cancer, it is a contributing factor, and in many cases, inflammation causes an already established cancer to grow and spread. The body's response to dehydration, when left unchecked, contributes to many other problems, including DNA damage, reduced efficiency of the DNA repair system, immune suppression, and irregular protein production in cells, which encourages cancer cell formation. Tap or bottled? This is a difficult question. Tap is loaded with toxic chlorine, fluoride and various other contaminants, and bottled is infused with BPA and is not guaranteed to be toxin-free. Water from a reputable spring is a great option, but not terribly available and while distilled is a great option, it usually comes in plastic bottles. However, it is imperative to stay hydrated. Therefore, my advice is to do your best, average out the perils and if juicing is part of your regime, you can safely reduce your water consumption.
Adequate sleep—Studies in Japan, England and the USA show that the risk of breast cancer increases by 60% for women who do not get a minimum of six hours sleep a night. Sleep deprivation adversely affects the white blood cell count in humans as well as the body’s ability to fight infections. Further, it is thought that the hormone melatonin plays a strong role in preventing tumors from developing as it can suppress estrogen, too much of which is known to promote the growth of breast cancers and is a contributing factor in 80% of all breast cancers. While you’re sleeping, you have less circulating estrogens, and the growth of breast cancer cells slows down. However, light interferes with melatonin release (since melatonin is secreted in response to a lack of light), allowing estrogen levels to rise, so it is important to avoid using night lights or any other light sources at night.
Reduce stress—Chronic, prolonged stress impairs the immune system. It causes the immune system to cease and desist in the task of tumor surveillance. Further, chronic stress leads to depression, which also suppresses the immune system. Stress cannot always be eliminated, but you can take steps to offset it or change the way you deal with it.
Avoid sugar—Sugar fuels cancer growth and triggers inflammation. Sugar, and the resulting increase of glucose in your body, devastates your immune system by turning off our natural killer cells, the cells that fight cancer. Glucose plays a major role in encouraging the growth and metastasis of cancer.
Avoid HCA’s— High heat reacts with the protein in red meat, poultry and fish to create chemicals (HCA’s) linked to cancer, especially of the colon and breast. When meat is grilled or fried, heterocyclic amines (HCA’S) form on the surface of the meat. However, marinating meats prior to grilling can help offset the creation of HCA’S, and rosemary can inhibit the formation of HCA’s significantly, so add chopped rosemary to your marinade. It is also helpful to remove excess fat from meats as well as poultry skins.
Eliminate toxins in the home--- Frequent use of common chemical cleaners may increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer by as much as 50%. Commercial cleaners contain hormone disrupting chemicals that can increase estrogen levels. Use toxin free, natural cleaning products whenever possible. Avoid pesticides as women with high pesticide levels in their breast tissue have greater incidents of cancer. Avoid cosmetics that contain formaldehyde, parabens and phthalates (preservatives) which can impair your body’s cancer-fighting system. Mineral oil or liquid petroleum is a by-product in the distillation of petroleum to produce gasoline and other petroleum based products and is known to increase the risk of cancer.
Limit radiation exposure—Radiation therapy to the chest raises breast cancer risk, beginning ten years after treatment and lasting forever. Avoid CT scans as they have been linked to the progression of cancer and are often performed needlessly. (Hospital ER’s often perform them routinely, perhaps for liability purposes, but question the necessity and refuse the test if not absolutely necessary)
Don’t smoke – Six million people quit smoking every year—by dying. Be proactive, don’t smoke.
Red wine-- Resveratrol, a compound in red grapes and red wine, stops the development of abnormal cells that can result in breast cancer. However, Alcohol consumption is linked to higher rates of breast cancer, so enjoy, but limit consumption.
Avoid artificial sweeteners—There is significant research linking artificial sweeteners and cancer. Consider stevia as a substitute.
Cancer may be curable someday, but why wait and take the risk. Today, cancer is largely avoidable. Lifestyle changes and nutritional support can help stop cancer at the cellular level, before trouble begins. I hope you will consider the above lifestyle changes and stop cancer before it starts.
A note for those facing cancer treatments: a change in lifestyle, including improved nutrition, may enhance traditional cancer therapy, and provide powerful support to protect the body during cancer treatments. Traditional cancer treatments can be extremely harmful to the body and can result in long-term repercussions. I believe that nutritional support and supplements can help offset the damage. Nutritional therapy helps your immune system to perform its job better while it supports your healthy cells and protects your body during the stress of cancer treatment. When nutritional therapy is added to your traditional cancer treatment plan, it can increase your chance of cure as well as the quality of life. However, a few words of caution. Do not take large doses of any vitamin, food supplement or herb without the knowledge of your oncologist as some of them can negate the effects of some treatments. In my next article I will further explain nutritional therapy and discuss specific foods supportive of the body during treatment.
To view my other articles, please visit http://elynjacobs.blogspot.com/.
Elyn C. Jacobs
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