by Diana Arundell – university qualified Naturopath and Nutritionist
Prevention of most disease in the body is multifactorial meaning that there is not one magic thing you can do/take to prevent disease and likewise, there is not one thing solely that you can do that will create disease. It is more likely a collision of many choices made over weeks, months, years and even decades of life. Well known medical intuitive Caroline Myss sums this up with saying your biography becomes your biology. Breast health and the development or prevention of disease I believe can be discussed with the same approach. For example true genetic causes of breast cancer account for less than 5% of breast cancers, meaning the other 95% of cases are more related to other factors such as diet, lifestyle, deficiencies, excesses, stressors and other aspects that can impact the way genes express themselves and our immune system and how hormones respond.
Western orthodox medicine has many options for treating diagnosed acute diseases of the breast and naturopathic medicine has many options to support the body to maintain optimal health with the view of preventing disease. When it comes to breast health, change is the biggest thing to look out for. For example lumps or swelling in or around the breast or armpit, skin changes around the nipples and/or a change in shape are all things that need to be discussed with your GP.
As we age our breast tissue changes. Dense muscle tissue is lost and replaced with fatty tissue which can increase breast size around menopause. Fibrocystic changes can also happen as we age, as cysts (non-cancerous) are filled with fluid which respond to hormone changes. Unhealthy metabolism of estrogen in the female body can increase the incidence of growths in the uterus (eg. Thickening of the uterine lining and fibroids) and breasts (cysts and tumours). Good hormone metabolism is essential for good breast health. Hormone health can be impacted by what we expose our body to via our intake (diet, medications) as well as toxic estrogens (xenoestrogens) in our environment (via plastics and chemicals). Ensuring we have good liver function for detoxification and regular daily bowel motions to help the elimination of toxins is an important aspect of good hormone metabolism and clearance.
As a woman’s age increases, so does her risk of developing breast cancer so focusing on the all of the diet and lifestyle tips to improve health and reduce the risk of breast disease is common sense. The following list includes diet and lifestyle choices that some studies have suggested may reduce the risk of developing diseases of the breast such as fibrocystic breast disease and cancer.
- Exercise – 30mins daily or 3 hours per week. Walking and Yoga are a great combination for cardio and strength.
- Ensure good Vit D status aiming for 80-100 nmol/litre. Sunshine – 20-30 mins day direct sunlight on skin and you don’t need to burn to get adequate vitamin D. Low vitamin D levels are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer and auto immune disease.
- Check iodine levels to ensure they are optimal as there is an association between low iodine and increase risk of cysts and tumours. Foods high in iodine include seaweed, kelp, seafood, iodised salt and if grown in iodine rich soil – leafy green vegetables and mushrooms.
- Sleep – Aim for 8 hours sleep each night.
- Follow a Mediterranean style diet which is high in vegetables, salads, fruit, nuts, fish and healthy oils such as olive oil.
- Green vegetables daily – especially organic broccoli, cauliflower and brussell sprouts as these are high in Indole-3-carbinol which support healthy estrogen metabolism.
- Aim for 8-10+ servings phytonutrients per day – seasonal organic vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts and seeds and primarily a plant based diet 80%.
- Reduce the intake of processed food as it’s high in inflammatory ingredients such as sugar, unhealthy fats, salt and low in nutrients.
- Consider 12 hours of fasting per day – eg. 7pm-7am.
- Meditation – Start with 5-10mins 1x day (Insight Timer is a great free App) as part of stress reduction regime.
- Increase omega 3 essential fatty acids found in nuts, seeds and fish. Flaxseeds/linseeds and flaxseed oil are high in lignans which can support healthy hormone metabolism.
- Green tea – drink daily for antioxidant properties.
- Antioxidants help protect cells from oxidative damage and we can increase our antioxidant capacity by connecting with nature and consuming more plant based food. Walking barefoot and physically touching nature can improve antioxidant status! Substances high in antioxidants include vitamin C and resveratrol which are high in grapes and berries. Turmeric also has antioxidant properties and can help reduce inflammation.
- Maintain good probiotic flora in your gut to support healthy immune function.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
- Reduce the intake of animal meat and choose organic dairy and animal products or at least produce that is free from the use of antibiotics and hormones and are preferably free range and grass fed. It is speculated that the meat and dairy industry may use hormones to increase the production of milk and the growth of the animal which all accumulates in our systems when consumed. Search online for local ethically farmed produce.
- Learn lymphatic breast massage techniques.
- A note about soy which has been the topic of much debate when it comes to breast health. Recent research is suggesting that the inclusion of non-genetically modified soy, in particular in its natural fermented form (tofu, tempeh, natto) plays a protective role in breast health.
Your health is in your choices and your thoughts and your actions. Positive thinking = hope for the best AND do something about it. Wishful thinking = hope for the best and not do anything about it.
Diana Arundell is a university-qualified naturopath and consults from her Avoca Naturopath clinic. She has a special interest in fertility and pregnancy health, digestive health, immune function and family wellness programs. She was a nutrition lecturer at Macquarie University for 10 years, and is an accredited Journey Practitioner. For further information or to make an appointment please contact Diana Arundell at Avoca Naturopath on 0410 465 900.