Breast Cancer: Awareness or Prevention?
How to Prevent Breast Cancer
This month is Breast Cancer Awareness month. It started out in 1985 as a warm and fuzzy way to promote mammograms. Before I became a nutritionist, I worked as a marketing director for a hospital. I was tasked with getting women in for mammograms (our CFO was adamant we pay off the pricey equipment.), so October was a busy month.
My preference today would be a breast cancer prevention month. Experts could share the myriad of ways to prevent this disease altogether.
Mammograms spot growths, which may or may not be cancer. According to a 2016 New England of Medicine report, more than half the abnormal mammogram findings never turn into cancer, but are nevertheless treated aggressively, as if they are. So, true a mammogram can catch a deadly growth but it can also lead you to unnecessary treatment.
Once a growth is spotted, cancerous or benign, the patient is treated for cancer (super scary news + surgery, chemo, and/or radiation).
I am not telling you to skip mammograms, only pointing out ways to be more proactive if indeed prevention is your goal. I left my well paying hospital post (with benefits) to educate others in how to stay out of hospitals. Let’s talk actual prevention.
Exercise: Physical activity is well known to reduce cancer risk. Numerous studies show exercise prevents breast cancer. One study showed, women who get in 30-60 minutes of moderate activity per day enjoy a 25-30% reduction in breast cancer risk. Exercise also helps with fat loss, another way to reduce cancer risk as body fat raises estrogen levels.
Weight Control: Studies suggest obesity increases risk for many cancers, including breast cancer. Body fat increases estrogens and insulin, both of which may increase cancer risk. Exercise, cut sugar, and eat more veggies.
Vitamin D: This may be one of the single most effectives ways to slash breast cancer risk. Studies show blood levels above 60 ng/ml can prevent close to 80% of breast cancer! Neither the Susan G Komen, the American Cancer Society, nor the National Breast Cancer coalition teach or even research this.
The ideal dose to achieve optimal vitamin D levels varies. Get tested to know your ideal dose. It is not the dose but your BLOOD level that is key. Also be sure you take vitamin K2 whenever you take vitamin D. This also plays a role in cancer prevention, but more importantly enables vitamin D to do its job. Those who take vitamin D without K2 can wind up with calcium in the wrong place, like arteries and kidneys, and not in bone where it belongs.
Cut the Sugar: It is well known cancer cells grow rapidly when provided their fuel of choice: sugar. A study conducted at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center demonstrated that a sugary diet (typical in America), as compared to a low sugar diet, increases breast tumor growth and metastasis in mice.
Instead of snacking on cookies, ice cream or gummy bears, consider olives, nuts, crackers and cheese, pate, or whole milk yogurt. Instead of cold cereal or granola for breakfast, consider eggs with veggies, or oatmeal with lots of butter and nuts.
Vegetable oils: High omega 6 oils, or polyunsaturates, including safflower, sunflower, corn, soy, peanut and canola, are inflammatory and associated with oxidation and increased risk of cancers. Olive oil, on the other hand, has a protective effect. A high intake of omega 3 rich fats, from fish oils and seafood, is also associated with reduced risk of cancer.
Instead of bottled salad dressings made with vegetable oils, consider using olive oil and vinegar and make your own. Supplement with cod liver oil and eat more cold-water fish, walnuts, flax seeds, and pastured meat and eggs.
Ask restaurant servers to leave off the canola oil-laced salad dressing and just serve olive oil and vinegar. I travel with a tiny bottle of olive oil for this reason. I love salads and they are almost universally made with a cheap “blend.” Olive oil is pricey for good reason.
Mushrooms: Fungi are well know cancer fighters and used in cancer remedies across the globe. Some of the more medicinal are shiitake, chaga, turkey tail, and Reishi. Use powdered mushrooms in broth. Sauté shiitakes or maitakes with other veggies. Simmer a variety of mushrooms slices in soups and stews.
Cruciferous veggies are associated with lower levels of the kind of estrogen that can promote breast cancer. A diet high in cauliflower, broccoli, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and others in this family, can reduce risk of cancer-promoting estrogens.
Folate: If you enjoy a glass or two of wine at night, you are likely boosting your risk for breast cancer. If you take folate, you can offset the risk. Just one glass of wine a day appears to increase breast cancer risk. A supplement, or a diet particularly rich in folate, provides protection. Leafy greens, liver and nuts are good sources, but a folate supplement insures you are getting therapeutic levels. Check your supplement; folic acid does not provide this benefit.
Nettles: My villager neighbors in Turkey took it as fact that nettles cure cancer. One young local woman even shipped bags of fresh nettles to her sister in the states who was battling cancer. I regularly joined my elderly villager neighbors collecting creek side stinging leaves (with gloves). My motivation was an incredibly delicious nettles soup. I searched the web for evidence of this cancer-fighting benefit 10 years ago when living in Turkey, but found nothing. More recently, I learned sodium formate, the compound responsible for the biting rash when skin is brushed with a nettle leaf, attacks cancer cells repeatedly and does not foster resistance as many chemo drugs do.
Fall and spring are good times to check for nettles in moist, shady places.
Many foods have chemotherapeutic potential, meaning they an induce cancer cell death, as well as boost immunity so your body does the work. Here is a list of cancer-fighting foods and spices you might consider adding to your diet:
Turmeric (fresh root and powder)
Ginger (ginger tea, ginger in stir-fries)
Garlic, raw minced
Turkey tail mushroom
Nettles (fresh in soups is best. It is delicious made into a soup.)
Broccoli family: cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale (cooked)
Onions, leeks, scallions
Spices/herbs: thyme, oregano, rosemary, marjoram
Live sauerkraut, pickles, pickled vegetables
Seaweed (a source of iodine, which is associated with reduced incidence of breast and ovarian cancers. Warning, sushi restaurants often serve seaweed salad with sugar and dyes.)
Soursop (you can get this fresh in tropical areas or buy as a tea or capsules)
To reduce x-ray exposure penetrating delicate breast tissue, consider thermography. Many claim this picks up abnormalities before growths materialize.
Cheers to prevention.
My girls eat a very balanced diet and eat their veggies daily. Overall, they are very healthy. They may catch a cold virus once, rarely twice, during the ‘flu season’. Do you recommend any additional children’s supplements? They take a multi and Vitamin D with calcium, but wondering if that is necessary. Thank you!
Happy, healthy New Year!
I can’t say for sure what supplements would help given I don’t know subtle signs and symptoms of your girls but I often recommend some form of omega 3 fat, such as cod liver oil. They might not need this if they eat lots of wild salmon, true pastured eggs and grass fed beef. I don’t know how much fermented foods your family eats, but unless it’s something daily, I would recommend a probiotic. They should be getting dark leafy greens and nuts daily. Regular soups and stews especially with sea veggies should cover most minerals. I might add a daily vitamin C. To ward off flu and colds, consider colostrum in winter and mushroom powder stirred into your home brewed bone broth, which also supplies bone-building and gut-healing nutrients. I don’t recommend most of those cheap sugary vitamin gummmies or sugared C’s. Hope that helps.
Good Morning, Linda,
What an informative post! This subject is near and dear to my heart. Because of my family history, my OB/GYN recommends a breast MRI and a mammo. I have yet to see if a thermo is covered by insurance.
That daily recommendation of exercise is enough to put myself on a more regular schedule of regular exercise!
The list of cancer fighting foods is so helpful. Can I take Nettles in a form of supplement to do the same job?
How much and what type of folate do you recommend if I have a glass of wine or two?
Thank you and hope all is well!
Look for folate as 5 L MTHF (methyltetrahydrofolate). 1 mg is a good start. You might see how you feel with 2 mg, but back off if you feel overly energized or anxious. A 24 hour steroid urine panel tells you how you are doing on methylation and would guide you in your dose, as well as your levels of cancer-causing estrogens and other hormones. But, few MD’s know how to read these so don’t order them. Some some women appear to need a lot of folate, others need little.
I prefer fresh nettles, but I am sure nettles tea offers some benefit. I would choose that over a capsule.
Hope that helps!
What is your opinion of Alma Berry powder for general health and cancer prevention?
Alma is a good food source of vitamin C. I often add in some ascorbic acid to bring up total C level in the case of cancer. Some research suggests higher doses of C than obtainable in food sources are therapeutic.
Hi Linda, great posting! My vit D was low my last blood work so the Dr. put me on 25 MCG 1000 IU twice a day. I would like to take your suggestion of also being sure you take vitamin K2 whenever you take vitamin D. Where would you recommend getting it and how much to take.
I also asked him about -yes you guessed it my joint pain. I still have it and it is the worst I have known it to be. My diet isn’t perfect but not that bad. He said I had elevated markers for to much thyroid – so he cut that back too. I haven’t gotten a good nights sleep for a while now. When I move at night the pain wakes me up then I can’t fall back to sleep because my body hurts. He said by lowering the thyroid medicine should make me sleep better. He said possible the pain was more phantom because of my system being a little out of wack? High thyroid, elevated hormone – I think he said estrogen primarily, glucose elevated? Interesting enough my inflammation markers were normal. I have gotten that estrogen fat belly roll too.
My girlfriend showed me a new book and for my symptoms it said there is a good chance I have epsom-barre disease (sp?). The book was the Medical Medium, Anthony Williams. my Dr. said that is another catch all disease like Candida was for a while. Your thoughts on this info pls.
I would be interested in a consultation please, thank you Tricia
Vitamin D is fat soluble so no need for a twice day dose. Some even take it once a week (7 days worth at once)! Every day or every other day is fine. Low D might be contributing to pain. 1000IU is not a lot. You might consider kicking it up, but test every 4-6 months to know for sure. Between 50-60 ng/ml is what you want to shoot for. You can get home test kids, which run less than most labs. I like Thorne vitamin D3-K2 drops, that way you get D and K together. You can also pick up K2, in the form of MK7 and/or MK4 from and just take it the same day as your D. Studies show vitamin K2 reduces RA symptoms and inflammatory markers. People love to name their pain or health issue, but for most, eliminating sugar and gluten, and possibly nightshades, would probably reduce your pain subside substantially. Of course cod liver oil and curcumin are amazing pain fighters too.