Breast Cancer Awareness Month is coming soon, and since this is the most common cancer diagnosis for American women, we’d like to discuss ways to be proactive about prevention while improving overall wellness.
Though it’s common to have the fear of developing breast cancer — with little hope beyond surgery and chemo — there are a lot of incredible research and tools for us to be proactive about prevention and also support ourselves through such an event. Continual developments in the science of epigenetics show that although one may have a genetic predisposition for this disease, our internal and external environment play crucial roles in how that gene is expressed.
Be it our nutrition, gut health, hormone balance, stress levels, or the toxicity in our food or environment, there are many choices we can make to support our body’s ecosystems so that dis-ease is much less likely to take root.
So what can we do in our day-to-day to optimize our health and help prevent breast cancer? First of all, what we put in our body is truly foundational, so eating by these three principals can make a huge difference:
- Reduce/eliminate sugar, processed carbs, and alcohol. Sugar increases insulin, estrogen, and inflammation — essentially feeding cancer. Replace sweets with fresh berries, or sparkling water with a splash of kombucha instead of alcohol, and in your day-to-day fill up on mostly plants, quality proteins, and good fats, and save the carbs or sweets for the very occasional treat.
- Eat a rainbow of diverse plant foods, to nourish your body, balance your microbiome, support healthy digestion and hormones with phytonutrients that help the body fight off disease. Try to eat a fruit or vegetable from every color, especially the dark greens, blues, and purples every day. Eat broccoli sprouts, broccoli, or arugula consistently — they’re rich in sulforaphane, a powerful phase II detoxifier, which helps clear excess inflammatory estrogen.
- Feed your healthy gut bugs. Eat prebiotic and probiotic rich foods daily like raw sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, unsweetened coconut or goat kefir, etc. These cultured foods are vital for a healthy microbiome, resilient immune system, healthy hormone metabolism, toxin elimination, energy, mood, and fighting disease! Healthy probiotics help us to digest our other foods and absorb more of their nutrients, while supporting our internal boundaries and fending off invaders.
Most importantly, if you have breast cancer patients in your family history, and/or symptoms of hormone imbalance, it can be incredibly helpful to work with a holistic practitioner — like a Naturopathic or Functional Medicine practitioner — to develop an individualized whole-being plan of support. A curious and compassionate practitioner will start you off with lab tests for a snapshot of your current health, and in this case ideally a salivary and/or urinary sex-hormone test (it’s not costly), and perhaps a functional thyroid hormone panel. Based on these results, they’ll be able to support you in developing a well-rounded, root-cause approach to supporting your body’s optimal health.
In my own practice, I often work with women who think their suffering is “just the way it is” — whether it’s chronic fatigue, anxiety, depression, weight issues, hot flashes, painful or skipped period, etc. After a little testing and some dietary changes help us balance their gut and hormones, soon they feel more balanced and reconnected to who they truly are — a way they haven’t felt in years. So if you’ve been feeling "off", particularly in relation to your hormones, remember that it’s not “in your head” or “just part of aging” (as some doctors or family members may tell you). Often times there’s a physiological imbalance or dietary/environmental toxicity that just needs some nourishment and support.
Some key lifestyle steps we can take daily:
- Eliminate plastic containers and aluminum cans (BPA lining, phthalates, etc) from your life as much as possible. Never heat up your food in plastic, or drink water from plastic bottles (especially if they’ve been sitting in the heat). Xenoestrogens lead to cancer and are stored in our fatty tissue (especially the breasts). Use glass jars and bottles instead. Bring them to the store or co-op to fill your food, and use a hydroflask or glass bottle for your drinking water.
- Get rid of all face/body/beauty/fragrance products with synthetic chemicals and unknown elements! Your skin absorbs everything you put on it, and artificial fragrances can be toxic and irritating. I recommend using natural and plant-based products whenever possible. It’s also possible to make your own personal products at home for a fraction of the cost; like how my shampoo and conditioner is now simply apple cider vinegar. Ultimately, we don’t need most of these 'beauty' products — vibrant beauty comes from our internal health and well-being.
- Replace chemical cleaning products with natural alternatives, like baking soda, vinegar, citrus oil, lemon or sage infused vinegar, etc. This is something I’m currently exploring as I work to purchase fewer plastic bottles and seek out healthier ingredients.
- Daily exercise reduces risk and recurrence! Get your body moving and heart pumping every day, even for 30 minutes — we simply have to do it. Jog, run, hike, dance to your favorite music, yoga, HIIT, pilates, spin, etc. Find what you enjoy, and commit to doing it every day or every other day. I must warn you, though, that side-effects may include: better mood and sleep, more energy and clarity, better digestion and elimination, and decreased risk of all cancers!
- Manage stress daily. Become more aware of your breath throughout the day and take more deep belly breaths. Set aside at least 15 minutes to meditate/breathe, do yoga, read, journal, or take a bath. Prioritizing your connection with your body and breath for a chunk of time every day is the most powerful thing we can do!
- Set boundaries with your electronics. EMFs from our devices aren’t healthy for our cells, and the blue light of our screens disrupts our melatonin production at night. Keep the phone away from your body (and computer off your lap), use speakerphone or corded headphones, and use airplane mode whenever you can — especially while sleeping. (An old-school alarm clock makes this easy.) Never put your phone in your bra or a purse by your chest. In addition to avoiding the EMFs from these devices, consider how the content on them affects your mood and habitual thoughts. Try a digital detox during one part of your day every day, and take off on weekends. I make a point of not checking my phone until after breakfast and meditation/exercise, but if you can’t set a digital firewall around your mornings, put the phone away an hour or two before bedtime.
- Lymphatic support. Two of my favorite self-care breast practices are dry brushing in the sauna, and using a GuaSha stone in the bath or shower with some coconut or jojoba oil (perhaps with a little citrus oil). Use the smooth, crescent-shaped stone to massage the breasts, breaking up any soft tissue fibrosis while cleansing the lymph and breast tissue.
I hope these tips serve you well and empower you. Weaving them into your daily life not only can help to prevent many other manifestations of dis-ease in the body, but also improves your overall wellbeing and ability to show up in this world with joy and resilience. If this info inspired or helped you, please share with those you love that could benefit, and if you’ve got any suggestions to add to this list, please share with us in the comments below!
Written by: Colleen Gerson
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