October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and since this is the most common cancer diagnosis for American women, I’d like to discuss ways to be proactive about prevention while improving overall wellness.
Though it’s easy to live in fear of eventually developing breast cancer — with little hope beyond surgery and chemo — there is plenty to be hopeful about. New developments in the science of epigenetics tell us that although one may have a genetic predisposition for this disease, our internal and external environment play crucial roles.
Be it our nutrition, gut health, hormone balance, stress levels, or the toxicity in our food or environment, there are so many changes 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, and helps prevent breast cancer cells from forming.
- Feed your healthy gut bugs. Eat prebiotic and probiotic rich foods daily like raw sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, unsweetened coconut or goat kefir, etc. These 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 a family history of breast cancer and/or symptoms of hormone imbalance, it can be incredibly helpful to work with a holistic practitioner — like a naturopath, an integrative health practitioner, or a functional medicine certified health coach — to develop an individualized health plan. Any serious practitioner will start you off with lab tests for a snapshot of your current health. I suggest a simple salivary or urinary sex-hormone test (it’s not that costly), and perhaps a full 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, suddenly they feel like the best version of themselves — a way they haven’t felt in years. So if you’ve been feeling off, 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 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 sun). 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! Not only does your skin absorb everything you put on it, artificial fragrances are extremely toxic and invasive. If it’s not from a plant, don’t use it. Living Libations is my top favorite truly-clean brand for skincare, oral care, hair and more. (It’s also possible to make your own personal products at home for a fraction of the cost.) Ultimately, we don’t need most of these products — vibrant beauty comes from our internal health and wellbeing.
- 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. Take at least 15 minutes to meditate/breathe, do yoga, read, journal, or take a bath. Set aside a chunk of time every day for your grounding and releasing self-care!
- 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 vigorously massage the breasts, breaking up any soft tissue fibrosis while cleansing the lymph and breast tissue.
With these foundational practices in place, you can add some natural supplemental support.
- Medicinal mushrooms. Turkey Tail, Chaga, Reishi, Maitake, Lion’s Mane and others offer powerful immune support, prevention and apoptosis of cancer cells. Mushrooms are adaptogens, meaning they help us to adapt to stress, in our external or internal environment, and help the body to find homeostasis. These are an incredible ally available to us, and easy to add fresh mushrooms into our meals, take as supplements, or add powders into our latte or smoothies. Look for brands you trust like Host Defense, by the world-renowned mycologist Paul Stamets.
- CBD. Cannabidiol — an extract of the amazing hemp plant — is another adaptogen, with anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor qualities. CBD — either broad-spectrum (from hemp) or full-cannabis (from cannabis) — can induce cell death in breast cancer cells and is an inhibitor of aggressive breast cancer cells. In this quickly booming field, where companies are slapping CBD on every kind of product to sell more, it’s important to look for brands you trust. Look that they provide a clean report of no residual toxins, and that they’re not using CBD isolate. Because hemp can bioaccumulate toxins from the soil, make sure what you’re buying is sun-grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. (The USDA is not certifying hemp organic yet, but this should be changing soon.) I obviously know and trust Foria, though there are a few other companies applying the same standards of purity. I’m particularly excited for the release of Foria Basics, a daily sublingual of broad-spectrum CBD in organic-certified MCT oil. Dollars to milligrams, this is the highest quality and most honest price I’ve found. Foria will soon be offering CBD suppositories — useful for everything from menstrual cramps to general pelvic pain or inflammation.
I hope these tips serve you well and empower you. Weaving them into your daily life not only helps to prevent so many illnesses, 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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