Health & Food

Minimizing Your Risk of Breast Cancer

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I’ve done some posts in the past about breast cancer, specifically in regards to soy and breast cancer. I tend to get drawn into any research I see on the subject, as my grandma had breast cancer and I’m determined not to get it myself. This month’s Nutrition Action Healthletter contained an article focusing on what the latest research says about how you can lower your risk of breast cancer. Here are some of the important points;

1) Watch your weight. Estrogen plays a large role in breast cancer, specifically it promotes it. Women who carry more fat also produce more estrogen. I was startled to learn that your risk for breast cancer can increase significantly if you gain 20 to 30 pounds after age 18. When I was 18 I weighed 95 pounds (I am naturally very small, but I also had an ED at that time). Now at age 27 I weight 105 pounds, so I’ve already gained 10. My goal is to not go far beyond 115 pounds, which I think is doable (not counting pregnancy weight!).

2) Avoid taking hormones! I think this is a no brainer. In July of 2002 it was clear that women taking hormones (mainly postmenopausal women) had an increased for breast cancer! Bottom line, find hormone alternatives, such as soy.

3) Get moving! There is plenty of research out there that suggests women who are active have lower blood levels of circulating estrogen (probably due in part to less body fat!). Exercise also helps decrease insulin (high insulin is also positively correlated with breast cancer) and may help decrease whole-body inflammation. How much exercise do you need? Most studies show that 30 minutes of brisk walking is sufficient, but many women aren’t even getting that!

4) Minimize alcohol. This was the one that really shocked me (and made me very sad). While one drink a day for women, and two drinks a day for men might be good for heart disease, it’s definitely not good if you’re trying to prevent breast cancer. For postmenopausal women, even one alcoholic beverage a day can increase your risk for breast cancer by 12 percent, according to this article. Alcohol hasn’t been shown to correlate with breast cancer only, but in fact it has been associated with cancers of the mouth, throat, rectum, and liver.

MAYBES

– BPA (Bisphenol A) is an estrogen-mimicking chemical that has been found in many plastic containers. It’s not 100% clear if it has an effect on cancer, but it may be a good idea to watch your use of plastic in the kitchen, especially when pregnant or going through puberty.

– Pesticides were once thought to had a negative effect on cancer, including breast cancer, but data is still very unclear. The article reported that pesticide use has decreased in the past several years. I thought this was good news!

– Soy was once thought to help prevent breast cancer, then for a while many women were afraid to go near it after studies showed the opposite effect (especially in women with a history of breast cancer). The bottom line is that it’s safe to consume soy, but stick to soy in the form of food (tempeh, soy milk, tofu, miso, etc.) not supplements. Twenty five grams per day may be beneficial, but it’s a good idea not to consume too much more, especially if you have a history of breast cancer.

(After eating the tofu above, I vowed to never eat it again. It tasted delicious, but my body does not respond well to the carbohydrates found in tofu….)

Question: What have you learned about breast cancer prevention that I may not have mentioned? Which of the above ways to prevent breast cancer would be most difficult for you? (If you’re a male, feel free to give your opinion as well! What do you do to prevent prostate cancer? Eating cooked tomatoes is a great start!).

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