Approachable Ways To Maintain Breast HealthSep 29, 2023 ● By Sheila Julson
Photo by Anna Tarazevich for pexels 5483017
Information posted by the American Institute for Cancer Research, Mayo Clinic, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and the American Cancer Society affirms the importance of lifestyle factors such as a healthy diet and exercise to help prevent breast cancer.
To help maintain good breast health and support the body’s overall ability to fight disease, functional medicine doctor Meena Malhotra, M.D., of Heal n Cure, in Glenview, recommends avoiding artificially processed foods that contain synthetic ingredients. She also notes ongoing research showing links between high “bad” estrogen and increased risks of cancer.
“Therefore, avoid non-organic dairy and animal products, which can increase the ‘bad’ estrogen in the body, due to the large doses of growth hormones given to animals used in commercial dairy production for eggs, milk and meat,” Malhotra advises. “If you do want to consume animal products, they should be certified organic or organically raised.”
The phrase, “Eat the rainbow,” has become commonplace among health and nutrition experts as a way to recommend fruits and vegetables rich in immune-supporting vitamins and antioxidants. “It’s important to include the rainbow in your diet—not through M&M’s—but through colorful fruits and vegetables,” Malhotra emphasizes. “Fruits and vegetables that are blue, purple, yellow, orange or green are high in cancer-fighting phytonutrients.”
Malhotra adds that cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kale and cabbage are particularly high in phytonutrients. Green tea, which contains the anticancer and anti-inflammatory compound epigallocatechin gallate, is also a good addition to the diet to help fight breast cancer and other types of cancer.
Sugar can be hidden in many foods and beverages such as fruit juice. Stripped of beneficial fiber, vitamins and minerals, refined carbohydrates are rapidly converted into sugar by the body, which in turn can cause insulin resistance. This, Malhotra says, acts as fuel for the fire. “It creates an environment in the body that’s a breeding ground for cancer cells to flourish.”
The Role of Genetics and Screenings
Malhotra says the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are the most common associated with breast cancer. The TP53 and PTEN are a few other uncommon genes that lead to high breast cancer risk. She notes that genetic causes are still less common than lifestyle causes for breast cancer. A family history of diseases such as breast cancer may be due to lifestyle factors or habits shared by multigenerational family members, rather than genes.
“If everyone in the is household is putting food into the same BPA plastic containers, or if they’re all eating the same high-sugar diet, then one might believe breast cancer runs in the family. That’s different from the genetic perspective,” Malhotra clarifies. “You have to make sure that you get to the right cause. If you truly have a dominant gene, it doesn’t matter what you do, because it will penetrate, and then intervention is needed.”
Regular breast cancer screenings can help detect abnormalities. Malhotra explains there are four tools to evaluate the breast: mammogram, ultrasound, thermography and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
“The mammogram is the most standardized test. It does include some radiation, but there’s so much experience and standardization behind it, which is the reason it’s an effective screening tool,” she says. The frequency of screenings can vary depending on age or high estrogen dominance in the body.
Thermography works by measuring the body’s surface temperatures to detect underlying physiological changes. Areas with abnormal heat patterns may indicate inflammation, infection or cancer. Malhotra praises thermography as an effective, radiation-free assessment tool, but cautions there is no official standardization for use.
“Thermography is a tool that’s effective, but it is also very user-dependent. Also, thermography cannot view lymph nodes, and breast cancer is often first detected in the armpit, where lymph nodes are.” Thermograms should be performed by someone that has been certified as a Clinical Thermographer by an established organization. Malhotra predicts that artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced computer algorithms will eventually lead to better thermography standardization.
Ultrasounds and MRIs are frequently used after abnormalities are detected via mammogram to further investigate breast cancer risks.
Healthier lifestyle habits, along with today’s advanced screening tools, can help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. “We just have to know how to use these tools,” Malhotra advises.