NATURAL STRATEGIES AGAINST BREAST CANCER
by NOHA President Neil E. Levin, CCN
October is Breast Cancer Prevention Month, so Iíd like to share some of the current thinking of nutritional biochemists regarding the use of nutrition to minimize our risks of getting breast cancer. Yes, I said "our risks," since men do get this type of cancer too. While we donít hear much about men and breast cancer, itís a very real risk, though lower than for women.
Breast cancer is considered to be a hormonal cancer, meaning that imbalances in the body allow hormones to cause damage to tissues, eventually manifesting as abnormal cells, or cancer. In the case of most of the cancers associated with sex hormones, estrogen excesses seem to be the trigger. This appears true for cancers of the breasts, ovaries, cervix, and even the prostate gland in males. An accumulation of excess estrogen over time may overwhelm the ability of our bodies to protect us from the process of oxidation, where the hormones turn into more harmful forms.
Since these particular hormones are made from cholesterol, the same antioxidants that prevent the oxidation of cholesterol may help us protect the sex hormones: vitamin Eóits whole family: four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. (See the NOHA video cassette: Andreas Papas, PhD, "The Vitamin E Factor: Aging; Cancer; General Health; Heart Disease," #182, November 2000; plus NOHA NEWS, Spring 2001, "The Vitamin E Factor," which summarizes the NOHA lecture and book by Dr. Papas.) and alpha-lipoic acid (See the NOHA video cassette: Burton Berkson, MD, "The Next Millenium Anti-Oxidant: The Alpha-Lipoic Acid Breakthrough," #175, September 1999.). In addition, there are some plant substances that particularly prevent estrogen from "going bad." These include the sulfurous compounds in cabbage, broccoli and cruciferous greens. These substances are particularly good at increasing the levels of non-harmful estrogens while reducing the levels of potentially harmful forms of the hormone.
Using hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or birth control pills is associated with higher risks of getting breast cancer. The reasons are likely twofold: first, the increased levels of estrogen overwhelming the bodyís responses to it; second, the single form of estrogen used in most HRT is not a good match for the three forms found in healthy human females. A compounding pharmacy can help match your prescription to your personal needs, rather than follow the standard medical practice of giving one form of synthetic hormone to everyone. Getting the natural forms by prescription is reportedly much safer than using standard HRT. But there is rarely a real need to use HRT, as Nature has provided us with a selection of natural products that can both balance your own hormones and provide gentle forms of plant hormones. These include actual plant estrogens (phytoestrogens) from sources such as beans (soy, red clover) and estrogen balancers such as Black Cohosh Root herb. Many women use natural progesterone cream from the wild yam root with the balancing herb Vitex (Chaste Tree Berry).
Another risk factor for breast cancer is being overweight. Since hormones will store in fatty tissues, like the breasts, losing weight can actually increase oneís risks by releasing fat-soluble chemicals that were stored in the fat. The chemicals include potent synthetic estrogens from pesticides and plastics, especially from food containers that are heated in microwave ovens. So heating food in ceramic or glass is recommendedóto reduce your riskóand eating chemical-free food from certified organic sources.
Another component of cancer formation is inflammation. You will note that sunburn may lead to skin cancer; hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) may lead to liver cancer; etc. Inflammation can result from allergies, infections, chemical exposures, radiation (sun, X-rays, mammograms), and physical injuries. Certain diets may predispose us to inflammatory conditions. Our modern diet is largely deficient in the anti-inflammatory substances found in fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices; especially those with natural color pigments including bioflavonoids, flavones and carotenoids. These are highly protective and anti-inflammatory nutrients. Another factor is our balance of oils. We should be eating flax oil or fish oil, olive oil, nuts and greens, and grass-fed lean meats for our bodyŪs oil sources. By avoiding most of these and relying heavily on common processed cooking oils, we have shifted our body balance to be prone to inflammations. This is also a risk factor for autoimmune diseases such as arthritis. Women after menopause may also retain more iron than during their menstruating years, causing their heart disease rates to catch up to those of men within a few years.
Immune supporting substances may be useful for maintaining healthy breasts, as they will support the bodyís ability to detoxify hormones and chemicals, reducing our toxic burdens, and will enhance natural killer (NK) and white blood cell activities that normally destroy some cancer cells on a daily basis. These include inositol hexaphosphate for removing "free iron." (See the NOHA video cassette: Bill Sardi, "The Iron Time Bomb," #187, February 2002.) Oriental mushrooms possess immune system enhancers and modulators, including polysaccharides. Beta glucans are important components. Medicinal mushrooms may help those on certain cancer therapies by safely enhancing the effects of medications while protecting against potential toxic side effects of treatments. They seem to have an effect on many body systems to help control blood sugar, immunity, inflammation, hypertension, and stress. Respiratory, circulatory, and liver systems seem to respond well to these mushrooms.
The genetic risk for breast cancer is much lower than most people believe, and nutritionists cite studies that indicate up to 95% of oneís risk of getting a hereditary disease (if itís not so bad that itís obvious at birth) may be due to our environmental exposures and other controllable factors. This is good news! It means that for diseases like breast cancer we have more than a fighting chance to prevent it with diet and lifestyle. This is truly Natureís gift to us. I wish you the best of health and hope that knowledge will allow you to shift the odds in your favor.
Article from NOHA NEWS, Vol. XXVII, No. 4, Fall 2002, pages 1-2.