Optimally, we would teach our young girls to be aware of the importance of diet and exercise on breast health for the future. It’s also important to start early because certain foods, such as soy foods, can improve breast cell differentiation in pre-puberty and thus reduce the risk of breast cancer. Educating girls/women about healthy diets, regular exercise, weight management, and low alcohol consumption is a message that can be revisited throughout their lives.
What are the biggest risk factors for breast cancer?
It starts with gender—approximately 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Other non-preventable risk factors include a family history with a first-degree relative with breast cancer, and age, as more than two-thirds of invasive breast cancers are in women age 55 and older.
Environmental risk factors play also a meaningful role, including:
- Diets high in saturated fats, sugar and simple carbohydrates, and low in fruits and vegetables
- Exposure to chemicals from industrial and agricultural processes
- Excessive weight gain as an adult, obesity and/or a sedentary lifestyle
- Lack of pregnancy and full term birth
- Excess alcohol (greater than 7 drinks per week)
Post-menopausal women on estrogen and synthetic progestin for longer than 3-4 years have a slight increase risk of breast cancer.
Aside from self exams, what can I be doing to encourage good breast health?
Not all current guidelines even recommend self exams, and surprisingly, research is showing that screening mammograms in low risk women and early detection of a breast cancer may not lead to reduced rates of women dying from breast cancer. This confusing and contradictory state of the research has made it more difficult to understand what a woman should do to monitor breast health.
Nevertheless, a regular annual physical exam is still something I urge all women to do. Checking in with your doctor regularly is important because you get a routine physical exam and the opportunity to optimize health by talking through your habits and getting necessary tests.
I would also focus on the following:
- Healthy weight management, with a minimum of 3.5 hours of exercise per week,
- Low alcohol consumption
- Reducing exposure to environmental toxins (e.g choosing “green” cleaning products and organic foods)
- A healthy, whole foods diet with a focus on brightly colored vegetables, some fruits, whole grains, quality soy foods, olive oil, a few saturated fats (cheese, butter, meats) and fish twice per week.
- Healthy relationships
Good stress management—including time spent in nature to take advantage of the healing power of nature on body, mind and spirit
Speak with a Pharmaca practitioner about other recommendations for maintaining good breast health.