Breast Healthy Living


How lifestyle choices can help shape your risk of breast cancer. It’s never too early to be proactive.

Breast cancer ranks as the top health concern for women young and old. In Canada, 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer in her lifetime. Despite this staggering statistic, we have made little progress in advancing our understanding of how to treat never mind prevent breast cancer.

“An ounce of prevention, is worth a pound of cure”.

The lack of progress is in part due to our underestimating the important role that lifestyle plays in shaping a woman’s risk. Eight of every ten women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history. Women living in the US have a greater risk of dying from breast cancer than do women living in Thailand. These facts underscore the important role lifestyle plays in shaping our risk.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.

It is never too early to adopt a breast healthy lifestyle. What we choose to eat, drink, and apply to our skin are choices we make everyday. The following guide will help you to take proactive measures to reduce your risk through the decades;

In your Twenties

It’s easier to never start than to stop smoking. Most smokers pick up the habit before their 21st birthday. Starting early and smoking longer are linked with an increased risk of breast cancer. Instead, young women can adopt breast healthy diets adding cruciferous vegetables (i.e. broccoli, bok choy and kale) that enhance estrogen metabolism and reduce health problems caused by hormone imbalance. When we are young it is crucial to limit exposure to environmental hazards such as dioxins in pesticides and mercury in contaminated fish as maturing breast tissue is more vulnerable. We can do this by selecting organic produce (check out the dirty dozen list for the most heavily sprayed crops) and limiting fish intake to three servings a week. While a good diet should be the foundation of health, it may not be enough. From birth, it is recommended that we take the sunshine vitamin (D3) as a supplement as inadequate stores are linked with risk of breast cancer later on.

In your Thirties

Pregnancy and breastfeeding are protective to the breast. Becoming pregnant, especially having a baby before the age of 30 years, and breastfeeding are associated with a lower risk of acquiring breast cancer later in life. Skin and hair care products begin to be used and we must do so wisely. Carefully check labels and avoid those products that contain harmful ingredients such as parabens, hormone disruptors that may be linked to breast cancer.

In your Forties

Body shape changes commonly start at midlife. Being overweight is one of the most important predictors of breast cancer. The diagnosis of breast cancer often follows a stressful life event. In our forties, we face the challenges of aging and ailing parents, children, career and perhaps relationship stress. To prevent the deleterious effects stress can have on our body, we can learn to adopt stress reduction techniques such as meditation.

In your Fifties

The decision of whether or not to start hormone therapy around the time of menopause is an important one that needs to be made in discussion with a qualified medical doctor. There are many factors to consider. Bioidentical estrogen and progesterone when given near the time of menopause have been shown to be safe to the breast. By the age of fifty, it is recommended that women begin to participate in breast cancer screening . While screening is not the same as prevention, it is a powerful tool that has been shown to save lives.

Breast cancer is not one disease but a complicated process that begins with the transformation of healthy breast cells to cancer cells. Our lifestyle, diet and environment may influence this change.

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Can green tea or soy reduce risk of breast cancer?

What about the estrogen in green tea and soy for increasing breast lumps?  My GP has told me not to drink green tea.

Green tea does not contain any estrogen. In fact, some research has suggested that it may actually help in estrogen metabolism and reduce reduce risk of  breast cancer.

Soy contains isoflavones which are known as phytoestrogens because they can bind to estrogen receptors and exert weak estrogenic effects. Soy foods have been shown in studies to offer many health benefits including providing protection against osteoporosis (increasing bone density), reducing risk of heart disease with beneficial effects on cholesterol, platelets and blood vessels, and relieving menopause symptoms.

According to most human research, eating whole soy foods does not increase risk of breast or endometrial cancer in postmenopausal women, and may even be protective.  There is also some evidence that soy may be beneficial for cyclic breast pain and improve fibrocystic breast conditions.

However, consuming purified soy products and supplements is a different matter. A study published in Carcinogenesis suggests that not only is the cancer-preventive ability of soy foods markedly reduced in highly purified soy products and supplements, but that such processed foods can stimulate the growth of pre-existing estrogen-dependent breast tumors.

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Part Three-Breast Cancer -What can be done to reduce your risk?

Lifestyle Interventions

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Carrying an extra 10 pounds of body fat after age 30 increases the risk of breast cancer by 25%. Fat is metabolically active and the major source of estrone following menopause. Maintain a healthy body weight (BMI less than 24) and avoid eating excessive dietary animal fat (less than 20% of daily calories).

Exercise regularly

Regular exercise reduces insulin resistance and body fat and independently can reduce the risk of breast cancer. Data from the Nurses Health Study has shown that even after a diagnosis of breast cancer, women who exercise have better survival rates.

Avoid Alcohol

Excessive consumption of alcohol is one of the most important risk factors for breast cancer following family history. Drinking more than 3 glasses per week increased the risk of breast cancer by 5-fold in the Nurses Health Study.

Consume plenty of Fruits & Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are rich in anti-oxidants (vitamin A, C, E and selenium). The more colourful -the better. Anti-oxidants reduce free radical damage to DNA. Cruciferous vegetables contain indole-3-carbinol, which increases the 2/16 ratio by aiding in estrogen metabolism. Consuming at least 3 servings daily of broccoli, nappa cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, and kale or using a dietary supplement like femMED Breast Health can correct the ratio.

Eat Organic

Industrial pesticides (DDT, lindane) and colorants (Red Dye#3) can bind to estrogen receptors and are linked with breast cancer. Consuming organically grown produce to avoid these pesticides and toxins is recommended. Furthermore, commercial livestock is often treated with hormones that can stimulate the breast. Selecting organic meat and dairy can help avoid these hormones.

Avoid industrial plastics/chemicals

Bisphenol-A (banned in Canada in 2010), polystyrene and other compounds present in plastic food packaging and bottles binds to estrogen receptors and are carcinogenic. Use glass cookware for microwave heating foods. Use hair dyes with caution as some of the chemicals used in hair dyes are known carcinogens. The scalp is more absorbent than the skin and chemicals in hair dyes can bind estrogen receptors. Several studies have shown an increased risk of breast cancer with regular use of hair dyes.

Manage your Stress

Mind-body balance is critical to wellbeing and good health. Constant stress contributes to prolonged high cortisol levels which in turn impairs the function of our immune system. We are dependent on our immune system to detect and eliminate cells damaged by free radicals. It is not uncommon that a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer following a stressful life event such as divorce or death of a loved one. Stress reduction techniques include meditation, moderate exercise, tai chi and yoga and pleasurable activities such as enjoying a massage or bath.

There are many other factors that are emerging as risk factors for breast cancer including exposure to synthetic hormones such as those used in oral contraceptives and in menopause hormone therapy, tobacco smoking, direct trauma or injury to the breast and radiation.

Regular screening for breast cancer enables early detection (not prevention) and has been shown to save lives. It is important to partake in regular screening programs involving mammograms performed every 1-2 years after menopause.

Research suggests that by time breast cancer can be visualized by mammogram it has been developing for over 7 years. For this reason, it is important to utilize additional tools in conjunction with mammography to identify women at increased risk include ultrasound, thermography, evaluation of estrogen metabolism, and ductal lavage or nipple aspirate fluid collection.

While our understanding of the factors that transform healthy breast cells to cancer remains in its infancy, it is clear that much of the risk is amenable to interventions under our control. For too long, the focus of intensive research has been on the detection of breast cancer and not its prevention. Dr. Pearlman believes it is time to shift the focus and welcomes the opportunity to discuss how these recommendations can be used to empower you and protect you.



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Part Two-Breast Cancer -What can be done to reduce your risk?

Enhance Elimination of Toxic Estrogen Metabolites

Phase 2 detoxification involves methylation and glucuronidation to enhance elimination and inactivate toxic estrogen metabolites. Phase 2 detoxification requires many important enzymatic pathways (sometimes affected by gene mutations) and nutrients such as vitamin B6, B12 folic acid, magnesium, glyceine, as well as a healthy working gastrointestinal tract. Fatty acid balance and mitochondrial function are critical to these processes and can be optimized through nutritional supplements such as omega 3 (DHA/EPA) and co-enzyme Q 10 found in femMED Heart Health.

Decrease Aromatase Activity

After menopause, the ovaries no longer produce estrogen (E2). Instead, post- menopausal estrogen is converted from androgens by an enzyme called, aromatase predominantly in fat tissue. Fat derived “estrone” is a potent stimulator of breast tissue and tightly binds to estrogen receptors. It is strongly associated with breast cancer. Losing weight decreases estrone production. Aromatase activity is inhibited by flax, green tea extract (EGCG), vitamin C, chrysin and flavinoids. Prescription medications such as letrozole also block this enzyme.

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Part One-Breast Cancer -What can be done to reduce your risk?

Breast cancer results from uncontrolled growth of breast cells. About 1 in 8 Canadian women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. Only 20% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history of breast cancer and known gene mutations (such as BRCA1 and BRCA2) account for only 5 to 10% of cases. This means that most breast cancer occurs in women without a family history.

Women living in the US have a 10-fold greater risk of dying from breast cancer than do women living in Thailand. When women migrate from areas with a low incidence of breast cancer (i.e. Asia) to the US their breast cancer risk increases. These facts suggest that environment, diet and lifestyle play an important role. Unlike gender and age, these modifiable risk factors can be controlled by; maintaining a healthy weight, diet, regular exercise, restoring hormone balance, avoiding alcohol, and avoiding environmental toxins that can serve as transforming agents for breast cancer (i.e. xenoestrogens and carcinogens).

The following is a list of scientifically based interventions to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.

Restore Hormone Balance

The phase prior to menopause (lasting 5 to 7 years) is marked by increasing levels of estrogen and falling progesterone as the ovarian follicles are no longer capable of producing efficient ovulation. As well, there is a significant shift in the balance of the three forms of estrogen as menopause approaches with falling levels of estriol (E3) and estradiol (E2) and increasing levels of estrone (E1). E1 continues to be made in postmenopausal women as it is converted in fat tissue and the adrenal glands. The surplus of E1 and low levels of protective progesterone are major contributors to the rise in breast cancer after menopause.

Optimize Estrogen Metabolism

Estrogens are broken down by the liver and tissue into three major metabolites -two of which have potent activity at the estrogen receptor and are both mutagenic and carcinogenic to the breast. A high “2/16 ratio” of favourable metabolites (2hydroxy-estrone) to toxic metabolites (16hydroxy- estrone) is considered protective and can be enhanced through nutritional factors that optimize the hydroxylation of estrogen. Factors that can increase the 2/16 ratio include; cruciferous vegetables, indole 3-carbimole (400mg), di-iodomethionine (DIM), soy, flax, rosemary, and vitamin D3.

The supplement from femMED, Breast health containing indole-3 carbinol, milk thistle extract, calcium-D- glucarate, Schizandra chinensis fruit extract, stinging nettle, lignans and vitamin D recently underwent a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Researchers were pleasantly surprised to discover consumption of the femMED supplement significantly increased the mean urinary concentration of 2- OHE in pre- and post-menopausal women (by 110% and 88%, respectively), suggesting a risk- reducing effect. The Breast Health supplement was well-tolerated, and displayed no adverse side effects. The study was published in Breast Cancer: Basic and Clinical Research.


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