Breast Cancer Awareness
Every year, in October, I start to hear, see and experience all of the “Breast Cancer Awareness” stuff. Breast Cancer is scary, it’s awful, I knew a fellow Mom, Angela, who died of it 5 years ago, at the age of 36, and it was devastating to watch. I recognize that Breast Cancer can effect any type of woman, young, old, fat, skinny, healthy, unhealthy, it strikes wherever and whenever it wants to. I know this to be true.
I want to take this opportunity, during Breast Cancer awareness month, to talk to you about Estrogen Dominance. I want you to know what it is, know the symptoms and know how to lower your risk for breast cancer. Even though this post seems geared toward women, it includes men too because men CAN develop breast cancer and they can experience some of these symptoms of estrogen dominance.
First of all, the symptoms of Estrogen Dominance are, but are not limited to:
Irregular or abnormal menstrual periods
Bloating (water retention)
Breast swelling and fibrocystic breasts
Irritability and depression
Even though we know that breast cancer doesn’t discriminate, we do know, thanks to loads of research, that estrogen dominance is a risk factor. Estrogen is, of course, one of the female hormones that is present both in women and in men, but it’s clearly more predominant in pre-menopausal women. Women need estrogen to help build up a uterine lining each month that either provides us with a period OR provides a happy place for a fertilized egg to attach. Estrogen plays an important role in development of our reproductive organs and it’s a huge part of the reproductive cycle itself, even playing a role in helping sperm grow to be mature enough to fertilize an egg. The point being, clearly, we need this hormone in our bodies, the problem comes in when we have too much estrogen, when it begins to dominate the other hormones in our bodies, when it begins to show signs and symptoms of being out of balance. That’s when we have to be aware and start taking important steps to lower it.
So, how can we lower estrogen levels in the body? To start, we need to know that just a few extra pounds on your body can effect your hormone balance. Estrogen is a fat storing hormone and when we gain weight, our estrogen levels increase. This is especially dangerous if the fat is carried around the abdomen ( picture an apple shaped woman who carries all of her weight in her abdomen, back, hips and breasts). We have to keep our BMI ( body mass index) in a good range to keep the level of fat vs. muscle optimal in our bodies, that is the first way to keep estrogen in check. Clearly this encompasses eating a diet low in saturated fat, high in fiber and devoid of processed foods. I know you hear about this everyday on TV, in magazines, on the radio, eat healthy, eat more fruits and vegetables, eat less saturated fat …. but have you ever really sat down and let it soak into your mind, that a poor diet can lead to being over weight, and carrying more fat on your body, which can lead to estrogen dominance and ultimately increase your breast cancer risk? That is what I want you to consider when you decide what to eat and what to put into your body, I want you to consider your breast cancer risk.
When I first started out with this post, I became curious about where breast cancer was the most prevalent in the world and where Americans ranked. I wanted to try and make a connection between poor diet, high fat diet and breast cancer risk. Out of the top 20 highest rates of breast cancer in the world, the United States is number 19, I was impressed, I’d like it to be better and have us not in the top 20 at all, but we are definitely not the worst! My thought is if we can find some common habits and common denominators for risk factors, we should then be able to eliminate them and get America out of the top 20. The countries with the highest rates of breast cancer are Belgium and Denmark. In Belgium, they are known for their sausage and beer and of course, their waffles smothered in butter and whipped cream! In Denmark, they eat very fatty meats and their diet is very high in animal fat in general, down to the buttery sauces on their food. I then researched the lowest breast cancer rates on the Earth, and found that the lowest are in South Central Asia. Of course, India and Nepal have the lowest rates on Earth. Very low fat, mostly vegan diets, the only dairy products are small amounts of yogurt and kefir, loads of vegetables and high fiber grains and almost no animal products or saturated fat. The diet in Nepal and India is ideal for lowering estrogen levels and keeping the body at optimal health.
I just had a patient last week whose sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and she was so afraid, she wanted to know how to help her sister but also how to ensure that it wouldn’t happen to her. There is no guarantee in any of this but it can’t hurt to try and I wanted to provide this list here for her and for anyone who might want to reduce their risk. Keep in mind, there are many other ways to reduce the risk of breast cancer, these are not the only things you can do, but they are my top 5.
1. Limit Dairy consumption. In America, cows are often milked during pregnancy, when estrogen levels are highest. Therefor, when humans consume that milk, we are consuming more estrogen. If you want to lower your risk, consider switching to almond milk or another non dairy milk that you enjoy.
2. Exercise! High intensity cardio workouts lower estrogen. Unfortunately, stretching, slow paced walking and yoga not so much, it’s the hard core, intensity workouts that we need!
3. Reduce Alcohol Consumption. All alcohol, with the exception of a small amount of red wine, raises estrogen levels. If you can keep your red wine, not white, but red, to a glass or two per week, it can be good for your hormones, however, other forms of alcohol need to be avoided.
4. Plastics! There is evidence that the chemicals in plastic water bottles and plastic to go containers are leaked into the food or water inside and then of course, into our bodies. Upgrade your food storage containers to glass and avoid plastic water bottles!!
5.GET ACUPUNCTURE!!! You know this one is my favorite!! Acupuncture has been proven time and time again to balance hormones and lower estrogen levels. It’s incredibly relaxing, releases endorphins, raises dopamine and can even assist you with weight loss, you know I LOVE IT!!
I love all of the attention on raising money and awareness for this cause. I think it’s great that we’re aware. We’ve even got the NFL wearing pink and raising money! I just always like to drive home my point that is in my mission statement at the top of this blog. “It is my mission in life to inspire people to take charge of their life and their health.” It’s not your Doctor’s job to KEEP you healthy and it’s not the job of the Susan G. Komen foundation to “protect you” from getting breast cancer. Only you can find it within yourself to do what’s best for your body and make it happen. I just hope you realize that in 2011, only 15% of the money donated to this organization went towards research, 15%? This number is far far too low. I know it’s important to do the research and I hope that these organizations will continue to raise money and awareness but again, I also hope that I can inspire you to make it happen for yourself. I understand that even lowering estrogen levels isn’t going to prevent all breast cancer from occurring, sometimes, beautiful , young women, and men, are just taken too soon, no matter how healthy they are. However, a high percentage of Americans have quit smoking to lower their risk of lung cancer, so now, maybe it’s time to start eating healthier and moving our bodies more to lower our risk of breast cancer. I would LOVE to see it! Nothing makes me happier than seeing people take charge of their health. At the end of the day, we all have to worry about ourselves.
I end this post with a great little video to make you smile but also remind you that when it comes to your health and breast cancer risk – worry about yourself. Smiling is healthy too and this video CRACKED ME UP!!