By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
I recently interviewed an amazing colleague Dr. Sat Dharam Kaur, creator of the Healthy Breast Program and the Mammalive foundation, with over 20 years focusing on breast cancer awareness. I wanted wanted to share with you some of the really important tips for breast cancer prevention that we discussed during one of my most recent Podcast episodes. What I loved about this interview is that there are so many proactive and simple things we can start doing right now to reduce our risk factors. Keep reading to learn Sat Dharam Kaur’s top recommendations. (I’ve added links to the http://mammalive.net/ website where you can dive deep into the research for all of these factors if you like – these recommendations are all evidence-based).
We can reduce the risk of breast cancer by about 90% with a few strategies:
1. Optimize vitamin D levels
If we have optimal levels of vitamin D in our system, we can reduce breast cancer risk by up to 60%. In Northern countries, we have more breast cancer than in Tropical countries due to reduced vitamin D exposure. This is especially important between the ages of 35 and 55 – this is when breast cancer is more dominant as a risk. Recommendation: Have your vitamin D levels tested annually (blood test) to see where your levels are at. Optimal blood level is between 150-180 nmol/L (high normal). During spring and summer months, spend 15 minutes in the sun between 10am-2pm. Most women need 5000IU per day to maintain optimal levels, but it is important to test because you can overdo it! (Research here).
2. Exercise 40 minutes per day
Studies show that exercising just 4 hours per week reduces breast cancer by 40%. This can be a brisk walk, or other exercise that you enjoy. Note that just optimizing vitamin D and exercising 40 minutes per day together reduce your risk of breast cancer by 80%! (Research here).
3. Include protective phytoestrogen foods
Phytoestrogens are protective foods because they weakly bind to estrogen receptors, preventing stronger estrogens from binding. One of the effects of estrogen is that it can cause breast cells to divide more quickly. During this division, there is a risk of a mistake in cell division which could initiate the cancer process. Alternately, if there is a mistake in the DNA which could be from radiation exposure for example, and then we add extra estrogen it can cause cancer to grow faster. We have a finite number of estrogen receptors in the breast, and when we eat phytoestrogen foods, we are blocking the stronger estrogens from acting. The best food source of protective phytoestrogens is ground flax seeds (research here), and all you need are 2 tablespoons daily. Other sources are pumpkin seeds and organic soy. Now I know that soy foods are very controversial right now, but in the context of breast cancer prevention the evidence definitely tips in the favor of including small amounts of organic soy (research here).
4. Make sure that you’re sleeping in a dark room at night
Your hormone melatonin is secreted in the dark between 1 and 3am. If you’re not sleeping in a very dark room, melatonin production can be dramatically reduced. The higher your melatonin, the lower your risk of breast cancer. Lower melatonin levels are associated with more aggressive breast cancer. Melatonin is also an anti-aging hormone and an anti-oxidant. It actually decreases the number of estrogen receptors, which decreases the effect of estrogen on the breasts. (Research here).
5. Reduce environmental chemical exposure and detox
We are exposed to so many environmental chemicals which certainly play a role in breast cancer development and promotion. Many of these chemicals mimic estrogen, and increase our risk. Here are some of Sat Dharam Kaur’s recommendations for environmental chemicals:
- Rethink the age we have our children: If we’re having children at younger ages, we’re passing on less chemicals (they’re cumulative), and we are allowing full maturation of breast tissue as we go through pregnancy and breastfeed at a younger age which also reduces breast cancer risk to us personally.
- Sweating: Sat Dharam Kaur did her own study with sweating in an infrared sauna and measured how many environmental chemicals you can sweat out in 50 hours: heavy metals decreased by 35%, pesticides, Bisphenol A and fire retardants decreased by approximately 25%. If we want 100% reduction in our biological accumulation of environmental chemicals, we would want to sweat for 150 hours in a sauna. This can be used proactively pre-conception – encouraging young women to sweat for 150 hours over a period of time, and then 2 hours per week for maintenance to dramatically decrease the burden of chemicals that gets passed on to the next generation.
- Reduce plastics overall in your life, especially for food storage: plastic containers, the liners in canned foods, plastic bags and water bottles contain strong estrogen mimicking chemicals such as phthalates and bisphenol A. Choose glass or stainless steel instead.
- Take a close look at cosmetics, especially reading ingredients for parabens which are strong estrogen mimickers. (You can learn more about what’s in your favourite cosmetics here: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/). (Research on Parabens and breast cancer).
6. Eat a healthy breast diet
For breast cancer prevention, we’re aiming for the following:
- Low or no dairy fat
- Low or no meat – dairy and meat both increase IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor) and if this hormone is elevated, there is a 7 fold increase in breast cancer. (Research with vegan diet and breast cancer here).
- Low or no sugar – if insulin levels are high, there is a 3 fold increase in breast cancer (research on insulin and IGF-1 here).
- Low or no alcohol – the amount of alcohol acceptable is 3 drinks or less per week; anything else increases the risk of breast cancer (research here).
- High fiber – including chia, flax psyllium and legumes to sweep out more estrogen (aiming for 45 grams of dietary fiber per day)
- As organic as possible to reduce estrogen-mimicking chemicals in pesticides
Countries that have the lowest rates of breast cancer include: India (beans and rice), China (tofu), Japan (tofu and seaweed), Africa (beans and lots of exercise). Countries with the highest rates of breast cancer – Belgium, France, Denmark, Holland (highest intake of cheese, meat, alcohol).
Please keep in mind that these recommendations hold strongly for breast cancer prevention, but it is also important to look at your health from a broad perspective including your personal and family history to look at the best nutrition plan for you.
7. Take a look at your stress levels
When Sat Dharam Kaur asks her patients “Why do you think you were diagnosed with breast cancer?”, the most common response is stress. Women are so much busier than generations ago – we raise kids, make money, have an education, a career, and still do the laundry, cooking, housework and more. This creates a very high baseline of stress for many women.
It is important to build in a daily relaxation practice. We don’t allow ourselves to have that relaxation, which is important for the stress response and our hormone balance. Just slowing the breathing down to 3-5 breaths per minute for 11 minute per day is huge in decreasing stress and trauma. And taking regular breaks in your day, ideally 20 minutes every 2.5 hours for a cup of tea, slow walk, focusing on your breathing or listening to music. This simple practice can transform your stress response and hormone balance.
I know after reading all of these recommendations that it can get a little overwhelming, and that we are constantly exposed to conflicting recommendations for our health. Remember that the top two factors (vitamin D and exercise) actually make the biggest impact, and these are quite easy to do! If you would like to take a deeper look at your personal breast cancer risk and prevention plan, I’m happy to go through all of this in more detail. And you can listen to the full podcast recording with Dr. Sat Dharam Kaur with the link right below.
- Listen to the full Podcast recording here: The Ultimate Perimenopause Podcast
- Sat Dharam Kaur’s http://mammalivefoundation.org
- The Healthy Breast Program with Sat Dharam Kaur: http://mammalive.net/upcoming-courses/
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