For U.S. women, cancer is a close second to heart disease as a leading cause of death for women, and breast cancer is second only to lung cancer as the primary cause of women’s cancer-related deaths. It’s also by far the most common cancer in U.S. women.
Breast cancer, as with any life-threatening disease, challenges even the strongest among us on every level—emotional, physical, mental and spiritual. By committing to a healthy lifestyle, we are more likely to 1) decrease our risk for many diseases, including breast cancer; 2) survive and thrive through any diagnosis; and 3) experience a more fulfilling life.
Following are some of the best strategies for overall health, with particular importance for breast health and decreasing breast cancer risk.
- Reduce stress. Much research has linked psychological stress to an increased cancer risk—stress may virtually double your likelihood of developing breast cancer. Meditation, mindfulness, deep belly breathing and reaching out for support can all ease stress.
- Eat a plant-based diet. Dark-green, leafy, cruciferous vegetables contain many powerful plant-based chemicals that may protect breasts, while red meats, processed meats and lunch meats are linked to an increased risk of cancer. Broccoli, kale, cabbage and brussels sprouts all contain indoles, which can help your body eliminate extra estradiol; in excess, estradiol may increase risk for breast cancer development. These foods have also shown to support healthy breast tissue. Set a goal to eat at least one cup daily.
- Try to be alcohol-free. Consuming alcohol, even in moderate amounts, has been linked to an increased breast cancer risk. If you have a family history of or otherwise have an increased risk of breast cancer, consider avoiding alcohol altogether.
- Enjoy daily exercise. Getting at least five hours per week of moderate exercise, along with maintaining a healthy weight, may reduce breast cancer risk.
- Take omega-3s. Find a daily source of omega-3 fatty acids; great options include fish, like wild salmon, and plant sources, such as flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds and hemp seeds. Omega-3 oils have been shown to help prevent breast cancer.
- Drink green tea. Studies show that Japanese women who drink green tea have a lower incidence of breast cancer and a higher survival rate.
- Eat a high-fiber diet. Along with plant-based foods, a diet high in fiber has been linked to a decreased risk of colon and breast cancer. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes are all good sources of fiber. Aim to consume at least 30 grams of high-fiber foods daily.
- Engage in community. When we are connected with others—whether through a spiritual community or helping others—we decrease our risk for many diseases, including cancer. If we are diagnosed with an illness, when we are connected with others, healing and survival increases as we lift up and are lifted up.
Dr. Debra Rouse is a licensed naturopathic doctor and member of the Institute for Functional Medicine.