With autumn upon us, we’re about to see a whole lot of pink ribbons—a symbol of breast-cancer awareness—highlighted during the month of October (aka, Pinktober). Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, and statistics continue to reveal that approximately 25 percent of women will have some form of breast cancer in their lifetime.
As a naturopathic doctor, I am passionate about proactive and preventive health care, combined with holistic lifestyle choices, that empower individuals to take charge of their health. Although there are no guarantees that we can prevent diseases like breast cancer, when it comes to promoting breast wellness and better breast health, there are lifestyle choices we can make to increase overall health and lower our risk for not just breast cancer, but also heart disease, type 2 diabetes and other cancers. Here are my best practices for better breast health.
- Follow a Mediterranean, plant-based diet—low in red meat, higher in vegetables, fruit, fish, healthy fats and oils.
- Eat cruciferous veggies daily, including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale. These contain sulforaphane, a powerful, sulfur-rich compound with numerous demonstrated health benefits, including cancer prevention and heart health.
- Drink green tea—it contains anticancer polyphenols.
- Eat apples (with skin)—they contain quercetin, a potent antioxidant.
- Eat pomegranate seeds—there is promising research suggesting they can help prevent cancer.
- Consider supplementing with vitamin D—women with blood levels above 60 ng/mL vitamin D have an 80 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer.
Foods to avoid
- Artificial sweeteners like aspartame and saccharin, which have questionable safety records and have been linked to certain cancers.
- Processed meats, like deli meats and bacon, which have been shown to increase risk of breast cancer when consumed more than twice a week, likely because of the nitrates and nitrites they contain.
- Starchy, fried foods—these contain acrylamide, which is a cancer-causing chemical found in foods like potato chips and french fries. Excess consumption also contributes
- Stay well hydrated with pure (clean or filtered) water—at least half of your body weight in ounces daily, but ideally three-quarters of your body weight.
- To stimulate draining of the lymph system, try dry-brush massage: Using a body brush, gently brush upward toward the heart, around one breast and down under your armpit on that side. Repeat on other breast and armpit.
- Meditate: Quiet your mind with your eyes closed for at least six minutes per day. Try loving- kindness meditation; you can find many examples online.
- Gratitude journal: Every night before going to bed, practice writing down five things you are grateful for and why you are grateful for them
- Minimum 150 minutes per week—about 20 to 30 minutes daily.
- During and after breast-cancer treatment, women who exercise show faster recovery; lower risk of recurrence; and better mood, strength, endurance and overall sense of well-being.
Regular Breast Screening
I recommend you check your breasts regularly. Look and feel for any changes. Red flags include any firm lumps; swelling around breast, nipple, or armpit; dry, cracked skin around nipple; blood or fluid leakage; and abnormal heat or itching. Follow up for further screening with your doctor if you notice any of these changes.