Don't be a boob, protect yourself.


Updated from my original post on October 30th, 2016

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. I noticed this year, like in years past, a crucial component of the awareness movement has been seriously neglected.  While I respect and understand the importance of honoring loved ones, advocating for research and emphasizing the importance of age appropriate cancer screenings (like mammograms), barely any of the #savethetatas messages advocate for cancer PREVENTION. But your life style habits have a DOUBLE DD size impact on your cancer risk. Chance and family history DO NOT drive all cancer risk and we don't need major research breakthroughs to make large gains against cancer.  

In the U.S., breast cancer is the most common cancer among women. In fact, 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Among the U.S. population, that translates to 230,000 new cases of breast cancer each year. The American Cancer Society estimates approximately 40,000 women in the U.S. will die from breast cancer each year.  As few as 2.5 percent of breast cancer cases are attributable to family history. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) estimates that 33% of all breast cancer cases in the U.S. could be prevented with simple every day changes to what we eat and how we move.  Yup, that's over 81,000 cases per year.

There is a strong emphasis on routine mammograms and self-examination for 'early detection', but the truth of the matter is that breast cancer does not occur overnight and tumors that are large enough to be detectable by mammogram likely started forming years ago.  Breast cancer screening does not prevent breast cancer (I in no way mean to downplay the importance of screening, just emphasize that making lifestyle changes for PREVENTION is even more important). Clearly there are no guarantees as to who will and will not develop breast cancer, but you should feel empowered knowing that you can reduce your risk or help educate the lady loves in your life to reduce theirs.  In fact, people who have improved their diets in hopes of preventing cancer may be successfully treating it before modern day imaging is able to detect it.  

So what is a lady to do?

1) Get to and stay at a healthy weight.  Excess body fat is one of the greatest lifestyle factors linked to postmenopausal breast cancer. Roughly 1 in 5 cases of breast cancer is caused by excess body fat. This is related to increased levels of inflammation, insulin and hormones.

2) Exercise regularly.  Move, move, your body, body for a minimum of 30 minutes of vigorous exercise a day or 60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, like brisk walking. 

3) Cut down on boozy brunch.  Regular alcohol use can increase the risk of breast cancer by 2x. 

4) If you're a new mom, breastfeeding your little cherub for at least 6 months can help reduce your risk.

5) Eat more fruits and vegetables (at least 5 servings/day, preferable up to 9), whole grains and beans. Soy (which is in the bean family) is safe, protective even, but it is not advised to consume more than 3-5 servings per day (non-GMO). Particularly protective foods include broccoli, collard greens, ground flaxseed, apples (with the skin), green tea, and cooked mushrooms.

6) Eat wayyyy less red meat, processed meats (hot diggity dog!), poultry, fish, eggs and dairy. In fact, it's best to eat none at all. The high fat content of meat and other animal products increases hormone production, thus increasing the risk of hormone-related cancers such as breast and prostate cancer.  Countries with a higher intake of fat ('Murica!), especially fat from animal products, such as meat and dairy products, have a higher incidence of breast cancer.  The American diet is centered on animal products, which tend to be high in fat and low in other important nutrients, with 30-35% of calories coming from fat. The consumption of high-fat foods such as meat, dairy products, fried foods and even vegetable oils causes a woman’s body to make more estrogens, which encourage cancer cell growth in the breast and other organs that are sensitive to female sex hormones. This suggests that by avoiding fatty foods throughout life, hormone-related cancer risk decreases. Dairy, even organic cow’s milk, contains hormones that may increase breast cancer risk directly or indirectly by contributing to premature puberty.  This may be due to endocrine disrupting chemicals linked with dairy proteins.  Eating a single egg a day has been associated with nearly 3x the risk of breast cancer.

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7) Avoid sugary drinks. Don't do the Dew. 

8) Don't use supplements to protect against cancer. 

9) Limit consumption of salty and processed foods.  

10) If you are a cancer survivor, follow the above prevention recommendations (after treatment)

The AICR found that women who followed at least five of their risk reduction recommendations above reduced their breast cancer risk by up to 60% compared to women who met none of the recommendations.  Eating a plant-based diet along with walking every day can improve your cancer fighting power in just 2 weeks.  

But wait, there's more. While all plant foods are good plant foods, women who consume the most carotenoid-rich foods reduce their risk of breast cancer by about 19%.  The Institute of Medicine recommends women consume 3 to 6 mg of beta-carotene each day.  Beta-carotene is a type of carotenoid, colorful pigments found in plants that provide an ample supply of cancer-fighting antioxidants.

Carotenoid Power List:

1 medium sweet potato (14.3 mg)

1 cup Butternut squash (9.4 mg)

1 cup mashed pumpkin (5.1 mg)

1 cup diced cantaloupe (3.2 mg)

1 cupped chopped red peppers (2.4 mg)

1 medium grapefruit (1.7 mg)

½ cup dried apricots (1.4 mg)

1 cup sliced mango (1.1 mg)

1 cup tomatoes (0.8 mg)

1 cup papaya (0.4 mg)

So put down the processed potato chips, grab a mango and flip cancer the bird.  

While you're at it: sign-up for my 30 Day Whole-Food Plant-Based Challenge.  Not only will the challenge improve your energy, skin, and digestion, but it also provides essential cancer fighting power.  The deadline to register is October 13th and the challenge begins October 16th!