Food is not only a source of energy for our bodies but can, and ideally should serve a holistic purpose to heal and rejuvenate us.
Here are some top foods that have been scientifically shown to reduce breast cancer risk. They come at breast cancer at multiple angles - for example, they may suppress the hormone estrogen (which fuels breast cancer growth), reduce or inhibit angiogenesis (which promotes the growth of the tumor by sprouting new blood vessels), Insulin like Growth Factor (IGF-1), inflammation, free radical formation. In effect, they may help in taking away all those factors that cancer needs to grow and thrive in.
Fibre is not only good for your overall health, a diet rich in fibre maintains normal blood sugar levels, healthy heart, blood vessels and digestive health. In fact, some studies have also suggested this type of diet can lower odds of developing breast cancer. In particular, a high fibre diet may help protect against an aggressive (ER - ive) type of tumour.
Fibre binds estrogen in the gastrointestinal tract and excretes it out of the system in faeces. It also improves insulin sensitivity thereby maintaining stable blood glucose levels. Fibre helps release (via microbiome or resident intestinal bacteria) a litany of antioxidant enzymes, anti-inflammatory and anticancer compounds including lignans, isoflavones, phytate, enterolignans and enterodiols. High fibre intake could even quell the more aggressive estrogen negative (ER - ive) breast tumours.
Strive to consume 30 grams of fibre a day to decrease breast cancer risk by as much as 40%.
Some good fibre sources:
Kidney beans, chickpeas, lima beans, black eyed peas, dals, soybeans, green leafy vegetables, fibre rich fruits like figs, prunes, bananas, apples, pears, guava, peaches, apricots etc. are some of the sources of fibre. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower are also rich in fibre. Whole grain foods are also an excellent source; substitute white flour and rice products with whole grain foods. Replace white bread with brown, white rice with brown or black and add grains like millets, barley, rye and oats to add more fibre to your diet.
For a daily nutritional goal of 30 grams of fibre, as an example, you can use:
· One cup of black beans, lentils and split peas has 15 grams of fibre.
· A medium sized avocado has 13 grams.
· Berries 1 cup has 8 grams, barley 1 cup has 6 grams, broccoli 1 cup has 5 grams (broccoli, like most vegetables should be eaten lightly cooked, preferably steamed or in a fresh salad with olive oil).
Soluble fibre like barley, nuts, oat bran, peas, lentils etc function as a prebiotic which is good for the gut bacteria. Insoluble fibre works to bulk up stool and allows food to freely move through the digestive tract -food passes smoothly without causing any disruption in the process of nutrient absorption.
Finally, a high fibre diet can also help protect against cardiovascular diseases and breast cancer survivors have higher odds, in part because some treatments can damage the heart.
Berries, as mentioned above are also a source of fibre but deserve a special mention here. A Havard study on berries showed that just one cup of blueberries a week slowed down rates of cognitive decline. Cognition is the ability to think, reason or remember. Another Havard study which lasted 20 years and studied 93,600 women found out that those women who ate the most berries had the least incidence of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
New studies have proven soy as having anti-estrogenic and anti-carcinogenic properties. The alpha-estrogen receptor sits on breast cancer cells whereas the beta receptor has a 1600 % stronger affinity for soy isoflavones. When the beta receptor is activated by soy it does two things: a) it 'switches off' the cancer cell, b) it goes out into the periphery where an enzyme called 'aromatase' is present.
Aromatase practically sits where the fat cells are present. Aromatase takes steroids from the adrenal gland like testosterone, androstenedione and turns it into estrogen which, in case of breast cancer, serves as fuel for tumour growth. Soy inhibits aromatase and prevents this process. Natural isoflavones in soy may actually 'occupy' the 'bad' alpha estrogen receptors and prevent them from getting activated. As such, the cancer cells will not multiply. Naturally occurring isoflavones in soy may also help prevent breast cancer.
A large study of over 73,000 women in Shanghai cut a 59% drop in premenopausal breast cancer (high versus low soy consumers). Another study on American Asian women with a childhood intake of just 1.5 servings a week of soy had a 58% drop in adult-onset breast cancer. A study in Korean BRCA gene mutation carriers showed a 43% drop in breast cancer rates for the highest versus lowest soy consumers.
However, I don't recommend soy or isoflavone supplements since debate is going on whether there is any link between soy/isoflavone supplements and an increased risk of breast cancer in women who have had a family or personal history of breast cancer. As part of a healthy diet, whole soy foods can be very beneficial for the prevention of breast cancer and may even lower the odds of the disease returning in patients who have had it before.
These are not only the most concentrated source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids but also have over 100 - 800 times the lignans content of any other food. Lignans, which possess a steroid-like chemical structure and are defined as phytoestrogens, are of particular interest to researchers. Traditionally, health benefits attributed to lignans have included a lowered risk of heart disease, menopausal symptoms, osteoporosis and breast cancer. Lignans exhibit anti-breast cancer virtues related to lowering estrogen, stopping cancer cell growth and decreasing inflammation.
A study from New York reported a 71% drop in breast cancer mortality in post-menopausal women with the highest lignans intakes. The primary sources of lignans in this study were dark bread, peaches, coffee, broccoli and winter squash. The lignans in flaxseed may provide some protection against cancers that are sensitive to hormones without interfering with the breast cancer drug tamoxifen. Thompson says some studies have suggested that exposure to lignans during adolescence helps reduce the risk of breast cancer and may also increase the survival of breast cancer patients.
It seems an apple a day could keep breast cancer away. Daily apple eaters have 24% less incidence of breast cancer than those eating fewer apples. Extracts from the peel can stop cancers in the lab 10 times more effectively than from the flesh of the exact same apple. Eat apples whole or blended but not juiced.
Lycopene in tomatoes is anti-angiogenic, anti-inflammatory. It can slow tumour growth and can stimulate cancer cell 'suicide' called apoptosis and also limits free radical damage. Unlike most plant phytochemicals which lose effect on heating, if tomatoes are cooked for 15 minutes the bioavailability actually increases by up to 300% thereby increasing the benefit.
A 2013 study done at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey (USA) showed that eating plenty of tomatoes and tomato-based products, even for a short period, helped protect at-risk postmenopausal women from breast cancer.
Studies show a link between low levels of this nutrient and higher chances of breast cancer. It may also play a beneficial role in suppressing or even inhibiting tumour growth. Add it to your diet with fish (especially salmon), seafood, egg-yolk, mushrooms. Also look for milk, yoghurt, fortified cereals or other foods that have it added in. Do not take Vitamin-D supplements without consulting with your doctor first since vitamin D can be harmful when amounts in the blood become too high. Finally, don't forget sunshine that will help you synthesise vitamin-D in your body.
Women in South Asia particularly India are 5 times less likely to get breast cancer than Western women. Could the widespread use of turmeric in this part of the world be one contributory factor? Throughout ages this herb has been known for its anti-inflammatory, astringent and antiseptic properties but it is only recently that it has piqued the interest of scientific researchers. Present difficulties in studying curcumin are less bioavailability after absorption. Piperine (in black pepper) increases bioavailability of curcumin by upto 2000%.
However, supplements are not standardized like prescription medications; the dose is not regulated and purity cannot be guaranteed. Many supplements that have powerful anti-inflammatory effects, like turmeric, have blood-thinning properties, which can increase the risk of bleeding and cause complications around the time of surgery.
As part of a normal healthy diet, the benefits of turmeric could be far more useful.
These are another type of phytochemicals in plant-based food linked to lower breast cancer risk. Carotenoids are present in orange, yellow and dark-green vegetables and fruits. Include more carrots, pumpkins, spinach, sweet potatoes and cantaloupe (melon) in your diet.
Finally, what you eat affects your weight and obesity raises odds for breast cancer. For women who have had breast cancer, extra pounds can also make it more likely to return. Choose a healthy diet- one rich in vegetables, whole grains, chicken and fish and chances of getting breast cancer from environmental factors may get significantly reduced and chances of living longer after breast cancer may get increased.