October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which makes this a good time for every woman (and man) to reflect on lifestyle changes they can make to promote breast health.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women; one out of eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Although there are some non-modifable risk factors for breast cancer — including family history of breast cancer, onset of menopause after the age of 54 and increasing age — there are risk factors which are modifiable, such as obesity, alcohol use and diet. Addressing these modifiable risk factors can reduce your chance of developing breast cancer.
My prescription for promoting breast health is as follows:
1. Be physically active, and try to maintain a normal weight. Exercise is a powerful way to decrease your risk for not only breast cancer but other chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Get at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity five times a week. Find something you enjoy doing, such as taking a brisk walk, going on a bicycle ride or taking an aerobic class. The important thing is to just get moving.
2. Eat well. The food you eat has a significant impact on your health. Diets high in fruits and vegetables and whole grains have been shown to decrease the risk of cancer. Aim for six to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Use turmeric, which acts as a great anti-inflammatory agent. Eat a least two servings of broccoli or cauliflower a week, and include 1-2 tablespoons of freshly ground flaxseed in your food daily to help with estrogen clearing. Limit red meat and other animal fat, and avoid eating charred meats which are carcinogenic. Add healthy oils, like olive oil, nuts and fatty fish.
3. Don’t smoke, and limit your alcohol consumption to no more than seven servings of alcohol a week.
4. Drink several cups of green or black tea a day. Tea has been shown to have cancer-fighting properties.
5. Take a daily multi-vitamin/mineral and vitamin D (1,000 to 2,000 IU) daily. Also take an omega-3 supplement (2,0000 mg EPA+ DHA) daily. For those at high risk for breast cancer, consider adding the supplement indole-3-carbinol (400 mg per day) to help with estrogen clearing.
6. Reduce toxic exposures in your life. One of my favorite websites is www.ewg.org — a great resource to learn about pesticides in food and toxic chemicals in household and personal products.
7. Manage stress in your life by developing a daily relaxation program.
8. Get annual mammograms starting at age 40. Although there has been some recent debate about when to get mammograms, most breast cancer experts will tell you that mammograms are the best tool we currently have for early detection.
Incorporating these lifestyle changes not only will help you delay or avoid the development of breast cancer, but will improve your overall health and wellness.
• Heidi Rula, M.D., is a physician at Integrative Care for Women in Mesa. Reach her at (480) 699-2508 or www.IntegrativeCareForWomen.com