Estrogen, HRT, and Flaxseed
Certain forms of the female hormone estrogen promote cancer growth. This explains why early puberty, short menstrual cycle, and not having children are risk factors for breast cancer: the more menstrual cycles you go through, the more estrogen you are exposed to.
The hormone replacement therapy (HRT) that combines estrogen with synthetic progestin increases the breast cancer risk substantially. Also, women using oral contraceptives (the pill) seem to have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer; however this increase may mostly come from the triphasic birth control pill that has levonorgestrel as the progestin.
While you cannot stop your body from producing estrogen (and you wouldn’t want to), there are some plant substances that can alter the way your body processes estrogen (estrogen metabolism). Lignans in flaxseed, isoflavonoids in soy, indole-3 carbinols in the cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, etc., and omega-3 fatty acids (flax, fatty fish) reduce the amount of the carcinogenic estrogen and increase the neutral-to-favorable estrogen. Consuming flaxseed has been even shown to reduce breast cancer tumor size in rats.
Pesticides, Organochlorines, and Radiation
Organochlorines are man-made chemicals containing chlorine and carbon. It is impossible to totally avoid exposure to organochlorines but you can do something. You can buy organic food as much as possible, and wash all non-organic produce very well to try to get rid of the pesticide residue. Don’t use pesticides or herbicides at your home.
Radioactive radiation is very carsinogenic, and the risk of breast cancer increases with increasing exposure to ionising radiation. Radiation has the greatest carsinogenic effect in children and young people, and the cancer may show up only decades later in their life.
Yet there is hope with radiation damage, too. Curcumin, a substance in the spice turmeric (which is an ingredient in curry), has several cancer-fighting properties. A study found that in laboratory, curcumin can actually repair DNA that has been damaged by radiation.
Curcumin is that it is a powerful antioxidant. It can therefore protect our bodies from free radicals that damage DNA. This is also why turmeric (that contains curcumin) can be used for preserving foods. So, go ahead and enjoy the turmeric recipes passed on by your grandmother!
Some studies have found vitamin E to have a protective effect against breast cancer, and many have not, but more recent studies are now finding that it is the form of vitamin E that makes the difference. It appears that the common form of vitamin E that you find in supplements and in most food sources, alpha tocopherol, is not protective against breast cancer (though it certainly is a powerful antioxidant and a needed nutrient). But women consuming other forms of vitamin E called tocotrienols have been found to have dramatically lower risk of contracting breast cancer.
The food sources of tocotrienols are rice bran, barley, and wheat germ. Actually, palm oil is the best source of tocotrienols, but the palm oil sold in the U.S. is refined, and the refining removes the “good stuff.”
Research on soy and breast cancer presents a conflicting picture. Many studies have shown a protective effect, many have not. One study found that the major phytoestrogens in soy, genistein and daidzein, stimulated breast tumor growth in laboratory and in animals at low concentrations but had the opposite effect at high concentrations. In yet another study, soy and curcumin together produced a 100% effect in stopping tumor growth.
The fact that Japanese consume soy and have very low breast cancer rates is often used to prove that soy can help prevent breast cancer. However, more research is needed on soy to validate it.
There is some evidence that oxytocin, one of the hormones within human body, can help prevent breast cancer because it inhibits the growth of breast cancer cells in vitro. Oxytocin is responsible for many things, including a general sense of happiness, labor contractions, and the let-down reflex in breastfeeding. A loving, caring touch makes our bodies release oxytocin, as does nipple stimulation when the baby suckles the breast. (Maybe all these babies who like to play with the one nipple while suckling the other are doing a favor for their mothers!) This can explain in part why breastfeeding and being sexually active lowers a woman’s breast cancer risk. Don’t forget, hugs and friendly touch can go a long way in cancer prevention!