It’s now about half-way through Breast Cancer Awareness month, and I’ve been seeing pink wherever I go. But no sparkly pin, embellished wine glass, or pink sports jersey is going to make us more aware of the fact that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. We’re already aware because we’ve all been effected by it, either directly or indirectly through a woman we know and love.
It’s time to focus on prevention, focus on the fact that there are a number of environmental factors and lifestyle choices that significantly increase our risk of developing breast cancer, and that these risk factors can be avoided.
10 simple ways to prevent breast cancer
- Go anti-antiperspirants: sweat is natural ladies – own it! Aluminum, the active ingredient is most antiperspirant deodorants, mimics estrogen and can also cause direct damage to DNA. While no direct causal link between breast cancer and aluminum has been clinically demonstrated, breast tissue has been shown to concentrate aluminum, which is troubling given aluminum’s DNA-damaging abilities. Most interestingly, the aluminum is concentrated in the same area where the highest proportion of breast cancers are diagnosed. Hmm… Check out my DIY all-natural detoxifying deodorant which has an ingredient that actually pulls metals and toxins from the skin, or see #2 for some resources to help you purchase a safer deodorant.
- Detox your beauty and personal care routine: the US has one of the shortest lists of chemicals that have been banned for use in cosmetics – 11 compared to over 1,000 banned by the European Union! Worse yet, the industry’s review council has reviewed only 20% of the ingredients used in personal care products (some “review council,” huh?). Some of these chemicals – including parabens, triclosan, and ethylene oxide, just to name a few – have been linked to hormone disruption and/or irregular breast development, which can increase the risk of breast cancer. Luckily, a number of organizations have stepped in to help protect consumers. Use the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database to help you learn about the ingredients in your beauty products and find safer options. If you’re an iPhone user, check out the awesome new app Think Dirty (every time you use it during the month of October, they will donate a dollar to the Breast Cancer Fund – how cool is that!?).
- End your toxic relationship with plastic: this terrible product is just everywhere nowadays! Plasticizers including BPA have been linked to a slew of ailments including hormone-disruption which may increase the risk of breast cancer. Guess what? BPA-free plastic is not necessarily any safer than plastic with BPA! In fact, BPA-free is a load of B(P)S! Literally. Many manufacturers have replaced BPA with its chemical-cousin, BPS, which has the same nasty record. See 10 ways to end your relationship with plastic for ideas and tips.
- Loose those extra pounds once and for all: a number of studies have concluded and the Surgeon General warns that gaining more than 20 pounds between age 18 and midlife can double the risk of developing post-menopausal breast cancer (wowza). Anne McTiernan, a researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, has even stated that a quarter of all breast cancer cases could be prevented by women achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. This is because estrogen is stored in fat, and elevated estrogen levels increases the risk of breast cancer.
- Get moving – even if it’s just a stroll: a recent study found that moderate physical activity (walking for an hour a day) reduced breast cancer risk in post-menopausal women by 14%, while vigorous physical activity (running, etc. in addition to walking for an hour) reduced breast cancer risk by 25%. Another recent study found that moderate exercise in pre-menopausal women can benefit the way in which their bodies handle environmental estrogen.
- Load up on antioxidants: antioxidants benefit our bodies in so many wonderful ways, the greatest of which is their ability to negate the effects of free-radicals, nasty little buggers that damage cells, opening the door for cancer. Antioxidant-rich foods include berries, apples, pomegranates, beans (small red, kidney, pinto), artichokes, prunes, and cacao. Check out this recipe for anti-aging chocolate, named for the high antioxidant content of its yummy ingredients!
- Quit smoking: researchers have found that the rate of new breast cancer diagnosis was 24% higher in smokers than in nonsmokers, and 13% higher in former smokers than in nonsmokers. Enough said. While quitting smoking may not be a “simple” thing to do for many, it is a “simple” way to reduce the risk of breast cancer. If any smokers are reading this, I hope these statistics are the last push you need to finally quit.
- Limit alcohol intake: studies have shown that drinking 2+ alcoholic drinks a day can increase your risk of breast cancer by at least 20%. The American Cancer Society recommends that women consume only alcoholic drink or less a day. Alcohol may affect the estrogen levels in the body, which may account for this increased risk.
- Limit your soy intake: natural plant-based estrogens in soy may provide healthy benefits in low doses, but may be a risk factor for breast cancer in higher doses. This is an issue since soy is ubiquitous in our modern, highly processed food system. The high prevalence of soy is really just another great reason to cut back on processed foods as much as possible. I play by the precautionary principle and so really flat-out avoid soy (to read more, see Why soy is NOT a health food).
- Prioritize purchasing hormone-free, pasture-raised meat and dairy: modern-day large-scale meat and dairy products unfortunately includes the use of growth hormones. These hormones end up in the meat and dairy products conveniently found at a grocery store near you, and eventually make their way into the consumer. This is a major problem since these hormones can mess with our own hormones, which spells Trouble (note the capital “T”). Choose hormone-free, preferably pasture-raised meat and dairy to avoid this risk.
Sources and further reading:
- Breast Cancer Fund, Chemicals in Cosmetics
- Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, European Laws
- Environmental Working Group, Toxics
- American Cancer Society, Study Links Smoking to Breast Cancer Risk
- American Cancer Society, Alcohol Use and Cancer
- Melanie Haiken for Forbes, 5 Things You Can Do Now To Protect Yourself From Breast Cancer
- Janet Hildebrand et al, Recreational Physical Activity and Leisure-Time Sitting in Relation to Postmenopausal Breast Cancer Risk
- A. J. Smith et al, The effects of aerobic exercise on estrogen metabolism in healthy premenopausal women
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