Ask any woman, and she probably knows someone who has had breast cancer, or she has had it herself. It is downright scary. While breast cancer rates have decreased marginally over the past decade (possibly due to the decrease in prescribed hormone replacement therapy), they remain high. In fact, one in eight women in the United States (about 12 percent) will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Men are not immune either. While lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is significantly lower in men, about 2,140 cases are diagnosed annually, leading to approximately 450 deaths. Death rates in women have also dropped since 1990.
Still, even with dropping diagnosis and death rates, breast cancer remains a significant issue, particularly for women. It is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in American women with the second highest death rate for females behind lung cancer.
While the causes of breast cancer remain unknown, many factors may increase a woman’s risk of developing it. These factors include:
- Family history
- Certain medications
- Birth control pill use
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Lack of exercise
- Diet in general as well as certain foods
Controlling Your Risk
While you can’t control many of your risk factors for developing breast cancer, you can change the behaviors that increase your risk.
- Exercise regularly.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat a plant-based diet which contains a wide range of cancer-protecting phytonutrients (green smoothies!)
- Make informed decisions before taking medications or undergoing hormone replacement therapy.
Foods that Increase Your Risk of Breast Cancer
So what foods should you avoid that cause an increased risk of breast cancer? Here are 5 top foods:
A 2007 Italian study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed a correlation between increased intake in foods with a high glycemic index and breast cancer. Sugar is just one of many high glycemic index food, including baked goods, candy, pasta, white rice, and other refined carbohydrates.
Foods with a high glycemic index are those that have a significant impact on blood sugar. As blood glucose rises, the body releases the hormone insulin. When insulin is high in the blood, it also increases the levels of circulating free estrogen. Moreover, breast tissue (both cancerous and normal) contains insulin receptors. When the insulin and/or estrogen attach to these receptors, it causes cell division, which spells disaster for breast cancer. Note: some natural plant foods are considered to have a high glycemic index, but also contain many important nutrients, and can be eaten in moderation and along with other low glycemic plant foods. The main guideline is to avoid processed and refined carbs and sugars.
The bottom line: Minimize your intake of refined carbohydrates and sugars.
2. Grilled meats
While grilling is frequently touted as the healthiest way to cook meat, this may not be so. Grilling certain animal proteins to high temperatures can increase development of heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which are mutagenic cancer causing compounds. According to the Cancer Project, the worst offenders included well-done chicken breast, well-done steak, pork, salmon, and well-done hamburger. Unfortunately, alternative cooking methods aren’t much better. Frying and broiling to high temperatures also increases the levels of HCAs in meats.
The American Institute for Cancer Research reports increased risk of both colorectal and breast cancer from all red meat consumption, as well. Smoking and curing meat also adds carcinogens. Yikes! Is a piece of meat really worth sacrificing your health and your life?
The bottom line: If you eat meat, make it an occasional treat and cook just to the safe temperature to eliminate bacteria. Better yet, avoid meat altogether.
3. High Fat Animal Products
A high fat diet raises estrogen and prolactin levels, which can in turn give rise to hormone-dependent cancers, such as breast and endometrial cancer. Many commonly consumed animal products are not only rich in fat in general, but in cholesterol-containing saturated fat, which is the type that is extremely problematic for health.
The bottom line: While you need some fat in your diet, get it from avocados, seeds and nuts and other plant foods. Keep animal products in general to a strict minimum (as per #2), and if you do eat some animal protein be sure to trim off all fat and stick to lean cuts. Avoid super fatty animal products altogether such as bacon and cream.
In order to maintain production, dairy farmers ply their milk-producing animals with all kinds of hormones and chemicals. One of these chemicals is rGBH, which is commonly used in American dairy cattle. Cows’ milk treated with rGBH has higher levels of another hormone, insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). This hormone is naturally present in humans and it regulates cell differentiation and division. Studies link elevated levels of IGF-1 to increased risk of breast cancer.
The bottom line: Skip the dairy. Instead, opt for almond milk.
5. Artificial sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners like aspartame (NutraSweet) and sucralose (Splenda) may increase the risk of breast cancer. Though approved by the FDA, little is known about the long-term effects of these artificial chemicals. Studies have shown, however, that artificial sweeteners can and often do trigger insulin release when ingested (known as the cephalic phase response). Because many consider artificial sweeteners “free” foods since they are non-caloric, this often leads to increased consumption and therefore, elevated insulin levels. For the reasons discussed above, excess elevated insulin may increase the risk of breast cancer.
The bottom line: eat fruit, drink water, and avoid artificial sweeteners.
Foods that May Decrease Your Risk of Breast Cancer
Try these foods, that may decrease your risk of breast and other cancers.
This cruciferous vegetable contains high levels of indole-3 carbinol (I3C), which as strong anti-cancer properties. IC3 also shifts estrogen balance, which may reduce risk of developing breast cancer.
2. Red Cabbage
This colorful veggie contains IC3, as well as vitamin A and the flavonoid anthocyanadin (which gives the cabbage its color). All reduce cancer risks. Try whipping up some red Probiotic & Enzyme Salad.
3. Chia Seeds
These seeds are high in Omega-3 acids and antioxidants. Studies at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center showed that Omega-3 fatty acid intake may decrease the risk of developing breast cancer.
4. Shiitake mushrooms
These delicious mushrooms contain lentinan, which boosts immune health and reduces risk of developing certain cancers including breast cancer.
This golden spice contains curcumin, an antioxidant that has demonstrated anticancer effects in studies. Try my Veggie-Turmeric-Quinoa recipe in The Beauty Detox Solution.