October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and so there’s no time like the present to begin making the changes necessary for better breast health. Believe it or not, you can change the way your body breaks down its circulating estrogen. You have direct control over this, which is important because estrogen breakdown is different for every woman and man.
Let’s start with the basics. When you say the word “estrogen” you’re talking about three compounds: estradiol, estrone and estriol. Of the three, estradiol has the strongest tie to cancer, more than the other two metabolites. So keeping an eye on the levels of estradiol is important.
Men and women both make estrogen. In fact, it’s the breakdown product from testosterone. If you have low testosterone, you’ll have low estrogen too.
Your body breaks down estrogen into metabolites, some of which are more likely to cause cancer than others. Like I said, you can change the way that your body breaks down the circulating estrogen. So right now, I’m going to give valuable information about how to manufacture your own healthy estrogen metabolites and make it such that you break it down into forms that are less likely to cause cancer. If you are currently undergoing chemotherapy, please ask your doctor if these are right for you.
I recommend this as fresh herb from your garden or grocery store. Cook with it and use it to make tea. Rosemary is a powerful antioxidant that has anti-inflammatory effects similar to a COX 2 inhibitor drug (think Celebrex which is a COX 2 inhibitor and Ibuprofen which is both a COX 1 and COX 2 inhibitor). Rosemary has anti-microbial benefits and anti-tumor benefits for breast and prostate health. It works by helping you break down estrogen into the safer anti-cancer metabolites. One of several major useful ingredients in rosemary is “carnosic acid” – you can look that up on pubmed to learn more. Another powerful compound it contains is rosemarinic acid.
Unless you want to eat 4 pounds of broccoli every day, you may wish to try the supplement called I3C or DIM. It helps to balance estrogen levels in the body, and appears to have anti-cancer effects particularly for the breast and prostate. The sulforaphanes in broccoli offer a form of sulfur, which can detoxify your body. Warning: Too much may crash your thyroid levels due to the goitrogenic effect.
This contains lignans which your body converts to an estrogen-like substance that is natural. It’s kind of like plant-based estrogen (phytoestrogens), which kicks off dangerous estrogens from your cells. Men with prostate problems could benefit. Women with estrogen dominance hallmarked by heavy periods, breast pain, cramping and anxiety might benefit from flax seed. I recommend buying fresh flax seed and grinding up about a tablespoon in a coffee grinder and consuming it sprinkled on yogurt, oatmeal or baked into muffins. It gives you fiber too. You can certainly take less to start and work up to a tablespoon. The dose differs for everyone.
Salvia officinalis is the botanical name of sage, and just like rosemary, sage contains a lot of carnosic acid. This compound was shown in numerous clinical trial to exert apoptosis (which means cancer cells die off) and to halt progression of certain types of cancer. Carnosic acid when combined with the breast cancer drug, Tamoxifen, works more effectively together to slow down cancer growth. You can buy or grow fresh sage and cook with it, or find herbal extracts at any health food store.
Turmeric spice has an active ingredient in it called curcumin. Curcumin dampens down pro-inflammatory cytokines that are dangerous. By turning off the switch in your body for NF-kappa B, curcumin (and a few other herbs) may be able to effectively suppress levels of TNF, a.k.a., Tumor Necrosis Factor. High levels of that are tied to tumors. As another interesting feature, curcumin seems to be able to cause apoptosis, which is suicide of cancer cells. To get curcumin, use turmeric spice.
Iodine deficiency is common in women with breast cancer and fibrocystic breast disease. In 1993, important research came out proving that iodine deficiency impacted the breast tissue. The paper published by Ghent and Eskin found that replenishing iodine in the body could help relieve fibrocystic breast pain. This landmark paper was based on about 30 years of research by Dr. Bernard Eskin tying up the association between iodine deficiency and either breast pain or breast cancer.
Iodine plays an important role in human health, and should not be underestimated. It is completely natural to the human body, and even has anti-microbial benefits. People get confused about iodine, and that’s because there are forms of radioactive iodine used to burn the thyroid gland (for Graves’ disease) as well as injectable dyes and contrast media derived from iodine that people get for MRIs. But natural iodine is just that, neither radioactive, nor a dye.
Iodine deficiency can increase your risk for all of the following:
-Uterine fibroid tumors
-Fibrocystic breasts or lumps
-Suppressed thyroid hormone
-Hashimoto’s or Grave’s disease (autoimmune)
-Higher heavy metal burden
Iodine is needed for the production of thyroid hormone in your body. You can’t make thyroid hormone without iodine, period. If you have low thyroid hormone, your risk for cancer goes up because cancer cells start spreading. So indirectly, iodine has anti-cancer properties.
I believe we have an epidemic of iodine deficiency in this country, especially since our baked goodies and breads/muffins no longer contain natural iodine like they used to, but rather bromine, a known toxin. Bromine, when ingested or inhaled, occupies the receptor sites where iodine should live. The displacement causes a deficiency of iodine in your body and a relative toxic burden of bromine. Remember, iodine is needed for healthy breast and prostate tissue, and in fact, all your reproductive organs.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the value of vitamin D. There are numerous well-designed studies that prove vitamin D3 can reduce the risk of several cancers, including breast cancer. In 2007, a well-designed trial conducted by Joan M. Lappe and team members was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. This important trial was a 4-year, population-based, double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled study. Their conclusion after following 1,179 post-menopausal women was very positive.
Another such study found that higher serum (blood) levels of vitamin D correlated to lowered risk of breast cancer recurrence. More specifically, women who were able to maintain a vitamin D level above 30 ng/ml had a 50 percent lowered risk of the cancer spreading as compared to those women who had a serum vitamin D levels that were less than 20 ng/ml.
The take home point: Have your vitamin D levels measured (it’s a simple blood test, and there are even home test kits available off the Internet). If they are less than ideal (most experts feel “ideal” is 40 – 60 ng/ml), then start supplementing with about 2,000 – 5,000 IU cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) OR join a nudist colony so you can get full body sun for several hours every day 😉
What about food?
Fresh vegetables and fruits, organic if possible
Steamed or sautéed crucifers like cauliflower, broccoli and kale
Fresh herbs like rosemary, sage, basil, chives and mint
Cold water fish
Cut down on these:
Deli meats and cold cuts
Vegetable or canola oil
Refined sweets and candy
All of the changes I’ve outlined here can help support breast and prostate health. These work by changing the way you metabolize estrogen. More specifically, these help to promote less estradiol and more estrone and estriol. That’s a good thing. Please ask your doctor if these are right for you, especially if you are in the middle of treatment, or if you’re taking estradiol medication as your hot flash or menopause medication.