The Many Faces of Breast Cancer
Each fall as Breast Cancer awareness month approaches, my phone begins to ring incessantly with requests for the current list of every Cancer protective food & supplement known to woman kind. Although, research indicates that a 1/3 of all cancers are diet related and that women who do consume more whole foods that are vegetarian based are at lower risk for all chronic diseases. It by no means guarantees immunity.
As a practitioner, I have listened to women’s stories that have been all too well acquainted with breast cancer, the common thread being, unyielding layers of stress. Some of you might resonate with these ‘stress layers’, emotional being the one at the top. Think death, divorce, moving, job loss, an unstable economy and single parenting to name a few. All of the aforementioned would toss even the heartiest of souls into a ‘fight or flight’ response. Certainly, age, gender, and ones DNA code are Breast Cancer Risk Factors that we cannot change. What we can change are the “Lifestyle Risk Factors”. These are modifiable such as choosing to be physically active, consuming alcohol in moderation, watching what we put over our lips—so it doesn’t go to our hips and developing a set of coping skills to deal with stress.
Another stresser that is largely ignored is ‘Nutritional Stress’. It’s a term I came up with a few years ago and a topic that I cover as well. Think carb craving here. In an effort to gain a better understanding of what’s taking place underneath the surface, I tracked down nationally recognized experts, all of whom have had extensive experience in working with women and breast cancer. I got more than I bargained for and with that being said, gained new insight on the many faces that breast cancer holds.
The Landscape of Labs & Female Hormones
It’s unfortunate but most women have more knowledge about the designers who make their shoes and jeans than about what hormones rule (or run amok) within their bodies. “Women need to have their hormones assessed on an annual basis from age 35 on. Or, if there’s any suspected abnormalities in the menstrual cycle such as PMS & PCOS, stated Dr. Andrea Cole D.O. a leading edge practitioner who owns The Center for Age Management and Wellness located in Encinitas, California. “One of the top items a woman can do is get her hormones tested via, blood draw, saliva and urine. If you leave any one of those labs out, the puzzle will be incomplete and you’ll spend years not understanding why whatever said hormone therapy is not working. Be it a Bio-Identical formulation or the standard fare HRT”. She further stated that continued hormone imbalance is “defiantly stressful on a woman’s body both physically and emotionally”. The take away; get your hormones tested which include the thyroid free T3 & T4, reverse T3 & T4 along with thyroid antibodies.
Vitamin D: Making the Connection
If you’ve been on the stress roller coaster get your adrenals assessed and do the follow up on a semi- annual basis or whatever time frame your practitioner recommends. Including assessing vitamin D levels which act more like a hormone, relaying messages throughout the body. A recent study conducted by UCSD La Jolla, found that over 600,000 cases of breast cancer each year could be thwarted by boosting vitamin D levels. “The first event in cancer is loss of communication among cells due to, among other things, low vitamin D and calcium levels,” said epidemiologist Cedric Garland, DrPH, professor of family and preventive medicine at the UC San Diego School of Medicine. He is the one responsible for overseeing the large body of new vitamin D studies including the tandem study doen between Harvard and UCSD on Vitamin D and Breast Cancer risk. “In this new model, we propose that this loss may play a key role in cancer by disrupting the communication between cells that is essential to healthy cell turnover, allowing more aggressive cancer cells to take over.” The take away: get the Vitamin D lab run. All you need to do is request it from your practitioner.
One of the biggest nutritional de-railers of hormone balance is unstable blood sugar and is considered by this author and leading edge nutritional researchers to be a ‘nutritional stressor’. These highs and lows that come with regular consumption of simple carbs and processed food, play a major role in driving Insulin a ‘storage hormone’ up. When this takes place, the ‘flight or fight’ response is activated with the Adrenal Glands pushing out all manner of stress hormones including cortisol, adrenaline and norepinepharine. “Now the terrain is ripe for a number of health issues to take place and a women’s risk for breast cancer can go up” stated Dr. Cole.
The Crash Crave Cycle
One of the most common complaints I hear from women is ‘how can I stop these carb cravings’? My standard answer is ‘you’re amongst friends and yes it can be controlled”. The scenarios I see play out, on a daily/weekly basis are women telling me what they start their day off with and it’s all too often a high glycemic index carb. Which takes your blood sugar from 0 to 90 miles per hour and going along for this hormonal joy ride is Insulin a storage hormone. In essence what women are doing is teaching their bodies (daily) to store instead of burn fat via what their putting over their lips. Repeating this day in and day out can lead to exhaustion, fatigue and further one’s chronic carb cravings.
However, when we put food in the ‘good category’ such as oatmeal (don’t get me wrong I love oatmeal) and consume it by itself this too, can be problematic as well. Primarily, because most of us are not creating a ‘need’ for the amount of carbs we’re consuming. Be it good or bad carbs. Keep in mind carbs fuel energy and if your over 35 chances are you’re not spending enough energy to warrant the amount of carbs you’re consuming. After we eat where do we go? Well most of us head out the door to work and become one with our office chairs. Additionally, how many of you actually measure out what you’ll eat? Not many do. We manage to fill our bowls that are now the size of flying saucers, to the brim. After all we don’t want ourselves to starve. No one bothered to send us the e mail telling us that we have a greater need to eat balanced ratios of Protein, Carbs, good Fats and Fiber as we age. When we do, blood sugar, mood swings and energy levels stabilize. Constant carb cravings subside along with the hormonal side having a better chance at achieving balance.
Look for ways to ‘marry’ foods together. For example, ½ a slice of whole grain toast with 1tsp. almond butter, 1 hardboiled egg and ½ a cup of Soy, Almond or Organic Skim Milk. If your taste buds are married to yogurt, take a look at the quality, as not all are created equal. Opt for the Greek plain non fat. It has a higher amount of protein, lower amount of carbs. You can add in 1 tablespoon of berries and ¼ tsp. of ground flax seed and Stevia if you need a sweetener. The Flax seed provides Omega-3’s and the fiber will cover several bases, including slowing the breakdown and absorption rate of the food along with creating a feeling of ‘fullness’. Please keep in mind these are general recommendations so you may need to adjust up or down to meet your needs.
The Estrogen & Weight connection
Metabolically speaking if a woman continues to have wide blood sugar swings she’ll have a tough time losing gained weight, let alone maintaining her weight. For the majority of women over 40, weight gain is a major source of aggravation, as the older you get the tougher weight loss becomes. The take away here; balance your protein, carbs, fats and fiber. Extra fat weight is responsible for producing excess amounts of the detrimental estrogen that is responsible for growth of cancer cells. Another reason to find a form of movement that agrees with you. It’s all well and good to head off to the gym. But let’s think outside the weight room here. What about dance classes, salsa or joining a hiking club? For many women exercise is a dirty word. So find something you enjoy doing and will be consistent with it.
The Many Faces of Breast Cancer