A Comprehensive Guide to Breast Health
All breasts are beautiful. Breasts represent the primal need for motherly love, support, security, care, and nourishment. They’re primarily made up of fatty tissue, glandular tissue for the production of milk, and are the sites of significant lymphatic drainage. Breasts come in an infinite number of shapes and sizes, and one is never better than the other. Their shape is determined mainly by the amount of fatty tissue and by the tone of the supportive tissue, connective tissue, and ligaments. The health of breasts is determined by the health of the tissues that compose them and the ease with which the lymph can flow through its channels without obstacle. The lymph in breasts is most concentrated with nodes in the axillary area, right underneath the armpits. There’s also essential lymph drainage that occurs in the crevice behind the collarbone.
In western society, we tend to view disease as an inevitable part of aging and as something that we cannot prevent. When it comes to breast cancer and breast health, however, every woman has extraordinary power in preventing and lowering her risk of developing disease. Here are some essential tips and tools to support the health of your breasts.
Before discussing the preventative actions you can start implementing in your life today to enhance breast health, the importance of breast self-examination must first be stressed. Early detection of breast cancer saves lives, and early detection is primarily attributed to breast self-awareness.
How to: Massage your breasts and armpit area regularly to look for lumps or swelling. Observe your breasts in front of the mirror and look for any skin changes, nipple discharge, or anything unusual. If you find anything that doesn’t seem normal, visit your health care practitioner for testing and advice.
Reduce your intake of sugar and processed foods. Normalizing your insulin and leptin levels by avoiding sugar and fructose is one of the most influential physical actions you can take to lower your risk of cancer. Refined carbohydrates are the next biggest culprit for blood sugar spikes after sugar itself, so limit your intake of bread, pasta, baked goods, and other products made with white flour.
Consider intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting shifts your body from burning sugar as its primary source of fuel to burning fat. Since cancer cells thrive on sugar, this is something you want to avoid. Intermittent fasting involves timing your meals to allow for regular and consistent periods of fasting. There are a few ways to do this, such as fasting for full days (once a week or even several times per week) or only eating for an 8-hour window each day (for example, from 11am to 7pm). Choose the method that works best for your schedule, and only try intermittent fasting if it feels right for you & your body.
*this method is not ideal for everyone - for example, if you have issues maintaining even blood sugar levels, this may be too extreme for you as you may need to eat frequent small meals throughout the entire day
Avoid/ Limit alcohol. Alcohol consumption creates dangerous toxins in the body and has been definitively linked to cancer for years.
Eliminate or reduce caffeine intake as excess caffeine can contribute to fibroids.
Watch for increased iron levels. When women stop menstruating, they often end up with excessive levels of iron. The extra iron works as a powerful oxidant, increasing free radicals and raising your risk of cancer. To check your levels, have your ferritin level tested by your health care practitioner. Ferritin is the iron transport protein and should not be above 80. If it is elevated, you can simply donate your blood to reduce it.
Eat unrefined seed foods. Seeds contain phytoestrogens, which reduce the risk of developing breast cancer by balancing hormone levels in the body. Whole grains such as wheat, rice, kasha, millet, and quinoa are unrefined seed foods, as are beans such as lentils, black beans, pinto beans, lima beans, and chickpeas. Nuts including walnuts, almonds, and pecans are another source of unrefined seed foods. And of course, you also have your edible seeds such as sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin, all of which are very beneficial. Fruits and vegetables that are eaten with their seeds - such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, kiwi, summer squash, tomatoes, and cucumbers - also count as unrefined seed foods. Even seeds used as seasonings count, such as cumin, coriander, caraway, anise, and dill seeds. Always remember to include seeds in your diet on a daily basis for breast health and cancer prevention.
Flax seeds especially! Flax seeds contain high amounts of phytoestrogens, which protect against breast cancer more efficiently than any other food we know of and may also shrink breast tumors. The best way to consume flax seeds is to eat raw, organic seeds, freshly ground and added to soups, salads, or smoothies.
Ensure your body is detoxifying properly. An efficiently-detoxing body is one that easily eliminates wastes and toxins so they don’t accumulate, as toxic build-up prevents your cells from performing their hundreds of duties every second of every single day. Your cells eliminate waste and accept nutrients more easily when they’re not regularly dealing with (and potentially being damaged by) toxins, which could be coming in via your face wash, toothpaste, deodorant, perfume, carpet off-gassing, and more.
One way to ensure proper detoxification is to make sure you’re having regular bowel movements - approximately 1-2 quality movements per day. If you’re not eliminating properly, increase your water and fiber intake to get things moving. You can also try things like enemas to get things moving or try colon hydrotherapy if you're suffering from extreme constipation.
Eat cruciferous vegetables. These include cauliflower, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. A chemical called sulforaphane that’s found in cruciferous vegetables targets and kills cancer stem cells and prevents new tumors from growing. Additionally, these vegetables are all hormone-balancing due to a compound they contain called indole-3-carbinol, which supports estrogen balance in particular.
Get enough vitamin D. As much as 90% of common breast cancer is related to vitamin D deficiency, which is 100% preventable! Vitamin D is a potent neuro-regulatory steroid with epigenetic influence over about 10% of the genes in your body. Your vitamin D levels should always be around 70-100 ng/ml. Getting vitamin D from the sun is best, but if you live in the northern hemisphere then supplementation is almost always necessary, too. Get your levels tested so that you can supplement the adequate amount (since vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, you do have to be careful of over-supplementing!). A liquid vitamin D3 supplement that also contains vitamin K2 is ideal.
Make iodine your friend. Iodine is a crucial ingredient in the delicate balance of the endocrine system, and deficiencies have been linked to conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), fibrocystic breast disease, and breast cancer. Iodine concentrates in and is secreted by the mammary glands.
Standard breast architecture requires adequate Iodine, and in a deficient state, the breasts and thyroid compete for available Iodine. Hyperplasia, or increased cell growth, may be induced in these glands. Estrogen production increases with an iodine deficiency, thus causing an increased sensitivity to estrogen by breast tissue. If you live in the “goiter belt” or suspect that you have thyroid issues, it’s all the more important to ensure you’re getting enough iodine. It's important to test your levels prior to supplementing.
Get plenty of animal-based omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 deficiency is a common underlying factor in the development of cancer. While plant-based sources of omega-3s are also beneficial (such as flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts), animal-based sources are optimal as they contain crucial EPA and DHA, crucial fatty acids only found in cold water fish. Krill oil and cod liver oil are two great options to supplement with.
Curcumin. Also known as the active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin is a potent antioxidant that helps enhance breast health. It can be consumed in supplement form, in a tea, or by adding turmeric to savory dishes and curries.
Red clover. This potent anti-cancer herb contains a high amount of phytoestrogens (plant-based estrogens), which are especially beneficial if you’re over the age of 50. To use, it’s best to make a red clover blossom infusion.
To make the infusion:
Place one ounce (by weight - about a cup by volume) of dried red clover in a quart jar. Fill the jar to the top with filtered boiling water and put the lid on tightly. Let it steep for 4-8 hrs or overnight. Strain and drink throughout the day (3-4 cups). Refrigerate any extra and drink it within 24-36 hours.
Cat’s claw. This herb is used for breast cancer prevention, building red blood cells, and naturally enhancing the immune system. Best in tincture form.
Fennel. This aromatic flowering plant prevents cancer in general and also helps to build healthy breast tissue. Do not consume fennel while pregnant, however, as it stimulates the uterus.
Marigold flowers. These contain an antioxidant, lutein, that has been associated with decreasing the number of breast tumors and preventing new cancer cells from developing.
Evening primrose. This relieves breast pain and reduces breast inflammation. The herb has also been known to help in firming and enhancing breasts naturally as well. Taking this herb in supplement form or in oil form are two favorite ways to gain its benefits. Best in capsule form.
Basil. Its different varieties, such as Sweet Basil or Holy Basil, are used as herbal remedies for breast cancer. Basil helps prevent the growth of new and existing cancerous tumors. There are many ways to use this herb, such as in tea, food, tincture form, or essential oil. Holy Basil is lovely as a tea or infusion.
Damiana. This aromatic herb has been known to assist in improving blood circulation in the breasts, enlarging breasts, and improving glandular activity. As an added bonus, it also boosts sex drive and increases sexual desire. best in tea or tincture form.
Dandelion. Commonly used to help heal fibrocystic breast disease (FBD), which is a common disorder that affects many premenopausal women, dandelion is a herb that can be taken internally or applied as a poultice. Lovely as a tea or infusion.
Reduce stress. Engaging in regular and consistent practices that lower stress levels will help you sleep better, boost your immune system, and prevent chronic or life-threatening illnesses from developing, including breast cancer. Find time every day to practice deep breathing exercises, journal, go through yoga poses, or even take a nap.
Stay active. Women who work out regularly and are active throughout the day have a lower risk of getting breast cancer. Work up a sweat doing activities you enjoy as often as you can!
Reduce/Remove xenoestrogens. Balancing your hormones in the 21st century has become increasingly hard due to the widespread use of xenoestrogens in plastics, pesticides, specific animal products, cosmetics, and household products. These chemicals mimic estrogen in the body and may cause hormonal imbalances. Do your best to eliminate as many products containing xenoestrogens as you can. This can be done by avoiding plastic bottles, cleaning up your cosmetics and household cleaning supplies, as well as by buying organic produce as often as possible.
Talk to your healthcare practitioner about synthetic hormones. The risk of developing breast cancer is higher for women taking long-term hormone replacement therapy and hormonal contraceptives. Speak to your health care practitioner about the possibility of coming off these medications and of finding non-hormonal alternatives.
Get regular thermograms (not mammograms). Thermography is useful as a preventative tool because it can detect both the potential for cancer and already-formed cancers at an earlier stage than a mammogram. Thermograms work by identifying areas of high inflammation with cancerous potential. If the image indicates inflammation, you can immediately start applying natural strategies to reverse your symptoms. Mammography, which employs radiation, can increase your risk of the ionizing radiation itself causing cancer. Mammograms are also incorrect up to 80% of the time (often providing a false negative or false positive), use compression which can damage breast tissue or potentially spread cancer, are not effective for up to 50% of women (women with dense breasts or implants), can lead to overdiagnosis and overtreatment of non-invasive cancers, and can lead to the disturbing practice of "preventative" double mastectomies.
Dry skin brush. It feels fantastic and also stimulates the lymphatic system, which is intimately connected with your immune system. Here’s a great article that explains how to dry skin brush for optimal lymphatic drainage.
Sleep in complete darkness. Melatonin is the hormone released when we sleep and it’s needed to detoxify and restore the body. It cannot be released if any light is hitting your body. Ideal hours for sleep are between 10pm and 6am. Working against your biology by staying awake when you should ideally be sleeping or vice versa interferes with these hormonal fluctuations.
Breastfeed. If you have children and are able to, breastfeed exclusively for six months - one year or more. This will reduce your breast cancer risk.
Ditch the underwire bra. The tight underwire compresses the lymphatic drainage of the breast. Improper lymphatic drainage has been linked to breast cancer.
Through supportive measures in terms of diet, herbs, and lifestyle, you can prioritize breast health with small daily changes. It’s liberating and empowering to know that breast cancer is not something that just happens - we have the power to prevent it!