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The Functional Medicine Approach to Breast Cancer Prevention

Breast cancer is a health issue that most women will think or worry about at some point in their lives. One of the reasons is because we hear so much about breast cancer these days: in the media; through fundraising organizations; and from family and friends facing the diagnosis. Another is because it has become much too common. Perhaps you, or someone close to you, are a breast cancer survivor.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and we want to honor and support all women by highlighting our Functional Medicine approach to the prevention of breast cancer, whether the focus is on primary prevention, or prevention of recurrence. 

Because research shows that how you metabolize estrogen can increase your risk, we focus on supporting estrogen detoxification, a process that happens primarily in the liver.

HOW MUCH ESTROGEN DO YOU HAVE?

Many women believe that after menopause they aren’t making estrogen anymore.

This is not true. 

Before menopause, estrogen is produced in several places in the body, including the ovaries, adrenal glands, and produced from testosterone by the enzyme aromatase in fat cells. After your ovaries have been removed or you have gone through menopause, estrogen is still being produced, in low but measurable amounts, by these other tissues. 

You might wonder: since we all have estrogen, why do some women, and not others, end up with breast cancer? 

Well, it turns out that all estrogens are not the same, and these differences are influenced by genetics and the environment.

When estrogen is processed for elimination, the hormones are sent to the liver where they are metabolized, a process also called detoxification. During the estrogen detox process, you can end up with “bad” estrogens or “good” estrogens. The bad ones are considered “toxic” because they are very strong stimulators of estrogen receptors (causing more cell proliferation), and they can damage DNA, as opposed to the “good” estrogen metabolites that are weaker estrogens and not harmful to cells. Of course, the “good” estrogens are preferable!

Although our genetics influence how easily we make the good and bad estrogens, it turns out (no big surprise!) that food and other lifestyle factors have an enormous effect on the kinds of metabolites the liver will make. Influencing your estrogen detox pathways in a good way is what we focus on for breast cancer prevention at Blum Center for Health.

IMPROVE YOUR RATIO OF GOOD:BAD ESTROGENS

Our first step to help you reduce your cancer risk is to increase your good estrogens, and decrease the bad. 

Top 4 Ways to Reduce Your Breast Cancer Risk 

  • Eat lots of food that supports estrogen elimination and detoxification pathways, including:
    1. Lots of antioxidants and cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli and cauliflower
    2. Fiber from fruits and vegetables helps you excrete estrogens via the gut.
    3. Soybean that is organic and non-gmo, and in its whole form, like edamame or tofu. Or, fermented soy like tempeh or miso. Soy has a very gentle and positive effect on estrogen receptors and is actually good for most women.
    4. Ground flax seeds:  can block the conversion of testosterone to estrogen, thus lowering your levels.
  1. Consider taking the supplement Di-indolylmethane, or DIM, or it’s more powerful cousin, Sulforaphane, which are basically the active component extracted from cruciferous vegetables. This can improve the good:bad estrogen ratio with the goal of decreasing your risk of breast cancer. We also recommend it to reduce symptoms of too much estrogen, such as fibrocystic breasts, uterine fibroids or heavy painful periods. This condition is called estrogen dominance.
  2.  If you want to know more about your personal risk, genetic testing can be done to evaluate your probability for making bad estrogens, and urine testing can be done to assess your current ratio of good:bad estrogens. With these test results, we can determine how to use food, supplements and mind-body practices to increase good estrogen levels and lower bad ones. These tests are available from our Functional Medicine nutritionist or practitioners.
  3. Lower your total toxin load.  In addition to targeted support for detoxing and eliminating estrogens, keeping your general toxin load and exposure low is very important because environmental toxins like herbicides and pesticides can push your estrogens down the “bad” pathways. We recommend cleaning up your exposures, and supporting your liver with a general detox program. How to do this?  Read on!   

HOW TO REDUCE YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL EXPOSURES AND LOWER TOXIN LOAD

We always recommend doing a simple Liver Support Detox program in the spring and fall to help keep these toxins from building up in the body and causing problems. Check out our do-it-yourself 14-Day Whole Life Detox to get startedAdd a bottle of Broccoprotect (sulforaphane) if you are concerned about your estrogens and you’re all set.  

And if you are confused about what to do?  Make an appointment with our health coach, Melissa Rapoport! She will help you form a plan to reduce your toxic load and bring balance back to your body. Either call 914-652-7800 to set up an in-person appointment, or go to CoachMe to set up a video or phone appointment. 

Want to learn more about detoxification? Check out these detox blog posts.

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