Breast cancer is one of the most frequently diagnosed cancers and is the second leading cause of cancer death in American women. By changing your diet, you can do a lot to reduce your risk of getting it. Cancer research UK estimates that 9 out of 100 cancers can be prevented if you change your eating habits.
The evidence base behind certain foods’ anticancer potential is rapidly growing, but more evidence is needed and the research in this field is ongoing.
Healthy body weight, which goes hand in hand with healthy eating, is another factor that can reduce the risk of many cancers and also needs to be considered. By changing your diet for the better, you will likely influence your body weight as well and bring your BMI into the healthy range.
Breast cancer and diet
Scientists have difficulty studying the role of diet in cancer development. It is not easy to single out one factor and make direct links to cancer. Different studies don’t always reach the same conclusion and there is inconsistency in this area of research.
There are some clues, however, that show there is a connection between diet and breast cancer development. For example, Japanese women have a lower risk of breast cancer compared to American women. But if they emigrate to the US, their risk becomes equal to that of their American counterparts. One of the most obvious changes in America is the food; fish and vegetables are replaced by processed foods and sugars. It seems that diet alteration makes the Japanese newcomers more susceptible to this deadly disease.
What follows is a description of foods that have been researched in relation to breast cancer prevention and have received some scientific backing.
Fiber, the indigestible part of plant foods, is often associated with a healthy diet. Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables and whole meal cereals. Wheat bran is a particularly good source of dietary fiber when it comes to cancer prevention. Amongst other things, it lowers the levels of hormone estrogen in pre-menopausal women which reduces the risk of breast cancer. It has been suggested that 25 grams of fiber should be consumed per day to help with breast cancer prevention in women who had not yet had their menopause. Fiber is also a great natural remedy for constipation.
Generally speaking, if you eat a plant-rich diet, you will most likely be consuming fiber galore. Some researchers believe that it might not be the fiber itself that lowers the risk of cancer. More likely, a fiber-rich diet automatically means you are ingesting less sugar and more antioxidants, which makes you less prone to cancer.
Fruits are a good source of fiber and antioxidants. Fruits that are rich in vitamins A, C, E and selenium have a particularly potent antioxidant effect.
Antioxidants prevent chemical reactions that can lead to gene and cell changes. An abnormal change to the cell can mean the start of a cancer growth. The ominous changes can happen during the oxidation process when oxygen joins with another molecule, so antioxidants work by stopping this process.
Carotenoids are natural pigments that give some plants their distinct color and are found in the chloroplasts and chromoplasts of plants. There are over 600 different types of this coloring. Studies have shown that women who have higher levels of carotenoids in their blood might have a lower risk of breast cancer. Some of the most common sources include:
- Bell peppers
- Sweet potato
- Kale (kale is also one of the ingredients in my ultimate anti-inflammatory smoothie)
Flavonols and flavones
Flavonols and flavones, also known as flavonoids, are protective compounds found in plants. Women who consume them in greater amounts have been found to have a lower risk of breast cancer.
Good sources of flavonols include:
- Black tea, green tea, oolong tea
- Dark chocolate – I’ve also written on how to use dark chocolate as a medicine)
- Berries – You can find more information about the amazing healing properties of berries in my e-book The Healing Berry Guide which will teach you how to transform your health with berries, and is a must for berry lovers.
The following foods are rich in flavones:
- Aromatic herbs (such as parsley)
- Chamomile tea
All in all, a plant-based diet is definitely a step in the right direction and is a good choice if you are serious about cancer prevention.
Many studies have shown that vitamin D has anticancer potential and I’ve already written about 12 common diseases caused by vitamin D deficiency. It blocks cancer cell growth and regulates cell cycle.
Women with higher vitamin D intake have been observed to have lower breast density on mammograms. Lower breast density is associated with lower risk for cancer. One study showed that post-menopausal women with the highest levels of vitamin D had up to 70% reduction in their breast cancer risk.
Exposure to sun is very important for vitamin D production. Surprisingly, dark skinned people need to spend more time in the sun than people with fairer skin to produce the same amount of vitamin D. The vitamin is also present in fatty fish, fish liver oils and fortified milk.
The amount of vitamin D you might need to supplement varies on your individual needs and sun exposure. Older women are usually recommended to take 800 to 1,000 IU of vitamin D daily, which also provides protection for their bones. Vitamin D deficiency can also cause lead to dementia.
Pomegranate has many medicinal uses and is rich in beneficial flavonoids and polyphenols. This exotic fruit is now being studied for its anticancer potential. In mice, pomegranate extract and pomegranate seed oil reduced the occurrence of breast cancer by 87%. No matter the dose, the fruits have no side effects.
For health effects and cancer prevention, consider eating one medium size fruit daily. Pure juices can be a good alternative as well. Pomegranate can also unblock your arteries and can prevent Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric spice and is used to prepare many delicious curry dishes.
Curcumin causes the death of cancer cells and it appears to be effective even in cases of breast cancer resistant to traditional chemotherapy. Turmeric is also one of the top 14 foods that protect against cancer development. You do need to be aware that turmeric has low absorption and rapid metabolism that lead to relatively low bioavailability in the body. But you can greatly enhance turmeric’s bioavailability by consuming certain foods and you can learn about them in my post on how to optimize turmeric’s absorption. Curcumin has other amazing health benefits: it is anti-inflammatory, can be used for treating knee osteoarthritis and can also rejuvenate your skin. If you love turmeric and are interested in herbal remedies, you can find more useful information about turmeric and other herbs in the e-book Herbal Remedies Guide.
Researchers warn that there isn’t one single fruit, fiber or nutrient that will grant you breast cancer protection. It is usually the combination of different foods that are able to work together and optimize health and cancer protection.