Much of North America seems to turn pink in October to draw attention to Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I encourage you to also consider some green initiatives for breast health, including green foods, green cleaning practices and green skin care.
The statistics are daunting. One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. We have learned a lot about breast cancer over the past few decades, and with advances in screening and treatment survival rates have improved. However there is still more that can be done.
This topic hits close to home for me because my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer more than 10 years ago. I am happy to share that she is a survivor who enjoys vibrant health in her mid-70s.
Risk factors: What’s in our control and what is not
There are certain breast cancer risk factors that are beyond our control such as age (risk increases with age), gender (just being a woman), genetics (about 5-10% of cases are genetic), race (white women are at greater risk), and having dense breast tissue.
We can, however, control other factors associated with breast cancer risk including smoking, obesity, inactivity, drinking alcohol, and the use of hormone replacement therapy and birth control pills.
Having any or all of these risk factors does not mean you will get the disease, but they may increase the likelihood. The reality is that many women who are diagnosed with breast cancer today have none of the known risk factors. This was the case for my mom and the reason why her diagnosis took us all by surprise. She didn’t have any of the recognized risk factors, other than the fact that she was a woman over age 60. She wasn’t a smoker or drinker. She is physically fit and exercises regularly. She had never taken hormone replacement therapy and she had no family history of breast cancer or other hormonal cancers.
Going green to help counter your risk factors
There is a lot of interest and research underway looking at the impact of environmental factors: our diets, air quality, and exposure to environmental chemicals. Here are five green initiatives to incorporate into your lifestyle:
1. Drink more green tea. The antioxidant polyphenols in green tea offer a number of protective benefits. Preliminary research shows that they can inhibit tumor cell growth and spread, induce cancer cell death, modulate immune function and protect cells against DNA damage. One study of 181 healthy Japanese American women, conducted at the National Institute of Health’s National Cancer Institute, found that those who drank at least one cup of green tea daily had less urinary estrogen, a known breast carcinogen, than the non-tea drinkers.
Sencha and matcha green teas contain more of the powerful antioxidants. Choose organic teas to avoid ingestion of potentially harmful pesticides that are associated with cancer. For those not keen on drinking green tea, look for a supplement that provides green tea extract standardized to EGCg, the key antioxidant attributed to the health benefits. To avoid any possible side effects associated with caffeine, look for a product that is decaffeinated.
2. Eat more broccoli and cruciferous veggies such as Brussels sprouts and cabbage. They contain sulforaphane, indole-3-carbinol and other compounds that have been shown to be protective against cancer development. Several large studies have found that higher intakes of cruciferous vegetables are associated with lower risk for some types of cancer. In a study published in the Annals of Oncology, researchers evaluated more than 12,000 individuals with different types of cancer and compared them with more than 11,000 healthy controls. Consumption of cruciferous vegetables at least once a week compared with occasional or no intake was associated with a significantly reduced risk of cancer of the pharynx, esophagus, colorectum, breast and kidney.
There is also some evidence that supplements that contain indole-3-carbinol can help. Preliminary research on a formula that contains indole-3-carbinol and other nutrients found that it increased the mean urinary concentration of 2-hydroxy estrogen in pre- and post-menopausal women. This is important because studies have shown that as levels of 2-hydroxyestrogen increase and levels of 16-hydroxyestrogen decrease, the risk for breast cancer decreases.
3. Load up on leafy greens such as spinach, kale, collards and mustard greens. These foods contain many vital vitamins such as folate, antioxidants such as lutein and zeaxanthin, and fiber. Research suggests that the antioxidants and nutrients in these foods can fight cellular damage and inhibit growth of cancer cells. The fiber serves as a brush in the digestive system, helping to sweep out toxins. Spinach and mustard greens are perfect for salads, collards in soups and add some kale to stir fries with cruciferous vegetables to maximize your intake of these super-healthy vegetables.
4. Go green for cleaning. Many common household cleaners contain chemicals that linger on surfaces and in the air. Some of these chemicals are suspected to have carcinogenic properties. To reduce your exposure to these chemicals and save some money, try making your own green cleaning products. Vinegar and water can be used to clean many hard surfaces. Vinegar contains acetic acid, and is a natural disinfectant. It removes hard water stains and is biodegradable. Mix one cup of water with one cup white vinegar and add to a spray bottle. For tough jobs, use two cups vinegar to one cup water. Make your own natural furniture polish by combining 2 cups warm water, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoon of lemon juice. Find out more ideas here.
5. Choose green skin care. Chemicals linked to cancer, such as BHA and BHT, parabens and siloxanes, are found in many mainstream cosmetics, sunscreens and personal care products. Some of these chemicals have estrogen-like properties and can interfere with proper hormone function. Read labels carefully. Look for natural skin care products in your health food store or the natural products section of a grocery store.
I hope that I’ve convinced you to take action against your personal breast cancer risk by adding more green into your daily life.