Breast Cancer ProtectionJuly 1, 2009 Written by JP [Font too small?]
I have a simple and completely immodest goal for today’s column: to help drastically reduce the number of breast cancer diagnoses in the years to come. It may not be realistic to expect that kind of impact from a health blog such as this. But I’m confident that implementing the research presented on this site and other scientifically based sources, you can influence the risk of developing this all too common disease. By taking proactive steps to protect yourself, you’ll then likely influence others in a positive way, including your doctors. This is how true health revolutions take foot. Inform yourself, lead by example, spread the word and defy the odds.
For starters, some researchers believe that there are three simple factors that promote breast health – food selection and minimizing the use carbohydrates; physical fitness; and the use of supplements to derive the greatest chemoprotective effect from breast cancer (BC).
A new study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention draws a direct connection between the presence of metabolic syndrome and breast cancer. Metabolic syndrome is a combination of health risks that is marked by poor insulin sensitivity and at least one additional cardiovascular risk factor such as high blood pressure or cholesterol. It is believed to affect almost 50 million residents in the USA alone.
In this current trial, over 4,800 postmenopausal women with metabolic syndrome were followed for an 8 year period. Certain segments of this group, specifically those with high blood pressure, sugar and elevated triglycerides, exhibited a significantly greater incidence of breast cancer. Those with hypertension were 2.4 times more likely to develop BC. High blood sugar and triglycerides resulted in 1.7 times the average risk. Higher rates of BC were also found in younger, premenopausal women with another blood sugar disorder, type-2 diabetes. If left “untreated”, metabolic syndrome often progresses into type-2 diabetes. (1,2)
The July 2009 edition of the International Journal of Cancer adds weight to the first study by describing a positive association between the consumption of high glycemic carbohydrates and breast cancer incidence. High glycemic carbs prompt severe fluctuations in blood sugar levels and instigate unnatural insulin production. This type of eating pattern and inadequate physical activity are two of the greatest modifiable causes of metabolic syndrome.
A group of Swedish researchers examined food frequency questionnaires of over 60,000 women for an average of about 17 years. In total, about 3,000 cases of invasive breast cancer were reported. A higher overall glycemic load was found to increase breast cancer risk. The authors of the study concluded that, “These findings suggest that a high carbohydrate intake and diets with high glycemic index and glycemic load may increase the risk of developing ER+/PR- breast cancer.” ER+/PR- refers to estrogen and progesterone receptors found in breast tumors. (3)
Several new studies help to strengthen the link between frequent exercise and breast cancer prevention and survival. Here’s an overview of the findings:
- A study of 45,631 postmenopausal women found that hiking/walking for 10 or more hours a week provided a 43% preventative effect with relation to invasive breast cancer. However, that effect was nullified if the women were also on hormone replacement therapy. (4)
- A 5 year study of 2,000 women discovered that those who engaged in frequent “leisure time” physical activity had lower breast tissue density, which is considered to be a risk factor for breast cancer. Dense breast tissue appears to contain larger quantities of cells that may predispose women to BC, perhaps due to a specific hormonal shift wherein more estrogen is produced. (5)
- A 30 year study involving women of varying ages (20 – 83) found that those with the highest level of physical fitness, as measured by a “maximal treadmill exercise test”, demonstrated reduced breast cancer mortality. The protective effect noted was as great as 55%. The authors of the study remarked that, “These results indicate that CRF (cardiorespiratory fitness) is associated with a reduced risk of dying from breast cancer in women.” (6)
Another area of great promise in breast cancer research has to do with Vitamin D. In February, a review article in the Annals of Epidemiology described how Vitamin D can inhibit cancer cell growth, instigate cancer cell death and help the body to distinguish between healthy and aberrant cells. (7) In fact, I suspect this is part of the reason why one of the exercise studies specifically pointed out the benefits of “hiking and walking”. Most people engage in such activities outdoors. That leads to sun exposure and Vitamin D synthesis via the skin. But it’s important to note that very small amounts of vitamin D (400 IUs) do not appear to provide significant benefits. (8) Higher blood levels of D (40 ng/mL or greater) seem to be necessary in order to prevent breast cancer in postmenopausal women. (9) The only way to accurately know if you possess optimal levels of Vitamin D is to have regular blood tests.
All of these risk factors are interrelated. Eating high carb foods and not exercising enough tends to promote metabolic syndrome and obesity. Many people who are overweight are also deficient in Vitamin D. (10,11,12) As you can see, one unhealthy practice can lead to a domino effect of consequences which may ultimately encourage the development of breast cancer and a whole host of other diseases. But the good news is that by improving your diet and lifestyle, you can modify your level of risk. You have some degree of control in your future health. It’s not just an environmental and genetic lottery. This isn’t pie-in-the-sky optimism. It’s what scientists are trying to tell us. So please, put that cupcake down.
Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!
Tags: Breast Cancer, Low Carb, Vitamin D
Posted in Exercise, Nutrition, Women's Health