We live in a remarkable age of medical research and innovation, particularly in the fields of cancer prevention and treatment. New discoveries are transforming the way we diagnose, treat, and protect against breast cancer, and many time-honored botanical therapies are being substantiated with compelling scientific data.
So did we finally get the upper hand against breast cancer? It’s true that fewer women are dying from metastatic forms of this disease. But even though survival rates are increasing, so are the number of new cases, and they’re striking younger and younger populations. While we may be making some progress in slowing and stopping the most aggressive breast cancers, we’re having trouble keeping up with the prevention side of the spectrum. Nevertheless, we’re not powerless: Research continues to offer guidance on how we can prevent and help treat this all all-too-common disease. Regardless of your age, lifestyle, or even your health status, it’s never too late to take action against breast cancer.
The truth about genetics
Let’s unravel the DNA-cancer link, because with all the recent news of inherited cancer risks, there are also important findings which tell another story. While genes such as Angelina Jolie’s now-famous BRCA1 gene are associated with an increase in breast cancer risk, data suggest that a large percentage of cancers—up to 85 percent—are not hereditary. Essentially, cancer is a complex disease with numerous possible causes that can relate to diet, lifestyle, habits, exposures to chemicals, and even infections. And these are factors that we can largely control.
An interesting and important connection between cancer and our DNA can be found in the emerging field of research known as “epigenetics,” which explores how influences like diet, environment, and lifestyle affect gene function. Data show that these factors—including our thoughts and emotions—can activate or deactivate certain gene functions and related cellular processes. For example, yoga is shown to activate genes related to immunity, thereby increasing functions of specific immune cells. Chronic stress, on the other hand, is shown to decrease activities of genes related to immunity, effectively suppressing immune response. So while certain gene mutations—such as BRCA1—can increase risks, it may be more accurate to say that it’s the interaction between certain genes and environmental triggers that can eventually lead to breast cancer.
On the other hand, research shows that certain herbs, nutrients, and lifestyle factors can favorably influence gene activity and offer other support for our innate anti-cancer defenses. These integrative approaches help to prevent and treat even the most aggressive breast cancers while naturally enhancing overall health.
Steering clear of risks
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Similarly, the effort that it takes to reduce risk factors for breast cancer will pay off with increased benefits across numerous areas of health and longevity. The biggest factors to avoid are those which pose multiple cancer risks.
An example is radiation from cell phones and microwaves, or more harmful ionizing radiation from X-rays, CT scans, nuclear plants, and other sources. Regular exposure to various types of radiation increases numerous cancer risks: DNA damage, chronic inflammation, and disruption of numerous critical functions. So it’s important to limit radiation exposure. For example, with all the conflicting data emerging on cell phone radiation, we should avoid prolonged use of wireless devices, opting instead for an air-conduction headset for mobile phones.
Other well-known risk factors include prolonged exposure to pesticides, heavy metals, environmental toxins, and estrogen-mimicking compounds (like BPA) that we get from numerous food, household, and environmental sources. Again, these cancer-causing agents increase risks of cancer through various health-robbing effects. They fuel chronic inflammation, reduce immunity, damage the central nervous system, mutate DNA, cause hormone imbalances, and impair numerous critical functions on the molecular level.
Toxins are now linked to cancer development in numerous published studies, but particularly to breast cancer. Comprehensive heavy metal and toxin removal using natural detox therapies can help reduce risks of breast cancer and improve clinical outcome for patients with active cancer.
Smoking, unhealthy diet, sedentary lifestyle, excess alcohol consumption, inadequate sleep, chronic stress, and obesity are all risk factors for breast cancer. By avoiding these risks with the healthy interventions discussed below, you can bolster your prevention efforts. And if you are actively fighting breast cancer, addressing these risk factors can improve your outcome.
Prevention and treatment supplements
Cancer cells usually take years to develop into tumors and metastasize. Essentially, time is on your side when it comes to prevention, but that’s not a reason to procrastinate! The sooner you get started on an integrative anticancer prevention program, the better your chances of avoiding or defeating aggressive breast cancer.
A growing body of published research is showing that certain herbs and botanicals can be effective against breast cancer. One of my top recommendations in my practice is an integrative breast formula I developed for cancer prevention and as a support for integrative breast cancer treatment. Its natural ingredients are shown to fight breast and other cancers, reduce inflammation, balance hormones, enhance immunity, and support antioxidant activity. It is made with botanically-enhanced medicinal mushrooms, Chinese skullcap extract, quercetin, astragalus extract, curcumin from turmeric, and DIM (diindolylmethane), a potent anti-breast-cancer compound derived from eating cruciferous vegetables.
One preclinical study showed this breast formula to be effective against highly invasive breast cancer, turning off genes implicated in metastasis and preventing the cancer from spreading. This is critical, because as many as 90 percent of cancer deaths result from metastasis. In addition, the formula showed virtually no side effects.
In another preclinical study, the breast formula slowed highly aggressive triple negative breast cancer and prevented breast-to-lung metastasis. This paper also confirmed that the formula suppresses genes associated with metastasis. To read more about the ingredients in this formula, along with other targeted strategies for treating and preventing breast cancer, visit breasthealthsupport.org.
Another powerful anti-cancer supplement is modified citrus pectin (MCP), which is derived from citrus peels and modified for enhanced absorption and bioactivity throughout the body. MCP shows remarkable versatility against cancer in preclinical and clinical studies, in part by defeating common mechanisms that promote cancer growth and metastasis, including inhibiting certain genes that influence cancer growth. MCP also boosts immunity by enhancing the activity of natural killer cells. Lastly, MCP is shown in clinical studies to safely remove heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and arsenic from the body—a critical component of any anti-cancer plan as mentioned above.
One of the many reasons that the breast formula and MCP top my list of complementary anti-cancer therapies is because they also work well together. A study published in the journal Integrative Cancer Therapies showed that MCP increased the breast cancer formula’s effectiveness against highly aggressive cancer cells.
I also recommend medicinal mushrooms, both as a complementary anti-cancer therapy and to support overall health. Medicinal mushrooms—such as reishi, maitake, coriolus, Cordyceps, and others—are rich sources of therapeutic compounds which optimize the immune response, actively fight cancer, detoxify the body, support digestion, and enhance numerous other areas of health.
Vitamin D3 is also gaining attention as a powerful anti-cancer nutrient, particularly for breast cancer prevention and treatment. This super nutrient has a strong epigenetic component and is involved in numerous cellular processes related to immunity, cellular development, and much more. Vitamin D deficiencies are related to a number of chronic diseases, specifically breast cancer. Supplementation with vitamin D3 may reduce risk of breast cancer by up to 45 percent.
Vitamins A and C are also important. Research shows that these antioxidant nutrients work synergistically together to inhibit breast cancer proliferation.
A holistic lifestyle
An anti-cancer diet is critical to reducing breast cancer risks. Emphasize high quality protein such as cold-water fish, healthy fats such as omega-3s, and lots of fruits and vegetables—the more colorful the better. Deeply colored fruits and vegetables are high in cancer-fighting nutrients and antioxidants—think berries, greens, and tomatoes. Green leafy and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and kale contain abundant therapeutic compounds, enzymes, antioxidants, and phytonutrients to fight cancer, detoxify the body, and even influence genes that support immunity.
I also recommend mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques such as meditation. Chronic stress raises levels of circulating hormones like cortisol. These inflammatory hormones promote inflammation, reduce immunity, and increase risks of aggressive cancer. Meditation’s calming effects can reduce these inflammatory hormones and reduce the corresponding overall risks of cancer and chronic illnesses. Regular practice is shown to enhance genetic functions that influence longevity and well-being.
Moving meditations like yoga and t’ai chi calm the mind, reinvigorate the body, and demonstrate significant health benefits. The yoga/immunity study mentioned above is just one example of a study that showed immediate effects. Regardless of the type of activity, regular exercise of at least four to five hours a week is critical for cancer prevention, and has been shown to preserve cellular health.
The more we know about cancer, the better we understand how to prevent and defeat it. As an integrative physician with a focus on cancer care, I’ve seen many women battle this disease and beat the odds— in my clinic we call that “an everyday miracle.” I’ve also seen women with high risk factors turn their odds around and increase their overall health in the process. But it takes dedication and a positive attitude. Adopt these practices early and often to live a long, healthy life. It’s never too late.
Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc is a licensed acupuncturist, physician, and homeopath, has an MS in traditional Chinese medicine, and has done graduate studies in herbology. Dr. Eliaz has been a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine since the early 1980s, with a focus on cancer, immune health, detoxification and mind-body medicine. Visit him online at dreliaz.org.