How can I keep my breasts healthy?

An important aspect of wellness and radiant health, which of course includes healthy breasts, is POSITIVE ATTITUDE. Some women have said to me, “I don’t want to check my breasts for lumps every month; that seems very negative.” The idea is not to set out to look for lumps, but to check in with your breasts, tenderly and regularly. Maybe after a warm bath, standing naked and admiring yourself in front of a mirror. Gently hold your breasts and start by a greeting, “Hey there, girls; just checking in. Anything you want to tell me?” This ritual is not only sensual and entertaining, but very helpful in giving your body the message that you care about yourself.A diet for healthy breasts includes plenty of water, restful sleep, adequate intake of essential fatty acids, very limited intake of other fats, easy on the chocolate, and plenty of kale, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, collard greens, squash, organic carrots, seasonal fruit. All that good stuff. For young mothers or mothers to be, please breastfeed, or plan to. There is no better nutrition for your infant.

Breast- feeding is an acquired skill for both mother and child; please contact your local La Leche League if it doesn’t seem to be working right. Many women need coaching on this skill. Some women experience post-partum mastitis, a painful bacterial infection of the milk ducts. Maintaining the nursing schedule as much as possible is best for both mother and child, unless the mom needs to take a course of antibiotics.

One of the very best treatments for mastitis is to apply a fresh carrot poultice to the infected breast, all the way up into the armpit, and leave on for an hour, covered with a hot water bottle. A fresh poultice should be applied several times daily until the infection is resolved. Good health is dependent on a functioning immune system. Our immune system is designed to combat bacteria, viruses, fungi (such as Candida) and cancer cells. All of these pathogens cause genetic damage which lead to disease, from the common cold to the formation of tumors. However, our immune system will only work if we feed it the proper nutrients. When we eat the “right foods” we will have all of the ingredients to both nourish the body and maintain the strength of the immume system at an effective level.

Is it possible for healthy women with a “normal” immune system to get cancer? YES! It happens all the time. “Healthy” women in the U.S. get breast cancer at a five times higher rate than healthy women in Asian cultures. When Japanese women move to the United States, their incidence of breast diseases increases, and in their daughters it increases even more. The difference has been proven to be in the differing diets of the two groups. The immune system does not manufacture anti-cancer agents. The immune system uses anti-cancer agents that are within the foods we eat as “bullets” to both kill cancer cells and prevent the formation of tumors. For example, watercress, cabbage, brussels sprouts, spinach and horseradish contain compounds which have been proven to prevent certain kinds of cancer. In high doses, these compounds, known collectively as isothiocyanates, inhibit the production of cancer by 100% (according to Gary Stoner, director of pathology at the Medical College of Ohio). These compounds do not destroy growing tumors, but prevent the genetic damage that leads to the initiation of cancerous growth.

Soybean protein also contains anti-cancer agents; in fact it contains five anti-cancer compounds. (See the work of Stephen Barnes, PhD, Research Scientist, UAB Cancer Center, Orlando, FL). In a 1990 study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, laboratory rats given a soybean diet developed 70% fewer breast tumors than rats who got no soy in the diet. Soy flour, soy milk and tofu are higher in protein than most meats, and, of course, contain no 4/breast health animal fats. We all know by now that animal fat is highly correlated to free radical damage by lipid peroxidation, which leads to tissue destruction and breakdown of the immune system.

Now for some even harder facts. In a new report, the American Cancer Society says 1 in 9 American women will develop breast cancer. This is a significant increase over the previous statistics of 1 in 10. The U.S. Government General Accounting Office recently released a report which stated that “there has been no progress in preventing breast cancer since 1971.” Seventy percent of women who get breast cancer have NO family history of it. Up to 80% of women who get breast cancer have no risk factors at all. As many have type A blood, which needs more research in order to alert women and their physicians of this “risk” factor. (See the work of James and Peter D’Adamo on paleoserology.)

Documented, external risk factors include radiation (especially at a young age), hormone replacement therapy (the “Pill” and estrogen for post-menopausal women), and diet, especially fat, alcohol and refined sugars. Breast cancer is a feminist issue; there has been woefully little federal money assigned to further research. The recent tamoxifen study, which proclaims the toxic drug a tool for preventing breast cancer, seems to be yet another ploy by the pharmaceutical industry to get women “hooked” for life. (Please see National Women’s Health Network newsletter, Vol. 5/breast health 16, #4, Fall 1991).

One more note on breast cancer; a little known fact relevant to women who are good candidates for surgical tumor removal or lumpectomies. Several studies show that women who have surgeries performed between the first and the twelfth day of the menstrual cycle have GREATER recurrence rates than do women who have their surgeries after the twelfth day. Although many surgeons may not want their schedules dictated by this finding, women will want to have as many factors in their favor as possible. The level of estrogen in the body is an influential factor that is often ignored. (Badwe, RA, et al. Lancet; May 25, 1991, 337:1261-1264).

Other hormonal risk factors in breast cancer include age at first period, first pregnancy, and menopause. Early menarche and late menopause confer a greater risk. The younger the woman at the time of her first birth, the lower her risk for breast cancer. However, women who deliver their first child after age 30 are at more risk than nulliparous women. (Danforth’s Obstetrics and Gynecology, published by Lippincott, 1990).

All women should receive a baseline mammogram between the ages of 35 and 40, or younger if indicated by risk factors (American Cancer Association guidelines, 1992). Also, please don’t think that your own breast self exams, while important, are adequate as a preventive measure to a serious breast disease. Breast cancer, for example, grows very slowly. It cannot be detected on a mammogram for seven to eight years, and 6/breast health a lump would not be detected in a breast exam by a physician for eight to ten years. Because breast cancer grows slowly, the diagnosis is rarely an emergency. Make sure to explore as many professional opinions as possible before deciding on a course of therapy. Women should not feel rushed into making decisions that will affect the rest of their lives.

Another common breast “disease” is the so-called fibrocystic breast disease. According to Dr. Susan Love, director of the Faulkner Hospital Breast Center, staff member at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and author of “Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book,” FBD is a “garbage term” that has no meaning. “It’s not a disease, simply a term for any of a variety of non-cancerous conditions in the breast,” she says. “Having it is normal.” Radiologists, for example, refer to dense breast tissue as fibrocystic disease, yet it is not necessarily related to luymps or what can be seen under the microscope. The consequences of this misleading definition is that research on benign breast disease is “terrible.” Her own studies have shown that in the majority of cases, fibrocystic disease is not related to a later cancer. However, Love points out, there are legitimate benign breast problems: swelling and tenderness, mastalgia (severe pain), nodularity (lumpiness), dominant lumps, infection, inflammation, and nipple discharge. Each condition has a different physiology and must be studied health separately. However, it is safe to say that all these symptoms can be helped with nutrition.

Besides the usual low-fat, high- fiber, plenty of raw foods diet the following supplements may be helpful: CoEnzyme Q 10 (a powerful antioxidant, which prevents free radical damage), Germanium (a fast-acting pain killer and tissue oxygenating agent), Kelp (for iodine, the lack of which has been linked to benign breast diseases), Vitamin E, and of course the adequate doses of C, B-complex and beta-carotene. (More info in “A Prescription for Nutritional Healing” by James and Phyllis Balch, Avery Publishing Group, NYC).

Good nutrition, positive attitude and clean living will go a long way to keep your breasts healthy. But please have them examined by a physican annually, and explore other options thoroughly before doing drugs. For further information on breast cancer, consult The Breast Cancer Coalition, a national clearinghouse, at (708) 799-8338. Another good resource for women’s health is “The New Our Bodies, Ourselves,” published by Simon and Schuster.