Breast Cancer: Gain a Fighting Edge Through Diet and Lifestyle
Sharon B. Salomon, M.S., R.D.
Breast Cancer: Gain a Fighting Edge
Let's face it. The statistics for breast cancer are alarming.
Although it doesn't look like we can prevent breast cancer altogether, you can shift the odds in your favor by making lifestyle changes--changes that should sound familiar to all of us: Eat a healthful diet that includes plenty of plant foods, stay active, maintain a healthy weight and drink alcohol only moderately or not at all.
In a recent
SUPERFOODS TO THE RESCUE?
If only it were as simple as chowing down on a bushel of blueberries or a side of salmon, we'd all be safe. Unfortunately, the "superfoods" connection isn't that clear-cut. Scientists are investigating so-called superfoods like berries, flax, soy, salmon and tea, to see if they offer significant protection. They are studying both the whole food, as well as individual nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids from salmon and walnuts, lignans from flaxseed, and antioxidants from tea to determine if they are protective.
So far, the research connecting these foods with cancer prevention has been inconsistent, but since these are foods that health experts recommend, it can't hurt to add them to your diet.
If you're wondering why so many research studies on health seem to contradict each other, the reason might well be genes. Each woman's unique genetic make-up may influence how her body uses certain foods.
THE POWER OF FLAVOR
Does how we flavor our food affect cancer risk?
SUNSHINE AND CANCER
As early as the 1990s, cancer researchers were investigating the role that vitamin D might play in reducing breast cancer risk. Food sources of vitamin D are limited, but unlike with other vitamins, we can make our own supply of vitamin D with unobstructed exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun.
A study in the
On the other hand, overexposure to ultraviolet rays is related to skin cancer. Using sunscreen to protect against skin cancer reduces the body's ability to absorb the sun's rays to make vitamin D. The solution? Some experts suggest getting 15 minutes of unprotected exposure a day and eating vitamin D-rich foods, such as salmon, egg yolks and vitamin-D fortified foods. You can consult your healthcare provider regarding assessing your vitamin D levels or whether supplementation is appropriate for you.
WHOLE PLANT FOODS MAKE A DIFFERENCE
What if it's not one food, but a combination of foods or nutrients that reduce risk? French researchers found that breast cancer risk was reduced in women who consumed garlic and foods with fiber and onions in a 1998 study published in
Say "Cheers" to breast cancer risk reduction? One lifestyle factor stands out: Alcohol intake is linked with a higher risk of breast cancer. Women who have two to five drinks daily have about one-and-a-half times the risk of women who drink no alcohol. The ACS suggests that if you drink at all, limit it to one drink a day.
The Shanghai Breast Cancer Study, a large population-based cohort study involving 75,000 Chinese women that started in 1996, found that women with breast cancer were less physically active than women who did not have breast cancer.
According to an earlier study of post-menopausal women, breast cancer risk was substantially reduced for women who exercised at high levels throughout their lifetime. And a 2008 study conducted by the
A WEIGHTY MATTER
It also seems wise to maintain a healthy weight throughout life. According to the ACS, being overweight or obese is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer, especially for post-menopausal women and weight gain that takes place during adulthood. The risk seems to be higher if the extra fat accumulates in the waist area.
Perhaps the best advice for breast cancer prevention comes from
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