One out of every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in her life. It’s a disconcerting statistic, especially considering there are so many risk factors that are completely beyond our control, like age, genes, gender and family history. But we can shift the odds more in our favor with key lifestyle modifications, including these eight top strategies that have been shown to help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.
Cut back on the cocktails
There’s no way of sugarcoating it: Alcohol is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, and the more you drink, the higher your risk. The American Institute for Cancer Research says that roughly one in 10 cases of breast cancer could be prevented by not drinking alcohol. Alcohol raises estrogen levels (one of the risk factors for breast cancer), and byproducts of alcohol metabolism may alter DNA in ways that can lead to cancer.
Just one drink a day might raise your risk by 10 percent, and there can be as much as a 15 percent increase in risk with just three to six drinks per week (which is still below the often-recommended ‘moderate intake’ of not more than one drink daily for women and two for men). And women who consume at least two drinks daily have been shown to have a 51 percent higher risk of developing breast cancer.
One ‘drink’ is defined as 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor. But the type of alcohol doesn’t seem to matter; the impact on risk of breast cancer is consistent regardless of the type of alcohol consumed.
Moderate alcohol consumption does have some health benefits, particularly when it comes to cardiovascular health, but it’s a good idea to talk with your physician about your individual risks and benefits.
Slim down if needed
Being overweight is directly linked to a greater risk of breast cancer. Gaining more than 20 pounds after age 18 can translate into nearly a 50 percent increase in risk of developing postmenopausal breast cancer.
On the flip side, losing weight (particularly after menopause) may help to reduce your risk. One large study found that women who lost just four to 11 pounds had more than a 20 percent lower risk of breast cancer than women whose weight stayed the same.
Part of the reason: In postmenopausal women, estrogen comes mainly from fat tissue (not the ovaries). Fat tissue contains an enzyme that converts hormones to estrogens, and this extra estrogen is thought to possibly contribute to the increased breast cancer risk among overweight postmenopausal women.
Being less physically active may also raise our risk of breast cancer. Not only can exercise help with achieving or maintaining a healthy weight, it also can lower estrogen levels, which in turn may reduce the risk of breast cancer. And workouts don’t have to be super intense. Even five hours of brisk walking each week can lead to a reduction in risk.
Be selective with carbs
Women with a high-glycemic diet (white breads, rice, pasta, sugary sweets and soft drinks) have been shown to have an increased risk of breast cancer. All the more reason to nix the white stuff, not to mention the fact that it can make it easier to shed extra pounds. Careful though: Even some of the ‘perceived as healthy’ foods are high-glycemic (pretzels, graham crackers and pita chips, just to name a few). So check labels to ensure that your foods contain little or no added sugars or white flour (including enriched wheat flour, potato flour and rice flour).
Experiment with flaxseed
Flaxseeds are one of the top food sources of lignans, compounds that may have anti-cancer properties. Sprinkle a tablespoon or two of ground flaxseed into oatmeal, plain low-fat Greek yogurt, or blend it into a smoothie.
A low intake of folate is linked to an increase in breast cancer risk. So focus on adding more folate-rich food (think lentils, spinach, black beans, and turnip greens), or consider supplementing with 400 to 800 mcg of folic acid daily.
Eat the rainbow
There’s not just one or even a few cancer-fighting super foods. Eating a broad assortment of veggies and fruits is associated with a lower risk of cancer, including breast cancer. And while leafy greens are fabulous, you should mix up the colors to ensure a wide range of nutrients. Think beets, blueberries, spinach, yellow peppers, carrots and strawberries to incorporate the full range of colors of the rainbow.
Be smart with soy
It’s one of the most controversial topics when it comes to nutrition and breast cancer. Soy contains phytoestrogens, compounds that have an estrogen-like effect. While some studies have shown that phytoestrogens may increase breast cancer cell growth, studies in Asian women suggest that soy may lower the risk of breast cancer. It’s hard to know just how these findings apply to women worldwide since women in Asia tend to eat more soy with most beginning at an earlier age than elsewhere. Also, in Asia soy is consumed primarily in the form of minimally processed whole foods, not the soy supplements and soy-fortified foods that are common in the U.S.
The American Institute of Cancer Research says that it’s safe to consume up to two or three servings per day of whole soy foods (e.g., soymilk, tofu), but that, as a precaution, women receiving anti-estrogen treatments (e.g. tamoxifen) should minimize their intake of soy foods and avoid highly concentrated soy supplements (including soy protein powders).
Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD is a sports and lifestyle Dietitian, board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She manages the nutrition program at Ochsner’s Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans, advising clients in weight loss, muscle building, endurance training, eating disorders and general health and wellness. As a columnist for The Times-Picayune newspaper, Molly covers the latest trends in the nutrition and the fitness industry. She is also the nutrition and fitness expert for New Orleans’ ABC affiliate WGNO with a weekly segment on “Good Morning New Orleans, Get the Skinny with Molly.” She is regularly featured as a nutritional expert on local and national news stories and has appeared in numerous media outlets, including Vogue, The New York Times, Newsweek, Shape, Health, Fitness, Runner’s World, Wine Enthusiast, Cosmopolitan, WebMD and CNN.com. For more information, please visit http://nola.com
Reprinted with permission from The Times-Picayune newspaper.
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