Beating breast cancer

There are no guarantees, and genetics play a role, as do environmental exposure to carcinogens. Many medical experts say that while genetics may load the gun, “environment pulls the trigger”.

US family physician Dr Mark Hyman says that, even with a family history of breast cancer, you are “not necessarily doomed”. He also says that growing research shows there is a lot you can do to protect yourself from breast cancer. Diet is one of them, and a key issue is sugar in the diet.

That’s still controversial, and many oncologists and others don’t believe that diet in general plays a major role in breast cancer, much less sugar in particular.

Growing numbers of medical specialists believe otherwise.

WIN a R 2,000 Woolworths Voucher

Subscribe to our Free Daily All4Women Newsletter to enter

Hyman is a practising family physician, director of the Cleveland Clinic Centre for Functional Medicine, founder and medical director of the UltraWellness Centre, and chairman of the board of the US Institute for Functional Medicine. (In my view, functional medicine is one of the most exciting trends in orthodox medicine, and takes it back to its holistic roots, and the Hippocratic injunction to “first do no harm”).

The Institute defines functional medicine as “an evolution in the practice of medicine that better addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st century” by addressing the underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach and engaging both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership.

“By shifting the traditional disease-centred focus of medical practice to a more patient-centred approach, functional medicine addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms.”

Every time you eat sugar, you increase your breast cancer risk.

Why is breast cancer on the rise?

In one of Hyman’s newsletters, he says breast cancer risk has significantly increased, which is true, including South Africa, where it is one of the most common cancers affecting women.

Hyman says the increased risk is due to factors such as poor diet, toxins, chronic stress, and sleep deprivation. Statistics and the latest research suggest that environmental factors are also driving cancer.

Terrifying as statistics and research can be, Hyman says there are powerful, simple things to prevent breast cancer. Even if your doctor gives you “the seemingly hopeless news”, you have an “arsenal of tools to treat breast cancer”.

The role of diet, digestion and toxic exposure

As beneficial and lifesaving as conventional medical therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation can be, Hyman says doctors too often “overlook how simple yet powerful things such as diet, digestion, and toxic exposure contribute to cancer”.

He says there’s a “missing link” conventional medicine overlooks that will allow patients literally to “change the soil in which cancer grows” in their bodies. It lies in imbalances in seven key systems in the body that contribute to cancer, along with every other disease, he says.

One of those is hormonal imbalance (others include environment, inflammation and immune balance, gut health, mitochondria and oxidative stress, and last but not least, the effect of the mind on the body).

The problem with sugar

When it comes to hormones and breast cancer, one of the most important is insulin, Hyman says. High insulin levels are shown eventually to create insulin resistance (IR), a precursor condition that can eventually lead to diabetes that is now epidemic worldwide.

Hyman says of IR and cancer:

Sugar drives high insulin levels. Every time you eat sugar, you raise insulin levels. High insulin levels promote inflammation and enable cancer cells to grow.

Sugar, especially in the form of high-fructose corn syrup and other processed carbohydrates, surges insulin levels, increasing oestrogen.

“Put bluntly,” Hyman says, “every time you eat sugar, you increase your breast cancer risk”, and to prevent it you “absolutely want to eliminate sugar”.

For his patients with breast cancer, he recommends they go “cold turkey on sugar and processed foods”, and read his book, The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet.

Top tips for beating breast cancer

In his practice he finds 10 strategies helpful, which I’ve summarised here:

  1. Have protein at every meal – good sources include fish, lean poultry, nuts, eggs. Make sure you include a few vegetarian options in your daily protein intake.
  2. Fibre up – fibre is critical for gut and overall health. High-fibre foods include vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and whole grains such as ground flax seed.
  3. Supplement wisely – at the very least, take a good multivitamin/mineral and fish oil. Optimal levels of the B vitamin, folate, help to prevent breast and other cancers.
  4. Restore gut health – Cleveland Clinic researchers discovered that gut microflora influence cancer genes and your immune system. Tend your inner garden with gut-supporting foods such as fermented foods and probiotics. If you suspect gut issues, such as leaky gut or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), work with a functional medicine practitioner to correct.
  5. Reduce your toxic load – visit the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to learn ways to reduce toxic exposure. Be more aware of how household cleaners and cosmetics increase toxic load.
  6. Go clean and green – choose filtered water and organic food. Opt for high-quality meat sources like wild salmon and grass-fed beef.
  7. Control stress levels – whether you meditate, do yoga, try deep breathing, or another de-stressor, find something that works for you and do it.
  8. Exercise regularly – exercise improves insulin sensitivity, helping you balance oestrogen and maintain a healthy body weight.
  9. Watch the alcohol – an increased alcohol load means your liver can’t metabolise oestrogen well. If you drink, limit wine to one glass three times a week.
  10. Get great sleep – studies show an inverse association between sleep duration and breast cancer risk. Simply put: more sleep equals less risk. Aim for quality, uninterrupted sleep every night.

This article was initially published on Edited and republished with kind permission of editor, Alec Hogg, and author Marika Sboros.

For more health updates, click here

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.