Diagnosed with Breast Cancer. The phrase strikes fear in the hearts of patients and the ones who care about them. It is an underlying fear of anyone who presents to the doctor with strange symptoms, unexplained weight loss or masses.
Being diagnosed with breast cancer also a universal fear of women undergoing mammography, healthy or not.
Cancer is a very real thing to be scared of. But it’s also NOT a time to give into fear and emotion in lieu of well-thought out decisions based on the best evidence that medicine knows of.
This article is likely going to cover things that will go against what society believes and promotes and this article may even go so far as to offend you or decisions that you have made in the past.
Regardless of how this article makes you feel, just make sure that you give yourself the time to read it through.
Before we get into the “meat” of the article, I do need to point out some very scary research. Not so that I can start the article with a strong enough sense of dread so that you read it with the focus of my pit bull staring at a guinea pig, but so that you can understand that our entire focus on breast cancer is broken. From prevention to diagnosis to treatment.
While medicine continues to argue about whether to perform mammography on women between 40-50 years old, the rates of being diagnosed with breast cancer that is more advanced is skyrocketing in women under 40.
Looking at the rates of being diagnosed with breast cancer in women under 40 from 1976 until 2009, there were some eye-opening findings:
- Stage IV breast cancer rates are going up in women under 40 (2.07% annually, with the exception of 2000-2009, when rates went up 3.6% annually).
- Stage IV breast cancer is much more difficult to treat.
- There is no screening recommended for women under 40.
- In this age group, breast cancer is not being found at earlier stages (regional, localized, or in situ categories).
In summary, things are getting worse.
While medicine fights over who should get screened and when, more dangerous cancers in younger women are on the increase. We need to get our collective heads out of our asses and start to educate women of all ages on how to prevent breast cancer.
Anything less will be a disaster.
KNOWN FACTORS IN BREAST CANCER
Make no mistake about it–breast cancer is largely environmental. Genetics play a role, but it is a small role. Even in women with the greatest genetic risk factors for breast cancer, a combination of BRCA1 and BRCA2, while 80% will later develop breast cancer, TWENTY PERCENT WILL NOT.
Even with the greatest genetic risk factors, our lifestyle choices make a difference.
Sometimes the risks are hidden, like phthalates in perfumes, and sometimes they are very clear like smoking. In this portion of the article I’m going to cover the research that has identified lifestyle choices that increase your risk of breast cancer.
The Two Most Obvious Risks for Breast Cancer
OK. Not much to go into here. Being a woman is obvious the #1 biggest risk factor for the development of breast cancer. Since there’s not a lot we can do about that one (short of visiting a Swedish surgeon for a gender reallocation procedure…) we won’t go into detail.
However, if you’re a smoker, this IS something you can do something about. It’s likely that this is not new news to you. But, if you are a smoker, you need to accept that there is also going to be an underlying risk of breast cancer (and all cancers, for that matter) that you cannot undo.
Genetic Risks for Breast Cancer
If you have a strong family history of breast cancer or, worse yet, the “breast cancer genes” BRCA1 and BRCA2, you may feel like being diagnosed with breast cancer is inevitable.
But is this really true?
The Korean Hereditary Breast Cancer Study includes 2,000 women with hereditary breast cancer. Researchers looked to see whether diet had an effect on breast cancer rates in patients who were BRCA gene mutation carriers. Here’s what they found:
- Soy intake led to a whopping 61% lower risk in BRCA carriers.
- Those with the highest meat consumption had a 97% higher risk.
- Even in those who were not BRCA carriers, the highest meat consumption led to a 41% higher breast cancer risk.
- These associations were stronger in BRCA2 than BRCA1 carriers.
- In women who did develop breast cancer, those with the highest intake of soy were 43% less likely to have a BRCA-related breast cancer.
While society and medicine have led us all to believe that, if you have the BRCA genes you WILL develop breast cancer, higher soy consumption and lower intake of animal products (basically a plant-based diet) came very close to eliminating the so called “higher” risk from the BRCA “mutation.”
Given the controversy over soy intake, we will cover this topic specifically later in the article.
While there were definite benefits of soy intake in this group of women, studies have shown that women who ate soy over a lifetime have higher levels of bacteria in their gut that convert beneficial components of soy to even more powerful protective compounds (called equol-producers). In the context of protecting against BRCA mutations, this means that a lifetime of soy intake is likely to protect even stronger than what was seen in this study.
Prescription Drugs that Increase Breast Cancer Risk
Medications ALL have side effects. It is always about the balance of the benefit of a drug versus the risks associated with a particular drug. Unfortunately, there are many common drugs that have dangerous side effects that your prescribing doctor may not even be aware of. An increased risk of breast cancer from a drug that may seem beneficial sounds like something you would like to be made aware of.
Statin Links with Breast Cancer
The topic of using medications to lower cholesterol and theoretically protect the heart has been the subject of a prior blog article. In this article, I went into the long list of side effects associated with drugs to lower cholesterol. But for the purpose of this article, one side effect is particularly important.
I went to a lunch fundraiser a number of years back for a local cancer organization. The keynote speaker was a respected local general surgeon. In his intro, he noted that he was going to bring up new findings on the prevention of breast cancer. Over the next ten minutes my brain went over the list of things we know to be protective against breast cancer. Would he mention exercise? The benefits of a plant based diet? Vitamin D? Stress reduction?
This keynote speaker at a cancer luncheon mentioned that statins might lower your risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer. Hundreds of things to mention and he names STATINS???? Needless to say I’ve never gone back to this fundraiser.
Not really a big surprise, but it turns out he was completely wrong. One study looking at statin use actually INCREASED your risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer. Here’s what they found:
- Those who were using statins to lower cholesterol for 10 or more years had an 83% risk of invasive ductal carcinoma (the scary kind).
- There was a 97% increased risk of invasive lobular carcinoma.
- If the woman had high cholesterol had a more than double the risk of both invasive ductal and lobular carcinoma.
- Having high cholesterol diagnosis and using cholesterol lowering drug use increased risk of invasive lobular carcinoma a massive 243%. Disturbingly ironic, if you think about it.
Mainstream medicine wants to use a pill to fix every ill. But, all too often, the use of a pill for one condition creates another, more dangerous condition.
If you happen to have high cholesterol and your doctor wants to give you statins to lower cholesterol, then I would strongly suggest you read my Cholesterol Myths blog article first.
Blood Pressure Meds and Being Diagnosed with Breast Cancer
It’s very clear that your lifestyle choices will affect your risk of breast cancer, for good or for ill. What makes this scarier is when medications used to manage lifestyle-related conditions increase the risk of breast cancer all by themselves.
Calcium channel blockers (drugs like amlodipine or verapamil) are one class of drugs used to help manage high blood pressure. Every drug comes with side effects—this is the price we pay to mess with the way Mother Nature intended your body to work.
The link between calcium channel blockers and breast cancer was first noticed in 1996, but it took 17 years for it to be followed up on. Here’s the details from the study:
- In a study of 2763 women those who used calcium-channel blockers for 10 or more years there was an increased risk of ductal breast cancer by 240% and lobular breast cancer by 260%.
- The risk was the same regardless of the type of calcium-channel blockers taken.
Although this isn’t proof, it definitely doesn’t look good for the calcium channel blockers. Even worse–blood pressure medication use has been shown to be worthless for someone with stage 1 hypertension (systolic below 160 or diastolic below 99).
Without a benefit, ANY side effects of a drug are unacceptable, even if they are minimal. When it’s something as serious as breast cancer, that’s even less acceptable.
Antibiotics and Risk of Being Diagnosed with Breast Cancer
Adding to the list of medications that increase you risk of breast cancer is a pretty broad category and one that I’m pretty sure you’ve taken at some point.
But first, you may need a quick primer on the relationship of the bacteria in your gut to breast cancer risk. As we’ve already discussed, the human body breaks down estrogen along 3 different pathways, with the 4 and 16 being pro-cancerous and the 2 pathway protecting against breast cancer.
The microbiome (the name of the collective makeup of all the bacteria residing in your gut) plays an important role the breakdown of estrogens. This role is even more important when because the disposal path for estrogens in the body is through the liver, into the bile and into the gut. As a result, estrogens have a lot of exposure to the bacteria in the gut.
This relationship raised the suspicions of some smart researchers. To evaluate the links between the bacteria in the gut and estrogen breakdown levels, they compared the ratio of parent estrogens to the breakdown estrogen products.
The details are pretty technical, but one thing become clear: the more diverse the bacteria in the gut was, the more protective this ratio was against breast cancer. Those who had 1,000 different species of bacteria in her gut had a more protective ratio than a woman who had only 200 species.
It is safe to say that anything that destroys bacterial diversity in the microbiome will likely up breast cancer risk. Highest on the list of ways to destroy your microbiome?
And not just in the past week. As in EVER. Even 2 years after a course of antibiotics bacterial diversity will not have recovered. I’ve come to realize that, it may take decades to truly recover from a single course of broad spectrum antibiotics.
Probiotics and eating microbiome-friendly foods like beans, whole grains and fruits may help increase diversity in the microbiome because of the soluble fiber that they contain.
Sneaky and Unchangeable Factors Linked with Breast Cancer
If you’re a smoker, it’s pretty obvious to you that you’re increasing your risk of all types of cancers. The same goes for eating fast food daily and spending more time on the couch in a day then you spend in the gym in a year.
Most troubling, however, are the risk factors that you may not be aware of or that you can’t change.
As an example of things you cannot change, exposures in the womb are something that you can’t go back and change. Diethylstilbestrol (DES) was a chemical given to pregnant women in the 1960’s in the mistaken belief that it would improve pregnancy outcomes. Instead, it turns out that DES increased the risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the moms as well as the female children later in life.
Other estrogen-like chemicals like BPA (found in many types of clear plastic) and phthalates (think of that “new shower curtain” smell or “new car” smell) have been linked to breast cancer. Given the links with breast cancer in adults, it is very likely that exposure in the womb would increase breast cancer rates later in life as well.
Things that happened to you as a teenager can have a lifelong effect on breast cancer rates. Your age when you started menstruation, how much sun exposure you got and how much soy you ate as a teen are all influential factors for breast cancer much later in life.
Here are some risk factors that you may be able to change, although they are sneakier and less well-known.
Night Shift Risk Associated with Breast Cancer
Despite the availability of late night TV programming, humans are NOT nocturnal. Working the night shift, downing a 6-shot mocha at 11 PM or watching CNN at midnight can throw off your body’s personal circadian rhythms.
I’m not talking about a blues band from Atlanta. I’m talking about your body’s daily rhythm as it relates to day and night. As I have already mentioned, we are NOT nocturnal creatures. We’ll leave that to the bats. The bottom line is that we should be sleeping at night.
Despite this, sleeping disturbances are quite common in society. Insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs, late nights and problems falling asleep plague society. Much of this is because we are so stressed that we can’t relax enough at night to settle into a restful night’s sleep.
Then there are the midnight-shift workers and airline personnel that are constantly changing time zones. This group of people have problems with their circadian rhythms because of their work schedules.
There are documented health problems that midnight shift workers experience. Weight gain and obesity are on the top of the list. Higher rates of breast cancer have also been demonstrated in night shift workers.
A group of researchers used mice to take closer look at connections between sleep disturbances, nighttime light exposure and breast cancer risk. Female mice with increased risk of breast cancer (about the same level of risk as a BRCA mutation in humans) were checked to see if swapping dark and light exposure effected tumor growth over a lifetime. At the end of each week, the mice were exposed to a complete 24-hour period of either light or dark.
The results were a little shocking:
- Switching up light and dark slowed the body’s ability to stop at tumor from growing, resulting in greater numbers of fast growing tumors.
- There was increased weight.
- The mice slept 50% longer (= less overall physical activity)
From this, messing up the normal day-night rhythms creates problems. This can occur in a number of ways such as:
- Stopping the production of the brain-protecting hormone melatonin
- Stress from sleep disruption
- Lifestyle changes from the disturbed sleep (smoking, bad dietary choices, altered timing of food intake)
- Decreased vitamin D levels from lack of sunlight exposure
Whatever the reason, the links between sleep disturbances / night shift workers are solid. If you are one of these people that gets exposed to light at night, here are some tips:
- For insomnia, stress is very likely a part of the problem. Instead of medications, find someone to help you with the underlying problem.
- Sleep apnea? Adopt an anti-diabetic lifestyle. In the short-term a CPAP machine is a must.
- Wearing a sleep mask can help block your nighttime exposure to light that can disrupt sleep. I prefer my pink fuzzy mask.
- Special blue blocker glasses can be used after sunset to help combat sleep problems.
If you have a job that includes midnight shifts or travel to different time zones, there may not be a lot you can do in this regard. However, there is still a long list of lifestyle choices that go a long way to combat your sleep / wake cycle disturbances. These choices become that much more important.
Unchangeable Risks with Breast Cancer: Childhood Obesity
Usually, knowledge is power. However, there are several known risk factors for breast cancer that you are not able to change. This is because they have happened in the past. But, while knowledge of these risk factors may not help YOU, if you have any children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or neighbor kids down the street, knowing these risk factors can help them to lower his or her lifetime risk of breast cancer.
Longer lifetime exposure to estrogen increases the overall risk of breast cancer. For this reason, a girl who starts menstruating at 9 instead of 13 will have a higher lifetime risk of breast cancer. If that girl happens to be overweight or obese, her body will have even higher levels of circulating estrogen, making matters worse.
Estrogens in the body get broken down in one of 3 ways. Two of these, the 16 and 4 path, will damage DNA and can lead to cancer. The 2 path, however, lowers the risk of cancer.
To look at the links between obese girls and estrogen breakdown products, researchers looked at a small group of pre-pubertal girls. Here’s what they found:
- Estradiol levels were 6.9 times higher in obese girls.
- Concentrations of the dangerous 16 pathway estrogens were 14.34 times higher in the obese girls.
- The protective 2 pathway estrogens levels were lower in the obese group.
This means that, even before puberty, obese girls were setting themselves up for breast cancer decades later.
Luckily, certain vegetables can help the bodies of these obese girls to break down estrogen in a safer, non-cancer producing way. More on this later. But, for this reason, any anti-cancer approaches to lowering breast cancer risk is just going to be a Band-Aid until weight is better managed.
Dietary Choices and Your Risk of Breast Cancer
There is absolutely NO doubt that one of the most powerful tools at our disposal is one that is entirely under your control.
While you may not choose to eat more vegetables and less process foods, but it is still just that—a choice. Your choices will unquestionably lower or increase your risk of breast cancer.
Dietary Fats and Your Risk of Breast Cancer
There is absolutely no doubt that the choices of fats in your diet will play a role in just about every chronic disease, although some more than others. I firmly believe that the 90’s with the USDA’s Dietary Guide Pyramid was one of the worst decisions ever to affect human health. Instead of educating people about the different types of fats, they were all thrown into the same bunch and told to be “eaten sparingly.”
I’m not going to go into any long explanation on the different types of fats here, but I can give a brief primer on omega-3 versus omega-6 fats.
Neither is inherently good or bad, but the ratio between the two is important. You should definitely be eating a balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Most thing the ideal ratio of around 1:2 (twice as many omega-6 as omega-3) or at most, 1:4.
The typical American diet is closer to 1 to 20 (twenty times omega-6 as omega-3). Even if you slept through math class you’re probably aware that ratio in the typical American diet spells trouble. Higher ratios drive inflammation and negatively affect the way cells divide, which can lead to increased risk of all types of cancer.
One group of researchers looked at the relationship between the omega 3/6 fatty acid ratio and a group of women’s risk of developing breast cancer. Here’s what they found:
- There was no link between the ratio and breast cancer risk overall.
- However, when looking at just premenopausal women (in other words—younger), better dietary ratios led to a 41% lower risk of breast cancer.
This should give you pause when you reach for that bag of potato chips or cookies. If you’re a wee bit worried that your own ratios made be less than desirable, you can brush up on some ideas of how to improve your diet by picking up my eBook that can be found by clicking here.
Dietary Soy and Lignans and Your Risk of Breast Cancer
Certain types of foods contain plant compounds called lignans. Some foods that are high in lignans include soy, whole grains, berries and seeds (especially flax). These lignans can then be worked on by the microbiome (back to the “gut bacteria” thing again) to produce very powerful compounds to protect against breast cancer.
These very powerful compounds have Scrabble-winning names like enterolactone and enterodiol. These compounds pack a pretty strong breast cancer-reducing punch.
But how strong is this punch? A study done well over a decade ago (in other words—this is NOT new news) gave us an idea of just how well they can protect against breast cancer.
- Premenopausal women with the highest levels of lignan-rich foods had a 55% lower risk of breast cancer.
- In postmenopausal women, the risk was 41% lower.
- Shockingly, in women with a certain genetic trait (the A2 allele of the CYP17 genotype—these women will make more of the protective enterolactones from the lignans in food) there was a staggering 88% lower risk.
That’s almost GONE. From something as simple as adding in a class of foods that are high in lignans. The catch-22 is that it also requires that you have a healthy gut bacterial flora. This means that antibiotics are off the list (unless for some type of life-threatening condition) because they absolutely destroy a healthy bacterial flora and it can take YEARS to recover.
Exercise Links with Breast Cancer
Few things will have as much direct and indirect benefit as getting off the darn couch and moving more. There are direct relationships between most types of cancer and the amount of exercise you do or don’t do. This includes lowering your risk as well as drastically improving your chance of survival if you are diagnosed with breast cancer.
The means that, with or without breast cancer, unless you are exercising on a regular basis, you are not doing everything you can to lower your risk. Even if everything else is in place.
The benefits may come from the anti-inflammatory effects of exercise. It may be because exercise increases muscle mass and muscles suck sugar out of the blood stream. Since cancer cells feed on sugar, it would make sense that having more muscle to pull sugar out of the blood that it would lower your risk of breast cancer. Or it may be that having more muscle protein mass to use to make immune cells means you can fight off the cancer and any secondary infections better.
Regardless of the mechanism, exercise is a critical component. Just in case you need more information about the types of exercise you need to be doing, you can read through a prior blog article on exercise by clicking here.
Alcohol, Fiber and Breast Cancer Risk
It has been established that alcohol intake increases your risk for breast cancer. This is because alcohol raises estrogen in the blood, and since estrogen is strongly linked to breast cancer, it makes sense that alcohol would up breast cancer rates.
This creates a problem because many other chronic conditions benefit from moderate alcohol intake like diabetes and heart disease.
But what if you could offset this risk with other healthy lifestyle choices?
Since dietary fiber can protect against an elevation of sex-steroid hormone levels (by increasing sex hormone–binding globulin—a protein that binds to some hormones), it seems reasonable that dietary fiber could negate or lower the risks of alcohol intake on hormone-dependent cancers like breast cancer.
Turns out that dietary fiber does protect. In a study including over 6500 men and women followed for an average of 12.1 years, 297 developed hormone-dependent cancer (158 breast and 123 prostate cancers). Here’s what was identified:
- Higher alcohol intake = 70% higher risk of breast cancer
- Higher alcohol intake + a low fiber diet = 253% higher risk of breast cancer
- Alcohol intake + high dietary fiber intake = NO increased risk of breast cancer
Dietary choices had a MASSIVE impact on the risk of breast cancer in the context of alcohol use. This finding could go a long way towards explaining some of the discrepancies seen in prior research studies looking at the links between alcohol intake and hormone-related cancers.
Supplements with Breast Cancer
I have and always will be a “lifestyle” person. We should never rely on supplements to correct our dietary mistakes. I firmly believe that supplements should just be additional tools in your quest to achieve optimal health. That being said, there is evidence that certain supplements themselves can lower your risk of breast cancer.
Links of Folic Acid with Breast Cancer
Folic acid (as well as the vitamins B12, B6, SAM-e and betaine) play a role in a process called methylation. Methylation does many things, one of which is adding a “tag” onto DNA to allow the right DNA to be expressed at the right time. In other words, this process makes sure that “liver” cells do not do “brain” stuff.
Sounds good, but there are certain genes that silence other genes (called tumor suppressor genes). If you suppress the suppressor of tumor growth, you can create a problem! Sound complicated? Then factor in the MTHFR genetic factor, and not enough folic acid will cause DNA damage to occur!
To show just how complicated this can be, one study looked at folic acid levels in the bloodstream and a woman’s risk of breast cancer based on estrogen receptor status. They found that women with the higher levels of folate acid in their blood had a 267% higher risk of estrogen receptor beta negative ERβ−) breast cancer.
So is folic acid good or bad for us?
I guess that would depend on the source. Naturally occurring folates are found in foods like beans, asparagus, spinach and broccoli—all foods that, without a doubt, will lower your risk of all types of cancers.
Beginning in 1998 in the US, food fortification of enriched grain products was implemented. Key word here is “enriched.” Enriched grains are absolutely, positively increase your risk for pretty much every chronic disease, including cancer.
Eating these refined grains will also increase your folic acid levels, so those with a higher intake of crappy, processed grains in their diets will have higher folic acid levels. It’s almost like a double-whammy.
So what is the take home message on folic acid and breast cancer?
- We should NOT be getting or folic acid from fortified breads and cereals, because these are refined and very bad for us.
- Second, a healthy overall lifestyle will avoid cancer growth regardless of folic acid status. It may very well be that an unhealthy, pro-cancer lifestyle that causes DNA damage that leads to cancer combined with higher levels of folic acid that can support faster growth of these damaged DNA cells is a bad combination.
- Third, we should all try to find out what our MTHFR gene is so we know whether more or less folic acid is good for us. Most labs can now easily run this testing in a normal blood sample.
Fish Oil Supplements with Breast Cancer
While diet trumps all when it comes to improving your health, there are times when supplements can be strong players in affecting your risk of chronic disease. When it comes to breast cancer, there are a couple of supplements that have been shown to lower your risk.
We’ve already talked about dietary fats and how they relate to breast cancer risk, but in this case researchers looked at supplement use of fish oils / omega-3 fatty acids instead of the diet. Here’s the details:
- This VERY large study looked at the links between supplement use and INVASIVE (the worst kind) of breast cancer in just over 35,000 women.
- Invasive ductal cancer risk was 32% lower in women who were currently using fish oil supplements.
- Long term use (10+ years) also demonstrated protection against invasive ductal cancer.
That’s a pretty powerful level of protection from something as simple and safe as fish oil supplements. When buying fish oils supplements, you need to make sure you are buying good quality supplements. Lower quality supplements that have contaminants may actually do more harm than good.
Vitamin D Levels Linked with Breast Cancer Risk
There have been few supplements that have been the focus of so much research and press as vitamin D. Ten years ago, few physicians were checking vitamin D levels, now it seems like all my patients come in with lab values for vitamin D that were checked by their PCP.
The problem is that, while there are many conditions where vitamin D has some very important effects, there are even more conditions that vitamin D will have little effect on.
Avoiding direct sun has become a national pastime. SPF 80 just to walk the car now seems normal. And you’re pretty sure someone would call Child Protective Services is you let you grade schooler out of the house without enough zinc-based sunscreen to coat a Sumo wrestling team.
Here’s why vitamin D is so important:
It’s NOT a vitamin. It’s a hormone. Vitamins act as cofactors to help enzymes do their job. Hormones, on the other hand, change the way a cell behaves by acting on the DNA. That’s vitamin D—more like Hormone D.
Just like every other hormone, if you’re deficient, there’s going to be problems.
For D, there are a couple of conditions that it will really have an impact on. Cancer being high on the list. But cancer is a “long latency” disease. A long latency disease is one that develops over the course of years, even decades.
Vitamin D plays a strong role in long latency diseases, of which cancer is #1. This is because vitamin D is designed (so to speak) to be present throughout your entire life. This is also why research studies that look at vitamin D intake for 6 months, a year or even 2 don’t always show an effect. But, looking at vitamin D levels (which are probably more representative of vitamin D levels over a lifetime) typically shows a benefit.
When you do see a study that finds a benefit of vitamin D supplementation, the actual benefit is likely far stronger than the findings.
With that in mind, there was a study where researchers looked at the potential benefits of vitamin D supplementation on the risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer. Here’s the details:
- Women diagnosed with breast cancer ranged from 25–74 years of age (3101 with breast cancer were compared to 3471 with no breast cancer).
- Total vitamin D intake (from both food and supplements) was not associated with breast cancer, although the total intakes of vitamin D were generally low.
- However, vitamin D supplement intakes of 400 IU or more per day led to a 24% lower risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer.
This means that vitamin D supplements (because this is where most of us who avoid the sun or use sunscreen get our vitamin D) showed a pretty decent protection against breast cancer. And with NO SAFETY CONCERNS (this is a biggie).
In another studying looking at the risk of breast cancer in a group of Middle Eastern women (Saudi Arabians) who traditionally have darker skin and thus would be more susceptible to vitamin D deficiency.
Here’s what they found:
- Women with breast cancer cases had lower vitamin D levels.
- Those with the lowest levels of vitamin D had a 610% higher risk of developing breast cancer.
These numbers are serious game changers. An interesting note to this study- researchers looked at “normal” levels of vitamin D, not OPTIMAL levels. For this reason, if we compared the women with the lowest levels of vitamin D to the women with optimal levels of vitamin D the risk likely would have been even more dramatic.
Vitamin D supplementation at 4,000 IU per day is very inexpensive (our office uses Biotics D-mulsion forte that runs about $20 per year) and very safe. And just may slash your risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer.
Daily Vitamin Supplements with Breast Cancer Protection
I consider a multivitamin as an insurance policy to make sure you have enough of what you need when you need it. Your diet should be supplying the nutrients you need while the vitamins and minerals in your multivitamin are there when you need some extra nutritional support.
One thing we should never do is treat a multivitamin like a pharmaceutical drug. It is designed to be used WITH a good quality diet, not to be used as a powerful tool on its own regardless of the lifestyle of the patient.
That being said, sometimes we have to take a peek at how effective a single approach (like a multivitamin) is for a particular chronic disease. That’s what researchers did with a large chunk of data from the Women’s Health Initiative. Here’s the details:
- 37.8% of women used multivitamins.
- For those women who were taking daily vitamin supplemnts, there was a 30% lower risk of dying from breast cancer.
- This lowered risk from multivitamin use was even despite of other factors like stage of breast cancer, estrogen-receptor and progestin-receptor status of the tumor, education, smoking status, body mass index (BMI), alcohol use, physical activity, self-reported health, and diabetes.
One thing I found a little disturbing was in the comments section on Medscape (one of the more popular medical sites geared towards doctors), mainly from oncologists. Comments such as “I think Is not true,” “There is no confirmation yet. it is still controversial ! Also, according to other studies, taking multivitamins daily, might decrease life span,” “The effect seen is so small or seems not worth following with an RCT to discover if the hypothesis generated is true. Patients should be told there is no reliable evidence supple ration is beneficial” and “I am concerned that you are airing this type of material. You need to screen your sources better and not rely on magical claims.”
There weren’t a lot of comments, but these were some of the ones labeled as oncologists. It just struck me as sad how, when faced with good evidence to show a benefit from something that is natural, doctors can cry foul and say there is no evidence but turn around and use the SAME process to make treatment decisions on patients. Until this attitude is no longer pervasive, medicine will remain were it is.
Just in case you’re not entirely clear on how to find a good quality daily vitamin supplement, make sure you read my article on daily vitamin supplements that can be found by clicking here.
This ends part one of Breast Cancer Myths. While we didn’t cover too much that was controversial, the next article will cover the dangers of mammography that your doctor likely didn’t tell you. Stay tuned!
In the meantime, if you’ve got any questions or concerns you’d like to make sure are addressed in the rest of the article, make sure you let me know in the comments below.