Diet, hormone balance and breast cancer risk

It has been well reported that a woman’s exposure to estrogen over time increases breast cancer risk. Maybe what we really should be assessing is how the metabolites of estrogen or the ratios of these metabolites can affect breast cancer risk. This can be done through management of symptoms associated with estrogen dominance, blood and/or urine tests, imaging, and can also be observed with thermography. Infrared imaging’s ability to detect increased thermovascular activity secondary to levels of estrogen in the breast. Breast thermography can help us monitor how lifestyle factors such as women’s diet may play a role in her estrogen metabolism, and in turn, may help lower her risk. 

Diet can affect how we break estrogen down and is an extremely modifiable lifestyle factor to help us lower our risk. A diet high in processed and refined carbohydrates and sugars, neoformed contaminants (mainly acrylamides) formed during processing, artificial colors, and flavors, may increase estrogen levels. Packaging may contain endocrine disruptors and carcinogens such bisphenol A and food additives such as nitrites. Some examples are packaged, and boxed foods, baked goods, processed meats, and sugary drinks can surprisingly account for up to 50% of daily food intake of women in developed countries. 

A 2018 large-scale observational study assessed the possible connection between ultra-processed foods and cancer. Researchers concluded that every 10% increase in processed foods correlated to an 11% increase in breast cancer (1). Although more research needs to be done, it seems reasonable that or minimizing consumption of these foods/drinks is an achievable way to lower risk.

Since pesticides are endocrine disruptors in the body, they can affect hormone levels and interfere with normal hormone metabolism. Avoid added hormones, fertilizers, and pesticides whenever possible. The environmental working groups Dirty Dozen https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/ helps us to avoid fruits and vegetables with high the highest pesticide levels. Interestingly raisins would be No. 1 on this list if dried fruits were also included. 

Alternatively, a diet rich in whole foods such as organic fruits vegetables and adequate levels of healthy proteins and fats, is beneficial to hormone balance. Increasing consumption of cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and others) promotes healthy estrogen metabolism in post-menopausal women by converting estrogen into the “good” form, which is associated with lower risk (2).

If organic foods are too expensive or not available, buy from the Environmental Working Group’s Clean Fifteen, which includes fruits and vegetables containing the lowest pesticide residue. Of course, you can always try growing your own by purchasing organic seeds or starters from your local farmer’s market.

In conclusion, eating fewer processed foods and adding more whole fruits and vegetables, organic whenever possible, can improve your hormone metabolism. These changes can be observed and monitored by your doctor through special lab tests and additionally with breast thermography and may play a significant role in breast cancer prevention.

Sources

  1. BMJ 2018;360:k322
  2. Fowke, Jay H, Longcope, Christopher, and Hebert, James R. “Brassica Vegetable Consumption Shifts Estrogen Metabolism in Healthy Postmenopausal Women” Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention 9(8):773-9.