Your hormones play a significant role in your breast health.  This is great news for anyone wanting to prevent cancer (or its recurrence) because hormone levels are something you can often control.

Let’s start at the beginning

Hormones are tiny messengers.  They travel through your body and attach onto cells.  But in order to attach, the cell has to have a receptor with the shape that matches the hormone.  It works kind of like a lock and key.  If the key fits, a connection is made.  It is the forming of this connection that causes a reaction.  For example, it might cause a cell to grow or divide itself into two.

By looking at some of the most common hormones in our bodies, we can see how they can affect cancer growth.  We can use this information to help with cancer prevention.

Estrogen

Estrogen is an important hormone.  Among other things, it helps with reproduction, bone growth, mood and concentration.  Estrogen also causes breast cells to multiply and promotes the growth of most breast cancers.

Progesterone

Progesterone is another essential reproductive hormone.  It keeps estrogen in check and helps to prevent breast cysts and cancer.

Because they oppose each other in their actions, it is important to keep estrogen and progesterone levels balanced.  Sometimes we see symptoms of estrogen excess because of a progesterone deficiency. This is especially common in menopausal years, when progesterone levels fall.

It also happens when you experience stress.  Your body has hormones that help you cope with stress.  When these hormones levels just can’t keep up (because the stress is too great, or lasts too long), your body takes your progesterone, and uses it to make more stress hormones.  In the short term it helps you cope.  But in the long run, it leaves you depleted of progesterone.

Symptoms of estrogen excess also occur when your body is burdened with chemicals or toxins.  These compounds act like estrogen in your body and many of them create a response that is much stronger than the estrogen your own body produces.  The chemicals are found everywhere — in plastics, pesticides, cleaning products and common cosmetics.

To balance estrogen and progesterone, include lots of fibre in your diet.  Flax seeds are great for this job. Minimize exposure to chemicals by choosing organic foods and using chemical free cleaning products and cosmetics.

Insulin

Insulin promotes entry of glucose into cells, therefore lowering blood sugar levels.  It is essential for its role in normalizing blood sugar levels but insulin also promotes cancer growth. Women with high insulin levels have a 3x higher risk of breast cancer compared to the average.  Levels tend to be higher in women who are overweight and those with a high sugar diet.  Plus, cancer cells in general love sugar and use it to fuel their growth.  Thus, lowering your sugar intake can help to decrease risk of cancer growth.

Melatonin

Melatonin is secreted at night, in response to darkness.  It helps promote sleep, and inhibits tumour growth.  It is protective against breast cancer by counter-acting the promoting effects of estrogen.  You can promote the release of melatonin by sleeping in a totally dark room. Exposure to light in the night will shut down your melatonin release, so use a dim night light in the bathroom, and avoid turning on the light when you can’t sleep.

In summary:

  1. Limit your exposure to chemical estrogens
  2. Consume ground flax seeds daily
  3. Decrease your sugar intake
  4. Sleep in a totally dark room

These actions might seem small, but they can make a big difference in your health.

To learn more about what you can do to help improve breast health by balancing hormones, join Dr. Rachel VandenBerg, ND on May 9, 2017 for a free talk on this topic.