In Honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month

As I purchased my special Breast Cancer Awareness bagels from Panera this week and my youngest son came home from soccer practice with very bright pink socks to wear for his game this week, I started to think about the impact that Breast Cancer and all cancers have on our lives.  I’m sure that most of us have been personally affected by this disease or at the very least know someone who has been affected.  Both of my grandmothers died of breast cancer.  Fortunate for me and the other women in my family, neither grandmother had the kind of cancer that puts us at a huge risk for developing the disease.  However, I started thinking about cancers impact on all of our lives.  Many of us think that since there is a family history of cancer, we are at greater risk of developing cancer as well.  While that is true, the reasons for this increased risk are often misunderstood.  Perhaps one of the reasons has to do with the types of eating behaviors that are passed down from generation to generation.  We often resign ourselves to the fact that since it is in our genetic history, there isn’t much we can do about it.  In most cases there is, in fact, a great deal we can do to prevent cancer from affecting us.

There is a field of science called epigenetics that is dedicated to determining the role or genes versus environment.  While we inherit a genetic predisposition for many diseases including cancer, these genes can be turned on and off by environment.  The most important environmental factor is diet.  This is fantastic news!  It means that we are not destined to develop chronic disease.  While some cancers can not be avoided through diet, a great deal of them can.  If we eat a diet that is primarily whole foods and plant-based we significantly increase our chances of staying healthy.  The family history of cancer may in fact be a result of poor dietary choices that have been passed down from generation to generation and not solely predetermined by genetics.

What can we do then to prevent breast cancer?  According to a study by Hasert et. al published in the Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prevention Journal in 2013, there are 3 primary behaviors that will decrease your risk.

  1. Limit alcohol intake: Studies have shown that even small amounts of alcohol intake increases risk of breast cancer.  However, red wine has a compound that appears to suppress cancer growth basically cancelling out the negative effects of alcohol.  One serving of red wine a day ( 4 oz. for women and 8 oz. for men) is acceptable but no more than that.
  2. Eat mostly plant foods
  3. Maintain a normal body weight

These three behaviors were associated with a 62% lower risk of developing breast cancer.

Additionally an article published in 2013 by Hildebrand et al.  in Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prevention Journal found that walking an hour a day or more is associated with decreased cancer risk.  I don’t know about you but I find both of these studies to be cause for celebration.  We have control over our health if we eat and drink in a health promoting way and exercise with moderate intensity. So, take control today!


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