I grew up in Chicago where I was raised on over-cooked meat and canned vegetables. Food was never that important to me when I was younger. As a result when I first started practicing medicine, I admit that I did not pay attention to what I was eating or what my patients were eating for that matter.
However, as I have become more experienced practicing integrative medicine and see the benefits of healthy eating, I have found food to be one of the most therapeutic tools that I have to offer.
This past weekend I was lucky enough to eat at a restaurant in Berkeley, California called Chez Panisse. Alice Waters is the proprietor and has been revolutionary in promoting the home grown organic food movement. The food for my dinner was raised locally. It was fresh, organic, and some of the tastiest I have ever eaten.
Waters proved that not only can whole food be therapeutic it can be very tasty. When it comes to fresh food think local and organic. If you want you can grow your own regardless of where you live. My husband is from Brooklyn, New York so it is really funny to think of the two of us “ city kids” tending to our vegetable garden.
It is really fun. We have tons of tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, strawberries, and will soon have raspberries and corn. You do not need a yard or special garden spot. Fruit and vegetables can be grown on balconies and front porches. Many areas have cooperative gardens that are shared by neighborhoods.
A healthy, whole food diet is the key to wellness. It reduces inflammation, helps to maintain an optimal weight and prevent illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Most importantly it is delicious.
A recent story in Consumer Reports has found that some vitamins and supplements may have risks and may contain more of certain nutrients than is necessary. It is much healthier to get your vitamins naturally from food. They will be absorbed well and are in a formulation that optimizes their effect for health and wellness.
Why is this important you may ask? Because, ”The greatest wealth is health.” ~Virgil
It is estimated that over our lifetime women in the US have a one in eight chance of developing breast cancer. There are many risk factors for this disease that include the following: a history of breast cancer in a family member, BRAC1 and 2 mutations, increasing age, early onset of menses, exposure to radiation and pesticides, excessive alcohol (two or more drinks a day), obesity, and lack of exercise.
Certain things such as family history and gene mutations we cannot change. However, there are a few simple things that we can do to decrease the chances that we will develop breast cancer. Here is what I have found.
Exercise. Just two and a half hours a week of vigorous walking can decrease the risk of breast cancer by almost 20%. Put on your shoes and get out there!
Eat a healthy diet that includes ground flax seed. A study done in Canada took 39 women with newly diagnosed breast cancer. For a month they were given either a regular muffin or a muffin made with 25 grams of ground flax. No other treatment was administered. At the end of the month they had another breast biopsy and the activity of the cancer cells was measured. Those who had eaten the daily flax seed muffin had a 31% decrease in the activity of their breast cancer cells. Those with HER-2 oncogenes (a more aggressive form of cancer) showed a 71% decrease in the activity of their cancer cells.
I suggest that you gradually add 2 tablespoons of ground flax into your diet. You can put it in smoothies, salads, and yogurt or in muffins. Make sure you keep it in the refrigerator if it is already ground. Caution: you need to increase the amount gradually or you will be spending a lot of time in the bathroom.
Eat mushrooms. Actually it is better if you get medicinal mushrooms in capsules. I recommend a blend of 17 mushrooms called Mycommunity that includes Reishi, Maitaki, Shiitaki, Turkey tail and Lion’s Mane. I also recommend capsules of Turkey Tail mushrooms in addition to the blend. Multiple scientific studies done around the world have found that mushrooms help to prevent breast cancer as well as improve treatment.
Certain types of mushrooms are able to boost the body’s ability to fight cancer cells. The beauty of these mushrooms is that they are food and have virtually no side effects unless of course you are allergic to mushrooms.
Drink green tea. Studies of Asian-American women found that those who drank green tea had significantly less breast cancer than those who did not drink it. How much to drink is unclear, but it is healthy and you might want to drink up many a cup.
Eat your veggies especially the cruciferous ones such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, and cauliflower. The indol-3-carbinol in the vegetables may reduce the negative effect of estrogen on the breast. Soy in the form of food can also help prevent breast cancer through a similar mechanism.
Take your vitamin D and calcium. A recent clinical trial found that supplementing women’s diet with daily calcium (1500 mgs) and vitamin D (1000 IU’s) reduced their overall cancer rate by 60%. Of course it is best to get calcium from the diet. New recommendations have reduced the amount needed to 800 mgs a day but vitamin D is most consistently obtained from a supplement.
Making just a few simple changes to your lifestyle and adding a couple of supplements can have a huge impact on preventing one of the most dreaded diseases for women. You can’t change your parents or your genetic code (yet), but you can be proactive about your health and do what you need to do to make a difference.
When I was a medical student in the 1970’s, a diagnosis of breast cancer was tantamount to a death sentence. We have come a very long way since then and now breast cancer is curable. The survival rate when it is detected early is 93%.
The key as you can see is to detect it early. How do we do that? The answer is mammography. From my own experience with my patients I can say that the last several breast cancers I have detected were not palpable. No one could feel them, not me and not my patients. They were very small and very treatable.
There have been many different recommendations in the last few years and that has made it confusing. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends mammograms start at age 50, and are done every one to two years based on risk. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends they start at 40 and are done yearly. Breast self exam is optional.
Here is the problem as I see it with the USPSTF recommendations. When breast cancer is detected in younger women prior to menopause it is usually a more aggressive form of cancer. If women from age 40 to 50 wait 10 years for their first mammogram it will potentially be too late to catch it early if they have a developing cancer.
I agree with the ACS. I recommend that my patients start yearly mammograms at age 40. The amount of radiation is small and the potential lifesaving benefits are great. There is no way around it. Mammograms save lives and ultimately quality of lives.
I agree that it is not the most comfortable test in the world. I remember one time when the technician lifted me up so high on the breast press that I was on my tiptoes and then dangling off the ground! That was not good. Since then I ask for someone who has a better position sense.
My advice is to find the best breast-imaging center in your area and make sure you go yearly starting at age 40. If you have a strong family history of breast cancer you may need to start earlier. The bottom line is to make mammography part of your yearly wellness plan.