Nutrition to Beat Breast Cancer
As women, we are constantly bombarded with messages about maintaining a healthy weight. While it can be difficult to face, we know that carrying around excess weight isn’t good for many reasons. Increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke are just a few of the health risks that are connected with weight gain as we age. Achieving and maintaining a weight can help protect you from these diseases but did you know that it may also protect you from breast cancer?
As an oncology dietitian I work with women who either have breast cancer or have a strong family history of the disease. Weight gain in adulthood puts many women at increased risk of hormone-related breast cancer due to higher amounts of estrogen present in their bodies, produced by fat tissue. Women who are overweight or obese have higher levels of estrogen than thinner women because they have more fat tissue to produce the hormone. When you lose weight, you decrease your stores of fat tissue and therefore lower the amounts of estrogen circulating in your body. This can be beneficial for lowering risk of hormone-related cancers.
Studies show that weight gain, particularly after menopause, is the most troublesome for increased risk of hormone-related breast cancer however many women are unaware of this connection. The good news is that you don’t have to feel powerless. Researchers point out that even small weight loss can make a big impact on reductions in risk. You don’t have to lose 40 or 50 pounds to see a benefit. If you are overweight, reducing your body weight by just 10% will lower your risks.
Where to start? When I meet individually with patients, we start first by talking about healthful choices. From a cancer-prevention and weight loss perspective, my first priority is always to work with my clients on increasing their intake of plant-based foods and then we proceed from there. My baseline nutrition recommendations are listed below:
Of course, it’s always important to individualize nutrition and lifestyle goals and determine what a healthy weight is for you — this is not a “one size fits all” scenario. Behavior change is difficult and takes time. Small, gradual changes work best. A registered dietitian (RD) can help you through this process. If you have survived breast cancer or have a strong genetic risk for it, consider reaching out to an RD to get some support around healthy changes you can make. Be proactive and take charge of your health!
All information is in keeping with current recommendations from the American Cancer Society and American Institute for Cancer Research. To see more information from these groups, visit www.cancer.org or www.aicr.org