Well, October has ended, and I don’t know about you, but I am a little “pinked out” these days. Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate that October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and of course it’s wonderful that organizations like the Susan G. Komen Foundation have raised hundreds of millions of dollars for breast cancer research over the years. I hope that cancer research eventually finds a cure for this awful disease, and I fully support getting out and racing for a cure and even buying a pink umbrella or Cuisinart if you’re in need of a new one.
But the cynical side of me — and the side that’s a mom of a young daughter — is a bit irked that the commercialization of breast cancer has overshadowed any talk of prevention, specifically the lifestyle choices we can make to help protect us from the disease. In fact, most mainstream cancer organizations don’t mention prevention at all (although they do urge us to get mammograms so we can detect cancer earlier). Instead, they promote the cause by selling us pink buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken and pink-lidded Yoplait Yogurt. (And then of course there’s Susan G. Komen For a Cure’s new perfume, Promise Me, which has a pretty pink ribbon on the cut-glass bottle but contains at least two potentially toxic ingredients, including galaxolide, which is a known hormone disruptor.)
The Breast Cancer Fund notes that only one in 10 people who develop breast cancer have a genetic history of the disease. Which means that for 90 percent of all breast cancer cases, something else is going on — and there is more and more evidence linking toxic chemicals to cancer. Obesity and poor nutrition have also been linked. So, maybe selling fattening buckets of fried chicken and yogurt laced with bovine growth hormones isn’t really helping people with breast cancer after all?
But there are things that we all can do that have been shown to reduce our risk of getting breast cancer in the first place. In hopes you never need those new drugs that companies like Eli Lilly are developing (the same company that puts the bovine growth hormones in our milk, by the way), here is a lifestyle-based prescription for fighting disease. I can’t claim it will completely protect you and your family from cancer, but there is no question you will be healthier if you follow it.
Eat healthy fats. This is probably the easiest and most enjoyable thing you can do to help prevent cancer. Toss your salad with extra virgin olive oil, eat wild salmon and sardines, make guacamole.
Avoid conventional meat & dairy products. Conventionally raised cows are often fed rBGH and other bovine growth hormones, which leave hormone residues in the food. These hormones have been linked to problems with estrogen metabolism, a factor in many breast cancers. Buy organic meat and dairy whenever possible. If that means you eat less of these, that’s probably a good thing.
Exercise. Being overweight has been linked to cancer. So teach your kids the importance of physical activity by setting a good, healthy example. If you absolutely hate to work out, check out these videos — they really can make all the difference!
Reduce exposure to xenoestrogens. These are chemical hormones that imitate estrogen in the body, often creating what researchers call “hormone disruptive effects.” These effects include early onset of puberty in girls, which in turn is linked to breast cancer. The easiest way to steer clear of xenoestrogens is to avoid pesticides, so buy organic foods, personal care products, and cleaning supplies whenever possible. Check the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website to see if your favorite products are free of hazardous chemicals (unfortunately, Estee Lauder and Avon, two mainstream pink supporters, have not joined the site).
Get more vitamin D. New research shows that vitamin D deficiency is strongly linked to many cancers, including breast. While the idea of forgoing sunscreen to get more D exposure from the sun is still controversial, experts now recommend you shoot for 10-30 minutes of unprotected sun exposure each day. You can also eat more foods that are high in vitamin D such as fatty fish and fortified milk, or take supplements.
Eat more fruits and vegetables. Especially vegetables. What prescription for better health doesn’t include this tip? Even the Centers for Disease Control claims fruits and vegetables can help prevent certain cancers. And if you’re eating more of these, you’re probably eating less animal fats, processed foods, and refined sugars — all of which aren’t doing your health any favors. I believe that one of the greatest gifts you can give your children is an understanding and appreciation for the benefits of a healthy diet. If you start ’em young, they really will develop good eating habits, and maybe even ask for broccoli!