It’s troubling to read that 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will face an invasive breast cancer diagnosis in their lifetime. Thankfully with better research and screening, survival rates have improved over the last decade at least in women over 50 (according to BreastCancer.org). Still, there is much more work ahead to improve the odds.
While it’s great that there’s generally a higher awareness around finding a cure to breast cancer, one very important thing is often overlooked — proactive steps we can take to protect our breast health.
Yes, genetics have a lot to do with breast cancer risk (more on that below), but there are lots of lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your chances of getting that dreaded diagnosis — no side effects necessary.
(And in case you were wondering, the same goes for other women’s health issues, like your vaginal health.)
What Causes Breast Cancer?
There are a wide variety of risk factors for breast cancer. Research finds that a lack of vitamins (particularly vitamin D), toxins from deodorants, hormones all play a big role in breast-related problems.
You should also examine your family history, which also plays a part. Fortunately, your lifestyle choices can have a big impact and can even help override genetic predisposition.
The following suggestions for improving your breast health are non-invasive and, as a bonus, will also support the health of the rest of the body!
How to Care for Breast Health
An ounce of prevention is worth of pound of cure, they say…
1. Practice Self-Exams and Get Regular Check-Ups
Breast health is a complex subject, and the following are only a few of the ways I’ve chosen to support healthy breasts. I want to start out by saying that the following natural tips cannot replace advice from a medical professional.
Learn how to do a breast self-exam (see point 9 below) and research your options for diagnostic screenings like mammograms or thermography (my thoughts on those here).
2. Eat a Healthy Diet
Eating a real food diet of whole, fresh foods prepared at home can greatly reduce your chances of breast cancer. Research finds that cancerous breast tissue often contains high amounts of chemicals like aluminum and parabens, so avoiding processed foods in favor of fresh produce will help keep you healthy.
Plus, a whole foods diet will also help avoid estrogen-like compounds that mess with your hormones and could contribute to breast cancer. These dangerous compounds are found in packaged and canned foods, plastics, soy products, birth control pills, and are even in the water supply due to run-off from factory farms. Most water treatments do not remove these compounds, so it’s up to us to filter out these toxins. I like to use a reverse osmosis filter with a drop of trace minerals, so we still get those good vitamins without all the toxins.
Be sure to eat lots of foods rich in antioxidants to help stave off cancer. Research shows that a Mediterranean diet rich in healthy omega-3 fats like olive oil and flax seeds can keep help reduce cancer-inducing inflammation.
3. Take Herbs and Supplements for Breast Health
There are lots of important vitamins for breast health, but vitamin D is arguably the most important nutrient you can get.
A study from the University of California reported:
University of California researchers estimate 250,000 cases of colon cancer and 350,000 cases of breast cancer could be prevented worldwide by increasing intake of vitamin D. Sunlight spurs production of vitamin D in the skin, and people who don’t get much sun exposure tend to have lower levels of the vitamin.
The best way to get vitamin D is from moderate and safe exposure to the sun. I recommend supplementing this practice with a skin-supporting diet that maximizes vitamin D production.
As I mentioned above, omega-3 fatty acids are also great for breast health. Scientists theorize that omega-3s work by reducing the effect of those estrogen-like compounds that sneak into your system, helping to decrease inflammation. A few great sources of omega-3s (other than supplements) are wild-caught fish and grass-fed meats.
Curcumin, an extract from turmeric, is another potent antioxidant that can help boost breast health. You can take it in capsule form (I use this brand), or use turmeric liberally in your cooking or in a daily cup of golden milk.
4. Choose Deodorant Wisely
There’s an ongoing debate about whether chemicals in deodorants and antiperspirants can damage your breast health. One study found aluminum in cancerous breast tissue removed during a mastectomy. The aluminum concentration was higher in tissue near the armpit.
Since many commercial deodorants also contain parabens and estrogen-mimicking chemicals that may also impact breast health, it’s best to avoid them if you can. There are lots of natural, inexpensive, effective deodorant options on the market that don’t any of these chemicals. Here’s a natural mineral deodorant I helped formulate if you want to buy one.
You can also make your own deodorant right at home using one of my easy recipes:
5. Choose the Right Bra
Your bra is another risk factor that you may not have considered. Wearing underwire or otherwise snug-fitting bras might restrict lymph flow, impeding the body’s ability to remove toxins from your armpit area. As this article from Michael Schachter, MD explains:
Over 85 percent of the lymph fluid flowing from the breast drains to the armpit lymph nodes. Most of the rest drains to the nodes along the breast bone. Bras and other external tight clothing can impede flow.
The nature of the bra, the tightness, and the length of time worn, will all influence the degree of blockage of lymphatic drainage. Thus, wearing a bra might contribute to the development of breast cancer as a result of cutting off lymphatic drainage, so that toxic chemicals are trapped in the breast.
A book written on the subject, Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras, claims that:
- Women who wore their bras 24 hours per day had a 3 out of 4 chance of developing breast cancer.
- Those who wore bras more than 12 hours per day, but not to bed, had a 1 out of 7 risk.
- Women who wore their bras less than 12 hours per day had a 1 out of 52 risk.
- Those who wore bras rarely or never had a 1 out of 168 risk.
While this topic has been surprisingly controversial, my personal take is that it doesn’t hurt to wear underwire bras as minimally as possible. While it might not be possible to go braless very often, I suggest at least wearing a healthier bra.
I personally like wire-free, full-coverage Coobie bras, which are also equipped with removable pads that you can replace with nursing pads while nursing.
While researchers continue to debate the link between bras and breast cancer, I’m definitely more comfortable!
6. Work Toward Hormone Balance
Hormones play a tremendous role in breast cancer, which is why HRT, contraceptives, and procedures that unnaturally alter your hormones can increase the risk of breast problems.
Hormonal contraceptives, by their nature, work to alter the normal hormone function of the body to prevent pregnancy. As the packaging of any hormonal contraceptive will explain, this puts the user at a higher risk of cancer, heart disease, blood clots, stroke, bone loss, and more.
The link between contraceptives and cancer has been well documented. Injectable contraceptives seem to carry an increased risk, with one study showing that they double breast cancer risk.
Additionally, taking medications that alter hormones (like contraception or HRT) can mask symptoms of hormone-related problems and make them harder to detect.
Dr. Angela Lanfranchi, a breast surgical oncologist, claims that the pill is responsible for a 660% rise in non-invasive breast cancer since 1973.
This is a topic I highly encourage women to research themselves. Personally, I even suggest skipping hormonal contraceptives in favor of more natural alternatives, like charting your ovulation.
Exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight, which is important when it comes to breast health. Obesity has been linked to an increased risk of all cancers, including breast cancer.
Plus, exercise increases circulation and lymph flow, which helps your body eliminate toxins. Exercise also encourages proper hormone production and function, which can help balance the presence of excess estrogen in the body.
Gentle movements like walking, light jogging, and bouncing on a trampoline or rebounder appear to be beneficial due to the lymph-stimulating activity they promote. Stretching, pilates, and weight training also help improve hormone responses and lower cortisol, blood sugar, and other factors that can affect hormones.
One particular exercise that is touted for its lymph and circulatory effects is the T-Tapp System, which is low-impact and very gentle on the muscles and joints. I tried it and was amazed by how much a simple 15-minute increases circulation and works the muscles, yet it didn’t make me sore (supposedly from the lymph-draining aspect).
Here is my complete list of lymph-circulating activities. They also have a host of other benefits besides breast health, so there is nothing to lose!
Lifestyle Factors That Help (or Hurt) Breast Health
Other lifestyle factors have been correlated with an increased or decreased risk of breast cancer.
Factors that researchers believe might decrease your risk of breast cancer include:
- Breastfeeding your children for at least six months each (preferably for a year)
- Having more than one child
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising regularly
- Eating an antioxidant and omega-3 rich diet
- Getting enough vitamin D from sunlight or supplements
On the other hand, research points to a possible increase in your risk of breast cancer with these factors:
- Having your first child after age 30 (or not having children)
- Being overweight
- Having multiple pregnancies but not breastfeeding
- Low vitamin D levels
- Excess alcohol consumption
- Light exposure at night, which decreases melatonin production (read tips for optimizing sleep here)
How to Boost Breast Health
As a quick recap, remember to do the following to keep your breasts happy and healthy:
- Eat a healthy diet composed of whole, real foods. Avoid processed foods like grains, sugars, and vegetable oils.
- Drink plenty of filtered water and herbal teas like green tea.
- Consider supplements like omega-3 oil and curcumin, especially if you have a known deficiency.
- Get a comfy and non-restrictive bra.
- Carefully research any medications that can impact hormone levels, and consider natural options.
- Exercise regularly, preferably with an exercise regimen that supports lymph health, like rebounding on a trampoline.
- Keep stress at a minimum with yoga, meditation, or tapping.
- Get plenty of sleep at night (sleep optimizing tips here).
- Conduct regular breast self-exams (Here’s how to do it).
While listening, I’ll be comfy in my underwire-free bra, sipping a cup of herbal tea, and jumping on a mini-trampoline!
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Lauren Jefferis, board-certified in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor or work with a doctor at SteadyMD.
Do you do anything natural to help improve the health of your breasts? Share below!