Don't Sweat It, Prevent It! How to Be Proactive with Your Health During Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast Cancer Awareness Month comes around only once a year, but many of us women spend far more than four weeks worrying about our risk of developing this disease. And it's no wonder—the statistics are sobering. About 1 in 8 American women will get breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.

Rather than feeling anxious, vulnerable, and helpless to this possibility, I recommend taking concrete steps to reduce your risk now. We can't do anything to change risk factors like our genetics or family history, but certain lifestyle changes have been proven to reduce the occurrence of many cancers, including breast cancer. If we make conscious decisions about our health instead of burying our heads in the sand and hoping for the best, we can find empowerment and seize control of our own well-being. I always recommend these 7 simple steps to my female clients to help them reduce their risk factors and find some peace of mind.

Eat at least seven servings of vegetables a day. There is so much to be said for the virtues of vegetables. Certain veggies have cancer-preventing properties, and "superfoods" like leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables are especially potent. Eat one or more servings of leafy greens daily (like spinach or red lettuce) and one or more servings of cruciferous vegetables like kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, watercress, radish, collard greens, turnips, kohlrabi, bok choy, turnip greens, and mustard greens.

In addition, broaden your color palette (and your palate) by incorporating a variety of yellow, purple, and red produce into your diet. This will increase your body's antioxidant potential and improve its ability to fight cancer-causing free radicals.

Reduce your intake of refined carbohydrates and sugars. An excess intake of refined carbohydrates and sugars truly wreaks havoc on the body. It weakens the immune system, contributes to an overgrowth of unhealthy gut flora, creates an acidic environment in the body, changes our body composition, alters estrogen metabolism, and, most concerning, has the potential to feed cancer. Tilt the balance of your diet by decreasing your intake of processed grains, sugar, and starchy vegetables like potatoes, in favor of lean meats and plenty of non-starchy vegetables.

Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. Cancer is an inflammatory disorder, so a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods can help to reduce your risk of this disease. Stock your shopping cart with colorful produce; raw nuts and seeds; cold-pressed organic oils; herbs and spices like turmeric, cayenne, cinnamon, and purslane; and lean organic proteins such as coldwater fish, eggs, bison, buffalo, and lamb.

Augment your health with the right dietary supplements. Certain dietary supplements have been shown to reduce the risk of many cancers, including breast cancer. Look for supplements that contain:

  • Probiotics, which inhibit carcinogen-producing enzymes
    Di-Indolylmethane (DIM) and sulfurophane glucosynalate, beneficial
    compounds derived from cruciferous vegetables
    Calcium-d-glucarate, a natural chemical found in many fruits and vegetables
    CoEnzyme Q10, an antioxidant that supports healthy cell function
    Turmeric, which may slow the growth of cancer cells
    Other plant-based antioxidants, which fight free radicals

Reduce your stress. Stress is a risk factor for cancer, as well as for a host of other health issues. Just as we strive to eat better and exercise more, we should also seek to reduce and manage our stress levels on a day-to-day basis.

Of course, this is always easier said than done, and shelves of books have been written on the topic. But most tips on handling stress boil down to a few simple things. Breathe deeply. Strive to embrace who you are and live authentically. Foster healthy relationships that add value to your life. Don't sweat the small stuff. Exercise regularly and modestly. Get enough sleep. Laugh often. Live creatively and resourcefully. Take a technology vacation daily. Seek quiet time. Avoid alcohol. And above all, see stress as something that can be worked on and improved, not something that should be endured.

Go organic. Pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides compromise the function of our immune systems and the process of detoxification. They interfere with the body's endocrine system and estrogen levels, which can lead to an increased risk of some cancers, including breast cancer. Buying organic is the best way to avoid your exposure to these toxins. If going fully organic isn't possible because of money constraints or a limited selection in your area, it's still a good idea to choose organic when it comes to the fruits and vegetables dubbed the "Dirty Dozen" by the Environmental Working Group. These twelve types of produce are heavily sprayed because they're difficult to grow without chemicals, or so thin-skinned that they absorb chemicals at a higher rate than other produce.

In addition, try to avoid exposure to common household chemicals. Make your own cleaning supplies from nontoxic materials like vinegar, lemons, and borax, or choose healthy, nontoxic brands if you're buying from the store. Also, try to avoid sending your dry cleaning to a service that uses perchloroethylene, a "probable human carcinogen" according to the EPA. Find an organic dry cleaner in your area, or experiment with at-home dry cleaning alternatives such as removing odors with a spritz bottle of vodka or simply hand-washing your dry-clean-only clothes.

Cook this breast-protecting recipe regularly. Having trouble getting the right vegetables in your diet? Make a big batch of this recipe and store it in your fridge so you can enjoy its health benefits without any hassle. It's perfect as a side dish for lunch or dinner, or even as an accompaniment to eggs in the morning.

Slice a Vidalia or purple onion and mince a couple freshly peeled garlic cloves. Sauté the onion and garlic in a large frying pan in a little organic coconut oil. Add 1–2 bags of shredded mixed cruciferous vegetables to the pan with about 2 ounces of water. Stir, cover, and reduce the temperature. When softened, drizzle with organic coconut oil and season with turmeric or curry powder, cayenne, Himalayan or Celtic sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper.

Our nutrition expert Peta Cohen has been a clinical nutritionist and metabolic specialist since 1996. Peta specializes in addressing underlying metabolic changes that occur as a result of lifestyle choices and aging to prevent diseases, and deals with root causes of complex and chronic health issues. Her extensive clinical experience and research have led her to share her knowledge at seminars and conferences worldwide. In Peta's posts for the BoomSpot, she shows that great health starts with you and gives practical tips on how to improve it right now.

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