October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month, and in 2013, with breast cancer rates approaching 1 in 8 by the time a woman is 80, I expect that most of us already know at least one woman who has battled this disease. Unfortunately, I know many—family members as well as friends. And this past year it seems as though I hear at least once a month of another woman around my age diagnosed with this disease.
Who’s next? Is there nothing we can do to prevent this?
All hope is not lost. Indeed, there are steps we can all take. In addition to following the guidelines for screening, you and I can take some control today in minimizing our risk of breast cancer just by paying attention to the food we eat.
A phenomenon called epigenetics plays a role here. Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression, caused by mechanisms other than changes in our underlying DNA sequences. In English, that means that each of us has DNA in all of our genes that we inherit from our parents. We get what we get. But we can change some of how these genes work by manipulating other outside factors—factors such as food! Seriously, what you eat can affect your genes. That’s epigenetics.
Research, both in the laboratory and in the clinical setting, has shown how foods can affect gene expression. For example, in the lab, Nobuyuki Kikuno et al* have shown that phytoestrogens such as genistein (a chemical in soy) may be chemoprotective in prostate cancer (that means they protect against it). Prostate cancer is very similar to breast cancer; both are in the class of cancers called adenocarcinoma. And in the clinical setting, Dean Ornish** and his team recently demonstrated that gene expression was altered in a group of men with prostate cancer who were actively participating in an intensive nutritional and lifestyle intervention.
Looking at all this evidence, it’s possible that you can turn on and off genes that affect your risk of cancer just by the types of food that you eat. How cool is that?! It’s so empowering.
Foods that reduce inflammation can help to reduce your risk of chronic diseases, including cancer. So this month, make a pledge to eat more of these antioxidant, gene-changing and cancer-fighting foods:
- Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables
- Oranges and other fruits high in vitamin C
- Salmon and other food high in omega-3s
- Berries such as raspberries and blueberries
- Herbs and seasonings (so you can cut back on salt, too!), including curry, ginger and garlic
Lower your risk today.