So, Angelina Jolie got a double mastectomy as a preventative measure, in order to reduce her risk of breast cancer.
Should you do the same?
Angelina apparently had a particularly strong genetic tendency as well as a strong family history. Angelina made a brave choice that may have been the best one for her, but it is worth careful consideration around whether this preemptive strike is the right choice for any woman who carries the BRCA1 gene.
Genetic risk is real, but epigenetics has the potential to trump genetic risk. Epigenetics literally means “on top of genetics.” Epigenetic “tags” sit on top of our genes and turn them on and off. These tags are influenced by our experiences and environment. What we eat, how much stress we undergo, and what toxins we’re exposed to can all alter our genes. We are not at the mercy of our genes as much as they are at the mercy of our diet and lifestyle choices.
Here’s an example that should strike hope into our very souls: Dr. Dean Ornish has conducted research that found a vegan diet caused more than 500 genes to change in only three months. How? Epigenetic tags turned on genes that prevent disease and turned off genes that cause a variety of illnesses, including breast cancer, heart disease, prostate cancer, and other illnesses.
I think the term “Holistic Medicine” has been used so much that it has almost lost it’s meaning. What might be a better term is “Context-Driven Medicine.” Our bodies—our hormones, organs, tissues and systems—do not act in a vacuum. They respond to our environment and thoughts. Thought creates biology. So does environment. When we are afraid, our chemistry changes. When we inhale pollutants, our
chemistry changes. Conversely, when we enjoy whole food, fresh air, good company, and feed ourselves inspirational thoughts and ideas, we affect our thoughts, emotions, environment, epigenetic tags and, ultimately, our genes.
So what about mammograms?
Prevention is different from early detection. Early detection doesn’t stop breast cancer from arising. Prevention does. When we better our lives, our breast health can improve in response.
Here are some simple (but sometimes hard to hear) tips to support breast health:
- Avoid alcohol. There is not safe level of consumption. For a good summary of this, check out this video. We like to drink alcohol for relaxation and, in some cases, to support heart health, but there are better, more effective ways to support heart health without increasing the risk of cancer.
- Eat lots of veggies. Changes in diet may prevent 30-40 percent of cancer cases, or 3 to 4 million cases annually. Veggies protect against many types of cancer by enhancing cancer-protective capacity, deactivating carcinogens and blocking tumor development.
- Have an exercise routine that is right for you.
- Avoid too much coffee, especially non-organic. Coffee seems to have an affinity with breast tissue and women with sensitive breasts around their period might do well to avoid it.
- Breastfeed! This increases circulation in the breast tissue. Women who nurse have lower risks of breast cancer. This decreases the potential for stagnation in the breasts. When we are not breastfeeding we can increase circulation in our breasts by massaging them on a regular basis.
- Avoid the use of antiperspirants. They don’t allow the release of waste products from the local area.
- Breathe deeply. This opens the chest area and reduces stress.
- Eat organic, when possible. Especially meat and dairy, if you consume them. They concentrate pollutants that act as bad estrogens and are carcinogenic.
- Avoid environmental pollutants. If you happen to be in an environment that is polluted from off gassing of carpets, paints, plastics, construction materials, etc. maybe fill the room with houseplants. They help to purify the air.
- Don’t smoke. Please.
There’s more information on breast health and why all these things are important in Chapter 13 of my book Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life.