Diet and Lifestyle

We are becoming more aware of the effects of obesity, a poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle and environmental factors on the development of cancer and other diseases. Regarding breast cancer:

  • Postmenopausal women who are overweight have a higher risk of developing breast cancer
  • Recurrence rates are higher in postmenopausal women who are overweight
  • Moderate exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer development and recurrence
  • A high-fat diet has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer
  • More than 3-6 alcoholic drinks per week in women is associated with an increased risk, and some studies have suggested that there is no “safe” amount of alcohol intake

Unfortunately is possible to do everything “right” and still develop breast cancer. By adopting healthier habits we can reduce the risk but there is no food or supplement that can reliably prevent breast cancer from developing. Breast and other cancers are caused by multiple factors, which is one of the reasons that studies evaluating diet and lifestyle are so difficult. It is also why the studies that pop up every so often regarding the benefits of a particular nutrient or extract need to be placed in proper perspective – it’s usually not that simple.

My recommendations are simple – try to take good care of yourself. As we age, we become less able to handle the effects of lack of sleep, heavy alcohol intake, chronic stress, and poor dietary habits. Our bodies change over time, and we have to change our habits if we want to try to stay healthy. Here are some suggestions:

  • Eat more veggies – a nutritional supplement (for example broccoli extract) is not the answer. The way the real foods interact is very complex and cannot be replicated in a pill
  • Reduce the amount of saturated dietary fat (usually from meats and processed foods) and focus on the healthy fats such as those found in plants, salmon, nuts and seeds – in moderation. Calories still count
  • Include plant-based sources of protein such as legumes and quinoa
  • Keep alcohol intake to less than 3-6 drinks per week, and it’s not encouraged to save up your week’s “allowance” for Friday night
  • Moderate but regular exercise. It’s ok if you can’t make it through a strenuous workout – a good 30-minute walk once a day, light weight workouts or other routines are fine. Consistency is key
  • Proper sleep – we all need 7-9 hours a night, period. Our bodies repair themselves during sleep, and you can’t “catch up” on the weekends

It can be intimidating to try to change multiple factors at once. My patients know I am a fan of “small tweaks” to get started. You can build from there. Keep in mind that these changes are not only for breast cancer risk reduction – these are steps that can reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions, and can result in longer and healthier life.

Additional Information:

Updated 15 June 2019