(This article will be published in the October 2014 issue of Southwest Florida Health & Wellness.)

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month:
Can Lifestyle Changes alter Gene Expression and Alter our Destiny?

This month has become known as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Due to the fact that 1 in 8 females in the US will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime, this designation seems more than appropriate.  In addition to our acknowledgment, support, and concern for the victims of breast cancer, it seems essential that we concentrate on the “Awareness” aspect of preventing this devastating, health denying disease.  Awareness of the lifestyle habits and medications which are strongly associated with the development of breast cancer can potentially provide an opportunity to prevent most breast cancers, and to successfully prevent recurrence in individuals who have already suffered from breast cancer. Finally, it is preferable to avoid the challenges associated with conventional treatment.

Does Our Destiny lie in our Genes?

Like most of the most common debilitating and deadly diseases in our country, there is definitely a genetic predisposition to developing breast cancer.  However, having inherited the genes which make us susceptible to developing breast cancer does not mean that breast cancer will inevitably occur.  In actuality, new and evolving research leads us to believe that gene expression is more controlled by lifestyle habits, and what we choose to eat, than by preprogramming.  Said another way, what seems to be more important are what we do, and what we do not do, than what genes we inherit.

Or is it our “Epigenes”

So, if we are unfortunate to inherit a genetic predisposition for breast cancer, how it is possible to avoid the eventual development of breast cancer?  The answer seems to lie in an area known as Epigenetics.  A great deal of research is currently underway which appears to confirm the concept that certain foods, certain chemicals, and certain lifestyle habits can either “turn on” or “turn off” the expression of genes which are “pro cancerous” or are “anticancerous”. If the key to good health, and prevention/treatment of many chronic diseases, like breast cancer, lies in our epigenes, and ultimately our gene expression, then what provides the greatest benefit and protection?

Let Food Be Our Medicine

Certain foods, and certain classes of foods, are known to be more strongly associated with the development of cancer, while other so called ‘Superfoods”, seem to be able to suppress the growth of cancer (and also, most likely, suppress the development of cancer). Women, who consume diets rich in animal-based foods, and poor in the amounts of whole, plant-based foods, appear to have a 2.5-3x greater chance of developing breast cancer. In contrast, those who eat a whole food, plant-based diet, appear to have a dramatically lower the incidence of breast cancer.  Examples of foods that are naturally anti-cancer promoting include strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, cherries, sweet potatoes, red onions, red grapes, spinach, Kale, bok choy, turmeric, beets, garlic, avocado, and green tea, to name a few.  (For an expanded list.  Feel free to call the office at 239-514-7888)

Exercise/Movement is Medicine

We are well aware that exercise/physical activity is important to address major health problems like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and obesity.  However, it is less well-known that regular, moderate physical activity has been shown to markedly reduce the recurrence of breast cancer, in those who have already suffered from breast cancer and its treatment.  It is also very likely that regular exercise/physical activity is a component of lifestyle change which can reduce the development of breast cancer in the first place.  However, its benefit is more likely to be supplemental to nutritional changes, and not the primary source of benefit.

Hormone Replacement Therapies

There is a great deal of evidence that levels of our own estrogen and progesterone can have an effect on gene expression, and the ultimate development of breast cancer.  Furthermore, it seems extremely likely that taking long-term doses of synthetic estrogens and progestins and/or equine derived estrogens increase the woman’s chances of developing breast cancer.  On the other hand, current evidence does not support an increased risk of developing breast cancer in patients who take bio identical estrogen trans dermally (through the skin) and bio identical progesterone.  In fact, there may be a protective effect from this form of administration postmenopausally.

In closing, I once again want to help bring an increased awareness of the struggles and devastation brought about by breast cancer, which will likely affect someone in your family or someone close to you.  They deserve our support, our prayers, and our encouragement.  However, I hope I have also brought about an increased awareness about breast cancer prevention.  Our Destiny is not in our genes, but in our lifestyle choices.  We have the power to dramatically control our destiny!