Nutrition for Breast Health

Food Choices are Big Factor in Preventative Breast Health



Last year, of the 1.4 million individuals diagnosed with cancer, 212,000 were women with breast cancer. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women and its almost three-fold increase since 1950—from 1 in 20 cases in 1950, to 1 in 7 in 2007—has prompted many questions and studies about underlying causes, as well as the possibilities for preventive breast health through a healthy lifestyle that incorporates good nutrition and regular exercise. Here are some practices that can help:

Eat the Right Fats

Health is highly dependent upon intake of essential, healthy fats that help immune cells recognize and destroy cancer cells. Good fats that can help reduce the risk of cancer are: fish oil, high in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, an omega-3 fatty acid); borage oil or evening primrose oil, which contain gamma linolenic acid (GLA); flax oil, rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, a precursor to EPA); conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), from the meat and milk of grass-fed ruminants, like cows and sheep; olive oil; and shark oil.

An early study by Rashida A. Karmali, Ph.D, published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, reported that an EPA-rich diet significantly lowered the levels of estradiol, a marker for breast cancer, in 25 women who were at risk for breast cancer.

Get Some Vitamin D

Vitamin D, produced in the skin when the body is exposed to at least 15 to 30 minutes of sunlight, appears to have anticancer benefits, according to research recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Vitamin D is found in fatty fish like salmon and sardines, as well as in fortified milk.

Favor Cruciferous Vegetables

Fat in the human body generates its own hormones. Excess body weight, particularly abdominal fat, can lead to increased levels of estrogen, and high estrogen levels have been linked with breast cancer. Eating two servings a week of cruciferous vegetables can help counteract excessive levels of estrogen. Cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower contain anticancer, detoxifying substances that bind up estrogen and help eliminate it from the body. They also contain Indole-3-carbinol (indoles), which may have anticarcinogenic effects.

Balance the Body’s pH

Eat more alkaline-forming plant foods to maintain a proper pH balance. Shop for fresh fruit and vegetables; some dairy (cottage cheese and yogurt); organic chicken, turkey and grass-fed beef; and fish. Purchase dried beans (garbanzo and black beans), whole grains (brown rice and oats), nuts and seeds.

Eat Less Sugar

Excessive consumption of sweet fluids and foods results in high blood glucose levels that can negatively impact health and may be linked to several diseases, including cancer. Eat fewer sweet foods, including high-glycemic fruits such as watermelon and pineapple. Avoid the high-fructose corn syrups commonly found in processed foods.

Add Micronutrients

Trace minerals important to health—such as magnesium, zinc, selenium and chromium—may be missing from today’s fruits and vegetables, because our soils are so depleted from modern agricultural methods. A high-quality nutritional supplement, along with probiotics, can be beneficial.

Use Healthy Seasonings

Several herbs and spices offer protective antioxidant properties, including cinnamon; ginger; curry powder (a spice mixture that contains curcumin, the bright yellow pigment in turmeric); onions; stevia; and garlic, which has powerful antifungal and antibiotic properties.

Drink Green Tea

Regularly consuming green tea, with its potent phytochemicals, may help lower the risk of cancer. Research in Japan and China, documented in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, suggests that green tea may help prevent, and possibly even reverse, some forms of the disease.

Exercise, Too

Good nutrition is essential, but so is a regular overall exercise program. While 40 percent of all Americans will eventually be diagnosed with cancer, only 14 percent of active Americans develop the disease.

Thirty minutes of exercise every other day cuts the risk for breast cancer by 75 percent. Exercise imparts multiple benefits, including tissue oxygenation, which thwarts the anaerobic needs of cancer cells. Regular exercise also improves immunity, lymph flow, and functioning of the body’s natural detoxification systems.


Patrick Quillin is a clinical nutritionist, registered dietitian and certified nutrition specialist with the American College of Nutrition. He is the author of Beating Cancer with Nutrition, the primary source for this article. For more information visit NutritionCancer.com.

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