The other day I was at the nursery purchasing my fall bulbs pink Angelique tulips. I got a big discount because I bought more than five bags. The checkout lady asked me, "Are those for breast cancer?" No, they're just fabulous tulips, I said. But the interaction got me pondering breast cancer prevention, in honor of October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
First off, I would not put shopping on the list of effective breast cancer strategies. Yikes, the epidemic of pink stuff in stores lately! Especially in the cosmetics aisle bizarre, because beauty products appear to be one of the sources of toxic chemicals that will talk dirty to your genes and possibly make you more susceptible to a variety of cancers, including breast cancer. So all these "woman-friendly" corporations might actually be . . . oh I cannot
even bear to say it. (FMI on beauty products, including the nasty chemicals in the ones you may be using currently, check out http://www.ewg.org/reports/nottoopretty/.)
Breast cancer advocacy groups go to inordinate lengths to get women to schedule their mammograms each October. Somehow it's wired up that mammography is "preventive health care." Let's be clear mammography is a strategy for early detection—that's different. And while there are many women whose lives were lengthened, sometimes miraculously, by a well-timed mammogram when you look at the data collectively it is clear that we ought to focus on true prevention
in addition to radiation-based detection and new forms of treatment.
So what the heck does this have to do with food? Well, October is also Liver Awareness Month. You might not know it, but your liver is a primary ally in your efforts to stay well and lower your risk of cancer. Your liver really appreciates good food, which you can see at your local farmer's market in great abundance right now. (I go to the market nowadays and I get so excited I hope that somebody has got a defibrillator in their truck in case I go down. The
gorgeous colors of the vegetables! The flowers! This week, the gluten free bread (I am not making this up!) The organic eggs and meats the dear little herb plants! Oh, it's almost overwhelming for a single person who can only eat so much over the course of a week. How to choose? Beets or fingerlings? Or carrots in all different colors? Delicata squash or acorn? Chard, or baby kale? Spinach, or arugula? Broccoli, purple leaf lettuces, radishes, stop me! And now there are
apples! And pumpkins! All organic! Thank goodness they have wagons, is all I can say. My fridge is a complete disaster.)
Anyway, back to your liver. As I read it, the bang-for-buck is in supporting your liver to effectively detoxify (that's its job, to filter and detoxify the crud in your blood) the environmental chemicals that may be sending cancer signals to your body parts. Your farmer's market is your source for delicious, gorgeous, organic, VERY liver-friendly vegetables, full of micronutrients that whisper sweet nothings to your cells so that chemicals are efficiently sent
packing and immune supporting cancer-fighters are topped up. No vitamin pills can even DARE to compare.
Here's a connection you might not be aware of. When doctors talk about breast cancer risk factors, much of the focus is on things that expose women to estrogen: starting periods young, not having pregnancies or breastfeeding, late menopause. You can think of estrogen as a kind of fertilizer in your body, making cells replicate and divide. But most women with breast cancer don't have any of these risk factors. It turns out that many pesticide, plastic, and
organochlorine molecules are structurally similar to estrogens and can act like them in the body. So it's not just your own estrogen that matters.
DDT was the first of the cancer-causing estrogen mimics to be identified. Studies at Mt. Sinai in New York found that women with breast cancer had 35% more DDE (a DDT breakdown product) in their blood than women without cancer. Women with the highest levels of DDE in blood were four times more likely to have breast cancer. In Israel, epidemiologists found decreasing breast cancer rates for the first time ever -- starting in the two years immediately after DDT
and lindane were banned. There's more, but you get the idea. It is a supreme irony that Rachel Carson herself died of breast cancer.
Even though we got rid of DDT years ago, it still circulates in the environment, and other agents have replaced it that may work the same way. If you recently got rid of your Nalgene bottle and replaced it with one made of stainless steel, you were probably trying to reduce your exposure to bisphenol A, a plastic which (among other things) changes mammary gland development in areas of the breast where cancers arise in humans and rodents. (If you haven't gotten
a new water bottle, please do.)
In particular, our liver gets rid of toxins and estrogen-like substances by capturing them with special enzymes so you can (ahem) "eliminate" them. Foods that support these processes in the liver are things from the allium family (onions and garlic and leeks and scallions) and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, kale, radishes, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts ("cabbages which have been disappointed in love," says one of my friends,) kohlrabi, bok choi,
turnips, collards, watercress, mustard, and horseradish (even that green wasabi they give you with your sushi!) Alcohol and sugar, by the way, mess with this mechanism. Health benefits of cabernet sauvignon notwithstanding, alcohol consumption is on the list of risk factors for breast cancer, probably for this reason.
So now maybe you see why I get palpitations at the farmer's market. It's a whole yummy beautiful delicious seasonal array of breast cancer preventive technologies inexpensive, seasonal, local, and beautifully displayed. You can't go wrong! For Breast Cancer Awareness Month tell your breasts they are beautiful, healthy, and fabulous and serve them up some broccoli with garlic sauce.