It is increasingly clear that there is a link between chronic inflammation and breast cancer. We now have numerous studies that illustrate the connection between inflammation and the development of breast cancer, as well as metastasis (the spread of breast cancer), recurrence of the disease, renewal of breast cancer stem cells, and lower survival rates. In this article, you will learn about inflammation and breast cancer and how best to deal with it.
Acute Inflammation vs Chronic Inflammation
Inflammation is a necessary process in our bodies – indeed, it helps to keep us alive when it is functioning properly. Inflammation is an immune system response to a perceived threat. If you scrape your knee, come into contact with an allergen, or catch a cold, your immune system is activated. An army of white blood cells are sent out to battle any potential invaders like bacteria or viruses. Injuries like a sprained wrist, a torn muscle or tendinitis also cause an immune system response. White blood cells are rushed to the injured area to remove bacteria and dead cellular debris. Acute inflammation is noticeable via redness and swelling that appear in and around the injured area. However, chronic inflammation is quite different. It is invisible, occurs on a deeper level in the body and masks and spurs on potentially dangerous health issues such as heart disease, autoimmune disorders, and/or cancer.
Chronic inflammation occurs in a number of ways, and in a great many different health conditions. Since we are primarily concerned about breast cancer, below are just a few of the pathways that illustrate a link between inflammation and breast cancer (and there are likely a good many more):
1. A 2015 study  found that an enzyme known as prostaglandin-endoperoxide synthase 2 (also known as cyclooxygenase-2 or COX-2) has been shown to be involved in the inflammatory process and to promote breast cancer growth and metastasis.
2. A 2013 study  revealed that inflammation elevates a cancer biomarker known as CHI3L1, which promotes the growth of cancer cells.
3. A 2016 study  found that inflammation activates a protein molecule known as MUC1, which triggers tumor progression.
4. A 2015 study  on the role of adipokines (a class of hormones and cytokines secreted by fat cells, with both pro- and anti-inflammatory effects) in postmenopausal women found that higher levels of the adipokine C-reactive protein (CRP), a higher body mass index, as well as higher levels of insulin and estradiol, increased the risk of breast cancer by 115%.
5. Cytokines are a class of proteins made by the immune system that act as chemical messengers. They send signals to cells and affect cellular communication and behavior. A 2010 study  discussed the pathways by which the cytokine Interleukin-6 (IL-6), known to be overexpressed in response to injury, inflammation and infection, promotes cancer progression and bone metastases.
6. Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-a) is a pro-inflammatory cytokine released by immune cells in response to inflammation. A 2017 study  by Chinese scientists discussed the pathways by which TNF-a promotes breast cancer metastasis. In short, IL-6 and TNF-alpha both activate a pathway that stimulates breast cancer cells to move through blood vessels and adhere to their surfaces, eventually infiltrating the blood vessels and contributing to metastasis.
Obesity is a Risk Factor for Inflammation As Well
Obesity promotes several pathways of chronic inflammation throughout the body – and that includes the breasts. The suggested mechanism by which this occurs is interesting. We know that excess body weight creates enlarged fat cells. This in turn promotes insulin resistance – a condition in which cells do not respond in the normal way to insulin. This causes the body to produce more insulin, in order to try and control rising blood sugar levels. Insulin is an inflammatory hormone and when it is chronically high, it can create weight gain, especially around the abdomen. Another factor is that fat cells produce estrogen (see my article Fat Cells Create Estrogen and What You Can Do About That) so obesity and insulin resistance may ultimately result in overproduction of estrogen, and an increased breast cancer risk.
Testing for Inflammation in the Body
There are a number of tests that can be carried out by your doctor to discover the levels of inflammation with which you may be dealing. All of these tests can be indicators for inflammatory processes going on in the body:
• ESR – erythrocyte sedimentation rate. This measures the rate at which the red blood cells (erythrocytes) in a sample of blood settle at the bottom of a test tube, in a process called sedimentation. Erthyrocytes settle at a faster rate in those with inflammatory conditions. • CRP – C-reactive protein. This test measures the amount of this liver protein in the blood. Levels of CRP begin to increase soon after any inflammation or infection affects the body. • MMP – matrix metalloproteinase. These are enzymes and markers of inflammation, tissue remodeling, wound healing, etc. High levels of MMP-9, for instance, can contribute to the development of numerous disease states, including breast and other types of cancer. • TNF-alpha – Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha. A cell signaling protein (cytokine) and a growth factor for immune cells and osteoclasts (cells that break down bone). TNF-a is also involved in systemic inflammation. This test is used to identify elevated levels of TNF-a. • Homocysteine – An amino acid that is a breakdown product of protein metabolism. Elevated levels of this amino acid have been shown to be linked to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and may contribute to the formation of plaque in arteries. High levels of homocysteine may also increase the risk of blood clot formation.
How to Naturally Reduce Inflammation
You are in the driver’s seat when it comes to chronic inflammation. If you have been found to have high levels of any of the above markers, you can control and reverse chronic inflammation just by making some healthy changes to your diet and lifestyle. An anti-inflammatory lifestyle should include:
1. Plenty of Anti-inflammatory Foods Your food choices are supremely important to protect against and heal any existing inflammation. To find out which foods protect us the most, see my article “Epigenetic Factors to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk Part 4. For instance, the Mediterranean diet is considered to be a prime example of an anti-inflammatory diet. It focuses on vegetables, fruits, fish, and healthy fats. Try to create meals around organic lean proteins, whole foods high in fiber, such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains, brown rice and other alternative grains like spelt and quinoa. Freshly ground organic flaxseed added to your diet is also an excellent anti-inflammatory. Always try to choose organic to avoid inflammation-promoting GMO foods and pesticides.
2. Delete Foods Associated with Inflammation Inflammatory foods include red meat (which is okay once in awhile, but definitely not daily and it should be organically raised). Also bad fats like margarine, canola oil, deep fried foods should be avoided. Get rid of processed foods, white flour, white rice, sugary foods and drinks – and even sugar-free drinks like diet sodas promote inflammation.
3. Exercise is Key Regular exercise helps to prevent inflammation, so long as you don’t overdo it. Making time for 30 to 45 minutes of exercise daily is of great benefit, and you don’t even have to do it all at once. If you are pressed or time, get your exercise in 10-minute blocks of time.
4. Keep Weight Within a Healthy Range Studies show that people who are overweight have more inflammation in their bodies. Losing excess weight helps to decrease inflammatory levels.
5. Ditch the Stress Chronic stress contributes to inflammation in the body. Wise use of meditation, yoga, EFT, guided imagery, or Cognitive Behavior Therapy significantly impact stress levels and make us more stress-resistant. We might not be able to change many of the stressful situations we encounter, but by employing some of these techniques, we can certainly alter our response to them and that helps to make us more resistant to stressful situations.
Every positive step you make can definitely impact for the better the levels of inflammation in your body. Persistence pays off. Over time, your health will improve drastically if you begin to incorporate some of the suggestions here.
 New Insights on COX-2 in Chronic Inflammation Driving Breast Cancer Growth and Metastasis – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26193871  Exploring the Role of Chi3l1 in “Pre-metastatic” Lungs of Mammary Tumor-bearing Mice – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3872303/  Intra- and Extra-Cellular Events Related to Altered Glycosylation of MUC1 Promote Chronic Inflammation, Tumor Progression, Invasion, and Metastasis – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5197949/  Circulating Adipokines and Inflammatory Markers and Postmenopausal Breast Cancer Risk – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4651104/  Interleukin-6 in Bone Metastasis and Cancer Progression – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2917917/  TNFa-activated Mesenchymal Stromal Cells Promote Breast Cancer Metastasis by Recruiting CXCR2+ Neutrophils – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5290040/
GET MY BEST TIPS on healthy ways to beat breast cancer and prevent recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the right. You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.
Image Source: freedigitalphotos.net / Tuomas Lehtinen
Healthy Strategies to Avoid Insulin Resistance, Metabolic Syndrome
As a follow up to my article Sugar, Metabolic Syndrome, Diabetes and Breast Cancer Risk, today I am providing you with some healthy strategies to avoid these conditions. Be prepared, this is going to be one long post but full of great information on how to avoid insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, both of which are risk factors for breast cancer.
If you have read my article (link above) you will know that having diabetes gives you an increased risk of breast cancer. Conversely, having breast cancer puts you at a higher risk for diabetes. It is clear that blood sugar problems are creating many other health problems for us. By incorporating positive lifestyle changes, however, you can dramatically reduce your risk of getting the diseases associated with metabolic syndrome, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and breast cancer.
Most of the strategies in this list revolve around attaining and keeping a healthy weight. If you will recall from last week’s article, one of the tell-tale risk factors for metabolic syndrome is having a waist circumference of over 35 inches (88.9 cm). An overabundance of belly fat (having an “apple” shape) is not something you should be accepting and living with and I apologize if that sounds harsh, but it really is THAT important. So without further ado, here are the things you can do to help yourself.
Get Your Insulin Levels Tested
Go to your doctor and get your insulin levels tested. I recommend doing this at the very outset of your “get healthy” program, because then you will know exactly what you are dealing with. Get your doctor to do a fasting glucose test where you fast for 10-12 hours prior to having a small amount of blood drawn. This is a very effective way to see what is happening in your body with regard to insulin.
Eat A Healthy Diet
Simply by reducing your calorie/kilojoule intake is a good start toward your weight loss goals. More specifically I recommend:
Detox Your Body From Sugar. The first thing necessary for you to lose the belly fat will be that you will need to educate yourself on exactly how many foods contain added sugars. Things which at first glance look like they should be good for you, such as boxed cereals, fruit juices, crackers, yogurt, canned soups, sliced bread, even energy bars. The average diet in England, America and Australia contains about 22 teaspoons of sugar per day and it can be higher than that in less developed countries where American food has been introduced. Our consumption of sugar has risen 28 percent since 1983! No wonder we are in trouble. So how much sugar is it safe to consume? About 4-7 tsp per day, max. The first three days will be the worst for sugar cravings but once you get past that, it becomes easier and easier to avoid sugar.
Become A Label Reader. Pay attention to words in the ingredients list like sugar – well that one is obvious but the rest may not be – glucose, sucrose, maltose, dextrose, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup solids, galactose, lactose, malt syrup, cane juice, dehydrated cane juice, cane juice solids, cane juice crystals, dextrin, maltodextrin, barley malt, beet sugar, caramel, buttered syrup, carob syrup, date sugar, diatase, diatastic malt, fruit juice, fruit juice concentrate, dehydrated fruit juice, fruit juice crystals, golden syrup, turbinado, sorghum syrup, refiner’s syrup and ethyl maltol. If the product has any of these in it, avoid those products like the plague, they are all sugar in disguise. We need to stop eating these things and the only way we stop it is with our pocketbooks. It’s simple – we quit buying these products for any reason and they stop producing them due to lack of interest.
Foods To Exclude. Reducing your consumption of sugar and other carbohydrates is the absolute best way to lose belly fat, reduce weight and decrease insulin resistance problems, even better than cutting fat from your diet. Carbs come from many different places, some of which are rather surprising. This is by no means an exhaustive list:
All of the forms of sugar listed above
Breads, tortillas, baked goods, pasta, pizza, rice
Crackers, chips, pretzels
Fruit – Yes, fruit – although in one respect fruit is healthy for you due to the phytochemicals, antioxidants and fiber, if you are trying to lose weight, you must reduce your consumption of fruit because it is high in fructose. If you are struggling with insulin resistance, keep your daily fructose intake to less than 15 grams or less. A small amount of fruit is okay – for instance 10 sweet cherries is about 4 grams of fructose. An apple is 9.5 grams, 1 cup of blueberries is 7.4. Get yourself a handy chart (Dr Mercola has one, see reference below) and keep an eye on it for fructose content.
Foods To Include. These are the foods that will help you stay healthy. Make sure to include plenty of these:
All vegetables except corn or potatoes (sweet potatoes are better)
Fresh juices made from mostly vegetables
Fish, especially deep sea fish
Grass Fed Organic Meat
Healthy Fats & Oils (like olive, coconut, butter)
Small amount of Legumes (yes they are carbs but read below)
It may sound as though that does not leave you with much but that is just not true. Is it going to be easy? No. But you will have a wide variety of food still to enjoy and you can eat plenty of them, as many as you like. Along with decreasing inflammation in the body, eating this way provides you with energy, ample vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and dietary fiber. It may take more forethought and food preparation but it is well worth the effort and your life may depend upon it.
Loads of Healthy Eating Tips
Eat small, frequent meals to keep blood sugar in a more healthy range. Eating large meals can flood the bloodstream with glucose and insulin. Experiment with this until you find what helps you you feel your best, but generally eating six small meals is much better for your metabolism than three large meals.
Beans/Legumes are carbohydrates but they are one of the better choices because of their fiber content and because the carbs in legumes are more slowly digested and will not spike your blood sugars quite so high.
Foods high in magnesium help to decrease the incidence of metabolic syndrome, so be sure to include lots of leafy green vegetables like lettuce, kale and spinach as well as almonds, cashews and other nuts, avocados, beans, soybeans, and halibut.
Instead of a sandwich, roll up your meat and cheese in a big lettuce leaf.
Instead of pasta, learn to use a spiralizer and create pasta-like strands from your veggies – the raw food websites will show you how it’s done (see below for some good raw food website recommendations). You can create some really delicious meals with raw food and they are full of plenty of natural vitamins and living enzymes. Try a new raw food recipe or two every week.
Drink plenty of filtered water throughout the day. It helps to increase your metabolism, it helps you flush out toxins and keeps you feeling a little more full for a longer period of time. Sugar cravings often occur when a person is dehydrated, so drinking plenty of filtered water just makes sense.
Specific Foods That Make A Difference
Carrots And Other Orange, Yellow & Red Veggies – A Japanese study done with over 1,000 people who were followed over a ten year period indicated that for those whose diet included plenty of carotenoids (naturally occurring pigments in brightly colored vegetables like carrots and other yellow, orange and red veggies) eating this way was associated with a much decreased risk of developing metabolic syndrome 1.
Cinnamon – Research shows that cinnamon helps to transport glucose into the cells, thus reducing blood sugar levels. One study in particular indicated that simply drinking cinnamon tea after a meal helped to lower blood glucose levels. 2 Ordinary cinnamon, exactly like the one you can get at your local supermarket, is one of the easiest and least expensive ways to help control blood sugar levels. You can add it to green juices, take it in a tea, sprinkle it on foods or take it in capsules.
Cayenne pepper – Contains capsaicin, a phytochemical known to have anti-inflammatory and insulin lowering properties. A study on women with gestational diabetes mellitus revealed that ingestion of capsaicin improved hyperglycemia and hyperinsulinemia 3. Capsaicin is also known to help boost metabolism, improve blood circulation, and is even associated with decreasing blood pressure. One 2015 study indicated that eating African bird’s eye chili (peri peri) also resulted in decreased insulin concentrations on overweight individuals. 4 Cayenne pepper is available either fresh or dried (ground spice), and in capsule form. You can make cayenne pepper tea by mixing about one quarter to one half teaspoon of cayenne pepper steeped in a cup of hot water. You can add it to your food, stir it into fresh juices or tea. Just be careful – use too much and it can give you a stomach ache so you may need to play around with the quantity you use. Also if you are on blood thinning medications, do not use cayenne pepper.
Green tea – Did you know that green tea can helps you lose belly fat? It contains a phytochemical known as catechin which boosts metabolism. One study demonstrated that people drinking green tea and doing strength training had significant increases in resting metabolic rate, lean body mass and muscle strength, and significant decreases in body fat, triglycerides, and waist circumference as compared to those who did not drink the green tea but partook in the same exercise. 5 Green tea is also full of antioxidants which have been proven to be beneficial for metabolic syndrome.
Increase Physical Activity
If you tend to be sedentary please know that you are putting yourself at a much higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome. By increasing your level of exercise, you are not only boosting your metabolism, you are also increasing your immune system and decreasing stress levels. Try to aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise on at least five days of the week. Try to avoid sitting for prolonged periods of time – standing up or engaging in a little vigorous activity (running in place or going for a 1-2 minute walk) has more benefits than you can imagine.
Find something you like to do that keeps you moving. Get some exercise DVDs that are geared toward gentle movement such as yoga. Try Pilates. Get out and walk every day for 30 minutes. Ride a bicycle. Go hiking with a friend. If you don’t have a dog, borrow your neighbor’s dog (with their permission of course) and take it for a walk. Try a rebounder (mini trampoline – great for the lymphatic system). Take a dance class. But find something you like to do and become more active. It will be one of the best things you ever do for yourself, I promise.
Smoking cigarettes actually increases insulin resistance and worsens the health consequences of metabolic syndrome. Please do find a way to stop and if you need help, get help. See a therapist who does hypnosis, see your doctor for a nicotine patch, but please stop smoking.
Supplements That Make A Difference
Chromium – a mineral required by the body to metabolize sugars and fats. In its absence, cells can become insensitive to insulin but with it, insulin becomes much more efficient at converting glucose to energy for the cells. It most likely will not help you if your pancreas has ceased to manufacture insulin and it doesn’t appear to improve the efficiency of injected insulin but one study done with patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus demonstrated that the patients who took chromium enjoyed significantly reduced fasting glucose concentrations 6. The recommended dosage is 200 mcg of chromium per day.
Coenzyme Q10 – In addition to being protective for the heart and blood vessels, a brand new study indicates that 100 mg of CoQ10 supplementation for people with metabolic syndrome resulted in a significant reduction in serum insulin levels7. CoQ10 also slows degeneration of brain and nerve cells and is associated with anti-aging. Recommended dosage: 100 mg per day
Alpha Lipoic Acid – One Italian study examined postmenopausal women at high risk of developing breast cancer due to family history of breast or ovarian cancer, or personal history of ductal hyperplasia. The women were asked to follow a low calorie diet and were given alpha lipoic acid combined with inositol (part of the B complex group of vitamins) and followed for 6 months. It was discovered that compared to the placebo group, those taking the combination of alpha lipoic acid and inositol had lower triglycerides, increased insulin sensitivity, reduced blood insulin levels, increased HDL (the good) cholesterol, and less belly fat 8. Recommended dosage: 500 mg alpha lipoic acid, 300 mg to 2000 mg inositol per day.
Pycnogenol (maritime pine bark extract) – A study reported in 2013 involving 64 people aged 45-55 years, all of whom had the five risk factors for metabolic syndrome, were given 150 mg daily of pycnogenol while another group of 66 people with the same risk profiles were used as controls. Compared to the control group, those taking pycnogenol showed decreased waist circumference, lower triglycerides, lower blood pressure, decreased fasting glucose and plasma free radicals, and increased HDL cholesterol levels 9. Recommended Dosage: 150 mg daily
Vitamin D3 – We have long been told that people who are obese have a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. But a 2015 Spanish study found that people with low levels of vitamin D may have a higher risk for type 2 diabetes, pre-diabetes, or metabolic syndrome, regardless of whether they were obese or thin 10. Find out what your vitamin D levels are and if you are found to be low, supplementing with 5,000 iu of vitamin D3 daily just makes good sense.
It is really important to take care of your stress levels in positive ways because when you are stressed, your body releases cortisol. Some health gurus refer to cortisol as the “death” hormone because of its bad influence on the systems of the body. Cortisol also encourages your body to store excess fat in the lower abdomen!
To handle stress more effectively than resorting to sugar, alcohol, tobacco, or television, try calming breathing exercises and meditation. Meditation is easy to do, completely free and comes without side effects other than feelings of calm, peace, and serenity. If you have tried meditation in the past and found it too difficult, or found your mind straying, you might like to try my how-to-meditate course.
Research shows that when you are stressed you are more likely to eat or drink or smoke something that is harmful to your health. Meditation helps to calm your nervous system and helps you to get to sleep and to also get a deeper quality of REM sleep. Did you know that missing just one night of sleep can induce insulin resistance? 11
Meditation does take a bit of practice but so does anything worth learning. It only takes about three weeks to change a bad habit (like resorting to alcohol to manage stress) into a good one (like meditation).
Essential Oils That May Make A Difference
Essential oils may also be of assistance with easing the problems associated with metabolic syndrome. At the very least, essential oils help relieve the stress that may raise blood glucose levels. But recent research – so far done only on animals – shows that certain plant compounds in essential oils may also have an effect on lowering blood sugar.
Fennel essential oil – contains a compound known as trans-anethole and animal studies indicate trans anethole was found to be beneficial in cases of hyperglycemia by regulating key enzymes involved in carbohydrate metabolism. 12
Cinnamon bark essential oil – research done on mice with type II diabetes indicated cinnamon oil significantly decreased fasting blood glucose concentration. Also serum triglycerides were reduced, while HDL cholesterol levels were significantly increased and glucose tolerance was improved. 13
I would not recommend using essential oils on their own to combat metabolic syndrome but in combination with all of the strategies listed above, the research indicates essential oils could be beneficial. I would only use them externally on the soles of the feet, as the feet have large pores and the oils can be easily absorbed there.
I suspect there are a good many more essential oils than what I have listed here, and as I locate them and find the research, I will add to this section.
1. High serum carotenoids associated with lower risk for the metabolic syndrome and its components among Japanese subjects: Mikkabi cohort study – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26365147
2. Effect of Cinnamon Tea on Postprandial Glucose Concentration – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4516848/
3. Capsaicin-containing chili improved postprandial hyperglycemia, hyperinsulinemia, and fasting lipid disorders in women with gestational diabetes mellitus and lowered the incidence of large-for-gestational-age newborns – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25771490
4. The metabolic effects of a commercially available chicken peri-peri (African bird’s eye chilli) meal in overweight individuals – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26360825
5. The Effects of Green Tea Consumption and Resistance Training on Body Composition and Resting Metabolic Rate in Overweight or Obese Women – http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/jmf.2012.0062
6. Beneficial effects of oral chromium picolinate supplementation on glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes: A randomized clinical study – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26302914
7. The effects of coenzyme Q10 administration on glucose homeostasis parameters, lipid profiles, biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative stress in patients with metabolic syndrome – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26385228
8. Combination of inositol and alpha lipoic acid in metabolic syndrome-affected women: a randomized placebo-controlled trial – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3765513/
9. Pycnogenol® supplementation improves health risk factors in subjects with metabolic syndrome – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23359520
10. Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D and adipose tissue vitamin D receptor gene expression: relationship with obesity and type 2 diabetes – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25706239
11. One sleepless night can induce insulin resistance in healthy people –
12. Trans-anethole, a terpenoid ameliorates hyperglycemia by regulating key enzymes of carbohydrate metabolism in streptozotocin induced diabetic rats – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25708856
13. Antidiabetic effects of cinnamon oil in diabetic KK-Ay mice – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20561948
Cut Down On Carbs to Reduce Body Fat – http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/07/08/cut-down-on-carbs-to-reduce-body-fat.aspx
Raw Food Recipes:
GET MY BEST TIPS on getting through breast cancer and preventing recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the right. You can also “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.
Image source: freedigitalphotos.net / Tuomas Lehtinen
Sugar, Metabolic Syndrome, Diabetes And Breast Cancer Risk
What do you suppose sugar, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and breast cancer have in common? They are all intertwined. I have recently been reading quite a few studies which indicate that women with diabetes are at a higher risk for breast cancer. There also exist some studies which show the opposite to be true – that postmenopausal women who develop breast cancer have a higher risk of also developing diabetes, as do women with BRCA1/2 gene mutations, and those who take tamoxifen. Clearly, the way we eat is creating huge problems for health in many ways and with this article I hope to draw attention to the problem and explain why it’s happening. In my next article, I will make some recommendations on what we can do about it.
Those With Diabetes Have Increased Risk Of Breast Cancer
A 2015 study done in Canada indicates that women with diabetes not only have a higher risk of breast cancer, they also are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. 1 The study analyzed data from 2007 to 2012 for over 38,000 women who were between the ages of 20 to 105 diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. It was discovered that nearly 16 percent had diabetes. The study further revealed that women with diabetes were 14 percent more likely to have stage II breast cancer, 21 percent more likely to have stage III, and 16 percent more likely to have stage IV breast cancer. The most disturbing parts of the study, however, were that the five-year survival rate for these breast cancer patients with diabetes was a whopping 15 percent lower than for those without diabetes, and that the breast cancer patients with diabetes were more likely to have larger tumors compared to those without diabetes.
Researchers have also discovered that for people with pre-existing cases of diabetes who were also diagnosed with breast cancer, this unfortunate population had a 40 percent increased risk of death over those who did not have diabetes. 2
Those With Breast Cancer Have Increased Risk of Diabetes
A 2013 Canadian study set out to discover whether postmenopausal women who develop breast cancer had a higher incidence of diabetes than those who do not develop breast cancer. 3 The study found that the risk of diabetes among breast cancer survivors, compared to women without breast cancer, began to increase two years after diagnosis. Interestingly, for the women with breast cancer who also had chemotherapy, the risk of developing diabetes was highest in the first two years after diagnosis – these women had a huge 24 percent increased risk, which then declined to an eight percent increased risk after ten years.
One 2012 study indicated that taking tamoxifen, one of the most often prescribed hormonal treatments for breast cancer, was associated with an increased risk for diabetes. 4 Researchers stated that women taking tamoxifen had a “significantly higher risk of diabetes” compared to those who did not take it.
There is an increased risk for developing diabetes among those with the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations as well. A 2011 study reported that for those women who carried the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation and diagnosed with breast cancer, risk of developing diabetes doubled in the 15 year period after diagnosis, and if they had a high body mass index, this was associated with an even higher risk. 5
We Clearly Have A Problem
It is no secret that our society has a big problem with obesity and making bad food choices, which is creating problems for us such as insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia, changes in hormone levels, type II diabetes and breast and other cancers. However, it is not just obesity that puts a person at a higher risk for these problems. One 2015 study indicated that high insulin levels were being discovered in postmenopausal women who were not obese and that factor put them at a higher risk for breast cancer than for those who were obese but had normal insulin levels. 6
Experts say that it is the relationship of sugar to higher insulin levels and related growth factors that may be influencing cancer cell growth more than anything. Insulin receptors are plentiful on breast cancer cells 7, making them respond more than normal cells to the growth promotion properties of insulin.
The above studies make it clear that there is a correlation between high levels of insulin, diabetes and breast cancer and that if you have both breast cancer and high insulin levels or diabetes, your chances of survival to old age are reduced by as much as 40 percent. Take heart, though, there are many things we can do about this.
Symptoms Of Metabolic Syndrome
The symptoms of metabolic syndrome are often very quiet and easily ignored. People with metabolic syndrome may have a tendency to be somewhat overweight, especially around the belly. Other tell-tale signs are (for women) ovarian cysts (metabolic syndrome is associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome) and irregular periods. Men and women can both experience increased incidence of skin tags, benign growths on their skin that usually appear on the neck and back and in places where skin tends to stay moist such as under the breast and underarms. In addition, they can have a darker pigmentation or discoloration of the skin (called acanthosis nigricans) over the back of the neck and underarms. People with metabolic syndrome also tend to have elevated blood pressure, elevated levels of triglycerides in their blood and lower levels of the good kind of cholesterol, HDL.
Some Anatomy & Physiology
If you have been reading my posts, or indeed, any website dedicated to helping people get well after cancer, you will have read that cancer cells feed on sugar. All you need to do is Google the term “sugar feeds cancer” and you will get over 4 million results. The “sugar feeds cancer” rule, however, is only part of the story. It’s still good advice to avoid sugar because it is implicated with inflammation and acidity for the body and it undermines the immune system, all of which are conditions in which cancer loves to thrive. But it’s more complicated than that.
All cells, including cancer cells, depend on sugar being in the bloodstream for energy. I’m going to share some basic anatomy and physiology with you, because if you understand what’s going on in your body, you can better understand why high blood sugar levels (and thus high insulin levels) are to be avoided.
All of the food we eat – the protein, the fiber, the fats, and the carbohydrates — gets broken down in the digestive process into smaller proteins, micronutrients and sugars (glucose). Our bodies use the nutrients to fuel cellular metabolism, rebuild cells that have been used up, and for immune function.
The body’s basic fuel is glucose, which is carried by the bloodstream and ushered into individual cells by the action of insulin, a hormone secreted by the beta cells of the pancreas in response to rising blood sugar levels. Insulin attaches to and signals the cells of the body to absorb glucose from the bloodstream. Even muscle and fat cells take up the glucose for use later. Cells obtain energy immediately from the glucose or convert it to fat for long-term storage.
Our demand for fuel varies from moment to moment, but our brains require that our blood sugar levels be stable. Insulin is responsible for getting the cells the energy they need without letting blood sugar levels dip too low. The body monitors the sugar from what we have digested and what is in our blood, as well as what our cells are demanding, and a healthy body releases insulin in just the right amounts at just the right time.
So far so good?
The problem is that our metabolism evolved many eons ago when our diet consisted of more lean proteins and fats and many fewer carbohydrates. Our ancient ancestors went through periods of intermittent famine when food was scarce, and this is where the activity of insulin really shines. When plenty of food is available, insulin helps excess glucose be stored in fat and muscle cells, and during periods of famine when glucose levels are low, the body releases the glucose on an as-needed basis from fat and muscle. These days, however, we do not suffer through periods of famine where food is scarce, so we tend to be overweight, have love handles, muffin tops etc and this is putting us at a higher risk for all kinds of problems.
Insulin Resistance, Metabolic Syndrome & Type II Diabetes
When people eat too many carbohydrates and this continues over a long period of time, they may become increasingly resistant to insulin. Cells that are resistant to insulin are slower to bring sugar in, resulting in high blood sugar levels. That makes the body respond by creating even more insulin and our bodies were not designed for such prolonged periods of high levels of insulin. This disrupts cellular metabolism, is implicated in many inflammatory conditions, and it undermines the immune system. The insulin-making cells of the pancreas can’t keep up with the demand for more insulin and the body eventually transitions from being insulin resistant to a condition known as metabolic syndrome, which can (if not halted) progress to type II diabetes.
Metabolic syndrome, also known as Syndrome X, is the name given to a group of symptoms linked to insulin resistance. It is estimated that about 25 percent of the population in the USA (80 million people!) has at least three of the following symptoms:
1. Too much belly fat – A waist circumference of more than 40 inches in men or 35 inches in women;
2. High levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) – over 150 mg/dl
3. Raised blood pressure – Over 130/85;
4. Fasting glucose readings of over 110 mg/dl;
5. Low levels of good cholesterol (HDL) – under 40 mg/dl for men and under 50 mg/dl for women.
1. The association between diabetes and breast cancer stage at diagnosis: a population-based study – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25779100
2. Association Between Metformin Therapy and Mortality After Breast Cancer – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3781496/
3. Incidence of diabetes among postmenopausal breast cancer survivors – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23238788
4. Association between tamoxifen treatment and diabetes: a population-based study – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21935915
5. Diabetes and Breast Cancer Among Women With BRCA1 and BRCA2 Mutation – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3413077/
6. Breast cancer risk in metabolically healthy but overweight postmenopausal women – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25593034
7. Elevated insulin receptor content in human breast cancer – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC296896/
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Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net / Stuart Miles
The Problem With Obesity and Breast Cancer
A study done by the University of Colorado Denver in December 2012, titled Obesity and Overfeeding Affecting Both Tumor and Systemic Metabolism Activates the Progesterone Receptor to Contribute to Postmenopausal Breast Cancer, was recently forwarded to me by a friend (since I both hail from Colorado and am a breast cancer coach) and several things in the study seemed worth sharing.
Study Searches For Reason Why Obesity Increases Breast Cancer Risk
The researchers were searching for an explanation of why obese, postmenopausal women are at greater risk for developing breast cancer, and also why their cancers tend to be more aggressive than those in leaner women. The study was done on animals, but did open some insights as to why this could be happening.
The lead author of the study, Dr Erin Giles, stated “By using nutrient tracers for fat and sugar, we tracked where the body stored excess calories. In lean models, excess fat and glucose were taken up by the liver, mammary and skeletal tissues. In obese models, excess fat and glucose were taken up by tumors, fueling their growth.”
I found this interesting because it implies that menopausal women might very well be able to control their breast cancer risk through weight management, something we’ve often been told.
It also reminded me of another study I recently heard about where women who had received the traditional therapies for breast cancer were followed to see how they fared after those treatments. They were split into 4 groups: (1) those who did nothing special after their treatments ended; (2) those who made the effort to eat 5 fruits and vegetables per day; (3) those who didn’t bother with the fruit and vegetables but who did exercise 30 minutes per day, 5 times per week; and (4) those who ate 5 fruits and vegetables per day AND exercised 30 minutes per day. The group that fared much better than the other three, as you might imagine, was the 4th group, the group that ate the fruits and vegetables and exercised. I don’t have access to the title of this study, but it is discussed by Dr David Servan-Schreiber in his video Natural Defenses In Preventing and Treating Cancer (see link below).
Progesterone Receptor Cancers More Aggressive
Back to the University of Colorado study. The other interesting thing I read was that tumors from obese animals “exhibited increased levels of progesterone receptors, and that this receptor appeared to give tumors a metabolic advantage for growth. To extend their findings to humans, they recruited gene analysis experts David Astling and Aik-Choon Tan who analyzed 585 human breast cancers and found that human tumors expressing the progesterone receptor had the same metabolic advantage.”
Dr Giles said, “Basically, we saw an abnormal metabolic response to fat and sugar in the obese that, in many ways, mirrors the response to fat and sugar in Type II diabetes.” The researchers then tested the use of Metformin, a common Type II diabetes drug, with their test subjects and noted a dramatic decrease in tumor size, as well as reduced expression of the progesterone receptor.
This definitely piqued my interest because my own tumor had only progesterone receptors on it – no estrogen receptors – which is not the norm. Because of this, many of my treatment providers, both conventional and alternative, were a little puzzled on how to proceed with my treatments. I wasn’t obese, nor was I menopausal when I found my tumor, however.
Obesity and Weight Gain During Menopause Spells Trouble
The researchers found that weight gain during menopause is particularly detrimental for those who are obese and that the combination of obesity and weight gain during menopause can impact breast cancer in two ways:
1. Tumors in obese women appear to have a metabolic advantage;
2. The inability to store excess calories in healthy tissues may further fuel tumor growth.
Dr Giles said “While drugs may be useful in controlling breast cancer risk in obese, postmenopausal women, our results imply that a combination of diet and exercise may be equally if not more beneficial.” The study to which Dr Servan-Schreiber referred in his video (referenced above) certainly implied that to be the case.
So here’s what we can take away from these two studies:
1. Women struggling with obesity as they enter menopause are at a higher risk of breast cancer;
2. Those who are obese and do get breast cancer tend to have tumors that have a metabolic advantage, meaning they tend to grow more quickly and be more aggressive;
3. A combination of good diet – incorporating plenty of fruits and vegetables – together with 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 times per week, had a very protective effect.
So it appears that the old adage is true – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We need to keep our weight at a healthy level, not only in our earlier years, but particularly as we enter menopause. Those are not the only things that will protect us from breast cancer, but a combination of diet and exercise is a good start. To find out which fruits and vegetables give you the best protection, visit my pageDiet and Cancer.
E. D. Giles, E. A. Wellberg, D. P. Astling, S. M. Anderson, A. D. Thor, S. Jindal, A.-C. Tan, P. S. Schedin, P. S. MacLean. Obesity and Overfeeding Affecting Both Tumor and Systemic Metabolism Activates the Progesterone Receptor to Contribute to Postmenopausal Breast Cancer. Cancer Research, 2012; 72 (24): 6490 DOI: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-12-1653
If you would like to learn how to protect yourself and decrease your risk of getting breast cancer, please sign up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the right, and/or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com).
Fat Cells Make Estrogen (And What You Can Do About That)
Why are we continually being told in order to cut our breast cancer risk, we need to lose weight? Because fat cells make estrogen and that can cause big problems. Here’s why.
The more fat you carry, the more estrogen you produce and vice versa. The biggest majority of breast cancer tumors are fueled by an over-abundance of estrogen circulating through the body. To complicate matters, fat cells are loaded with aromatase, an enzyme required for the biosynthesis of estrogen. The higher your percentage of body fat, the more estrogen you can produce and the fatter you will be unless you stop the cycle through better nutrition, exercise and stress reduction steps.
Estrogen can come from an abundance of sources, not just the body’s own estrogen. High levels of estrogen can also come from high stress levels because cortisol (the hormone secreted when you’re under stress) causes the body to store more belly fat. More fat, more estrogen.
High calorie, fat-filled foods are also to blame for higher levels of estrogen. They affect the body in many ways and have a strong influence on hormonal activity. Things like fried foods, refined sugars, white bread, and so on should be avoided.
Estrogen is a normal and essential hormone for both women and men, but the more estrogen there is circulating in the blood, the greater the driving force behind some kinds of breast cancer. When women adopt a low-fat diet, their estrogen levels drop noticeably in a very short time. Please note it is very important to have healthy fats in your diet like walnuts, avocados, freshly ground flaxseed, nut and seed butters, olives, and black seed oil (Nigella sativa). These healthy fats will not increase your breast cancer risk and, in fact, are extremely beneficial for risk reduction.
5 Tips To Get You On The Right Path
Make Sure You Are Properly Hydrated – There is an inverse relationship between water consumption and fat accumulation in the body. The less water you drink, the more you will want to eat. The more you eat, unless you are physically active, the more you store fat and there are specific reasons for that. The sensations of thirst and hunger are generated simultaneously by your brain to indicate the brain’s needs for energy. We often do not recognize the sensation of thirst and interpret both indicators as the urge to eat, doing so even when the body really just wants water, the infinitely cleaner source of energy. Water is required for all physiological functions of the body. Water has two direct effects in preventing obesity — firstly, by providing clean energy for the brain, it avoids the storage of fat from excess food intake, and secondly, by constantly activating fat-burning enzymes, water helps with breaking up fat reserves when the body is going through the process of recycling its fat stores. How much water should you drink? Half your body weight (lbs) in ounces, for instance if you weigh 120 lbs, you should drink 60 oz of water daily. For most adults, 2-3 liters of water per day will be sufficient. Also, add a 1/2 teaspoon of uniodized salt for every ten glasses of water you drink to replace what you’re washing through you.
Seek Some Emotional Support – Obesity is often the result of an emotional upset. Who hasn’t had a fight with their spouse and then reached for the chocolate? These patterns need to be addressed and a new routine adhered to. Counseling in this regard is extremely important, but the patient must be cooperative in wanting to change their diet and lifestyle. Fad diets rarely work since the underlying emotional patterning is almost never addressed, paving the way for a return to old eating and lifestyle habits.
Get More Exercise – This part may seem obvious, but many often skip it, in favor of the popular diet of the week. Nothing is better than old fashioned exercise and it doesn’t need to something you don’t like. If you aren’t crazy about gym workouts, go to a dance class. Go hiking. Get on a bicycle and go somewhere fun! Have fun with it. If you need to consult with a qualified instructor to consider any ancillary health problems caused by obesity, please do that. Aim to build up to 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. Research shows that just a healthy plant-based diet, along with regular exercise and a good support network has been associated with a huge decrease in breast cancer risk.
Get Your Vitamin D Levels Checked – Vitamin D suppresses the aromatase enzyme and has many other important biological functions. Studies have shown that most women diagnosed with breast cancer are hugely deficient in vitamin D3.
Juice Fresh Fruit and Vegetables – Your body finds it difficult to metabolize fat when it lacks the proper nutrients and minerals. It is hugely beneficial to begin juicing (see my articles on that) so as to provide your body with the needed nutrients, especially if you have not been eating healthy foods. Juicing provides almost all of the nutrition your body needs when you are losing weight and it will help you to lose that weight.
If you would like my help with getting through breast cancer in an inspiring and ultra-healthy way, please sign up for my free newsletters on the right, and/or “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach).
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About Marnie Clark
Hi I'm Marnie Clark, breast cancer survivor, and breast cancer coach. I have 20+ years of experience in natural medicine. In 2004/05 I battled breast cancer myself. You can see more about my journey on my page Breast Cancer Diary.
I've been healthy and recurrence-free since 2004 and in 2012 I became a Breast Cancer Coach because I became aware of the fact that whilst there is now a wealth of information on the Internet, much of it is confusing, conflicting, and sometimes just wrong!
Why should you work with me? Because:
(1) You don't want to go through this journey alone, feeling unempowered, frightened or just plain
clueless about what to do to help yourself.
(2) You will have someone working tirelessly on your behalf, putting together a healing plan for
you so you don’t have to lose your precious energy researching what food you should eat,
what supplements you should take, and what other things you can do that will give you the
best chances for survival. Instead you can spend that time resting, meditating, healing.
(3) You will learn what questions to ask your doctor (and have someone to turn to for the
questions they can't or won't answer).
(4) You will be armed with the tools and strategies you will need to get through the therapies you
choose so you can make your body hostile terrain for cancer.
You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.