Folic Acid and Breast Cancer Risk

Folic Acid and Breast Cancer Risk

Folic acid, a synthetic form of a natural vitamin known as folate (or vitamin B9), appears to be causing problems for our health and several studies have demonstrated a link between folic acid and a higher breast cancer risk. I thought this was important enough to share with you, especially since a lot of us are taking multi-vitamins which contain folic acid.

The Difference Between Folate and Folic Acid

Folate is a B vitamin (vitamin B9) required by the body for DNA synthesis and methylation, DNA repair, cell division, and for the healthy development of the neural tube in the fetus in early pregnancy. Getting enough folate is crucial for growing and dividing cells because they are constantly replicating their DNA. Folate is available in our diet from things like asparagus, avocados, Brussels sprouts, and leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach, kale, etc.

Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate – if you are taking a B-complex vitamin supplement, more than likely it will include folic acid. Folic acid is also added to processed foods such as breakfast cereals, breads, white rice and white flour. Folic acid was thought, for many years, to be better absorbed than naturally-occurring folate. However, taking synthetic folic acid is not the same as getting natural folate from plant sources. What we are discovering is that the body processes natural folate and folic acid differently, and that natural folate plays a protective role, while synthetic folic acid may be causing health problems rather than solving them.

The Problem with Folic Acid

Mandatory fortification of food with folic acid has been in effect in the USA since 1998, and at somewhere around 87 countries have regulations on the matter in different stages of implementation. [1]

There are several problems associated with folic acid:

• In the digestive tract, the majority of folic acid is not converted to the active form of vitamin B9, 5-methyltetrahydrofolic acid, or 5-MTHF. The liver or other tissues need to do that job, and after taking a folic acid supplement, it can take some time for the body to convert all of it to the active form, 5-MTHF. [2], [3]

• Even a relatively small dose of folic acid, 200–400 mcg per day, can cause problems because it may not be completely metabolized before the next dose is taken. If you’re eating foods that are fortified with folic acid, the problem is amplified. Several studies have been published that show that excessive amounts of folic acid can remain unmetabolized and stay in the bloodstream, and this can cause health problems. [4], [5] Those problems include increased cancer risk (and particularly breast cancer) and rapid proliferation of pre-cancerous lesions. Another complicating factor is that among older people, high levels of folic acid can hide a vitamin B12 deficiency leading to anemia, dementia and cognitive impairment. [6]

• Despite all this, in 2015 the World Health Organization issued a statement that “high folic acid intake has not reliably been shown to be associated with negative health effects”. In 2016, in response to this statement, researchers at Tufts University in Boston, MA released a paper discussing several of the studies that have strongly implied that high levels of folic acid is not always safe, especially in the elderly. [7]

I share all of this with you to illustrate it’s a fairly contentious subject. The focus of this article, however, is to discuss how high folic acid levels might be contributing to breast cancer risk.

The Folic Acid Breast Cancer Link

A number of studies have investigated high folic acid levels and breast cancer risk.

A 2004 study [8] compared the breast cancer mortality rates between women who took folic acid during their pregnancy with women who did not. Over 3,000 women took part in the trial. Thirty years later, the women who followed their doctor’s recommendations to take folic acid during pregnancy were twice as likely to die from breast cancer.

That same year, 2004, Dr Y I Kim, a Canadian researcher, released a paper [9] stating “Over the past few years, the US population has been exposed to a significant increase in folate intake, for which essentially no data on safety exist. The potential cancer-promoting effect of folic acid supplementation needs to be considered in carefully monitoring the long-term effect of folic acid fortification on the vast majority of the US population, who are not at risk of NTDs [neural tube defects].”

The Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial ran between 1993-2003 and included 25,400 women. A 2006 study [10] investigated findings from that trial, specifically women taking multi-vitamins. Researchers concluded that those who took multi-vitamins containing folic acid increased their risk of breast cancer by a whopping 20%.

Subsequent to these findings, the aforementioned Dr Y I Kim authored a paper published in Nutrition Reviews which concluded “Based on the lack of compelling supportive evidence, routine folic acid supplementation should not be recommended as a chemopreventive measure against breast cancer at present.” [11]

A 2010 Swedish study followed women for over 9 years. Researchers found that women who took multi-vitamin supplements were more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer. [12]

A 2017 animal study [13] investigated the effects of a high folic acid diet on tumor progression in mice with breast cancer. The mice were fed either a high folic acid diet or a normal diet (the control group) during the period of initial tumor progression. The mice induced with breast tumors were found to highly express a cancer-specific folate receptor known as FRa. Around 20% of breast tumors overexpress FRa, which seems to participate in the transformation of more aggressive types of breast cancer, being most frequently expressed in triple negative (ER-/PR-/HER2-) and progesterone receptor negative (PR-) breast cancers. The mice in the high folic acid group developed significantly larger tumors than the control group. The high folic acid group also had activation of a gene known as STAT3, which promotes breast cancer growth and progression. Further experiments showed that STAT3 was activated by folic acid. Researchers concluded that their results could provide a new explanation for how folic acid promotes growth of existing tumors.

Folate (remember, the natural form) is required by the MTHFR gene to produce a key enzyme in folate metabolism which is intimately involved in DNA methylation (also discussed in my article Epigenetic Factors to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk – Part 1. A 2012 clinical trial [14] investigated 155 breast cancer patients and 155 healthy women to look at a possible association of folic acid concentrations and genetic variants in the MTHFR gene with breast cancer risk in patients with BRCA1 mutations. They found that lower folic acid concentrations were associated with a lower risk of breast cancer.

Dr Joel Fuhrman, a doctor and author who emphasizes the role of nutrition in healing, has also noted a link between high folic acid levels and breast cancer. In one of his newsletters, he states “A study investigating both food folate and synthetic folic acid found that only supplemental folic acid increased breast cancer risk. In other studies, women with low levels of food folate intake were more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Not enough natural folate and too much folic acid both increase risk.” [15]

Let me reiterate that last statement. Not enough natural folate and too much folic acid both increase risk of breast cancer.

Bottom line, and my advice to you – avoid supplements that contain synthetic folic acid (vitamin B9) and eat your greens – the foods that contain natural folate.

One 2016 study [16] suggested that taking folic acid along with other B-vitamins, particularly vitamin B6, may help the body to make the conversion more efficient.

References:

[1] Folate and Its Impact on Cancer Risk – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6132377/

[2] Folic Acid Metabolism in Human Subjects Revisited: Potential Implications for Proposed Mandatory Folic Acid Fortification in the Uk – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17617936

[3] Folic Acid Handling by the Human Gut: Implications for Food Fortification and Supplementation – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4095662/

[4] Unmetabolized Folic Acid Prevalence Is Widespread in the Older Irish Population Despite the Lack of a Mandatory Fortification Program – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22854405

[5] Folic Acid Causes Higher Prevalence of Detectable Unmetabolized Folic Acid in Serum than B-complex: a Randomized Trial – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25943647

[6] Folate and Vitamin B-12 Status in Relation to Anemia, Macrocytosis, and Cognitive Impairment in Older Americans in the Age of Folic Acid Fortification – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1828842/

[7] Excessive Folic Acid Intake and Relation to Adverse Health Outcome – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27131640

[8] Taking Folate in Pregnancy and Risk of Maternal Breast Cancer – https://www.bmj.com/content/329/7479/1375

[9] Will Mandatory Folic Acid Fortification Prevent or Promote Cancer? – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15531657

[10] Folate Intake, Alcohol Use, and Postmenopausal Breast Cancer Risk in the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16600944

[11] Does a High Folate Intake Increase the Risk of Breast Cancer? –
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17063929

[12] Multivitamin Use and Breast Cancer Incidence in a Prospective Cohort of Swedish Women – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20335555

[13] High Folic Acid Diet Enhances Tumour Growth in PyMT-induced Breast Cancer – https://www.nature.com/articles/bjc201711

[14] Folic Acid and Breast Cancer Risk – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3518164/

[15] Dr Joel Fuhrmann, Position Paper: Folate – https://www.drfuhrman.com/get-started/position-papers/9/folate

[16] Folic Acid Causes Higher Prevalence of Detectable Unmetabolized Folic Acid in Serum than B-complex: a Randomized Trial – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25943647

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The Impact of Intermittent Fasting for Breast Cancer Patients

The Impact of Intermittent Fasting for Breast Cancer Patients

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The Impact of Intermittent Fasting for Breast Cancer Patients

The Impact of Intermittent Fasting for Breast Cancer Patients

If fasting is a new concept to you, it might not sound like much fun because we are conditioned to eat frequently. However, if you are actively battling breast cancer, or are a breast cancer survivor, there are ample reasons for choosing to fast now and then, and today I’m going to share with you exactly what fasting can do for you.

To fast is to purposely withhold food for a finite period of time. Fasting is nothing new – it was used by our ancient ancestors for millennia. Whether they were fasting due to the scarcity of food, or for spiritual or healing reasons, our ancestors frequently utilized fasting. Fasting only fell out of favor as a method of healing in recent decades. Doctors who practiced in the earlier part of the 20th century knew about the benefits of fasting and frequently prescribed it for their patients.

There are at least 19 science-backed reasons for fasting [1], [2], [3], [4], [5]. Fasting has the ability to:

  1. Stimulate genetic healing mechanisms
  2. Turn off “bad” genes
  3. Regenerate the immune system
  4. Stimulate autophagy, the body’s ability to break down old cells and reuse them to make new cells
  5. Regenerate healthy stem cells
  6. Reduce chronic inflammation (and cancer is an inflammatory process)
  7. Help reset and optimize hormone levels
  8. Create more efficient energy
  9. Take stress off digestive system, regenerate tight junctions in the gut, repair gut microbiome
  10. Decrease healing and repair times because energy isn’t being used to digest food
  11. Improve cell-to-cell communication
  12. Enhance fat burning and weight loss
  13. Optimize release of human growth hormone
  14. Improve cognitive function and mental health
  15. Help body rid itself of viruses, bacteria and fungi
  16. Help body make stronger, healthier, more stress-resistant cells
  17. Improve insulin sensitivity
  18. Reduce chronic disease risk
  19. Improve your relationship with food

What Happens During Intermittent Fasting?

When you are fasting and only drinking water, you use up immediately available sources of energy in the form of glucose. Once the glucose is burned, glycogen stored in the liver is burned. Once those two are depleted, the body is forced to use stored fats for energy, a process known as ketosis. It is important to note that muscle proteins are NOT used for fuel during fasting. This only occurs during periods of starvation or certain disease processes, but not when you are fasting intermittently.

Fasting to Reduce Breast Cancer Recurrence

We have several studies that indicate fasting for short periods of time is especially beneficial to reduce risk of breast cancer. [6], [7] One of the most compelling studies appeared in 2016 in the journal JAMA Oncology [7]. Researchers investigated the benefits of fasting with breast cancer survivors, analyzing data from the Women’s Healthy Eating and Living (WHEL) study. They found that those women who fasted for at least 13 hours overnight had a huge 36% risk reduction for breast cancer recurrence. 13 was definitely the “lucky” number – fasting for only 12 hours did not have the same effects of risk reduction.

The lead author of the study, Dr Catherine Marinac, stated “Increasing the duration of overnight fasting could be a novel strategy to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. This is a simple dietary change that we believe most women can understand and adopt. It may have a big impact on public health without requiring complicated counting of calories or nutrients.”

For one thing, blood sugar levels decrease with prolonged periods of fasting. Researchers found that women who fasted for longer periods of time overnight had better blood glucose control. Each 3-hour increase in overnight fasting was associated with a 4% lower glucose level, regardless of how much women ate.

The best part is that fasting doesn’t cost a thing – just your dedication. 13 hours of fasting is pretty easy to do. You simply stop eating at a predetermined time, say 7:00 pm (the time you begin is up to you), and have nothing but water until 8:00 am the next day when you break your fast. Most of that time you’ll be asleep, so 13 hours of fasting poses no real difficulty. I’m speaking from experience, I do this almost every day and it’s easy. Fasting for longer than 13 hours provides even more benefits, although it can be more challenging to do. Read on.

Regenerating Healthy Stem Cells with Fasting

Stem cells are the cells that give rise to other necessary cells. They are basically building blocks for cells and their role is to create different types of cells. They do this by dividing – when a stem cell divides, each new cell will either be a stem cell or will morph into one of many different cells such as muscle, nerve, red blood cells, and so on. These are specialized cells required for growth and repair, they help rebuild damaged or diseased tissues.

Creating healthy stem cells is super important for breast cancer survivors, because if you’ve been through the gamut of conventional medicine like chemotherapy or radiation, it has been observed that those two therapies induce cancer stem cells – stem cells that give rise to more cancer. Also, increasingly, there exists a rare sub-population of cancer stem cells which are resistant to chemotherapy. [8], [9]

So when I found out that intermittent fasting helped to create healthy stem cells, I knew you’d want to know about this. Here’s what I found out. In order to promote healthy stem cells using intermittent fasting, you need to fast for at least 2 days. 3 days of fasting appears to work even better. For more information, see the section “Here’s How to Go About Longer Periods of Fasting”, below.

Regenerating the Immune System with Fasting

A 2014 clinical study [10] asked participants to fast for 2-4 days on a regular basis over a 6-month period. Researchers found that there was a significant decrease in the production of PKA, an enzyme associated with an increased risk of cancer and tumor growth. There was also a reduction in Insulin Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1), known to promote each of the key stages of cancer development including growth of cancer cells, blood vessel growth in cancerous tissue, and spread (metastasis). As if that weren’t enough, researchers also found that the immune systems of the participants appeared to regenerate. These findings are especially exciting for those who have had their immune systems blasted away by chemotherapy and radiation.

Professor Valter Longo, lead researcher of the study, said “When you starve, the system tries to save energy, and one of the things it can do to save energy is to recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged.” This is a process called autophagy. According to the study’s findings, by fasting for 3 days, followed by eating a healthy diet full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, this regenerates the cells of the immune system.

The study’s co-author, Dr Tanya Dorff, stated “While chemotherapy saves lives, it causes significant collateral damage to the immune system. The results of this study suggest that fasting may mitigate some of the harmful effects of chemotherapy. More clinical studies are needed, and any such dietary intervention should be undertaken only under the guidance of a physician.”

Intermittent Fasting Improves Chemotherapy

Cancer patients are generally told to eat whatever they want when undergoing chemotherapy. It’s pretty bad advice, too. Integrative oncologists and oncology naturopaths know better, and advise their patients undergoing chemotherapy to eat loads of fruits and vegetables to help offset the collateral damage of chemotherapy. We are also finding out that intermittent fasting can assist. For cancer patients, water fasting for 2-3 days prior to treatment and up to 1 day following treatment not only helps the chemotherapy work better, but it reduces treatment-related side effects and toxicity. Several studies [11], [12], [13], [14] have found that short-term fasting retards cancer growth, selectively protects normal cells from chemotherapy toxicity, and does not interfere with the therapeutic effect of the chemotherapy. Prior to fasting, however, please ask your oncologist if you are well enough and strong enough to do this.

Here’s How to Go About Longer Periods of Fasting

If shorter periods of fasting – from 12-16 hours – goes well for you, and you have stable blood sugar levels and your doctor says it’s okay, try some longer periods of fasting. They will definitely be more challenging for you, but if you are wanting to improve stem cell regeneration and immunity, this is definitely worth pursuing. You will probably notice that the first few hours goes just fine, but as you approach lunch time and dinner time, your body is going to expect to be fed. You will be uncomfortable at times. It’s crucial to prepare yourself mentally prior to fasting. See below for other tips on longer periods of fasting for ideas on how to get through it.

36 Hours of Fasting – 1-1/2 days

With this fast, it is recommended that you eat your last meal on a Saturday night (this is optional – the days you choose are up to you), fast all day on Sunday, and break the fast on Monday morning with some green juice. During this fast, you can have all the water you wish – filtered water or sparkling water from glass bottles is best. You may add the following things to your water (they are optional):

• occasional addition of a tiny bit of sea salt or pink Himalayan salt, which helps to replace lost electrolytes and minerals – useful if you get any muscle cramping while fasting
• a wedge of fresh lemon or lime for a little flavor and antioxidants
• a drop of your choice of essential oil (citrus oils are nice) for flavor and antioxidants
• 1 teaspoonful of coconut oil or a cup of non-sweetened herbal tea – only if you are really struggling with fasting and feeling quite hungry

3 Days of Fasting

This is the fast recommended for stem cell renewal and immune system regeneration. This one could be done monthly or even quarterly, or time it to changes of season. For this fast, you can drink as much filtered water as you like, herbal teas and organic bone broth. To prepare your body for this longer fast, it is recommended for the 2-3 days prior to fasting that you eat a healthy, mainly organic, raw food diet so that there are plenty of antioxidants and phytochemicals present in your body to aid the renewal process. Make sure blood sugar levels are well balanced. Be sure to read “8 Tips for Longer Fasts” below.

8 Tips for Longer Fasts

  1. If you have diabetes (any type), you should speak to your doctor to see if longer periods of fasting are safe for you. For many, it will be okay and probably even encouraged because decreasing levels of glucose are good for you and fasting creates this. Some doctors (especially integrative doctors) believe that intermittent fasting and low carbohydrate or ketogenic diets are one of the best ways to deal with diabetes.
  2. If you have cancer and also have cachexia (muscle wasting), longer periods of fasting may not be the best thing for you, so be sure to ask your doctor about it prior to undertaking fasting. For you, it may be better to do daily fasting (for instance the 13 hour fast discussed above).
  3. If you get the go-ahead from your doctor for fasting, prior to doing an extended fast, transition into eating a healthy, mainly organic, plant-based diet and reduce meat eating. This will give your body the building blocks it needs to keep going during the fast.
  4. Water drinking helps to suppress that feeling of hunger and you can drink as much water as you wish. Fill yourself up with water when fasting – take a big mouthful because that is similar to eating a mouthful of food – it keeps your digestive tract working. It will also make you urinate a lot, but that’s a god thing, it helps with the detoxification process.
  5. Create an environment that is conducive to rest and fasting. Don’t plan on doing much during this 3 days of fasting. Give yourself permission to rest and relax. If you can, take time off work, perhaps go into the country where you can be out in nature and breathe in clean air, and focus on your body’s healing. Stay away from stress as much as possible – both physical and mental. Consider this a healing break. We should all be doing this!
  6. During those times when you are struggling with fasting, employing mind-body techniques like yoga and meditation really help to take your mind off the urge to eat. Or go for a gentle stroll outside.
  7. When you do resume eating, go slow. If you have fasted for 3 days, take the next 3 days to eat really mindfully, avoiding prepackaged and GMO foods. Avoid stuffing yourself full of any food, because after fasting for 3 days, your body will have decreased amounts of digestive enzymes, so don’t go out and eat a steak dinner. Allow at least one full day of slowly reintroducing food that is easy to digest like fresh juices (not bottled), kefir water, herbal teas, fruits, fermented foods for your gut, freshly prepared vegetable soups, and organic bone broth. Take digestive enzymes to help you digest the food you do eat.
  8. Especially avoid eating junk food when you resume eating. As you begin to incorporate intermittent fasting into your life, you will notice that the junk food cravings ease over time anyway.

Mix Up Periods of Intermittent Fasting

Various studies have found that the best benefits of fasting occur when people mix up the types of fasting they do – it keeps their bodies constantly having to adapt and that appears to work very well for us. In other words, rather than keeping with the exact same type of fasting you always do, choose one day to fast for 16 hours, then several days later you could fast for 14 hours. Occasionally, do the 36-hour fast and quarterly, do the 3-day fast.

As you can see, intermittent fasting has some very real applications for the cancer patient. By combining a healthy organic diet with exercising at least 30 minutes per day, and doing some intermittent fasting, you can reduce inflammation, promote healthy stem cells, replenish your immune system – and all of these are vital for reducing breast cancer risk/recurrence. So start to develop your fasting discipline (and make no mistake, it is a discipline) – I think you’re going to love how you feel afterward.

References:

[1] Fasting: Molecular Mechanisms and Clinical Applications – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3946160/

[2] Impact of intermittent fasting on health and disease processes – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5411330/

[3] Fasting therapy for treating and preventing disease – current state of evidence – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24434759

[4] Fasting and cancer treatment in humans: A case series report – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2815756/

[5] Calorie restriction and cancer prevention: metabolic and molecular mechanisms – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2829867/

[6] Biomarkers of dietary energy restriction in women at increased risk of breast cancer – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19656771

[7] Prolonged Nightly Fasting and Breast Cancer Prognosis – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4982776/

[8] Radiation induces the generation of cancer stem cells: A novel mechanism for cancer radioresistance – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5103903/

[9] Therapeutic resistance and tumor-initiation: Molecular pathways involved in breast cancer stem cell self-renewal – https://ascopubs.org/doi/abs/10.1200/jco.2007.25.18_suppl.528

[10] Prolonged Fasting Reduces IGF-1/PKA to Promote Hematopoietic-Stem-Cell-Based Regeneration and Reverse Immunosuppression – https://www.cell.com/cell-stem-cell/fulltext/S1934-5909(14)00151-9?_returnURL=https%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS1934590914001519%3Fshowall%3Dtrue

[11] Fasting and differential chemotherapy protection in patients – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3048045/

[12] Fasting vs dietary restriction in cellular protection and cancer treatment: from model organisms to patients – https://www.nature.com/articles/onc201191

[13] Fasting Cycles Retard Growth of Tumors and Sensitize a Range of Cancer Cell Types to Chemotherapy – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3608686/

[14] Fasting Enhances the Response of Glioma to Chemo- and Radiotherapy – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3439413/

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About Marnie Clark

marnie clark breast cancer coach

Hi I’m Marnie Clark, breast cancer survivor turned 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!

So it is my duty to help you unconfuse and untangle all that information, and find what works for YOU.

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The Link Between Chronic Inflammation and Breast Cancer

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 [1] 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 [2] revealed that inflammation elevates a cancer biomarker known as CHI3L1, which promotes the growth of cancer cells.

3. A 2016 study [3] found that inflammation activates a protein molecule known as MUC1, which triggers tumor progression. 

4. A 2015 study [4] 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 [5] 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 [6] 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.

References:

https://www.mdvip.com/about-mdvip/blog/connection-between-inflammation-and-breast-cancer

[1] New Insights on COX-2 in Chronic Inflammation Driving Breast Cancer Growth and Metastasis – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26193871
[2] Exploring the Role of Chi3l1 in “Pre-metastatic” Lungs of Mammary Tumor-bearing Mice – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3872303/
[3] 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/
[4] Circulating Adipokines and Inflammatory Markers and Postmenopausal Breast Cancer Risk – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4651104/
[5] Interleukin-6 in Bone Metastasis and Cancer Progression – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2917917/
[6] 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.

Looking Deeper to Find the Cause of Breast Cancer

Looking Deeper to Find the Cause of Breast Cancer

When I was studying naturopathic medicine in the late 90’s, one of the things I was most impressed about was the fact that we were taught, when faced with a patient and an illness, to get to the root of the problem, to discover why the patient had the illness. I recall one instructor telling us that if you don’t find what is causing a person’s malady – or dis-ease – treating the symptoms was often not going to heal  them. It was impressed upon us that in order to heal from a disease you have to find out what is causing it.

Fast forward a few years, and I heard those awful words, “I’m sorry but you do have breast cancer.” I knew that in order to heal, I was going to need to find the reason for my manifesting this disease. I feel that is where conventional medicine totally fails us with regard to breast cancer – the recommended treatments do not address the reason why we got breast cancer in the first place and in many cases exacerbate the problem.

Cancer is a complex disease and can be caused by a multitude of factors, which is why I coach my clients to endeavor to discover what it was in the first place that caused them to manifest this disease.

Many already know. A whopping 90% of my clients tell me that they were under enormous levels of stress in the lead-up to their breast cancer diagnosis, and it was the same for me. Stress is a huge factor, because high levels of cortisol (the hormone that is released when we are under stress) impact our health in many ways.

18 years ago, Stanford University released a study which found that women with advanced breast cancer who had unusually high cortisol levels were significantly more likely to die sooner than patients with normal levels of the hormone. The women also had lower levels of natural killer cells (cells of the immune system that scour the body for cancer cells), and this reduced immunity was also a factor in the higher mortality of the women in the study. [1]

So for at least 18 years our medical professionals have known about the stress factor yet, to my knowledge, very few oncologists ever suggest that their breast cancer patients examine their stress levels or try to do anything about it. It seems they are too busy to read such studies, but a simple how-to-meditate course together with joining a support group has been shown to effectively lower cortisol levels and provide women with some much-needed social support – and these women are living longer.

Stress is not the only factor in breast cancer. As I stated before, there are many possible causes and here is a list of the 18 more prevalent ones:

  1. Stress and chronically high levels of cortisol
  2. Shift work, which disrupts melatonin release (see my article “Optimize Melatonin and Reduce Breast Cancer Risk)
  3. Lack of exercise
  4. Poor diet with inadequate fruit/vegetable/fiber intake
  5. Insulin resistance
  6. Epstein Barr Virus
  7. Obesity
  8. Environmental pollution, both in the home and outside it
  9. Overabundance of xenoestrogens, disrupting hormones
  10. Genetic predisposition (only 5-10% of breast cancer is due to this)
  11. Radiation exposure
  12. Poor breast microbiome (if you haven’t heard of this before, see the studies listed below under references)
  13. Compromised immunity
  14. Hormone replacement therapy
  15. Poor gastrointestinal health
  16. Poor dental health, including root canals in teeth
  17. Poor emotional health – an overabundance of toxic emotions
  18. Chronic inflammation

My goal by writing this article is to empower you with information so that you are better able to make your body hostile terrain for cancer development and growth. I am not telling you to ignore what your doctor has recommended for you. I do suggest that, in addition to whatever your conventional medicine doctor has recommended for you, one of the things to which you give a high priority is to discover the reason why you have breast cancer in the first place. It’s a lot of territory to cover, no doubt about it, but I encourage you to work with an integrative oncologist, or an oncology naturopath, or a functional medicine doctor, or at the very least (not to trivialize what I do) a breast cancer coach. All of us can help you find your way back to good health.

Sometimes it’s simply a matter of prioritizing stress relief. Sometimes it’s an improvement in nutrition, sometimes it’s a matter of dealing with a wonky gene (and that’s where functional medicine can help). It might be that you don’t methylate properly. It could be an environmental toxin. So focus on working with a trained professional, healing and getting past this. YOU CAN DO THIS!

References

[1] Stress Hormone May Contribute to Breast Cancer Deaths – https://news.stanford.edu/news/2000/june28/breast-628.html

Breast Cancer Linked to Bacterial Imbalances – https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171006124004.htm

Breast tissue, oral and urinary microbiomes in breast cancer – http://www.oncotarget.com/index.php?journal=oncotarget&page=article&op=view&path[]=21490&path[]=68289

GET MY BEST TIPS on healing from breast cancer and preventing recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the  far right-hand side of each page of this website. 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.

Healthy Strategies to Avoid Insulin Resistance, Metabolic Syndrome

Image Source: freedigitalphotos.net / Tuomas Lehtinen

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
Alcohol
Breads, tortillas, baked goods, pasta, pizza, rice
Crackers, chips, pretzels
Cereals
Fried Foods
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
Organic Poultry
Eggs
Nuts, Seeds
Healthy Fats & Oils (like olive, coconut, butter)
Organic Cheese
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.

Stop Smoking

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.

Mind/Body Strategies

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.

References:

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 –
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100505091632.htm

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

Low Carbohydrate Recipes:
http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/collections/low+carb
http://www.atkins.com/recipes
http://authoritynutrition.com/101-healthy-low-carb-recipes/

Raw Food Recipes:
http://ohsheglows.com/categories/recipes-2/
http://rawfoodrecipes.com/
https://therawfoodkitchen.com.au/raw-food-recipes/
http://www.rawguru.com/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.

 

Sugar, Metabolic Syndrome, Diabetes And Breast Cancer Risk

 

Image source: freedigitalphotos.net / Tuomas Lehtinen

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.

Fortunately there are some things you can do about all of this and in my next article I will share what those things are.  See my article Healthy Strategies to Avoid Insulin Resistance, Metabolic Syndrome.

References:
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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