By Dr Janey
“Breast cancer is strongly linked to an individual’s life-time exposure to oestrogen!”
The above is a statement that few dispute, regardless of their chosen approach to the treatment of breast cancer. Put differently, the more you are exposed to oestrogen during your life-time, the greater your risk is of developing breast cancer, or relapsing after treatment. In fact it is for this reason that Tamoxifen (an oestrogen-blocking drug) has become the most prescribed medication in the conventional treatment approach of breast cancer patients.
However, in spite of the unquestionable influence which oestrogen has in the development and progression of breast cancer, we need to remind ourselves that oestrogen was designed by the body, and for the body, and women have of course always produced oestrogen. The question that must follow then is, ‘why would a hormone that was meant to help the body (not harm it!) be contributing to breast cancer, and why has this become progressively more prevalent in recent years?’
It is a question that deserves some pondering, not only because the answers bring into question our modern approach and its failure to recognize and address the causes of our increased exposure to oestrogen, but also because the answers give us an awareness that enables us to make more considered daily choices to reduce our exposure to oestrogen thereby allowing us to exercise our own significant powers to prevent (and heal from) breast cancer.
Firstly, let’s begin by reminding ourselves what oestrogen is…..
Oestrogen is a hormone (or chemical messenger) that is produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands and which is crucial in regulating the organs involved in reproduction particularly; namely the ovaries themselves, the uterus, breasts, testes and prostate. Oestrogen production starts at puberty and is released in a cyclical fashion in women (controlling menstruation) until menopause when the ovaries cease to produce oestrogen. After reaching menopause smaller amounts of oestrogen continue to be produced predominantly by the fat tissue. Oestrogen also plays a role in bone density and heart health. It is for this reason that many women are recommended by their doctors to take HRT (hormone replacement therapy which contains oestrogen) when they reach menopause. (The wisdom of this is questionable however, and will be covered in a future article)
Firstly, let’s talk about the reasons why the presence of high levels of oestrogen are likely to increase the risk of breast cancer……
Cancer develops when the cellular terrain in the body has become toxic and acidic and therefore oxygen-deprived. Breast cancer develops for the same reasons, however the breast tissue is unique in that it is comprised of glandular tissue (responsible for milk secretion) surrounded by a cushion of fat cells. The glandular tissue is highly responsive to hormones particularly oestrogen, while the fat cells may serve as a depot for toxins. The close proximity of these tissues is very relevant when we consider the part oestrogen plays in increasing the risks for developing breast cancer.
When the cells of the glandular tissue in the breast are struggling in an oxygen-deprived terrain brought on by accumulating toxins, they can mutate to cancer cells. The fact that the glandular tissue of the breast is in close proximity to a source of toxins – the surrounding fat tissue- increases its exposure to the toxic burden. These conditions allow for cancer to develop, and is further exacerbated by the influence of oestrogen on these cells because oestrogen acts by increasing the rate of replication of cells, which includes the cancerous cells.
In addition, excess oestrogen also has the effect of reducing the protective protein carrying capacity of iron in the blood and tissues. As a result, the amount of iron in the free form increases in the blood which is highly damaging to the tissues and causes free radical damage. This adds to the toxic load that our immune system has to deal with, and in time can compromise oxygen delivery to the cells because of it, which also contributes to creating favourable conditions for cancer to develop.
However, as mentioned earlier, women (and men to a lesser degree) have always produced oestrogen to perform several vital roles in the body, so one is left wondering why the negative effects of oestrogen are being witnessed to a greater degree as it would appear from the rising breast cancer statistics.
The short answer is that our exposure to oestrogen is significantly more than it used to be! In our modern world we are exposed to increasing amounts of oestrogenic compounds in our environment called xeno-oestrogens (chemicals that act like oestrogens) that cause a cumulative exposure to oestrogen, which in turn increases our susceptibility to breast cancer (and certain other cancers).
The sources of exposure to these oestrogenic compounds are numerous and important to know for any woman wishing to prevent (or heal from) breast cancer. The following is a list of these sources:
- We are ingesting foods that contain phyto-oestrogens that have oestrogen-mimicking effects, such as our modern soy foods (see article ‘soy products and breast cancer ~ good or bad?’)
- We are ingesting oestrogens inadvertently when we eat foods that have been contaminated with oestrogen hormones (such as in meat and dairy products)
- Many of the refined foods we eat contain preservatives that act as oestrogens.
- Plastics and canned packaging leach harmful chemicals into the food and liquids that are contained within them, some of which mimic oestrogens (eg BPA)
- Fat cells also produce oestrogen, therefore in instances of obesity there is increased production of oestrogen
- We are choosing to take in pharmacological oestrogens (medical drugs containing oestrogens) in the form of oral contraceptives and HRT
- Many pharmacological drugs are preserved with chemicals with known oestrogen-mimicking effects (eg parabens).
- We apply products to our bodies that contain chemicals with oestrogen-like functions in the form of creams, antiperspirants, cosmetics etc
The effect of this pervasive exposure to oestrogen is demonstrated not only in young girls reaching puberty at a progressively earlier age, which in turn exposes them to a longer life-time of oestrogen, but women too are reaching menopause at a later age, thus producing oestrogen into later life.
The above list is not exhaustive; however it gives you some idea of the multitude of diverse sources of oestrogen we are being exposed to on a daily basis. It is the accumulation of oestrogens from a variety of different sources that can ultimately contribute to a terrain that is ‘ripe’ for breast cancer. The good news however, is that most of these sources of oestrogen can be minimised through greater awareness.
In conclusion, while oestrogen is not the only factor involved in causing (or exacerbating) breast cancer, the role it plays is an important and undeniable one, and it is up to anyone who wishes to reduce their risk to breast cancer (while enhancing their health) to take full heed of the factors that increase their life-time exposure to oestrogen!
Note: To find out more of the details on how to avoid oestrogens in your day-to-day life, whether in prevention of cancer or healing from it, please see our ‘7 Step Natural Cancer Program’