There are many ways to become oestrogen dominant, and many ways to avoid it. Let's look at these in turn and see what you can do to keep these health-promoting hormones in balance.
Although it is impossible to quantify, there is little doubt that our exposure to some 70,000 man-made hormone-disrupting chemicals is part of the reason for the explosion in breast and prostate cancer. Many of these compounds, from the now banned pesticide DDT and the most insidious of all industrial pollutants, PCB's, mimic oestrogen by virtue of having a similar structure involving something called a 'phenol' ring. PCB, for example, stands for poly-chlorinated biphenyl. Many of these phenolic compounds are like poison to the body, and can sometimes latch onto the oestrogen receptor sites on cells triggering abnormal growth messages.
When Israel, which used to have one of highest incidences of breast cancer, banned DDT, BHC and Lindane - all hormone-disrupting chemicals - the incidence of breast cancer dropped by 8 per cent. So, what can you do to minimise your exposure? Avoid the most harmful sources and switch to alternative foods, toiletries, household products and packaging.
The Key Chemicals to Avoid are:
• Pesticides and herbicides - DDT, DDE, endosulfan, methoxychlor, heptachlor, toxaphene, dieldrin, lindane and atrazine
• Plastic compounds - alkyphenols, such as nonylphenol and octylphenol; biphenolic compounds, such as bisphenol A; and phthalates
• Industrial compounds - some PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), dioxin, plus those listed for plastics • Cosmetics - parabens
• Foods - butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA, an antioxidant)
Check your bathroom products, washing up liquid, dishwasher and washer detergents for the chemicals listed above. If you find them included, switch to a different brand. These very flexible plastics may contain the above chemicals.
- Buy and eat organic fruits and vegetables as much as possible.
- Avoid fatty foods, like cheese, wrapped in cling-film.
- Reduce your intake of animal fats (meat and milk) which are more likely to accumulate hormone-disrupting chemicals.
- Choose organic if you can.
HRT and the Pill
Against this background of potential over-exposure to oestrogen-like chemicals, taking the birth control pill or HRT can encourage too many oestrogen growth messages. The birth control pill is a greater risk factor the higher the dose, the longer it's taken, but especially when it is taken by girls under the age of 20, when the breasts are still developing. Breast cells are particularly vulnerable at this stage and the evidence suggests that early pill use can as much as triple a girl's risk of breast cancer later in life.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) takes two forms. Oestrogen only (usually oestradiol) and oestrogen plus progestins. Oestrogen-only HRT is well known to increase risk for uterine as well as breast cancer.
Progesterone protects against uterine cancer. Progestins are man-made molecules that behave somewhat like progesterone in that they too protect the uterus. The combined oestrogen + progestin HRT is therefore given to women with wombs, while oestrogen only is given to women who have had their womb removed in a hysterectomy. Unlike progesterone, which reduces cancer risk, these synthetic progestins have now been repeatedly linked to increasing risk of breast and possibly ovarian cancer. As the studies below show, the risk is greater the longer you've been on HRT. As every new breast cancer HRT scare hits the headlines, more and more women are turning away from HRT, which is taken either to lessen menopausal symptoms or to reduce risk of osteoporosis.
HRT THE RISKS OUTWEIGH The Benefits
• HRT for longer than five years doubles the risk of breast cancer. The risk is higher if oestrogen plus progestins are given. Reference: L. Bergvist et al, New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 32 (1989), pp. 293-297
• HRT for five or more years increases breast cancer risk by 71%. The risk is higher if oestrogen plus progestins is given. Reference: G. Colditz et al, New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 332 (1995), pp. 1589-93.
• Ovarian cancer risk is 72% higher on oestrogen HRT. Reference: C. Rodriguez et al, American Journal of Epidemiology, vol. 141, no. 9 (1995), pp. 828-835.
• An Oxford University review of all research up to 1997 concluded that "HRT raises the risk of breast cancer by 25%".
• Combined oestrogen and progestin HRT for five years increases risk of invasive breast cancer by 26%, strokes by 41% and heart disease by 22%. Reference: Women's Health Initiative, Journal of American Medical Association, vol. 288, no. 3 (2002), pp. 321-33.
Hormones are very short lived in the body because the liver breaks them down. This is how the body prevents excessive levels of oestrogen accumulating. However, if a person's ability to detoxify is under par, oestrogens can keep circulating the body. This is probably why drinking more than one unit of alcohol a day increases risk for breast cancer. If the liver's detox capacity is being used up by alcohol, oestrogens are likely to be in circulation for longer.
The better your diet and intake of antioxidant nutrients, the more efficient your liver will be at clearing excess oestrogen.
- Don't Drink More than 4 Glasses of Wine a Week
- Eat at least five servings of fresh fruit and vegetables a day
- Supplement an all-round multivitamin and mineral, plus an antioxidant supplement including glutathione or n-acetyl cysteine.
Sugar, Saturated Fat and Stress
The best diet for preventing breast cancer is both clear and complex. It's clear because those people who eat lots of fruit and vegetables, beans or lentils, have very little high-fat, high-sugar junk food, do exercise and neither smoke, nor are overweight have by far the lowest risk. It's complex because unravelling why these foods and lifestyle habits lead to breast cancer is complex. It goes something like this. Hormones are fat-like and a ......
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