Breast cancer prevention

In October (breast cancer month) JD Kato and I did a presentation at a local library about breast health and cancer prevention. Here is a summary of some of the more interesting information we shared. Naturopathic medicine has an important role to play in cancer prevention and treatment. One of the most often used naturopathic treatments is dietary change because diet is the most powerful factor in health. You literally are what you eat! So here is an overview of WHY diet is so important to cancer and some examples of dietary choices that will help treat and prevent cancer.

Immune SystemImmune system

Your immune system is your best defence against cancer. Every day, all day, your body is making potentially cancerous cells and it is your immune system that stands between this potential and uncontrollable cancer growth. A healthy diet provides nutrients that support immune function, while poor dietary choices impair immune function.

Antioxidant-rich foods support the immune system in killing abnormal cells, preventing and treating cancer. Sugar, on the other hand, impairs the activity of your white blood cells, which target and kill cancer cells and coordinate the functioning of your overall immune response.


As discussed in part 1, chronic inflammation in the body leads to increased cell division, which increases the likelihood of the creation of cancer cells and accelerates cancer growth. Chronic inflammation also increases the body’s production of cortisol, which is an immune suppressing hormone.

What type of fat you consume is often more important than the amount because the fats in your diet directly impact many bodily functions. The compounds EPA and DHA derived from or found in omega 3 fatty acids, particularly fish oil, are powerful anti-inflammatory agents in the body. But saturated fats increase inflammation and trans fats alter cell membranes to encourage inflammation.

Hormonal balance

The endocrine system, which produces and controls hormones throughout the body has a huge impact on physiological function. Hormones can encourage cancer growth as well as influence immune function and regulate inflammation. With regard to breast cancer, we know that some types of breast cancer are estrogen dependent, but many other hormones throughout the body also relate to breast cancer, such as thyroid hormones, insulin, and cortisol.

Green leafy vegetables contain nutrients that support endocrine organs. A minimum of 5-6 servings per day is recommended. Cruciferous vegetables in particular contain compounds called calcium-D-glucarate and indole-3-carbinol which aid in metabolism and detoxification of hormones. Pesticides used on non-organic produce can contain compounds that mimic estrogen in the body and can increase the risk of many types of cancer as well as overwhelm your detoxification system.

You can download the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, which specifies which produce is best to buy organic.

Insulin resistance

Insulin is a hormone that allows sugar to enter cells. Over time, high sugar intake leads to excess insulin production and eventually cells become insensitive to insulin. Cancer cells use sugar as fuel and have more insulin receptors than normal cells, so while other cells are insulin resistant, cancer cells can gain more access to sugar.

Complex carbs include vegetables and whole grains and can help balance blood sugar levels and control weight, both of which prevent and reduce insulin resistance. Complex carbs are high in fibre, which binds to and eliminates toxins and hormones from your body. Try to eat foods as close to their natural state as possible rather than processed foods, which contain more simple carbs, which are easily reduced to sugar and therefore promote insulin resistance.

Digestion and elimination

Digestion influences all other bodily functions as it is key to absorbing essential nutrients and eliminating waste products and toxins from the body.

Alcohol is an example of a substance that places an additional load on the liver, which can lead to increased toxic load in the body. Over time, this can damage cells and encourage cancer formation. Adequate water intake is necessary for optimal digestion and elimination as your body uses water to carry out many processes essential for life. A simple guideline for water intake is at least 1/2 ounce of water per pound of body weight. So a 128-pound woman should drink about 64 ounces of water daily, which is about 2 litres. Caffeine and alcohol do not count toward this intake and in fact dehydrate the body!

Beyond diet

So far we’ve covered a lot with regard to diet, but there is so much more! As a naturopathic doctor, I work with patients to address their unique nutritional needs with a plan tailored to them. Beyond diet, I also work to create a personalized plan that may include supplements, herbs, lifestyle counselling, stress reduction, and mental/emotional work to address each patient’s unique needs and the root causes behind their health specific concerns.

With regards to cancer, naturopathic medicine is a powerful tool to both prevent and treat cancer, either alone or in conjunction with conventional cancer treatment.

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