Diet and nutrition can play important roles in the prevention of breast cancer.

Preventing breast cancer

The statistics are sobering. Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in Canadian women, excluding non-melanoma skin cancer. And yes, breast can occur in men.

It will affect one in eight women in their lifetime. In 2022, 28,600 people were diagnosed with breast cancer in Canada. Twenty-five percent of all new cancers are diagnosed as breast cancer and 14% of all cancer deaths are due to breast cancer. It is estimated that one in 34 women will die of breast cancer in their lifetime.

With improved diagnosis and better treatment, the five-year survival rate of non-metastatic breast cancer is 91%. The 10-year survival rate is 84% and the 15-year survival rate is 80%. The risk of passing away from breast cancer was 14.4% in the early 1990s and, by 2015, that has decreased to 4.9%. Early diagnosis with better treatments leads to better outcomes.

Self-exams are still recommended to identify any unusual asymmetry in the chest, dimpling or hardened lumps. Screening mammography is recommended every two to three years in post-menopausal females between the ages of 50 and 74 years in women with average risk factors.

An ultrasound is usually recommended to identify only whether a spot is solid or cystic. Thermography that analyzes heat patterns in breast tissue is a non-conventional test that has not been accepted as a reliable diagnostic test by mainstream medicine.

Known risk factors for breast cancer include increased age, family history, BRCA gene mutation, post-menopause, hormone exposure—especially to exogenous estrogens—high alcohol intake, being overweight or obese and being sedentary with no physical activity. Other lesser known risk factors include an early onset of menstruation, late first birth or no children, late menopause onset and no breast feeding. Being taller increases your risk of breast cancer slightly, as does radiation and pesticide exposure. Diet can also play an important role in the development of breast cancer. And, yes, smoking is probably not good.

Certain Asian countries like Japan and Thailand, as well as African countries like Uganda and Zimbabwe have considerably fewer cases of breast cancer than North American and European countries. Researchers believe this is, in part, due to genetics and healthier dietary and lifestyle factors.

A healthier diet that decreases fats (especially saturated fats), decreases white sugar and refined foods, included less white flour and processed grains, less dairy products, less or no alcohol, limited coffee and caffeine consumption, moderate consumption of meat and animal products and is rich in whole grains, cereals, beans and legumes and has an ample amount of fresh fruits and vegetables is strongly recommended.

Cruciferous, or cabbage family, vegetables, including bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and others contain natural cancer fighting chemicals. Those vegetables are rich in compounds like DIM or di-indole methane and I3C or indole 3 carbinol. DIM and I3C facilitate the breakdown of exogenous estrogens into less active forms that do not stimulate breast tissue. North American women typically consume less than 20 milligrams of these compounds per day from these vegetable sources. Asian women consume more than 100 milligrams per day of these compounds.

Vitamin A-rich foods also have anti-cancer properties. Foods rich in vitamin A include orange and yellow fruits and vegetables, like carrots, yellow peppers, pumpkin and squash. Consuming foods rich in vitamin A and beta-carotene can lower your risk of developing cancers, including breast cancer.

Dark, green leafy vegetables like brussel sprouts, romaine lettuce, spinach and kale are rich in the B-vitamin folic acid. Folic acid is an important methyl donor in the body that plays an important role in detoxification of toxic compounds and chemicals. A diet rich in folic acid foods can lower your risk of developing breast cancer.

Soybeans are rich in compounds called isoflavones. One of the main isoflavones found in soy is genistein. Isolfavones like genestein interact and block estrogen receptors on breast tissue. They also inhibit enzymes that promote tumour growth. That is similar in mechanism of the drug Tamoxifen, which is used to treat breast cancer.

Asian women typically consume 35 grams of soybeans per day, delivering the equivalent of 150 milligrams of isoflavones. North American women consume less than two grams of soy products per day, delivering only about four milligrams of isoflavones.

Some people argue soy contains exogenous estrogens and shouldn’t be consumed by breast cancer patients. Most nutritional experts agree moderate consumption of soy products is fine in cases of breast cancer.

Diet and nutrition can play an important factor in the prevention and treatment of breast cancer.

A healthier diet with whole foods, dark green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables can help decrease your risk of developing the disease.

The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute medical advice. All information is for general information purposes only.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

The cholesterol controversy

Closer look at cholesterol

“There are three types of lies,” the American author Mark Twain once said, “Lies, damned lies and statistics.”

The role of cholesterol in the development of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease is still marred in controversy and shrouded in statistical mystery.

The original role of cholesterol and heart disease was first brought to public attention in the Framingham heart studies. The Framingham heart study was originally started in 1948 in Framingham, Massachusetts and observed the habits of 5,209 individuals with regards to the future development of heart disease. Scientists quickly discovered that smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol dramatically increased an individual’s possibility of getting heart disease.

Atherosclerosis literally means hardening of the arteries. Arteries are hollow blood vessels that take away oxygenated blood from the heart to all tissues and regions of the body. When these blood vessels are damaged from a variety of factors, including smoking and oxidative stress, the inner lining of the arteries become damaged and inflamed. As the body tries to repair the damaged delicate lining, plaque consisting of white blood cells, calcium, protein and cholesterol begins to form. As the plaque progresses, it can completely occlude the inner lining of the artery or rupture off and travel further downstream. Either way, the consequences can be catastrophic. Hardening of the coronary arteries supplying the heart can lead to a heart attack and even death.

The conclusions of the original Framingham studies lead to the widespread public health mandate that less cholesterol is better to help prevent heart disease and other cardiovascular disease.

Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty molecule found only in animal products contain cholesterol. Plant products do not have cholesterol. Diet accounts for between 20% and 40% of cholesterol levels in the blood. The liver produces 60% to 80%. Genetics and family history strongly influence how much cholesterol the liver produces.

Statins are a group of drugs, first marketed in 1987, that dramatically decrease the amount of cholesterol produced in the liver. Statins are among the most commonly prescribed drugs throughout the world. They include names like Lipitor (atorvastatin) and Crestor (rosuvastatin). They are very popular and massively profitable. By 2020, total cumulative worldwide sales of statins were in excess of $1.3 trillion.

Scientific studies on the use of statins to prevent atherosclerosis and heart disease remain somewhat controversial. There appears to be more positive studies, although there are still some negative studies about the role of statins in the prevention and treatment of heart disease.

There are two types of statistical analysis regarding comparison of drug study results: absolute risk reduction and relative risk reduction. As an example, say there is a new drug that lowers cholesterol. In a study of 500 people, half took the new drug and half the people took a placebo. Comparison of the drug versus the placebo showed the drug reduced the incidence of heart attacks by 3%. In this group the incidence of heart attacks was 9% in the placebo group and 6% in the drug group.

The absolute risk reduction of this drug was 9% minus 6% or 3%. However, the risk reduction relative to the placebo is 3% divided by the original 9% and equals 33%. The relative risk reduction of the drug was then calculated to be 33%. Which number sounds more impressive, obviously the larger relative number.

The same type of statistical manipulation applies to statins. Whereas the absolute risk reduction for taking a statin might be 2% or 3% the relative risk reduction would be 30%. Most advertisements of statins say that they reduce your risk of getting a heart attack by about 30%. However, this is a relative risk reduction and the actual percentage is usually somewhere between 2% and 3%.

Statins do not lower your risk of getting a heart attack to zero. They modestly lower your risk of a heart attack.

A further analysis of the Framingham data showed the total cholesterol to HDL (or “good” cholesterol) ratio was a more important risk factor for the development of heart disease than LDL (or “bad” cholesterol) levels.

Clearly, there are multiple risk factors that are related to the development of atherosclerosis and heart disease beyond cholesterol levels. These factors include lifestyle factors like diet, exercise, stress levels, drinking alcohol, nutrient status, triglyceride levels, the degree of inflammation, fibrinogen (or fibrous protein in the blood) and genetics.

A healthy, whole food-based diet, rich in plant material, modest protein like fish and good fats can help prevent heart disease. Limiting fatty animal products and cheese is be a good idea. Eating ample amounts of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and cereals, nuts and seeds is also recommended. Eggs are OK are in moderation. Excessive use of sugar and refined carbohydrates is just as bad, if not worse, than high-cholesterol foods. Additionally, eating foods that keep your blood thin, like garlic, ginger, cayenne pepper and turmeric’s as well as liquid oils from plants like flaxseed, olive oil and fish products is also recommended.

The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to constitute medical advice. All information and content are for general information purposes only.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Dealing with colds and the flu at this time of year

Cold and flu prevention

Colds and flus are common winter infections caused by viruses. Colds are milder than flus and tend to be limited to the mouth and nose.

More than 200 viruses can cause a cold. Common cold viruses include rhinoviruses, corona viruses, adenoviruses and respiratory syncytial viruses. Nasal congestion, itchy watery eyes, sore throat and cough are common symptoms of a cold. Most colds last on average three to seven days.

Flus are more severe than colds and tend to last longer. They are caused by a family of influenza A, B, C and D viruses. Sore throat, nasal congestion, itchy watery eyes, headache, muscle aches, nausea, upset stomach and fever are common symptoms of a flu. Most flus last between four and seven days.

Washing your hands is one of the best things you can do to prevent catching a cold or contracting a flu virus.

A recent Cochrane review concluded that handwashing is the single best thing you can do to prevent getting a cold or flu virus and most experts suggest washing your hands under running water, and using soap, for at least 20 seconds—the length of time it takes to sing one stanza of the song Happy Birthday to You.

Viruses and bacteria, although airborne, can stick to surfaces and objects. Your hands are used to touch surfaces such as door handles, countertops, common utensils, dish cloths, phones, remote controls and money. Most experts agree the most contaminated surfaces in your home are found in the kitchen and bathroom. In public spaces, the most contaminated areas include door handles, faucets, toilet seats and checkout counters.

Washing surfaces with an antiviral chemical, such as bleach, is recommended. Four teaspoons of bleach per one litre of water makes a good antiseptic concentration. Other antiviral chemicals include hydrogen peroxide, alcohol and essential oils that can be applied to surfaces to prevent viral adherence.

Wearing a mask may also be beneficial. Although a recent Cochrane review concluded mask wearing does not prevent getting a virus for most people, it may in preventing transmitting the virus to another person. Together with other public measures, such as distancing yourself from an infected person, that may help prevent transmission.

Cold viruses can live up to one hour on human hands while flu viruses can live up to 24 hours on door handles. The Covid virus can live up to several days on surfaces, especially in cold and dry environments.

The amount of virus needed to cause an infection in a person varies from virus to virus as well as person to person.

The viral load is the quantity needed to cause an infection and can vary from as little as 10,000 virions to as much as several billion viral particles. Not only is the viral load important but also the state of the immune system. The human immune system is a complex interplay of immune cells that includes white blood cells and cellular chemicals called cytokines.

If you sneeze, cover your face and nose. If you use your hands, immediately wash them or use antiseptic wipes to prevent the virus from adhering to your hands and then entering your mouth, nose or eyes.

Also, eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables and spices that contain phytochemicals that help the immune system or are antiviral. Garlic, cayenne pepper, horse radish, ginger, tumeric and honey are common condiments used to treat common respiratory viral infections.

It’s also important to get your sleep. A sustained deep sleep, usually seven to eight hours in duration, is necessary for a healthy immune system. Get regular exercise too. Fresh air and aerobic exercise are good for the immune system, the lungs and respiratory system, as well as the cardiovascular system.

Stay hydrated. Drinking fluids keeps mucous membranes hydrated and may keep viruses from adhering to mucosal surfaces. Sip warm liquids. Fluids such as water, tea and chicken noodle soup are recommended.

Add moisture to the air. Humidity is the amount of moisture in the air. In winter the air is dry and adding moisture to the air prevents viruses from sticking around too long. The humidity is expressed as a percentage of the maximum amount of water in the air. A relative humidity between 40% and 60% is best to prevent viral transmission.

Take pain killers. If your throat or sinuses are sore, taking a pain killer such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen is acceptable. Other supplements, such as vitamin A, vitamin C, zinc are also recommended to help maintain a healthy immune system and decrease the time it takes to get over a cold or the flu.

Herbal medicines such as echinacea, goldenseal, astragalus, elderberry and oregano oil are all popular over-the-counter natural remedies that may help you get over a cold or the flu as well.

Flu shots, base d on the best model that predicts the upcoming flu viruses, are estimated to be between 40% and 60% effective in preventing the flu. They are recommended for high-risk patients.

It is important to remember that sometimes a cold or the flu can lead to a concomitant bacterial infection in an immune-compromised individual and that may require prescription antibiotics.

The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute medical advice. All information and content are for general information purposes only.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Turmeric is more than just a spice

Health benefits of turmeric

Turmeric is a popular culinary spice from southeast Asia that has some amazing potential benefits for human health.

This perennial herb is indigenous to India and south-east Asia. It grows up to one metre in height and has small elliptical green leaves and a deep orange or yellow root or rhizome. It is a member of the ginger family.

The brightly coloured root and rhizome has been used as a culinary spice in food preparation and as a part of curry powder, it has been mixed with coriander, cumin, black pepper, ginger and other spices. As a dye, it has been used in the clothing and textiles industry. It has also been used in cosmetics as well as the food and beverage industry. The root and rhizome have been described as pungent, bitter and earthy. It has also been used in Ayurvedic medicine for several thousand years.

The chemical constituents of turmeric have been identified as 1% to 6% curcumin, volatile oils, fibre, minerals, protein, fat and carbohydrates. Other sources have listed curcumin content from 1% to 8%. It should be noted the total curcumin content of the root is probably better referred to as total curcuminoid content. That reflects the fact there are several slightly different, but related, chemicals in the root and rhizome of this plant.

Curcumin is the name given to the chemical responsible for the bright yellow and orange colour of the turmeric plant in its root and rhizome. Curcumin has been identified as the main active ingredient of the plant. However, three main curcuminoid molecules have been identified in the turmeric plant. The naturally occurring content of curcumin has been identified to be between 60% to 70% of the total amount of curcuminoids.

Turmeric and curcumin have been described as plant compounds with a multiplicity of different biochemical effects on human health. Some of those effects include anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, antidiabetic, liver protection, wound-healing, cholesterol-lowering, antioxidant, immune-enhancing and nerve protection in the brain.

In some studies, curcumin shows anti-inflammatory activity comparable to Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory compounds. The use of turmeric and curcumin compounds alone or in combination with other herbs can be useful in reducing osteoarthritic aches and pains. And like NSAIDs, turmeric and curcumin have blood thinning and anti-platelet activity.

In other studies curcumin and turmeric have antioxidant and neuroprotective effects for the brain and nervous system. Curcumin increases BDNP or brain derived neurotrophic factors that protect the nerves from oxidative damage and aid in proper maintenance and repair.

A recent study in the BMJ or British Medical Journal showed that turmeric consumption was as effective as a prescription proton pump inhibitor in alleviating stomach pain and discomfort. Turmeric can improve the flow of bile in liver and gall bladder and have antioxidant effects on hepatic cells. Curcumin may also be useful in inflammatory bowel disease.

The Linus Pauling Institute in Oregon has published an overview of the research of the medical benefits of curcumin. The authors point out that the mounting evidence of preclinical studies shows that curcumin modulates numerous molecular targets and exerts antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer and neuroprotective activities.

They further elaborate that while a few preliminary studies show that curcumin has anti-inflammatory activity in humans, larger randomized controlled trials are needed to establish its efficacy in osteoarthritis and radiation induced dermatitis.

They continue to report that some evidence exists so far that curcumin improves cognitive performance in older adults with or without cognitive impairment. Also, its use for depression is very preliminary and long-term clinical trials are recommended.

The use of curcumin for patients with diabetes is also preliminary and more long-term trials are needed. And while in vitro testing of curcumin in cancer activity remains encouraging, human trials are very limited particularly in patients with breast, prostate, pancreatic, colorectal, lung and skin cancer.

Its use with cancer patients who are receiving chemotherapeutic drugs is cautioned. Some preliminary studies show it can help promote the benefits of chemo drugs, while having negligible side effects. However, its use with patients who receive chemo drugs should be evaluated and recommended on an individual basis.

Other benefits of curcumin have been reported for cardiovascular disease, dermatology and ophthalmology and while encouraging, the study’s authors conclude further investigation is warranted.

Turmeric is believed to be safe for human consumption in doses up to 12 grams per day. Reported side effects of curcumin consumption include gas, bloating, indigestion, heartburn, upset stomach, diarrhea, headache and, in some cases, skin rashes.

Its impact for use during pregnancy and lactation has not been determined, so it is not recommended beyond its use as a culinary spice. In vitro, studies show curcumin can inhibit platelet aggregation and its use with patients who use blood thinners and anticoagulant drugs is cautioned.

The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute medical advice. All information and content are for general information purposes only.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More The Okanagan Naturopath articles

About the Author

Doug Lobay is a practicing naturopathic physician in Kelowna, British Columbia.

He graduated with a bachelor of science degree from the University of British Columbia in 1987 and then attended Bastyr College of Natural Health Sciences in Seattle, Washington, where graduated with a doctorate in naturopathic medicine degree in 1991. While attending Bastyr College, he began to research the scientific basis of naturopathic medicine. 

He was surprised to find many of the current major medical journals abounded with scientific information on the use of diet, vitamins, nutritional supplements and herbal medicines.

Doug is a member of the College of Naturopathic Physicians of British Columbia and has practiced as naturopathic family physician for more than 30 years.  He maintains a busy practice in Kelowna where he sees a wide age range of patients with various ailments.

He focuses on dietary modification, allergy testing, nutritional assessments, supplement recommendation for optimal health, various physical therapy modalities, various intravenous therapies including chelation therapy.

An avid writer, he has written seven books on various aspects of naturopathic medicine that are available on Amazon and was also a long-time medical contributor to the Townsend Letter journal for doctors and patients, where many of his articles are available to view on-line. He has also given numerous lectures, talks and has taught various courses on natural medicine.

Doug enjoys research, writing and teaching others about the virtues of natural health and good nutrition. When not working, he enjoys cycling, hiking, hockey, skiing, swimming, tennis and playing guitar.

If you have any further questions or comments, you can contact Dr. Lobay at 250-860-7622 or [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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