Nutrition can play a part in fending of breast cancer

Cancer-fighting foods

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.

Breast cancer will affect one in eight women in their lifetime. In 2022, 28,600 people were diagnosed with breast cancer in Canada and 25% of all new cancers are diagnosed as breast cancer, while 14% of all cancer deaths are due to breast cancer. 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 dying from breast cancer was 14.4% in the early 1990s and by 2015, it decreased to 4.9%. Early diagnosis with better treatments leads to better outcomes.

Breast cancer 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 postmenopausal females between the ages of 50 to 74 for women with average risk factors.

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 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, less known risk factors include 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 such as 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, less white flour and processed grains, fewer dairy products, less or no alcohol, limited coffee and caffeine consumption, moderate consumption of meat and animal products and one rich in whole grains, cereals, beans and legumes and ample amounts 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. These 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 fewer than 20 milligrams of these compounds per day from these vegetable sources. Asian women consume more than 100 milligrams per day.

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 brussels 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 lowers can lower your risk of developing breast cancer.

Soybeans are rich in compounds called isoflavones. One of the main isoflavones found in soy is called genistein. Isolfavones like genestein interact and block estrogen receptors on breast tissue. They also inhibit enzymes that promote tumour growth. This 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 about four grams of isoflavones.

Some people argue soy contains exogenous estrogens and shouldn’t be consumed in breast cancer patients but 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 breast cancer.

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.

Caffeine has become the drug of choice for many

The lowdown on caffeine

Caffeine is one of the most popular and widely used drugs in the world. It is also one of the most abused and addictive drugs.

Caffeine is widely available in beverages like coffee and tea and a variety of over-the-counter medicines and herbal supplements. It is the drug of choice for millions who regularly consume the beverage in the morning or throughout the day. Tea drinkers who drink black and green tea also regularly consume a dose of caffeine.

Problems with excess caffeine consumption include anxiety, irritability, anger, bladder irritation, breast tenderness, irritable bowel symptoms, diarrhea, heart palpitations, stomach irritation, heartburn, high blood pressure, hypoglycemia, insomnia, muscle spasms, ringing in the ears and tremors in the hands.

Caffeine is a small nitrogen containing molecule that belong to a group of compounds called methylxanthines. It is found naturally in coffee, black and green tea, chocolate and several other plants. It is also added to a variety of over-the-counter medicines for pain relief, decongestants and stimulant products for wakefulness and weight loss. Caffeine is also widely available in natural herbal products for energy, delay fatigue, increase endurance and to increase metabolism.

Caffeine is a central nervous stimulant. In low to moderate doses, it can cause mild cortical arousal with increased alertness and deferral of fatigue. It can also cause behavioural changes, restlessness, nervousness, insomnia and anxiety. In sensitive individuals, even a few sips of a caffeinated beverage can cause nervousness and insomnia. Very high doses of caffeine can cause convulsions, seizures and breathing problems.

Caffeine is a mild metabolic stimulant. It can increase blood fat levels, increase and then decrease blood sugar levels, contribute to dehydration and deplete the body of minerals and water-soluble vitamins. It can increase heart rate, increase blood pressure, induce heart palpitations, decrease blood flow to the brain and extremities like the hands and feet.

Caffeine can stimulate hydrochloric acid production in the stomach, increase enzyme production in the pancreas and increase the flow of bile from the liver and gall bladder. It can also increase muscle contractions in the intestines and bowels. In some people it can cause nausea, heartburn, intestinal spasms and diarrhea.

Caffeine is a diuretic for the kidneys and bladder and increases the flow of urine. For some individuals this can lead to bladder and urethral irritation. It also increases sweat gland activity throughout the body and can stimulate activity in modified sweat glands of the breast tissue in females. That can lead to tender breasts and fibrocystic breast disease.

Excess caffeine consumption can decrease immune function, decrease thymus gland size and decrease antibody levels.

Caffeine can cause smooth muscle relaxation in the bronchi of the lungs and both small and large intestine. That can relax bronchi and improve air flow and may help some individuals with asthma and bronchoconstriction. It can also increase skeletal muscle contraction and delay muscle fatigue during athletic endeavours.

Caffeine, in low to moderate doses, is generally considered to be safe during pregnancy and while nursing but is known to cross the placental barrier. Caffeine consumption by the mother can contribute to irritability, colic and insomnia in nursing infants.

But not all effects of caffeine are bad. There are many beneficial effects too. Caffeine is widely used to increase brain activity, prevent fatigue, increase endurance, delay the onset of sleep, act as a mild decongestant in those with allergies, improve lung flow in asthmatics and other lung problems, increase bile flow and help the liver and pancreas, increase bowel contractions and improve constipation.

One regular cup of coffee contains 100 to 180 milligrams of caffeine. The same amount of decaffeinated coffee contains about two to five milligrams. One cup of black tea or green contains 40 to 100 milligrams while a cup of iced tea can contain 60 to 100 milligrams.

A cup of hot chocolate contains five to 25 milligrams of caffeine while a cup of Coca cola or Pepsi contains 40 to 60 milligrams. One tablet of Excedrin contains 65 milligrams of caffeine and one tablet of Midol contains 32 milligrams.

The way you metabolize caffeine is indicative of your phase 1 detoxification pathway in the liver. Some people metabolize and break down caffeine rather quickly. That indicates they have “upregulated” phase 1 detoxification activity in the liver. They can drink more caffeine than normal without ill effects and have no trouble fallings asleep after consuming coffee before bedtime.

Other people are slow metabolizers and breakdown caffeine rather slowly. They are usually more sensitive to caffeine and cannot drink any caffeinated beverage before bedtime.

Caffeine can be a good in low to moderate doses for some individuals and a bad in moderate to high doses in others.

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.

Understanding high blood pressure

Risks of high blood pressure

High blood pressure is one of the most common chronic diseases. As much as 25% of the adult population throughout the world have high blood pressure.

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is defined as higher-than-normal pressure inside blood vessels such as arteries. The trouble with high blood pressure is it puts more stress on blood vessels, the heart and the kidneys, and leads to heart attacks, strokes and kidney disease.

Ninety percent of hypertension is classified as essential hypertension. Nobody knows what causes it. Hypertension is considered a “silent” disease. Most of the time, it causes no symptoms, although some people complain about headaches, muscle tension and a general feeling of unwellness.

The cardiovascular system includes the heart and blood vessels, such as arteries and veins. The average human body contains about five litres of blood, which contains oxygen and other nutrients that are delivered to all cells throughout the body. Blood also removes toxins and waste material from cells. Arteries carry oxygenated blood, rich in nutrients to cells and veins and carries unoxygenated blood away from cells.

The heart is the pump that pushes blood throughout the body. The average heart contracts at 72 beats per minute, about 100,000 times per day or 2.5 billion times in the average human’s lifetime. The average adult human body contains 100,000 kilometres, or 60,000 miles, of blood vessels if they were connected in one long chain. That is long enough to travel twice around the circumference of the earth.

The average normal blood pressure is 120/80 millimetres of elevation on a blood pressure cuff device. High blood pressure is defined as a blood pressure reading higher than 140 over 90.

Blood pressure can vary with many things—activity levels, exercise, stress, anxiety, salt intake, smoking, weight and other factors.

A blood pressure cuff is a simple device used to measure arterial pressure. The cuff is slipped around a bare arm just above the elbow at about heart level. A bulb inflates pressure around the cuff above the level of arterial pressure and is then slowly deflated to give an accurate reading of the pressure within the brachial artery. The higher, or top number, is called the systolic blood pressure. The lower, or second number, is considered the diastolic blood pressure. Both numbers are equally important.

The heart and blood vessels form a closed system of circulation. That means fluid or blood is conserved and is not lost when it is pumped throughout the body. The same fluid volume is always maintained unless there is blood loss. The heart is a strong muscle that forces blood through blood vessels to deliver oxygen and nutrients to cells and remove carbon dioxide and waste materials from cells.

When the heart contracts, blood is forced, under higher pressure, throughout the chain of blood vessels. That contraction phase in called systole and is the systolic blood pressure. When the heart relaxes, the closed chain of blood vessels still has blood and pressure in it. That relaxation phase is the diastole and is known as diastolic blood pressure.

If the systolic blood pressure is high, the first (or higher) reading is higher than 140. If the diastolic blood pressure is high, then the second reading is higher than 90.

Salt and sodium are involved in blood pressure and fluid regulation within blood vessels. They are also important for proper muscle and nerve function throughout the body. Sodium helps to maintain proper healthy blood pressure. The amount of sodium in the blood directs the flow of water from in and out of cells.

The concentration of sodium is maintained constantly by different hormones like renin, aldosterone and the movement of salt and water through the kidneys. If sodium is high in the blood, water loss will be conserved the kidneys to increase water supply to the blood. High salt and sodium contribute to rising pressure in the blood vessels.

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of salt is about one teaspoon or 5,000 milligrams per day. Salt is 40% sodium and 60% chloride, therefore, one teaspoon of salt equals about 2,000 milligrams of sodium.

The problem with salt is many people consume too much of it. The average Canadian adult consumes just under 10,000 milligrams of salt per day, or about the double the RDA. Salt is added and hidden in many processed and refined foods. It tastes good, but most are getting more than they need. This directly contributes to high blood pressure.

Other dietary and lifestyle factors that contribute to high blood pressure include a lack aerobic exercise and inactivity, a lack of nutrients, primarily including electrolytes such as calcium, magnesium and potassium, excess sugar and refined carbohydrates, increased consumption of alcohol, coffee and other caffeinated beverages, smoking and mental and emotional states.

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 Seasonal Affective Disorder

The winter blues

SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, is a mood disorder that typically occurs with a lack of sunlight during the winter months. It is also colloquially known as the “winter blues.”

Two percent to 3% of the Canadian population are estimated to suffer with SAD during the winter and 10% to 15% are believed to suffer from a milder form of it, called subsyndromal SAD or dysthymia.

Symptoms of SAD include depression, anxiety, fatigue, somnolence or increased sleep time and overeating, craving all forms of sugar and carbohydrate-rich foods like breads, chips and pasta. Increased appetite and lack of physical activity contribute to weight gain during the winter. Other symptoms include brain fog, poor thinking and decision-making and loss of interest in normal activities and social activities.

The condition is believed to be caused by, in large part, a disruption of the normal biological clock within humans called the circadian rhythm. Lack of sunshine affects the pineal gland that is stimulated by sunlight on photoreceptors in the eyes. The pineal gland is also connected to clusters of nerve cells that produce serotonin and other hormones like the hypothalamus.

The lack of sunshine inhibits pineal gland activity, which decreases serotonin production in different areas of the brain responsible for mood. When serotonin levels are low, the body craves carbohydrates. Furthermore, low serotonin leads to many of the symptoms associated with SAD. Other neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine may also be affected by SAD.

A balanced diet is recommended. Limiting junk food high in sugars and processed carbohydrates is strongly suggested. A balanced diet would include some protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and cereals. Healthy oils, such as from nuts, seeds, plants and fish are also suggested.

Exercise is known to improve mood. Even during the shortened daylight of winter, it is important to continue a regular exercise program. Walking is a great low impact form of activity that can help to improve SAD symptoms and improve mood. Other winter forms of exercise include working out in a gym, aerobics, swimming, skiing, cross-country skiing, skating and other ice sports.

Light therapy can also help treat the symptoms of SAD. Full-spectrum, high-intensity light that mimics a summer’s day can help improve SAD symptoms and improve mood. A light that emits 10,000 lux of intensity or more is recommended. Twenty to 30 minutes of light therapy has been shown to improve mood, increase energy and wakefulness. The light therapy can be stimulating so it is important to use it in the morning or afternoon and probably not in the evening before bed.

SSRIs, or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, are the main class of prescription drugs that are used to treat SAD. They increase serotonin levels in the brain and the nervous system by inhibiting its breakdown at nerve junctions. Prozac (fluoxetine), Celexa (citalopram), Zoloft (sertraline), Paxil (paroxetine), Lexapro (escitalopram) are commonly prescribed SSRIs for SAD. Wellbutrin (buproprion) is another drug that raises dopamine and norepinephrine levels and is prescribed for SAD.

Tryptophan is a naturally occurring amino acid found in many protein foods including meat, dairy products, nuts and seeds, whole grains like oats, fruit like bananas and chocolate. Tryptophan is a direct precursor to 5-hydroxy tryptophan which is then used in the body to make serotonin.

Increasing foods high in tryptophan can be a good way to help improve serotonin levels. Turkey and dairy products, like milk, cottage cheese and yogurt are good sources of tryptophan.

Supplementing with isolated tryptophan or 5-hydroxy tryptophan, or 5-HTP, can be a good way to help increase serotonin and other hormone levels in the brain and nervous system. These supplements are available in natural health stores or some pharmacies. Tryptophan is also available by prescription. It is important to note you should probably not take tryptophan or 5-HTP if you are on a prescription SSRI or other antidepressant, unless you talk to a licensed healthcare professional.

Common side effects of tryptophan or 5-HTP include nausea, upset stomach, skin rash and sleepiness. Like other serotonin drugs, tryptophan can increase aggressiveness and anger in some individuals and can inhibit intimate desire and performance. However, it is important to note that tryptophan or 5-HTP usually causes fewer side effects than prescription drugs.

Other natural medicines used to treat SAD include amino acids like tyrosine and herbal supplements, such as Saint John’s wort, Rhodiola, Siberian ginseng, Ashwaghanda and green tea. Fish oils and vitamin D have also been suggested to help improve mood.

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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