With National Breast Cancer Awareness Month coming to a close, there has been much coverage in the media about raising awareness, early detection, and funding research for a cure. There seems to be less emphasis on prevention, however, and that got us to thinking.
Though science tells us that our genes might determine whether we’re more or less at risk than others, we had to wonder—what sorts of things can women do to decrease that risk, naturally? So we called up Dr. Lisa Belisle, who runs a medical acupuncture and integrative wellness practice in Yarmouth, Maine, to ask her for natural cancer prevention practices that any woman could easily adopt into her life.
Here are a few of the tips Dr. Belisle had to share:
1. Adopt a mindful movement practice, like tai chi or qigong—an ancient form of self-healing used in Chinese medicine to achieve balance and increase energy. Use your wellness as an excuse to check out a class in your area and learn something new. “There are actually breast health programs out there that now incorporate qigong or tai chi,” Belisle says. “Whether or not you believe in the movement of ‘chi’ or energy, you’re still moving.”
2. Slow down your yoga flow. Find ways to incorporate gentler forms of yoga, like yin and hatha yoga, into your regular practices. “Most women could benefit from a yin yoga practice,” Belisle says. “There’s a lot of yoga out there that’s very yang based, like power yoga. It’s good to sweat, but most women are already very stressed out in their lives, so when you add stressful exercise on top of that, you’re just depleting the body of more energy.”
3. Eat plants. Studies suggest having a plant-based diet can help prevent and possibly even heal breast cancer, Belisle says, noting that women should keep in mind “that whole idea of having a colorful diet, full of antioxidants.” Please your senses and your palate by incorporating a range of colors on your plate at each meal, and you’ll be loading up on cancer-preventing compounds in the process. Specifically, cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cabbage, and brussels sprouts, and alliums like onions, garlic, and scallions, have all been shown to boost the body’s cancer-fighting abilities.
4. Don’t sweat the rumors about antiperspirant. You’ve probably heard the rumor that the aluminum in antiperspirants might be linked to breast cancer. But according to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institute of Health, there is no conclusive evidence linking the use of antiperspirants and/or deodorants to breast cancer. The FDA also does not have any evidence or research suggesting that the ingredients in antiperspirants and deodorants cause cancer. “It’s hard, because as a doctor I want to say ‘do this, don’t do this,’ but there’s a very gray area with this topic, so it’s hard for me to recommend against using antiperspirants,” says Belisle.
5. Show yourself some love. “Loving one’s body is very important,” Belisle says. Some of her top tips for being kind to your body: Become familiar with what your breasts feel like; go for walks in the woods to re-connect with nature; eat naturally and organically when possible; avoid foods on the “dirty dozen” list (which are the foods grown with the most pesticide use); and avoid beauty products that contain parabens, which mimic estrogen in the body and are believed by some to increase the risk for cancer (though again, according to the NCI, the evidence is inconclusive.)
6. Be joyful. There is a growing amount of research that suggests stress can weaken the immune system, so by seeking out things that make you happy (and letting go of things that don’t), you’re naturally creating a healthy, illness-resistant body. “Try to find something in your life that fills you up, spiritually and emotionally,” Belisle says. “We all have problems in our lives, but it’s best if we can find a way to deal with it, without getting pulled too far down a path, emotionally.”