Nutrition key in preventing some breast cancers, nutritionist says

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Hillary Sachs, a nutrition management specialist at Northwell Health's Monter Cancer Center. (Photo from Hillary Sachs' website)

About one in 8 women – or 12 percent – will develop an invasive breast cancer over the course of their lifetime, according to breastcancer.org, a non-profit organization focused on fighting breast cancer.

About 252,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women this year, according to the American Cancer Society, a voluntary health organization involved in cancer research, public policy and education.

The organization also predicts that about 40,610 will die from breast cancer.

But one out of three diagnoses could possibly be prevented, one expert said.

“Diet is very important,” Hillary Sachs, a nutrition management specialist at the Monter Cancer Center, said in an interview. “There’s so many factors that are unknown that could lead to the development of breast cancer, but nutrition and lifestyle can make a big difference.”

The kind of diet that Sachs recommends is one high on plants and physical activity, and low on meat, fat and processed food. Sachs said there’s considerable research showing that a plant-based diet or Mediterranean diet can help reduce the risk, as well as improve the immune system.

“A lot of plant-based foods inherently have cancer-fighting properties,” Sachs said.
But this is also, in part, because excessive estrogen production has been linked to two thirds of cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.

“Fat tissue is a significant producer of estrogen,” Sachs said, noting that exercise can also lower estrogen levels.

Among some of the recommended items are mushrooms to improve the immune system, pomegranites to raise anti-aromatise activity, green tea, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, and fiber rich foods.

Beans, fish, and whole grains would also help.

Frozen fruits and vegetables, beans, canned salmon, buckweed and kenowa are fairly cheap options that carry the same benefits too, Sachs added. But as a general rule, Sachs said, it helps to go with what looks good and add it where you can.

“Focusing on colorful foods and what you can include might be a better approach,” Sachs said.

Sachs said that there’s currently debate about the benefits of soy, but noted they can be protective in moderation. Low calorie diets could also help since they slow down cell growth, Sachs noted, but plans like that should be individualized.

Sachs said to also not underestimate the power of one’s environment. Everyday products ranging from beauty products with chemicals that can mimic estrogen in the body to the plastic in water bottles can increase risks, as can cortisol – a stress hormone.

But ultimately, Sachs said, a combination of diet and lifestyle can make a world of difference for some.

“33 percent can be prevented,” Sachs said.

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