Women who are not on hormones can get breast cancer due to lifestyle factors as well as the way they break down and eliminate estrogen. A little-known factor is that even in women who are not taking hormones, they still make estrogen, however they make a type called estrone or E1, that is inflammatory and promotes growth of the breast tissue. Inflammation is the root cause of most illness including cancer. Progesterone (not synthetic progestins) stops the growth of breast cells. You will see why you want to avoid excess stimulation which causes growth and be able to break down your estrogen to a form that may decrease the risk of breast cancer. Balance and metabolism are key.
Let’s talk about balance first. The more estrogen you have, the more breast tissue growth. For a good 10 years, (more or less), prior to menopause, women make estrogen and don’t make sufficient progesterone to balance its growth effects. Progesterone is generally made when eggs are released. Women are born with a set number of eggs and start to run out in their early to mid 40’s. Estrogen with not enough progesterone to balance it, regardless of the levels is described as estrogen dominance and can cause growth of breast tissue. You can lessen the effects of estrogen dominance by eliminating more, avoiding external hormone disrupting chemicals that act like estrogen, lose weight since estrone an inflammatory estrogen is made in fat or by balancing it with progesterone.
DNA duplicates itself and cells divide and grow. The more the breast tissue is stimulated, the more rapidly cells divide and grow. The accuracy of this duplication is important. If there is an error called a mutation, some errors can give rise to cells whose behavior is erratic. These erratic cells can become cancer cells that don’t respond like other cells. Stopping excess stimulation is important. You can do this by balancing estrogen with progesterone, and helping your body eliminate and detoxify it as well as avoiding hormone disrupting chemicals that act like estrogen.
Break it Down to Benign!
All estrogens are processed in the liver and can be broken down into 2 OH estrogen (OH is the abbreviation for hydroxy), 4 OH estrogen or 16 OH estrogen. The 4 OH estrogen can damage DNA and is a toxic metabolite. In fact, it is a known carcinogen (causes cancer). The 2 and 16 forms are not as damaging. How much you make of each type is dependent on genetics as well as some dietary and nutritional factors. You can influence how you break down estrogen and make more of the benign form with diet and supplements. Studies showed that women who never had a history or family history of breast cancer made more of the 2OH estrogen. Women who had a history or family history of breast cancer made more of the 4OH estrogen. Of note is that in men, they make estrogen from testosterone and 4OH estrogen metabolites increase the risk of prostate cancer!
A chemical process called methylation can neutralize toxic metabolites such as 4 OH and it helps get rid of the 2OH and 16 OH. Think of sorting garbage, you have your 2OH estrogen which is like clean recyclable garbage – it’s still garbage and you want to get rid of it and 4 OH estrogen which is like dirty stinky garbage that is toxic. They need to be bagged and eliminated. Methylation is like putting them in bags to be disposed of. You can measure methylation and if it is not sufficient, these “garbage forms” of 2 OH an 4 OH estrogen stick around and do damage. Once methylated they can’t do harm. Also, you must get rid of the garbage by moving these out with bowel movements. If you don’t move your bowels, the very stuff you want to get rid of gets reabsorbed!
Now that you know how cancer may develop, here are some simple hacks to reduce your risks:
- Lose weight – fat makes more estrogen
- Eat plenty of fiber to bind and eliminate estrogen metabolites in stool
- Eliminate hormone disrupting toxins such as fragrance, BPA, phthalates, parabens, herbicides and pesticides
- Get your estrogen/progesterone ratio measured and balance with progesterone if estrogen dominant
- Eat cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, radishes, brussels sprouts, etc. that help you make more 2OH metabolites
- Measure your metabolites and methylation
- Take I3C (indole 3 carbinol), DIM (diindolylmethane), N acetyl cysteine, resveratrol, Omega 3 fatty acids, fresh ground flax seeds, turmeric, sulfofurane, methyl folate, or SAMe that help you make more 2OH estrogen and neutralize both
- Detox on a regular basis
While there are no guarantees when it comes to health, there is a lot you can do to reduce estrogen production, balance it, detox it and eliminate it so you get its benefits and minimize the risks. Find a functional medicine physician well versed in hormones and their metabolism so you can have healthy, happy, balanced hormones. Test don’t guess!