- Women's Health
Natural supplements that prevent breast cancer
The American Cancer Society lists breast cancer as the number two cancer killer of women in the United States, second only to lung cancer. Although survival rates have been improving slowly, over 39,000 women succumbed to the disease in 2011. We don't yet understand the cause of breast cancer, although some risk factors have been identified, including having a family history of the disease, being Caucasian or over 55, or carrying one of several genes that are linked to breast cancer. Given this background, what can you do to help prevent the disease or improve your outcome if you already have it? Science tells us that several natural approaches have real promise in stopping breast cancer in its tracks; decide for yourself if one or more of these is a good choice for you.
Astragalus is an herbal plant with a root that contains many antioxidants. It has been recommended by practitioners of traditional Asian medicine for thousands of years. Astragalus is also known as huang qi in Chinese and is native to most parts of Asia. Used as a tonic to ward off disease, antioxidants in astragalus root also stimulates your immune system to produce more natural killer cells and increases production of cytokines, natural cancer-preventing chemicals made by certain immune cells. In addition, many research studies carried out in the laboratory show that astragalus can kill cancer cells by stopping them from dividing. Health food stores sell astragalus as a powdered root that can be brewed as a tea, or it is available in capsules as a supplement that is generally considered safe and without major side effects.
All of the B vitamins are important for your health, but one of them, folate, may be especially critical in helping prevent breast cancer. When synthesized to produce supplements, folate takes a slightly different chemical form, called folic acid. Folate is very important during pregnancy and in children and adolscents, but it also has many benefits for adults. Science tells us that high folic acid intake is associated with a lowered rate of breast cancer in women. For example, a clinical study published in Cancer Research in 2001 examined the incidence of breast cancer in a large population of women and found that those who had high levels of folate in their bodies had a significantly lower breast cancer risk that the rest of the group, suggesting that the vitamin might prevent the disease. Although exactly how folic acid does this is still under investigation, scientists hypothesize that it stimulates production of immune cells that recognize and destroy malignant cells before they can multiply to form a tumor. Folic acid is a common ingredient in multi-vitamins and is also available as a separate supplement.
Cruciferous Vegetables and DIM
Cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower, called cruciferous vegetables contain a natural compound, indole-3-carbinol, or I3C. I3C, along with its metabolite diindolylmethane, or DIM, have potential as chemoprotective agents against several types of cancer. Both chemicals blocks division of cultured breast cancer cells laboratory studies. A number of clinical studies have also incorporated either I3C or DIM in tests of their potential to prevent cancer. For example, in one clinical trial, post-menopausal women with a history of prior breast cancer consumed either DIM supplements or a placebo for 30 days. Those who took DIM had changes in estrogen metabolism that suggested their risk of a cancer recurrence was lessense. Other trials with I3C supplements produced similar results. You can increase your input of I3C and your body's production of its metabolite, DIM, by eating lots of cruciferous vegetables. Alternatively, summplements containing one or both compounds are available from health food stores and generally considered safe and free of side effects.
The Bottom Line
These are just a few of the many herbal or natural remedies that may lower your risk for developing breast cancer. Discuss them with your doctor first to decide what is right for your own situation, and be sure to combine them with breast self-exams and regular checkups to keep yourself healthy and cancer-free.
The American Cancer Society: Breast Cancer
American Cancer Society's detailed guide on Breast Cancer provides information and resources on the causes, detection, diagnosis, treatment, and research for breast cancer.
Memorial Sloan-Kettering: Astragalus
Folate and Breast Cancer: Research
DIM Clinical Trial
- Pilot study: effect of 3,3\'-diindolylmethane sup... [Nutr Cancer. 2004] - PubMed - NCBI
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