OK, now that the holiday is over, and we're back to the daily routine (my Tai Chi class was cancelled for a week, and boy, was I cranky!), let's explore more ways to decrease breast cancer risk.
Speaking of Tai Chi, let's talk first about exercise. I've heard for years that exercise helps decrease the risk of breast cancer, but why, exactly, is this so? As it turns out, a recent study found that increased activity/exercise seemed to increase the metabolism of estrogen. This means that women who exercised had greater removal of estrogen from their bodies, as well as more effective processing of the estrogen metabolites in their bodies.
This means that the levels of estrogens circulating around their bodies was lower, and that means that their risks of breast cancer went down. Now, this is emerging evidence, and more data is needed, but it's definitely encouraging!
Additionally, aerobic exercise makes the cells in your body more responsive to insulin. This means that your blood sugar will be, on average, lower, since your cells are using the glucose that's in your bloodstream, and that your pancreas won't have to secrete as much insulin as it used to, in order to get your cells to "listen." Interestingly, breast cancer risk has also been linked to higher levels of circulating insulin, so exercising (which lowers insulin levels...) can also lower risk in this fashion.
Now, here are a few more ways that exercise can potentially help decrease your risk of breast cancer, although a little more subtle. Usually, when you exercise, you sweat. Your skin is your largest detox organ, and when you sweat, you get rid of toxins through the skin.
In addition, when you exercise, you have to breathe, right? Well, breathing, and movement help many individuals to feel more relaxed, quieting the adrenal glands. When your adrenals are less stressed, they signal the liver and intestines that digestion can/should occur. Remember when we talked about your poop being an important detox pathway? Well, if your intestines aren't functioning optimally, you can recycle the toxic forms of estrogen metabolites.
So, exercise serves multiple purposes. But there are two last benefits that I want to mention. The first is that consistent exercise can, for many women, serve to decrease how much adipose tissue they have. Interestingly, your fat cells do a fair amount of converting your circulating androgen hormones into estrogens. Decrease how much fat a woman has, and you decrease the conversion.
Lastly, while the majority of women worry about developing breast cancer, few are concerned about heart disease. Research shows that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and more than 6.5 million women already have some form of the disease, compared to the one in eight women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. Exercise, while good for your breasts, is great for your heart. Kind of like that proverbial apple a day, a good workout each day can go a long way to keeping the doctor away too!
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