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Breast Friends

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National Breast Cancer Awareness month has come to an end. I've seen more pink in the past few weeks than I can handle -- and I love pink! Although this aggressive disease takes the lives of women no matter their background there is a disproportionate number of women of African-American descent that suffer from this disease. Breast cancer takes the lives of 1 in 8 women. Beginning in their 20s, into their mid 40s, black women are twice as likely to die of breast cancer as white women who have breast cancer. In older black women, cases of breast cancer decline, but the high death rates are persistent.

Only 5 percent to 10 percent of breast cancers occur in women with a clearly defined genetic predisposition for the disease. So that means the other 90 percent is lifestyle factors, mostly diet, stress, overweight, and environment. With all the talk about cancer prevention focused on early screening, I'd like to highlight some lifestyle shifts that need to be integrated into our daily lives to prevent disease. Health is wealth and if we take charge of our health and embrace practices that not only honor who we are but set an example for those in our communities we can heal a nation.

Let's take a look at diet:

The SAD (Standard American Diet) is high dairy, high fat, high cholesterol, high protein, laced with salt and loaded with hormones, pesticides, fungicides -- you name it, it's in the food. If these agro-chemicals are strong enough to kill small bugs and micro-organisms what makes us think they are remotely safe for us to ingest without consequences. I'd like to speak on dairy -- why are we still eating dairy like it's going out of style? ***90-95 percent of Black people over the age of 5 years old are lactose intolerant***, but the staple foods in a soul food diet -- like macaroni and cheese, rolls, mashed potatoes, green beans, etc are cooked with dairy in some form. Proteins in cow's milk can trigger any number of overt symptoms, the most common reactions to milk include: asthma, digestive issues, chronic mucus, runny nose, earaches, and eczema. Milk blocks iron absorption and without adequate iron the body can't make hemoglobin (whose job is to carry oxygen in the blood) so one possible outcome is anemia. Drinking cow's milk causes a rapid increase in insulin like growth factor (IGF-1), and high levels have been linked to breast and prostate cancers. Milk products are laced with antibiotics and recombinant bovine growth hormone, and pesticides from the feed. Pesticides are concentrated in the cows fat cells and of course transferred into the milk. So guess what -- those pesticides flood your blood stream and the hormones compete with your own hormones causing imbalances.

Research shows that dairy products actually put you at risk for osteoprosis. High levels of protein in milk promote the loss of calcium through the kidneys. So don't believe them when they say you need to drink milk or eat yogurt for calcium, you can get abundant calcium from leafy green veggies! The only reason milk has any remote amount of calcium to begin with in theory is because cows eat grass -- nowadays they eat grain -- the wrong feed for their bodies, so most commercial milk products are enriched. High dairy consumption in women is also linked to an increased risk of ovarian cancer and prostate cancer in men. So there you have it, we do not need to be drinking the reproductive bi-product of another animal.

Eating a whole foods diet full of vegetable protein, high quality fats and virgin cold pressed oils is the best defense you have to protecting your body on all levels, and especially your breasts. The breasts are hormone sensitive so you want to be eating foods that actually promote an excretion of excess hormones not the proliferation of them in the body. A whole foods diet is low in estrogen and also promotes a healthy and balanced weight- overweight promotes more estrogen in the body as excess fat cells accumulate. So eating more green leafy veggies, WHOLE grains, nuts, seeds, beans, an some fruits will contribute to a leaner waist line, less kamikaze estrogens circulating in your tissues because dietary fiber increases fecal excretion of estrogen, and a more balanced mood. What do collard greens, brussel sprouts, kale, cabbage, and broccoli all have in common? They contain a compound called indole-3-carbinol (I3C) a chemical that changes the way that estrogen is metabolized and has the ability to make the body's estrogen less apt to promote cancer, now that's what I call super food!

Sauteed Collard Green Ribbons

Using a chiffonade technique to slice the greens into ribbons, speeds up the cooking process. These greens are at their best when cooked 5 minutes, sauteed in olive oil, they maintain more nutrients that way and the vibrant green color. This technique can be used on all types of robust greens- kale, mustards, etc.

Serves 4 (Prep time 10 minutes)

2 bunches collard greens
1 tbsp olive oil
sea salt (to taste)
2 crushed cloves garlic (optional)
crushed red pepper

Wash the greens thoroughly and chop off the end stems. Take 3 collard leaves at a time, stack them together and roll them up width-wise. Hold in place against the cutting board and make 1/4 inch slices through the collard roll and place inside a large bowl, continue cutting the remainder of the greens this way. When you are done you should have a heap of collard ribbons.

Heat a pan on medium high, add the olive oil and swirl the pan to cover the entire surface if you are adding crushed garlic place it in the pan now, cook for two minutes and add the collard greens. Sprinkle about 2 tbsp of water over the greens stir around and cover for 4-5 minutes. Remove the lid, sprinkle sea salt and crushed red pepper, then mix the greens again. Serve hot.

Regular exercise is associated with lower levels of body fat and less incidence of circulating estrogens. Try dance, rollerblading, ride riding, jump rope, yoga, anything that you love that makes you feel good. The endorphins you get from elevating your heart rate and doing what you love help to also reduce stress load in the body.

Alcohol consumption increases breast cancer risk by elevating hormone levels in the blood. Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom -- the bible for women's wellness, says that, "Given the fact that many women drink to medicate their emotions, women's unexpressed emotions may enhance the alcohol -- breast cancer link." Another thing that Dr. Northrup points out is that women rarely allow for an emotional release, rarely get things "off their chest" so-to-speak. Every experience has a physical response in the body be it perceived as positive or negative, the ones that accumulate with poor health outcomes are those emotions that correspond to perceived negative experiences. The accumulated stress, sadness, tension, fear, can alter your health on a cellular level causing the rudiments of disease. So a healthy form of self expression, stress management techniques and yoga and breathing exercises are all great ways to transform our health and take care of our bodies.

Some of us look around us and see family members and dear friends suffering from breast cancer, most of us can name a few people close to us who have fallen victim to this disease, and yet many of us continue the addictive patterns that set the stage for illness to settle in. You have the power to reclaim your body, make your breasts you best friends and don't just think of them once a year when you're lacing your sneakers for a breast cancer walk or when you are going for a bra fitting. Healthy lifestyle habits aren't just for fads' sake, but to embrace for a lifetime. So don't put your pink away now that we're on to Thanksgiving and the holidays, proudly practice connecting with your body every day. Take time for your health because if you don't take it, no one will hand it to you.