This October is breast cancer awareness month. Breast cancer affects around 1 in 3 women in their lifetime. So it makes good sense to do everything we can to protect ourselves and take the very best possible care to lower our risk of having breast cancer.
The biggest risk factor for breast cancer is age: breast cancer is much more common as we get older. Now, there’s not much we can do about getting older, but there is something we CAN do.
Did you know that most types of breast cancer are estrogen-driven cancers? So looking after your estrogen levels and making sure that your estrogen metabolism is super-duper is really important.
How do you know if you have estrogen imbalance?
Here is a list of things to look out for, that can be an indication of unbalanced estrogen levels, or estrogen dominance. If you have any of these, or have had in the past, then it would be a good idea to support your health with some of the suggestions in this article.
- PMT type symptoms:
- Headaches and migraines
- Weight gain
- Water retention
- Worsening of your IBS
- Breast tenderness
- Mood swings
- Brain fog
- Periods which are either very heavy (menorrhagia) and/ or painful (dysmenorrhoea)
- Periods that are either very far apart or very close together.
- Menopause that is ‘ all over the place’
- Breast cancer
- Endometrial cancer
- Prostate cancer
OK, so now what?
If you suspect that you may be someone who has imbalanced estrogen levels, the first thing is don’t panic! There are lots of things you can do to help your estrogen health which will help prevent things like breast cancer. But for any of that stuff to make sense, we need to understand a little bit more about what it takes to support healthy estrogen levels.
List of things to impact healthy estrogen levels
Geek alert! Ok so to explain all of this properly, we are going to dive into some of the incredible physiological balancing acts that your body takes care of every single moment of every single day. Don’t get too bogged down in the details. I just want you to understand that your body is incredible for balancing all these pieces, and that honestly and truly, you really are a miracle!
1) Gut health and the ‘B glucuronidase’ thing
Estrogen is metabolised in the liver, then excreted via the bile into the top of your digestive tract, from where it travels down the ‘pipe’ and it is then eliminated to the outside world!
But when we have a high level of an enzyme called B-glucuronidase floating about in the digestive tract, things can go wrong. The B glucuronidase acts like a pair of scissors, that snips any estrogen travelling down the gut off of its carrier molecule. So instead of the estrogen leaving the body, it is instead freed from its carrier molecule and recirculated back to the liver.
What that then means is your liver has to do the job of getting rid of the estrogen all over again! A bit like groundhog day.
B glucuronidase levels are much more likely to be high if we have wobbly gut health e.g. dysbiosis, SIBO, constipation and such things.
So if you want healthy estrogen metabolism, you have to make sure you have great gut health. So we don’t trigger estrogen groundhog day!
2) Optimal liver detox pathways i.e. great liver health.
Your liver clears unwanted estrogen via three metabolic pathways: glucuronidation, methylation and sulfation. So to support each of these you need:
● Excellent protein intake
● Nutrient dense anti-inflammatory diet, especially cruciferous veg (cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli etc.) and onion family veg.
● To avoid liver toxic stuff, like alcohol
3) Healthy ‘ bus service’.
Bear with me on this one!
Estrogen is carried around your body by a molecule called SHBG – you can think of this as the ‘bus service’. 99% of your estrogen is bound to SHBG i.e. it is ‘on the bus’. The other 1% is free estrogen: this is your biochemically active estrogen. It is the free estrogen that gives you the ‘estrogen dominance’ symptoms.
The key to healthy estrogen levels lies in having a healthy ‘bus service’, so how do we optimise the SHBG ‘bus’?
Here is a list of things you can do to optimise your ‘bus service’:
● Lower your stress levels
● Maintain a healthy weight
● Ensure your waist circumference is less than half your height
● Ensure healthy baseline insulin levels by avoiding eating lots of carbs and sugary stuff.
● If you have an underactive thyroid, make sure you have regular checks to optimize your treatment levels.
4) Natural aromatase inhibitors
All your estrogen comes from converting testosterone to estrogen. This process is driven by an enzyme called aromatase.
So if you can slow down the aromatase, then less testosterone is converted to estrogen, and so this lowers your levels of estrogen. Voila!
Here are some foods that will help slow down your aromatase and support healthy estrogen levels:
- FIBRE, FIBRE FIBRE!! In other words eat your veg!
- Flax seed
- Green tea
- Red grapes (resveratrol)
- Cruciferous veg
- Mushrooms (especially white button)
If you eat more of those foods, your body will enjoy healthier estrogen metabolism and a lower risk of all the estrogen driven conditions.
Your 10 point guide to the basics of supporting a healthy estrogen metabolism
Here is a handy checklist summing up some of the key ways to maintain healthy estrogen levels to protect yourself from things like breast cancer. Click the button below to download a lovely PDF version of this tick list that you can print off.
1. Avoid stress and be kind to yourself
2. Healthy weight (BMI)
3. Healthy waist line
5. Nutrient dense foods
6. Vegetables +++
7. Fibre, fibre, fibre
8. Avoid sugary white stuff
9. Eat clean (organic, local, seasonal as much as possible)
10. Avoid alcohol