Breast cancer is an ever-looming fear for most women over age 30. Current statistics tell us that 12 of women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime – that is roughly 1 in 8 women. Most incidences of breast cancer occur in women over the age of 50 but 11% of new cases will occur in women under age 45. In 2015 nearly 3 million women have had a history of breast cancer, either currently in treatment or having finished treatment. So that's the bad news. The good news is that rates of breast cancer in the United States are decreasing. Between 2002 and 2003 breast cancer rates decreased by 7%, most likely due to the decrease in use of hormone therapy in the form of estrogen and progestins (synthetic progesterone).
"Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)" or hormone corrective therapy, is often prescribed with the best of intentions. Whether a woman is reportedly suffering with hot flashes, weight gain, low libido, or sleep disturbances, hormone therapy can vastly improve a woman's quality of life. But these same therapies also increase the risk of developing breast tumors in postmenopausal women. Very recent research shows that women can actually reduce the odds of developing breast cancer by consuming a Mediterranean-style diet as well as a diet high in luteolin, which is a natural plant-based flavone found in broccoli, celery, thyme, parsley, green pepper, chamomile tea, and olive oil.
In a recent study coming out of Spain, researchers assigned study participants to either one of three groups to test out the effects of the Mediterranean diet on prevention of heart disease. Over 4000 women participated and were randomly assigned to either the group advised to consume a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil (1 liter per week), a group advised to consume Mediterranean diet plus mixed nuts (30 grams per day) or a control group with no specific dietary recommendations. In addition to lowering the risk for cardiovascular disease with both dietary strategies, the group assigned to Mediterranean diet plus olive oil had a 68 percent lower risk of malignant breast cancer compared to those in the control group and those in the Mediterranean Diet plus nuts group experienced a non-significant decrease in breast cancer risk.
Unfortunately as developing countries adopt some of our less healthy Western lifestyles, the risk of developing breast cancer also increases. Early adoption of Mediterranean-style eating and lifestyle could be a significant step towards reversing that trend.
The Mediterranean diet (patterned after those living in Greece and Southern Italy) includes a high consumption of fruits and vegetables, a moderate consumption of fish, moderate consumption of dairy products (yogurt and cheese), unrefined grains, red wine, and a low consumption of meat. Mediterranean residents are probably most widely known for their use and consumption of olive oil, which is naturally high in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties.
As a side note, an essential lifestyle consideration that may strongly help alleviate symptoms of menopause and support an overall more peaceful life and alternative to hormone therapy, is stress reduction. We underestimate the effects that stress has on our lives. If we can successfully manage our stress and normalize cortisol levels, we may find that those "symptoms" of menopause and peri-menopause decrease and/or interfere much less with quality of life. Meditation, daily exercise, exposure to natural light, gratitude journaling, establishing daily rituals and rhythms where we eat, go to bed and wake up around the same time every day, along with the Mediterranean Diet are all strategies that have been shown to help mitigate stress. Consider implementing several of these strategies into your daily life.