Modern Lifestyle and the Rise of Breast Cancer
A few weeks ago, we sat down with Dr. John West, author of “Prevent, Survive, Thrive”, and we asked him why breast cancer rates have tripled since 1940. According to Dr. West, the main culprit is estrogen. More importantly, it is how our modern lifestyle has increased the exposure and amount of estrogen in our bodies. You can listen to his full answer here, but we have provided a (tidied) transcript below.
“There are a lot of lifestyle issues that I think are incredibly important. It starts with proper diet. We know that the diet has shifted to a high carb diet. Carbs turn to sugars in your stomach, sugars absorb quickly, and insulin is released. It is that insulin release that is a growth promoter that leads to cells dividing more rapidly, and possibly dividing out of control.
Also, as a consequence of eating a high carb diet, you overload your system. It’s absorbed so quickly that the insulin drives it right into fat stores, and then you’re hungry again, so you overeat. Obesity, as we know, is a risk factor. And finally, the big issue. ‘If women ask, what are the top three things I can do to lower my risk of breast cancer?’ Number one is exercise, number two is exercise, and number three is more exercise.
One of the mechanisms we know that puts women at an increased risk is exposure to estrogen. If you look at rural America, where girls worked on the farm, they started working when they were eight years old. They worked twelve hours a day. They didn’t even get their menstrual period until they were seventeen or eighteen years old. Then a few years later, they got married and had their first child. So having a first child early is definitely protective. Having your menstrual period start late is the opposite.
Based on diet and lack of exercise, girls are gaining weight. There’s more estrogen in their system, related to the metabolism by the fat cells. This exposes the breast to more risk. So, it’s the obesity, the lack of exercise, and the improper diet that drives the estrogen, which drives the breast cancer mutations.
One of the big recommendations that mothers can give their daughters, if they want them to lower their risk of breast cancer, is to get pregnant early. They don’t do it a lot, for understandable reasons, but the story is that early onset pregnancy is clearly a protective force in terms of lowering your risk of breast cancer.
It appears that the effects of pregnancy are protective. But how that works, with this delicate balance of estrogen, progesterone, and other hormones in the system, that change the normal rate of mutation to a higher risk of mutations that lead to cancer, isn’t precisely worked out. But over and over again, we see fluctuations in estrogen as risk factors in the development of breast cancer.”
It’s worth noting that living a healthy lifestyle does not ensure an immunity to this disease, and not all incidences of breast cancer are caused by unhealthy lifestyle choices.
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