Tie On a Pink Ribbon
Another condition intrinsically linked with women’s health is breast cancer. While not exclusively the domain of women, breast cancer incidence has increased to approximately one in eight women in the United States; every three minutes, a woman in the United States is diagnosed with breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) recently estimated that, based on current rates, 13.2 percent of women born today will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some time in their lives.
“The key is to not just offer supplements for breast health but to educate the consumer on how all their lifestyle choices impact their health and their family’s health,” said Stephen Hennessy, cofounder of Ribbon Nutrition. Among the keys to breast cancer prevention he noted were using natural, chemical-free personal care items and household cleansers; avoiding environmental toxins and unnecessary radiation; and selecting high quality, natural and organic foods and dietary supplements.
Among the powerful foods for breast cancer prevention is green tea. One metaanalysis of 13 studies reported green tea consumption lowered the risk of breast cancer significantly,26 while another reported consumption of five or more cups of green tea per day could prevent both breast cancer development and recurrence.27 The active polyphenols in green tea, specifically epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), have been shown to arrest the breast cancer cell cycle in vitro, delaying tumor incidence.28 It also has the ability to induce apoptosis in breast cancer cells without damaging normal breast epithelial cells.29
Phytoestrogens also have been studied for their impact on breast cancer. For example, a range of animal and epidemiological studies suggests dietary lignans may have anti-estrogenic, antiangiogenic and pro-apoptotic mechanisms to prevent cancer, with the most supportive data seen in prevention of premenopausal breast cancer.30 For example, in a population-based casecontrol study of 1,122 women with breast cancer and 2,036 controls in New York, premenopausal women in the highest quartile of lignan intake had a 34-percent reduction in breast cancer risk compared to the lowest intake group.31
“One of the main advantages to supplementation with flaxseed is it provides plant lignans that convert into mammalian lignans—phytoestrogen antioxidants,” said Kristen Trautman, product category manager at Bioriginal.“Plant-based lignans are beneficial in balancing hormone levels, which is valuable in managing menopause, hormone-dependent cancers and contributing to breast health.”
The lignan SDG (secoisolariciresinol diglucoside) is particularly powerful, and has been shown to significantly slow the growth rate of breast cancer, and reduce tumor size and number of tumors. Brevail® is a chemically characterized proprietary extract of flaxseed containing a defined amount of SDG, shown to be beneficial in preventing and treating breast cancer. A study in animals given a breast-cancer causing carcinogen plus a diet with flaxseed oil, flaxseed meal or SDG found all three diets reduced tumor size, but only the SDG diet reduced tumor size and the average number of tumors.32 In a second study, the same researchers fed pure SDG to carcinogen-treated animals and found the treated animals had a 46 percent decrease in number of tumors compared to the untreated animals, with no apparent adverse effects on any other organs.33
An unpublished study evaluating the bioavailability of Brevail included healthy postmenopausal women who received 25 mg,50 mg, 100 mg and 200 mg of Brevail as a single oral dose. The researchers found the SDG was efficiently converted to enterodiol and then to enterolactone, and blood concentrations increased rapidly after Brevail was taken. The lignans were eliminated from the circulation with a halflife of 10 hour, and when Brevail was taken daily for a week, plasma concentrations of enterolactone and enterodiol were maintained at a steady level, consistent with those previously reported for women who are at low risk for breast cancer.
“A lot of women are taking Brevail for the flax lignans that help with hormonal balance,” said Christine Horner, M.D., a nationally-known surgeon and author, who most recently published Waking the Warrior Goddess: Dr Christine Horner’s Program to Protect Against and Fight Breast Cancer. “Brevail helps to balance estrogen, so one way it lowers the risk of breast cancer is by regulating and lengthening the menstrual period, so women have fewer menstrual cycles.”
There has been some controversy surrounding soy and breast cancer, though most population studies have shown benefits. “Japan has the highest soy intake in the world and the lowest breast cancer rate,” Minkin said. “If these folks who eat more soy than anyone else have the lowest rate, doesn’t that say something for safety? Perhaps they’re eating it earlier in life when breast differentiation is going on, but I don’t think the theory about soy and breast cancer is an issue. However, any breast cancer patients should be getting guidance from their oncologist.”
One recent meta-analysis included 18 epidemiologic studies assessed for soy intake and breast cancer risk, and found high soy intake was modestly associated with reduced breast cancer risk, with the inverse association somewhat stronger in premenopausal than postmenopausal women.34 Further reviews indicate soy protein isolate may protect against breast cancer through multiple mechanisms, including increased mammary gland differentiation, decreased activation of procarcinogens and regulating genes linked to tumor promotion and/or progression.35 Animal trials suggest soy isoflavones may help to reduce breast proliferation and uterine size in a high-estrogen environment, altering estrogen receptor signaling and protecting the breast.36
Another option for soy consumption is fermented soy. Haelan Products, in Woodinville, Wash., produces a fermented soybean beverage, known as Haelan 951. The fermentation process hydrolyzes many of the soybean’s protein into amino acids and metabolites of naturally occurring isoflavones, such as genistein. Formulated to include most of the phytochemicals found in soy, the beverage has been used to reduce adverse side effects of cancer treatment, providing nutritional support during traditional disease treatment.
Also of interest to breast cancer researchers are the crucifers, including broccoli and watercress. “The cruciferous vegetables have several different chemicals in them with very protective effects against breast cancer and other diseases,” Horner said. “It can shut off a key enzyme necessary for breast cancer to grow, has an effect on estrogen receptors in breast cells, and turns on a tumor suppression gene.”
Sehi seconds the role of crucifers, particularly the compound indole-3-carbinole (I3C) and its metabolite diindolylmethane (DIM). “Studies have shown that I3C and DIM act to interrupt the damaged growth cycle in breast tissue, help restrain proliferation, eliminate damaged cells and help repair genetic material within breast cells,” she said.
Further, I3C has the ability to help the body balance out estrogen when it is processed by the liver to preferentially produce 2-hydroxy-estradiol, the “good” estrogen versus 16-hydroxy-estradiol, which has more negative consequences. “By enhancing the production of the ‘good’ estrogen, women get a stronger estrogen response from their own natural estrogen produced by the body,” said Roger Kendall, Ph.D., vice president of research and development at FoodScience of Vermont. “That coupled with some of the natural phytoestrogen compounds that can induce greater estrogen production and utilization can support a woman’s body.”
Researchers at the Karmanos Cancer Institute, Detroit, recently reported I3C and DIM helped downregulate antiapoptotic proteins, inhibiting cell growth and inducing apoptosis of breast cancer cells.37 It was further shown by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, that DIM has the ability to induce cell cycle arrest by increasing protection of p21.38 As noted in a review from the Eppley Institute for Research in Cancer and Allied Diseases,Omaha, Neb., I3C induces phase I and phase II enzymes that metabolize carcinogens, enhances DNA repair, and induces cell cycle arrest and apoptosis.39 I3C and DIM also affect the metabolism of estrogens, stimulating the production of 2- hydroxy-estradiol, and even protecting the liver against other carcinogens.40
Also, the isothiocyanates derived from broccoli and watercress have the ability to suppress the invasive potential of breast cancer cells.41 Sulforaphane,an isothiocyanate derived from hydrolysis of glucoraphanin, may have particularly strong activity by inducing phase II detoxification enzymes,42 and inhibiting chemically-induced mammary tumors in rodents, possibly through mitotic cell cycle arrest.43
Another nutritional compound of interest is inositol hexaphosphate, known as IP6. In vitro work with human breast cancer cells shows IP6 can inhibit cell adhesion, migration and invasion, key steps in metastasis.44 It also can decrease cell adhesion,45 and modulate cell cycle proteins, decreasing their proliferative effects in breast cancer.46 In addition, a study combining IP6 with adriamycin or tamoxifen against three different human breast cancer cell lines found the compound had synergistic benefits.47
“On a cellular level, IP6 works by normalizing the elevated rate of cell proliferation and by inducing differentiation, a phenomenon applicable to all cancers,” said AbulKalam Shamsuddin, Ph.D., M.D., a leading researcher on IP6 and the branded ingredient InoCell™. “It appears not to act via hormonal receptors; thus, its anti-cancer action against breast cancer is independent of hormonal status.”