October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Here’s What You Need to Know

October 28, 2019

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The connection between nutrition and disease prevention

Did you know?

  • Six in 10 Americans live with at least one preventable chronic disease.
  • Obesity impacts one in five children, and one in three adults, in the United States, costing our healthcare system $147 billion each year.

It’s a critical time for us to actively work to reverse these staggering statistics.

There have been many research studies to determine how impactful food can be on disease prevention or progression. The most common outcomes of these studies have shown that: 

  • Diets high in processed meat, refined grains, sugar-sweetened beverages, high-fat dairy, eggs, and fried food are positively associated with risk of disease.
  • Diets high in vegetables, legumes, fruits, poultry, and fish are inversely associated with risk of disease.

It’s important to note that the majority of this evidence was found from observational studies, which have their limitations. Check out our blog post about red meat to learn more about the different kinds of nutrition studies and how to interpret this information to make your own health decisions.

The evidence found in these studies is still useful as a foundation for making decisions about what foods are best to eat to promote health in your unique body. Our blog post about embracing bio-individual nutrition is yet another resource to dive into if you’re interested in learning how to choose foods that are truly healthy for you.

The connection between nutrition and breast cancer

Breast cancer impacts approximately one in eight women worldwide, making it the leading cause of cancer deaths among women. But breast cancer doesn’t affect only women: Men have a one in 800 chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime.

There has been a lot of research on how to reduce the risk of breast cancer through diet and lifestyle interventions, and while the statistically significant factors are alcohol intake and weight, there are some generally accepted guidelines for those looking to reduce their risk. These include:

  • maintaining a healthy weight;
  • being physically active;
  • eating whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans;
  • limiting fast food;
  • limiting processed meat;
  • limiting sugar-sweetened beverages;
  • limiting alcohol consumption;
  • aiming to meet nutrient needs through a diet of whole foods (using supplements as needed); and
  • breastfeeding (if applicable and possible).

If you Google “breast cancer and nutrition,” you’re likely to find conflicting information regarding the consumption of soy products, such as soy milk, edamame, and tofu. These foods have compounds called phytoestrogens, which can behave in the body like the hormone estrogen. There are three types of phytoestrogens: isoflavones, lignans, and coumestans. The phytoestrogens found in soy are isoflavones.

Soy isn’t actually the only food that contains these phytoestrogens! Other foods that contain some amount of phytoestrogens include chia seeds, sesame seeds, oats, barley, lentils, yams, and alfalfa greens.

When soy foods, in particular, are consumed in their whole form, the isoflavones can actually reduce the surplus of circulating estrogen, thus reducing the risk of developing breast cancer. One example of a soy product in which there are altered isoflavones is protein powder that contains soy protein isolate. These isolated isoflavones do not seem to have the same positive effect as the whole form, and it’s recommended to avoid these products and only focus on organic and fermented versions of soy products, if you decide to keep soy in your diet.

The connection between mental health and breast cancer, as told by an Integrative Nutrition graduate

We talk a lot about food and the power it has on our well-being, but we also emphasize the importance of nourishing yourself with primary food – the things that feed you off the plate, such as relationships, environment, career, and health (including mental health). You can be eating all the kale and fermented foods you want, but if you’re not actively working to maintain mental health, you’re not taking the whole picture into consideration.

That’s where the Institute for Integrative Nutrition comes in – teaching you to take a holistic view of your health for a balanced life. Take a minute to figure out what areas need more attention in our exclusive Circle of Life exercise.

Our curriculum teaches you, both as an individual and potentially a Health Coach, that you must leave space to handle those feelings to address your whole health. Katherine Knoploh, one of our graduates, shares her firsthand experience with a breast cancer diagnosis and how Integrative Nutrition helped her navigate her healing journey (and help others do the same!):

“The Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s Health Coach Training Program opened my eyes to the concept that health is more than food and exercise. While I knew these aspects were important, and I learned more about dietary theories and the importance of fitness during my studies, it's the lifestyle practices information that resonated with me because I could see the imbalance in my own life. 

“IIN also expanded my knowledge and interest in complementary and alternative methods of healing. Because of what I learned, I use breathing techniques daily to manage my stress (and know why it's so important to do so) as well as acupuncture to manage the neuropathy in my feet due to chemo. I also love that IIN introduced me to doctors, who I still follow, in my own journey of plant-based eating for my health.

“While I went into the program with the intent of gaining knowledge for my own health, by the end of the program, the education I received, and my life experience, helped me see my life purpose to help others affected by cancer. I now coach clients individually, whether they’re recently diagnosed, currently in treatment, living with a stage 4 diagnosis, or post cancer. Oftentimes, the emotional impact of a cancer diagnosis and treatment is just as hard, if not harder, than the physical challenges. Careers and relationships often change, too. IIN provided me with a toolbox of information to draw upon while teaching me the coaching techniques to provide a safe space for my clients to express themselves.

“[My clients] are given the opportunity to share the impact of the diagnosis and treatment on their whole life, while I share with them resources and tips to manage pain and nausea, for example, as well as stress management techniques. I have also held group education classes for those who want tips and resources to help a loved one who has been diagnosed with cancer and a stress management class for disease prevention.

“The fear of recurrence is common with those who are post treatment, and I am an inspirational speaker, sharing my cancer experience and techniques to manage fear that can be applied to all circumstances. I can be contacted via my website, inspiredvitality.life, and my Facebook page, Inspired Vitality of Minnesota.”

How we honored Breast Cancer Awareness Month

IIN’s very own Jim Curtis sat down with Dr. Kristi Funk, board-certified surgeon and bestselling author of the book BREASTS: The Owner’s Manual, in an exclusive interview to discuss how diet and lifestyle impact cancer prevention, treatment, and beyond. They also discussed how Health Coaches can provide significant support to those impacted by cancer – just as our amazing graduate Katherine does – by providing a safe space to talk through their health concerns and desired goals.

Dr. Funk debunked common myths surrounding breast cancer development, some of which we were shocked to hear! Click below to check out the following clip where Jim asks a question you’ve probably wondered yourself:

Continue spreading health and happiness beyond October

It’s great that we have an entire month dedicated to spreading awareness of breast cancer and how this disease and nutrition are deeply intertwined. We encourage you to bring this awareness out with you into the world – not confined to a single month but embedded in your everyday life. Health Coaches are doing this important work, and you can, too! If you’re interested in learning more about how Health Coaches are playing their part to help prevent and manage disease, you can get more information here.

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