Could vitamin C really play a preventative role in reducing breast cancer risk?
According to research it may well be an important part of a multi-pronged cancer protection strategy. Nutritional Therapist Jacqueline Newson explores evidence that suggests what you eat and drink plays a key role in influencing your risk of cancer.
Breast cancer is still the most common cancer amongst women globally and claims the lives of more European women than any other cancer. The number of women contracting the disease and dying from it in Europe alone appears to be rising. In 2012 there were approximately 494,100 cases reported and it now thought that 1 in 8 women are likely to develop breast cancer before they reach 85. However early-stage breast cancer patients are frequently given encouraging prognoses and go on to live cancer-free lives following orthodox treatment.
The rise in breast cancer cases is considered to be partly due to a combination of sedentary lifestyles, weight gain, obesity and other factors such as late motherhood and the decreasing number of children women are having. Early detection is crucial so get into the habit of checking your breasts regularly - often easiest to do when you are in the bath or shower. If you need guidance visit:
Cancer develops when free radicals (highly reactive molecules produced as a result of normal metabolism or from exposure to toxins, disease or ultra violet rays) damage DNA. The damaged DNA is not repaired by the body and damaged cells continue to replicate, out of control, causing the growth of a lump or tumour.
Diets rich in fruit and vegetables are especially important and this is partly due to their antioxidant content particularly vitamin C, which has been shown to impart protective effects for breast cancer.
Focus on Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant which helps to protect cells from the harmful effects of free radicals. Vitamin C also helps re-cycle another antioxidant, vitamin E, creating a dynamic vitamin duo that actively keep fighting free radicals.
There is an increasing body of literature that identifies the potential anti-tumour effects of vitamin C. Research documented in the Journal of Scientific Reports found that vitamin C increases the activity of a chemical compound known as 5hmC, which promotes cell death in breast cancer cells. In fact, the loss of 5hmC within primary breast cancers is seen as a biomarker of poor prognosis.
In another recent study carried out at the University of Iowa, tumour cells were seen to be vulnerable to vitamin C. It was found that exposure to high doses of vitamin C made the tumours more susceptible to damage and death.
Unfortunately, humans now lack the enzyme needed to make their own vitamin C, so it’s essential that we source this vitamin from our food.
Vitamin C Boost
The best solution is to increase your fruit and vegetable intake, particularly peppers, broccoli, strawberries, guava and kale. If this is not an option supplementing can help - although standard oral vitamin C supplements tend to have poor bioavailability delivering as little as 15% into the bloodstream.
Liposomal vitamins such as Altrient vitamin C offer far greater absorption. In fact, evidence shows that because of the unique liposomal technology, Altrient vitamin C is able to produce serum levels nearly double those thought theoretically possible with other oral forms of vitamin C - making Altrient a highly recommend supplement.
Neutralise free radicals
Scientists and medical experts estimate that about a third of the most common cancers could be avoided by eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly.
Limit free radical exposure
- Avoid over exposure to UV rays from the sun
- Give up smoking
- Avoid burnt foods
- Reduce mercury exposure by limiting oily fish to two portions a week
- Choose natural cleaning and beauty products
- Avoid fragranced products that contain phthalates (hormone disruptors)
- Eat organic foods where possible
- Open your windows – indoor air pollution can in some cases be significantly greater than outdoor air pollution
Maintain a healthy weight
Most people know that keeping to a healthy weight cuts the risk of many diseases and this is particularly so with breast cancer. Results from research show that women with a BMI over 30 account for around 25-33% of breast cancer cases.
Lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle is estimated to be a factor for an estimated 10-16% cases of breast cancer.
Evidence from research has identified that even light drinkers consuming up to one alcoholic drink a day increase their risk of developing breast cancer by 5% compared to non-drinkers.
Several research papers have drawn strong links between elevated blood sugar levels and poorer outcomes for women with cancer. Evidence suggests that that insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF) promote tumour growth in breast tissue. IGF-1 is secreted in response to elevated insulin levels, which are triggered by rising blood sugar levels. Protein, fat and fibre help to slow down the absorption of sugar from foods which helps reduce insulin surges. Good examples are nuts, seeds, oats, beans, avocado, olive oil, yogurt, chicken, fish, fruits and vegetables.
Four steps for better blood sugar
- Avoid sugary foods
- Avoid highly processed foods
- Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, cigarettes and alcohol
- Eat good quality protein, healthy fats and fibre at every meal.
Think twice about synthetic hormones.
Synthetic hormones are found in HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) and the contraceptive pill. Many women opt for HRT to dampen down symptoms associated with the menopause. Your Doctor can explain the risks associated with synthetic hormones and this is particularly important if your family has a history of breast cancer. There are now bio-identical hormones available on the NHS that have far fewer associated health risks, which you can discuss with your Doctor.
Jacqueline Newson BSc (Hons) Nutritional Therapy
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