Estrogen - Friend or Foe for Breast Cancer?Estrogen - Friend or Foe for Breast Cancer?

By Dr. Mao, L.Ac., D.O.M., Ph.D, Dipl. C.H., ABAAP

Over my 38 years of clinical practice, our team and I have cared for many breast cancer patients. I have always felt frustrated that all the emphasis and resources in oncology are devoted to treatment in the aftermath of the disease, with very little public education on breast cancer prevention and risk reduction.

When researching for the book Live Long, Live Strong: An Integrative Approach to Cancer Care and Prevention , my co-author and I canvassed all the past and present research, which convinced us, without a doubt, that breast cancer occurrence would drastically decline if women knew what to do to avoid this awful disease.

In the United States, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, and the risks are highest in the female population between the ages of 25 and 65. My breast cancer patients often ask me what they can do to reduce the risks in their preadolescent and teenage daughters, so they don't have to repeat what their mothers went through. Some studies show that breast cancer predisposition starts in the womb. Men are affected not only by the women with breast cancer in their lives but also because they can develop breast cancer.

Diagnosis and Assessment

There are several diagnostic tools used to assess your relative breast cancer risks.

They range from genetic testing and regular breast imaging screenings to the assessment of environmental toxin exposure, history of hormonal use, and factors including age, time of period onset, pregnancy history, breastfeeding, age at first and last childbirth, obesity, and alcohol consumption history.

Genetic testing and early detection screenings help catch the disease early. However, one must balance the benefits of early detection and the risks of frequent mammography exposure to excessive radiation. Ultrasound and MRI imaging exams do not have radiation concerns.

Estrogen is the Cause of Most Breast Cancers

Most breast cancers in America are due to estrogen-receptor (ER) positive cancer - meaning the cancer cells become fueled by excess estrogen. This article is devoted to addressing the question of estrogen.

How can something like estrogen, essential in women's reproductive and sexual maturation process, be good and bad at once?

Let's talk about what estrogen does. Estrogen is critical for the health of the brain, heart, and bones, not to mention its lack in post-menopause women contributes to a loss of collagen, skin wrinkling, vaginal dryness and atrophy, hot flashes, depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Its primary purpose is to stimulate the growth of egg follicles and prepare the lining of the uterus for pregnancy.

But like all chemical molecules in the human body, the appropriate amount sustains health, while excessive quantities may become poisonous. For example, cortisol is the stress hormone released by your adrenal glands, sitting atop your kidneys. The right amount of cortisol gets you out of bed each morning, aids your body's healing process, and keeps you alert to dangers around you throughout the day.

However, when cortisol level becomes too high for too long and kept at an unhealthy high level, it can lead to depressed immune function, contributing to chronic inflammation leading to cancer. Likewise, when estrogen level is too high, also called estrogen dominance, it may increase cancer risks. These cancers include breast, ovaries, uterus, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), insulin resistance, diabetes, cysts and fibroids in the breast, uterus, adrenal glands, obesity, and infertility.

Sources of Estrogen from Within

There are over one hundred estrogen molecules in the body, with the most common being estrone (E1), estradiol (E2) estrone, and estriol (E3). The ovaries and uterus produce all. Estradiol (E2) is the most prevalent hormone produced during a women's reproductive period and is the main one implicated in Estrogen-Receptor (ER) Positive breast cancer.

The adrenal glands also produce estrogen by converting androgen (male hormone), through the action of an enzyme called aromatase, into estradiol. Moreover, your adrenal glands must produce cortisol quickly when stress strikes. The estrogen converts from DHEA, the precursor hormone that produces cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. The estrogen converts to cortisol and sacrifices progesterone resulting in high cortisol and unchecked estrogen. Stress management is the key to keeping your adrenal estrogen from rising.

Fat cells also produce estrogen. Therefore, people with obesity generate higher levels of estrogen in their bodies. Your liver usually breaks down the excess estrogen molecules, but estrogen levels will remain high if your liver function is not optimum. Breast tissue will then become exposed to high estrogen. More reason to regularly help your liver detoxify and achieve weight wellness.

External Sources of Estrogen

The three main pathways of entry for xenoestrogen or compounds that mimic estrogen in the body are from the outside. They include oral consumption, environmental exposure, and direct skin contact. These represent the low-hanging fruit of breast cancer prevention, as awareness and avoidance can make a substantial difference in cancer occurrence.

Oral Consumption

  • Medications like steroids, antibiotics such as tetracycline, and antipsychotics like Thorazine, have been found to elevate estrogen levels
  • Diets high in animal fats contaminated with carcinogenic and xenoestrogenic chemicals, factory meat and dairy products produced with artificial growth factors
  • Eating produce and fruits sprayed with pesticides and herbicides, many of which are xenoestrogens
  • Regularly heating food with and drinking water out of plastics made with Bisphenol-A (BPA), which is a xenoestrogen
  • Alcohol consumption, smoking, and vaping have estrogen-like effects on the body as well as damage the liver's ability to break down estrogen

Environmental Exposure

  • Household exposure to estrogenic chemicals such as chlorinated cleaning products, insecticides, pollutants in the air from autos, nail polish and remover, perfumes, air fresheners, dryer sheets, and cloth dry cleaning fluids
  • Workplace exposure to a wide range of outgasses that are xenoestrogens, including printers, copiers, gases from carpets, paint, furniture, and cabinets made from fiberboards

Direct Skin Contact

  • Exposure to skin care products containing parabens, such as creams and makeup, phthalates in lotions, benzophenones in sunscreens, and bleach in feminine care products, all of which are xenoestrogens.
  • The use of hair care products containing estrogen-like chemicals such as phenoxyethanol in shampoos and conditioners, as well as p-phenylenediamine (PPD) in hair dyes

How to Get Rid of Bad Estrogens

The bad news is that if you've checked off several items in the above list, your body has most likely accumulated unwanted and dangerous estrogens and estrogen-like compounds. The good news is that you can get rid of them and keep them away naturally. Besides minimizing or eliminating your exposure going forward, here are the three steps to help rid your body of these breast cancer-causing substances.

Support Your Liver in its Detoxification

The liver breaks down chemicals, including carcinogens, hormones like estrogens, and old red blood cells that the body doesn't need or want. However, our modern lifestyle puts our liver under constant stress, which reduces its effectiveness in eliminating toxins. Support your liver by starting each morning by drinking a large glass of hot water with lemon juice. Enjoy our Detox Tea containing dandelion, peppermint, and chrysanthemum. Eat beetroot, brussels sprouts, and garlic, and take Liver Support containing burdock, artichoke, and methionine.

Eliminate Bad Estrogens with Broccoli

Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and brussels sprouts contain a natural compound diindolylmethane (DIM), that eliminates bad estrogen compounds from your body. Besides eating them - it's nearly impossible to get enough DIM from diet alone - I personally take DIM and recommend it to my patients. In Estro-DIM, besides broccoli extract and DIM, we put pepper extract to increase its effectiveness. The bonus is that since taking DIM, I've lost my belly fat and reduced my pants size by three inches. So it's not just for women.

Lose Fat, Naturally

Fat cells store and produce estrogen, which is why obese patients have higher estrogen levels. With a nation obsessed with losing weight, a new diet fad appears every week containing conflicting information on what to eat and what not to eat. Confusion is then created for everyone wanting to lose weight the natural way. Most diets and supplements cause water loss instead of fat loss, creating a yo-yo cycle of weight gain and loss. Since each person is different, we prefer to help patients achieve weight wellness with a customized eating and nutrition plan. Many patients have achieved up to 100 lbs of weight loss while reducing their body fat, from as high as 45% to as low as 25%, over time.

In summary, estrogen is a fantastic hormone for your body. Yet, due to all the stress of modern lifestyle and human-made chemicals, we've given ourselves way too much estrogen and estrogen-like compounds. They are at the root of many cases of breast cancer. It's all about estrogen balance. By educating the public and implementing the strategies outlined in my article, I hope that more women will not needlessly suffer from this awful and devastating disease.

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