There is a clear increase in a woman’s chances of getting breast cancer as they age, in particular once they get into their 40′s, 50′s and beyond. Why would there be such an increase in breast cancer rates in women at this age? What is the significance of this time in a woman’s life?
During this time, a woman is likely experiencing the decline in her hormones as she enters peri-menopause, and eventually menopause. In addition to the natural decline in hormones, there are many other factors that can contribute to hormonal imbalance.
Some of the factors associated with hormonal imbalance include:
- Declining levels of progesterone with age and/or with removal of the ovaries in hysterectomy.
- Environmental, “xeno”-estrogens in the form of pollutants and pesticides.
- Oral contraceptives.
- Synthetic hormone replacement therapy.
These factors can contribute to an excess of estrogen in the body known as “estrogen dominance.” Since estrogen stimulates cell growth, a predominance of it, especially in the absence of adequate levels of progesterone (common in peri-menopausal and menopausal women), presents an increased risk of cancer, particularly in the breasts.
What Exactly Happens to Your hormone Levels During Menopause?
As your approach menopause you will experience an increasing decline in certain key hormones. You first need to understand that you body makes more than one type of Estrogen: Estradiol, Estrone, and Estriol. To understand what is happening to your body, we need to understand what each of these 3 Estrogens do in your body. There are two basic effects that Estrogens have on the cells in your breasts, one is a stimulatory effect, and the other is a inhibitory effect.
Here is how each of the 3 Estrogens influence your breast tissue:
- Estradiol: The most potent estrogen, equally stimulates and inhibits cell growth. In other words it is stable.
- Estrone: The second most potent estrogen, stimulates cell growth.
- Estriol: The weakest estrogen, actually inhibits cell growth.
The key takeaway here is that having levels of Estrone that are too high in your body result in more breast stimulation. While higher levels of Estriol in your body results in less breast cell stimulation, and therefore, breast protection.
But I’ve Heard That Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) Increases Your Risk of Breast Cancer:
When a women is taking Premarin or other non bio-identical hormones then that would actually be true. The ugly fact is that Premarin and other such synthetic hormones are composed of 48% Estrone (the potent stimulatory Estrogen). In a nutshell: you are taking more of the bad estrogen and decreasing your amount of the good estrogen. This equates to a prime set up for breast cancer.
On the other hand, the use of bio-identical estrogen, given in ratios that are in favor of the cell growth inhibiting estrogens has not been shown to cause breast cancer and in fact may actually be protective against breast cancer.
What About Progesterone?
Progesterone is another important component in helping to prevent breast cancer. Progesterone is the key hormone in the second half of a woman’s cycle. Estrogen is the dominant hormone in the first half of your cycle, which causes the growth of the uterine lining, and progesterone causes the sloughing off of the uterine lining.
Basically Estrogen = GROWTH, and Progesterone = NO GROWTH. Without adequate amounts of Progesterone to balance, the stimulatory effects of the estrogen go unchecked. This over stimulation is particularly bad for the breast tissue.
Progesterone vs. Progestin:
Progestins are a classification of drug that are similar to the natural progesterone you produce in your body. However, just as the name is similar but not identical, neither are their molecular structures. The Women’s Health Initiative revealed a 26% increase in breast cancer as a result of taking synthetic progestin. The Nurse’s Health Study found that synthetic progestins tripled breast cancer risk over that of estrogen only. The use of Provera, a synthetic progestin and component of Prempro, has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer by 800%.
Bio-Identical Progesterone has many Anti-Cancer Benefits:
- Progesterone moves estradiol to weaker estrone
- Progesterone moves estrone to inactive (sulfated) form
- Progesterone moves estrone to weakest/safest estriol
- Progesterone down-regulates estrogen receptors all together
- Progesterone activates the cancer protection gene, p53
- Progesterone helps women sleep and manage stress (an important aspect to cancer prevention)
Simply stated, synthetic progestins are pro-breast cancer and bio-identical progesterone is breast protective.
Know The Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance:
- Unwanted weight gain/inability to lose weight
- Premenstrual weight gain/bloating
- Heavy/painful periods
- Irregular bleeding
- Tender and/or fibrocystic breasts
- Mood swings
- Low Libido
- Low thyroid symptoms
- Sleep disturbances
- High stress
- Belly fat
- Low immunities/susceptibility to illness
What Can I Do to Prevent / Treat Estrogen Dominance?
First, I recommend testing your hormones using to determine the extent of estrogen dominance. If your progesterone/estradiol ratio is low, this indicates that progesterone levels are inadequate in relation to estrogen levels. This is a clear indication of estrogen dominance.
If this is the case, it would be a good idea to talk to a health care provider who specializes in the use of bio-identical hormones about supplementing with bio-identical progesterone to balance estrogen levels. It is important that your physician take the time to discuss all your symptoms and take everything into consideration along with your lab results. This will give them the best picture of your unique situation and needs.
Start taking Di-indolemethane, aka DIM. This is a natural supplement that comes from green cruciferous vegetables and has great studies that show breast cancer risk reduction as a result.
Other Important Steps to Take Include:
- Reducing the use of pesticides, pollutants, and chemicals in your home.
- Eating organic foods that are free of hormones and pesticides.
- Maintaining an ideal body weight (excess fat increases estrogen production).
- Exercising regularly.
- Finding ways to better manage your stress.
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