The Conventional Gynecological Exam Vs. The Naturopathic Gynecological Exam: One Patient's Experience
27 Oct 2018
27 Oct 2018
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month! As a naturopathic doctor, this means something specific to me – breast cancer prevention. 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, but few know that breast cancer is largely a preventable disease. Yes, there are genetic factors like BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes in the family, which are absolutely important, but we also know a lot about the lifestyle and dietary factors that can decrease our risk.
We already know it’s good for us, but exercise has a particularly strong effect on preventing cancer. By helping us to maintain a healthy weight, we reduce the burden of excess estrogen in our system. Adipose (fat) tissue is a producer of estrogen, so too much of it can actually be detrimental for our hormone balance and put us at increased risk for hormone-sensitive cancers. Another hormone, insulin-like growth factor (or IGF-1), is also kept in check with regular exercise. It is a growth hormone that can promote cancer growth, and regular exercise combined with a low sugar/low simple carbohydrate diet can help manage levels. Find an activity you love, and be consistent. Exercise should be enjoyable!
What we find on the end of our fork can be the most powerful medicine we ever use! Following a plant-based diet has consistently been shown to be protective against developing cancer. Whether it’s vegetarian, paleo, or a bit of everything, the focus should be a majority of plant-based foods on your plate to reap the rewards. The antioxidants and phytochemicals found in vegetables decrease inflammation and protect from DNA damage that can lead to cancer development. If you are eating animal product, organic is the way to go, as fat accumulates toxins like pesticides from animal feed, pharmaceuticals, and hormones. And, as mentioned above, a low sugar/low simple carbohydrate diet will balance blood sugar and further prevent cancer risk.
Did you know that just four alcoholic drinks per week increases breast cancer risk by 15%? And each additional drink after that further increases your risk. Alcohol is surprisingly carcinogenic, a little known fact! Plus, any damage to liver function may decrease your ability to detoxify other compounds and hormones that can contribute to cancer risk. Keep your liver happy by enjoying alcohol in moderation and drinking water between alcoholic drinks.
Plastics contain xenoestrogens – compounds that act like estrogen in your system. We’re mostly familiar with BPA, as it has been linked to reproductive cancers, but there are other compounds in plastic beyond BPA that may pose a risk as well. Phthalates, other bisphenols, or BHPF are less studied, but are starting to show similar potential risks for our hormone balance. The best options are to use a glass or stainless steel water bottle, to buy cooking oils in glass bottles, and to store fatty leftover foods like sauces, soups, and stews in glass containers. Plastic will most readily leech into fat, but is also an issue with water, so be careful what you store in plastic containers!
Our body has a highly intelligent ability to detoxify harmful compounds. Mainly occurring through the liver, detoxification is an essential process to help the body clear excess hormones and toxins that might otherwise lead to cancer development. There are a number of ways to improve your pathways of elimination – drinking at least 6 glasses of water daily, eating 30 grams of fibre to keep bowels moving well, enjoying green vegetables for their toxin-trapping chlorophyll, drinking herbal teas like dandelion root, and enjoying cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts) to boost liver detox. Encouraging lymphatic drainage is also important with contrast showers or lymphatic brushing. The lymphatic system is like the sewer system for your body, as it collects cellular waste and toxins. Sweating via exercise or saunas is also a powerful way to mobilize toxins out of fat tissue and eliminate through the skin. A naturopathic doctor can also guide you through a targeted detox protocol twice a year to ensure you maintaining your best health.
Self Breast Exam
Get to know yourself and your normal! Self breast exams can be intimidating at first if you don’t know what you’re feeling or looking for. Some common breast tissue changes, like fibrocystic breasts, can be concerning due to their lumpy nature. Have a naturopathic doctor walk you through how to perform a breast exam in standing and lying position, and what tissue changes to look for. Then, make it a regular habit to do a self-exam once a month one week after your period starts. Getting to know what is normal for you is the best way to be aware of changes if they do happen.
Doing advanced functional testing like the DUTCH dried urine hormone test is a fantastic way to assess what your hormone levels are, how your body is breaking down hormones, and whether your estrogen is moving through pathways that are more or less likely for cancer risk. Having this information is key if you have a family history of breast cancer, but anyone can benefit from optimizing their hormone levels and hormone clearance. Your naturopathic doctor can order these tests for you, and come up with a protocol to address your individual hormone needs.
There is a lot that is within our control when it comes to preventing cancer. At Natural Choice Medical Clinic in Guelph, we strive to give you the tools to live your healthiest life. Book an appointment with one of our naturopathic doctors today to get on the road to better health!
Dr. Aleksandra Gasinski, ND
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