Like your gut, the breast has a microbiome, and a new study shows it can be directly influenced by what you eat. Breast glands have a microbiome. And, like the gut microbiome, it can be affected by diet, according to researchers at Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina.
“Microbiome” refers to a variety of living organisms, such as bacteria and fungi, that populate our bodies. This ecosystem is essential to good health. We were surprised that diet directly influenced microbiome outside of the intestinal tract in sites such as the mammary gland.
The researchers say that shifting the breast microbiome through diet may reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. The scientists used female monkeys to see how diet affects breast tissue. They fed one group a high-fat Western diet and another group a Mediterranean diet, which is plant based.
After 2 1/2 years, which is about the same as 8 years for humans, the two groups had significant differences in bacteria in their breast tissue. The Mediterranean diet group had 10 times more mammary gland Lactobacillus. These bacteria have been shown to slow growth in breast tumors. Also, cancerous breast tumors have lower Lactobacillus abundance than noncancerous breast tumors.
The Mediterranean diet group also had more bile acid metabolites, which the researchers say may reduce the risk of breast cancer. Study authors acknowledge the research is still in the early stages.
Because microbiomes vary according to where a person lives, they say future studies will involve primates from different regions. Other studies are also underway to see if fish oil or probiotic supplements can affect microbiomes in mammary glands.
The role of diet in breast cancer
breast cancer prevention isn’t that simple. Women in the United States have a 1 in the 8-lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. Some breast cancer risk factors, such as genetics and age, are beyond a person’s control.
Studies are really important, but you have to be careful how you interpret the conclusions. It’s not one thing, but a combination of things. Age is a huge factor for breast cancer. And breast cancer isn’t a single disease.
What makes cancer research so interesting and challenging is that you’re trying to attack a very wide range of diseases. There are many different kinds of breast cancer. And many things can affect development of breast cancer.
Diet may be one small portion of that. We don’t want patients to think if they adopt a diet like this they won’t get breast cancer. You can adopt these diet habits and it may reduce risk, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to screen or you’ll never have breast cancer.
Patients to keep things simple
A healthy diet, exercise, and moderate alcohol intake are all factors we have control to reduce the risk of breast cancer. Weight control is important. We know that obese women are at higher risk.
Advice for patients is to get their nutrients through a healthy, natural diet. When you do that, large amounts of vitamin supplements aren’t necessary. The need for moderation in how much you eat.
We can pick apart these diets, but I sometimes wonder if what’s wrong is volume. If you sit down for a meal in Europe, they don’t give ginormous portions and expect you to eat it all. Here, what they serve you can feed a family of four. And if olive oil is good, you shouldn’t just pour it on everything or eat a jar of olives.
Moderation is key, both for general health and for lowering the risk of breast cancer. It’s really enlightening to have a patient do a food diary to see how much they’re eating. Keeping track helps them reflect and realize maybe they could be doing better.
Transitioning to a Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet is more focused on plants and whole grains. Contrast that with the Western diet, which is full of white bread, refined grains, and processed and prepackaged foods. Whenever possible, choose fresh over-processed foods.
When you’re trying to decide if something is plant based or processed, ask if it looks like something you would find in nature. You won’t find Fruit Loops sitting in a field.
A few simple dietary changes can go a long way. For example, instead of a prepackaged breakfast bar, have a nut mix. Look for foods that don’t have added sodium and sugar. Its also recommended substituting high-starch foods like corn and potatoes with other vegetables.
Fresh is best. But if you have to, frozen or canned vegetables are OK. The typical Western diet includes a lot of fatty red meat, which can contribute to inflammation. The Mediterranean diet limits red meat in favor of more fish and poultry.
The Mediterranean diet contains more omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory. Consuming fish such as salmon, plus nuts and healthy oils lowers your risk of cancer and other illnesses. Think about how much red meat and pork you consume in a week. Keep it down to once or twice a week and have chicken and fish more often.
Less red meat and dairy can help lower cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure
Also, the Mediterranean diet is typically lower in salt and sodium than the Western diet. That helps control blood pressure. It was suggested that replacing white bread with whole-wheat bread. But that can be tricky.
It’s important to know that wheat bread and honey wheat bread are not the same as whole-grain wheat bread. They’re just white bread in disguise. Look for 100 percent whole wheat, not enriched flour. Eating out can make things even trickier. But you can still make a few healthier tweaks.
When ordering a salad in a restaurant, choose oil- and vinegar-based dressings rather than creamy ones, like ranch. Olive oil has healthy fats and is a huge component of the Mediterranean diet. It helps control inflammation. And look for options other than potatoes. Instead of fries, ask for a side salad or see if you can substitute a fresh vegetable or fruit.
The typical American diet is filled with processed and prepackaged foods meant to make our lives easier but they’re not good for overall health. So, every time you swap these things out for fresh vegetables or fruit, it’s a step in the right direction. Everything else will fall into place from there 🙂 🙂