To celebrate International Women’s Day

In the lead up to International Women’s Day, what are the most powerful things a woman can do to enhance her health? Since breast cancer is the commonest cancer in women, it’s a good place to start.

One in 4 cases of breast cancer are preventable. So how can you reduce your risk?

  1. Movement is more powerful than medicine. That means doing physical exercise you enjoy for about 30 minutes at least every second day. It’s important that you enjoy it because if you’re doing something you hate or find stressful, your body produces the hormone cortisol which dampens the benefits of exercise (and destroys brain cells). And if you don’t enjoy something you’ll never stick to it anyway. So take the time to find movement you look forward to: walking, dancing, cycling, swimming, hula hooping, team sports. Exercising with a friend provides added health benefits.
  2. Feel your feelings. In her brilliant book, Women of Silence, Grace Gawler describes how suppressing your emotional needs and denying your feelings increases the risk of developing breast cancer. Acknowledge and express your feelings rather than squashing them and burying your pain. Find a confidante or counsellor.
  3. Limit alcohol consumption to less than one standard drink per day because alcohol damages DNA and elevates levels of the hormone oestrogen. Even just one drink a day increases breast cancer risk by 7% and the more a woman drinks, the more she increases her risk.
  4. Don’t smoke. Tobacco smoke contains over 5300 chemicals and at least 70 of them are carcinogens. Cigarettes don’t only cause lung cancer, they increase the risk of most other cancers as well.
  5. Prioritise getting a regular good night’s sleep. For mots people this means 7-9 hours. The hormone melatonin (produced during the night) interacts with the immune system and may play a role in reducing DNA damage.
  6. Eat at least 5 serves of different vegetables every day. One serve is half a cup of cooked vegetables or one cup of leafy greens. Potato chips and fries don’t count. A recent national survey reported that 90% of women don’t eat enough vegetables (and neither do 96% of men). The average Australian eats only half of the above recommendation.
  7. Aim to eat 2 serves of fresh fruit (NOT dried, juiced or tinned) on most days. One medium-sized fruit such as an apple, pear, orange or banana counts as one serve. For smaller fruits such as plums and apricots, one serve is 2 fruits. Forty five percent of Australian women and 56% of men don’t eat enough fruit. Juices contain too much sugar (even if the label says ‘all natural’ or ‘no added sugar’) to be consumed more than once per week. Eat as large a variety of fruit and vegetables as you can.

The good news is that even if a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, her average 5-year survival rate is 90% and 20 year survival rate is 83%. The key is early detection. So please check your breast for lumps every month and have a mammogram every second year after the age of 40.

Two things may have occurred to you while reading the above 7 steps:

Firstly, they constitute very basic, straightforward advice.

Secondly, they will reduce your risk of EVERY disease, not just breast cancer.

What you probably don’t realise is just how powerful these measures are. These 7 steps are more powerful than ANY drug or supplement or whiz bang treatment. We tend to dismiss them because of their simplicity and ‘ordinariness’ and yet when combined, these 7 steps are the magic bullet, the universal panacea, the elixir of life.

If you would like to hear Dr Helena speak at the NIIM International Women’s Day celebration in Melbourne, please click here to register. 

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