From PCOS to Breast Cancer: Understanding the Epidemic of Hormone Failure
Another year and another spotlight on breast cancer prevention and treatment. While all fronts (research, education, public health) continue to make progress tackling the breast cancer puzzle, cancer continues to be the modern day curse with hormone failure its silent companion. Erratic estrogen levels, frustrated thyroids, and missing cycles are more common in practice today than even five years ago. Why are the lights dimming on female hormones today? From polycystic ovarian disease (PCOS) to breast cancer, the epidemic of hormone failure is rising in women of all ages.
Insulin regulation is playing a role in hormone failure. Better known as the blood sugar regulator, insulin levels often become abnormally high or erratic in conditions of chronic stress, weight gain, or poor sleep. Few women understand the implications of insulin levels fluctuating through the day, or the role of blood sugar regulation in cancer prevention and hormone health.
Prevent hormone failure by understanding your blood sugar levels and insulin levels. Eat at regular intervals through the day, reduce sugar and refined carbohydrates and sleep! Inconsistent sleep is one of the biggest triggers for insulin resistance.(1,2)
Common signs of inflammation include joint pain, muscle aches and fatigue, but chronic inflammation can set the stage for activation of cancer genes or just disrupt our hormone regulation. As physicians, we can routinely screen for inflammatory markers and watch for changes year to year. For a patient, chronic aches and pains should not be ignored; they are often early cues to a body out of balance.
Avoid chronic inflammation by following an anti inflammatory diet and pay attention to your digestive health, often the root of inflammation. Monitor your inflammatory markers yearly to understand where you are on the spectrum of inflammation.(2,3)
While BRACA may be the most well known genetic marker in the discussion of breast cancer, there are newer genetic terms that probably deserve a seat at the table. Methylation abnormalities or the MTHFR gene should also be part of the conversation. Hormone management and hormone failure is more common in patients with these gene defects. We are finding that patient with these defects often need specific micronutrients and are more susceptible to chemicals.(4)
Know your genetics and understand the newer players at the gene-cancer table. If you have a strong family history of PCOS, breast cancer or other hormone mediated diseases, methylation may be a term to understand.
In a recent study, the “cocktail” of chemicals, rather than a single chemical was found to be the link to cancer. We already know that many chemicals are hormone disruptors and are playing a significant role in hormone failure. Is this the reason for the rise in PCOS and genetic disruptions like methylation? While some research does tie these concepts together directly, it is an important question to ask and further investigate. (5,6)
Understand your chemical load and the toxins you are exposed to on a regular basis. The four main areas of chemical exposure for most of us are food, body care products, air and water.
An overplayed term but still an important concept in hormone failure. Stress, continues to be an endocrine disruptor. I know so many patients that can link the expression of their cancer to chronic stress or a traumatic personal event. Managing stress and creating a stress recovery plan has to be a part of cancer prevention.
Try blocking at least 10 minutes daily to lower your stress and find a few hours per week to relax. Yoga, acupuncture and massage are some of my personal favorites.
As we all stop to think about breast cancer and cancer prevention, begin your cancer prevention plan by understanding the concepts, your hormones and your risks — at any age.