Updated: Dec 5, 2022
The right balance of hormones is important for breast health including oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone, cortisol, DHEA, and vitamin D. Let’s talk about some of the roles that these hormones can play in keeping your breasts healthy.
Oestrogen and Breast Health
Oestrogen is important for many aspects of health but it must be kept in balance with other hormones. Too much can be a bad thing and has been linked in developing breast cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, 2 out of 3 cases of breast cancer are hormone receptor-positive. This means the cancer cells have receptors for oestrogen or progesterone. Oestrogen can encourage cancer cells to grow if they are oestrogen receptor-positive.
Xenoestrogens can also be an issue. Since these can mimic oestrogen, their presence in the body can make oestrogen dominance more likely. The effects of these compounds can often be a lot stronger than the oestrogen that’s naturally produced in your body.
Some cleaning products and personal hygiene products contain these xenoestrogens and toxins that mimic the effects of oestrogen. Plastics, cosmetics, and pesticides can also be common culprits. These chemicals and toxins can find their way into your breast tissue and build up over time
Progesterone and Breast Health
Progesterone works alongside oestrogen to help maintain a healthy balance. If the balance isn’t right, it can lead to oestrogen dominance. The problem may not necessarily be too much oestrogen, but not enough progesterone. Low progesterone has been linked to a higher risk of breast cancer, often in combination with high oestrogen levels. Progesterone can be depleted due to stress, which can further upset hormone balance.
Testosterone, Cortisol and Thyroid Hormones and Breast Health
Testosterone is the most abundant biologically active hormone in women. It is a precursor hormone for estradiol (E2,a form of oestrogen). It affects the androgen receptors which are located throughout the body including the breast where testosterone decreases tissue proliferation.There’s some evidence that androgens can be beneficial for breast health. However, T can be aromatized to estradiol (E2), which increases proliferation and hence, breast cancer (BCA) risk.
Thyroid imbalances can have an effect on your menstrual cycle and this can have a knock-on effect on breast health. Tenderness that comes and goes through your menstrual cycle can potentially be linked to an under-active or overactive thyroid. Oestrogen dominance can mean that thyroid hormones can potentially be blocked from being used in the body, especially if you also have low progesterone.
Unbalanced cortisol levels can eventually trigger adrenal exhaustion and this can raise the risk of chronic illness and even cancer. When you are under a lot of stress, your adrenals are in a state of "flight, fight or freeze". This encourages your body to produce high levels of cortisol rather than progesterone. This can contribute to oestrogen dominance.
Vitamin D and Breast Health
You may not know this but vitamin D is actually a hormone and it has wide-ranging effects throughout the whole body. When it comes to breast health, vitamin D may help protect against breast cancer.
What to Eat For Healthy Breasts
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage can help balance oestrogen levels, especially in relation to progesterone and thyroid hormones. They contain a substance called DIM (diindolylmethane), which supports liver detoxing and making it easier for excess oestrogen to leave the body.
These vegetables also contain indole 3-carbinol and sulforaphane, which can help to block cancer cells.
Making sure your diet includes plenty of cruciferous vegetables can help to avoid oestrogen dominance and by default, balance other hormones too.
Consuming adequate fibre is essential. Regular bowel movements are move toxins and excess oestrogen out of the body. Women should aim to eat up to 21 to 25grams of fibre a day.
On a similar note, there’s some evidence to suggest that maintaining good gut health is important for avoiding oestrogen dominance.
Even if you’re experiencing oestrogen dominance, plant-based oestrogen (phytoestrogens) can still benefit you. Beans, lentils, sweet potato, oranges, and flax seeds are examples of foods that contain these nutrients. Phytoestrogens, especially when consumed regularly during childhood, have been linked to a decreased risk of breast cancer.