The Doctor Is In: Antioxidants for Cancer Prevention
Antioxidants and free radicals are some things that we hear about on a daily basis. We know that antioxidants are good and we should consume more of them. We know that free radicals are bad and we should avoid them. But what exactly are these antioxidants and free radicals and how do they affect us? And more importantly which ones are best for our breasts?!
Free radicals are a type of molecule that is highly reactive. This means that they bind to other molecules such as your cells and DNA and cause damage. This process is known as oxidation where free radicals essentially take a bite out of your cellular structures. You can see oxidation happening all around you such as the browning of a cut apple when left out or the yellowing of old papers.
A generally benign yet aesthetically concerning issue with free radicals in your body is that they can cause fine lines and wrinkles. This is why you will see many anti-aging skin care products that tout their use of antioxidants. On a more seriously concerning level, free radicals will damage your cellular structures which can result in mutations. Concerning breast health, these mutations in our DNA can alter our tumor-suppressor genes and oncogenes which can directly lead to tumor growth.
Now that we know what free radicals can do, how do you avoid them? Unfortunately, in some cases you can’t. First off, our body actually produces free radicals as a by-product of daily cellular functions. The immune system produces superoxide to kill off bacteria and viruses; however, this compound also acts as a free radical. While the body has mechanisms to neutralize the free radicals it produces such as the superoxide dismutase enzymes, it is not 100% efficient; free radical damage can still occur from these internal sources. Our largest external exposure to free radicals is through our environment. This is where we can have a little bit more, albeit not complete, control on avoiding exposures.
The biggest sources are:
- Cigarette smoke (which for many reasons should always be avoided)
- Air pollution
- Gasoline fumes
- Radiation (by the way, I’m totally against the new body scanner at the airports; I refuse to use them and insist on a pat down)
- Fried and charred foods
- Solvents (this includes those commercial brand scented candles, ladies!), etc.
But don’t worry, because antioxidants are here to help! Antioxidants are molecules that work by binding to the free radicals and neutralizing them. When you see the extent of damage a free radical can do and how much we are exposed to them every day you can understand why it really is important to consume as many antioxidants as possible.
The most powerful antioxidants for breast health are:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin A
- Catechins in Green Tea
Now these antioxidants are definitely my favorite; however, I can’t talk about antioxidants without mentioning Glutathione. Glutathione is the mother of all antioxidants, also known as the super antioxidant. There has been a lot of new information coming out about this great compound including a special on Dr. Oz as well as an article in the Huffington Post. Refer back to previous posts with Keep A Breast and read the blog by Dr. Amanda Ward on Glutathione to learn more.
Your top food sources for antioxidants include:
- Dark berries; including blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, goji berries, etc.
- Citrus fruits
- Other fruits; mangos, pineapple, melons, kiwi
- Cruciferous vegetables; broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage
- Leafy greens; kale, collards, chard
- Green tea: powdered green tea is now available and is a highly concentrated source that can be added to water
- Alliums; garlic, onions, shallots, scallions, leeks
Do you need to supplement? While they are readily available from our foods, our antioxidant defense systems are vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies. Many health practitioners believe that the increased load of toxins in today's environment, combined with the borderline diets we eat tip the free-radical/antioxidant balance against us. Antioxidant supplements can help tip the balance back in our favor.
Dr. Brooke Leverone is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor in the state of California and currently practicing at Bloom Natural Health in Encinitas. She is a highly trained and caring practitioner whom is passionate about educating her patients and empowering them to be an active participant in their own health. Her specialties include hormone balancing, digestive health, detoxing and micronutrient deficiencies. Check out her previous The Doctor Is In posts here.