If you are suffering from painful breasts at certain times during the month, you may find that putting cold compresses on the tender areas and wearing a well-fitting, supportive bra both day and night will relieve some of your discomfort. Your doctor may recommend pain relievers to treat the aches and pains. If fibrocystic breast conditions are causing you severe pain, you may be treated with medications such as Cyclomen® (danazol), a mild, synthetic male hormone, or tamoxifen, a drug that blocks the action of estrogen. Because these drugs can produce side effects, they should be used for only a short time.
Managing Fibrocystic Breast Conditions
You may have read a number of dietary and nutritional therapies that claim to alleviate your breast symptoms. Based on a review of well-designed studies conducted in women with fibrocystic breast conditions, there is unfortunately little evidence at
this time to strongly support many of these popular recommendations. While there is only weak evidence to say that diet may be the cause of fibrocystic breast conditions, what you eat may very well aggravate your symptoms. And since a high level of estrogen, or an increased sensitivity to estrogen, seems to be the dominant theory, any dietary modification that can reduce your circulating level of estrogen may help lessen your symptoms. The first three diet tips—reducing fat, increasing fiber and eating more soy—address this point.
DIETARY STRATEGIES Dietary Fat
If you have a fibrocystic breast condition, reducing the amount of fat you eat—from the typical North American intake of 35 percent of calories to 15 or 20 percent— may be beneficial. Although studies have not investigated the effect of a low-fat diet on fibrocystic breast conditions per se, there is indirect evidence to support this strategy. Research in women with breast dysplasia (abnormal growth of breast cells) has found a low-fat diet to have a positive effect on the density of breast tissue and the composition of breast fluid.
Eating a high-fat diet is also associated with higher levels of circulating estrogen and cholesterol, a building block of hormones. Studies reveal that when women reduce their fat intake, their blood estrogen levels also decline. The strongest theory for fibrocystic breast conditions is an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone, and excessive levels of estrogen seem to be a key factor. In two small studies, women with fibrocystic breast conditions who followed a 21 percent fat diet for three months experienced a significantly lower level of circulating estrogen and choles-terol.1 The low-fat diet did not alter progesterone levels.
To understand how dietary fat influences the amount of estrogen that circulates throughout your body, let me take you on a brief course in estrogen metabolism (don’t worry, it’s very brief!). Your liver attaches estrogen to a molecule of glucaronic acid or a sulfate residue, compounds that make estrogen easier to eliminate from the body. Your liver then puts almost one-half of these estrogen compounds into your bile, a digestive aid that’s released into your intestinal tract once you eat a meal. Once in your intestine, bacterial enzymes break the bond between estrogen and glucaronic acid or sulfate residues. Many of these free estrogens are then reabsorbed into your bloodstream.
It seems that a high-fat diet can increase the activity of these bacterial enzymes. That means that more free estrogens will be reabsorbed, increasing the amount of circulating estrogen. Low-fat diets, on the other hand, may slow the action of these intestinal enzymes and reduce the amount of estrogen that re-enters your bloodstream.
Here are a few tips to help you cut back to a 20 percent fat diet:
1. Choose lower-fat animal foods
Whole milk Yogurt
Cheese, 31% MF or more Cottage cheese, 2% or 4% MF Sour cream, 14% MF Cream, 10% or 18% MF Red meat, higher-fat cuts
Pork, higher-fat cuts
Poultry, dark meat Eggs, whole
Skim, 1% milk fat (MF)
Products with less than 1.5% MF
Products with less than 20% MF
Products with 1% MF
Products with 7% MF or less
Evaporated 2% or skim milk
Flank steak, inside round,
sirloin, eye of round,
extra lean ground beef, venison
Center-cut pork chops,
pork leg (inside round, roast),
baked ham, deli ham, back bacon
Skinless chicken breast, turkey breast, ground turkey
Egg whites (2 whites replaces 1 whole)
2. Use added fats and oils sparingly. Replace butter on toast with a sugar-reduced jam; try mustard instead of high-fat spreads on sandwiches; mix tuna with yogurt instead of mayonnaise; top your baked potato with low-fat sour cream instead of butter; order salad dressing on the side. And use oil sparingly in cooking, even if it is olive oil. Invest in a few high-quality non-stick pans. Use
chicken broth or apple juice to prevent sticking in your next stir-fry. I’m sure you are already well versed in low-fat eating, but there are probably a few things you can do to cut back on fat.
3. Read nutrition labels on packaged foods like crackers, frozen entrees, snack foods, cookies and cereals. A lower-fat food will have no more than 3 grams of fat per 100 calories. If you’re looking for a food that has 20 percent fat calories or less, make 2 grams of fat per 100 calories your cut-off point.