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The Vegan Menopause Podcast -- Keeping your breasts healthy in menopause

Updated: May 4



Note: This post contains affiliate links that support the podcast.

In this episode, we’re discussing breast health and especially keeping your breasts healthy in menopause.  Before I get started with the content, I wanted to quickly let you know I am now offering a Menopause Wellness Check, in which you fill out a form and I will create a custom video for you about 5-10 minutes long where I go over your form and provide you with feedback and tips. 


What happens to your breasts during menopause?

As we age, the skin of the breasts becomes thinner.  Decreased collagen causes connective tissue to lose elasticity, causing the breasts to sag and require more support.  The breasts may also become more tender and sensitive to pain.  The risk of breast cancer increases dramatically after menopause, partly due to hormonal changes, but also for other reasons I will discuss.

Although breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, and genetic predisposition can play a strong role, there are lifestyle and dietary habits we can follow to reduce our risk, rather than just relying on early detection from an examination or mammogram.


Breast tissue and the vegan diet

Breast tissue is mostly made up of adipose tissue (body fat) as well as glandular tissue.  It is dense in estrogen receptors, making it especially vulnerable to endocrine disruptors.  Some endocrine disruptors come from environmental pollutants and can’t be avoided.  They can include chemicals used in agriculture, pesticides, and heavy metals.  There are also endocrine disrupting chemicals that we can avoid, such as those in cosmetics, namely phthalates and parabens.

High levels of body fat increase health risks during menopause, and are also associated with higher estrogen levels.  Since the breasts have a large component of body fat and are dense in estrogen receptors, they are especially at risk.  Excess estrogen causes breast cells to proliferate.

 

Breast cancer and vegan diet

Diet is the factor that we have the biggest control over.  Fruits and vegetables have a protective effect and help repair damage to the cells.  Eating a colorful rainbow of fruits and berries helps protect against oxidative stress (you can think of oxidative stress as rusting or when a cut apple starts to turn brown).  Fiber from fruits and vegetables moves toxins out of the body.  

Meat and dairy have concentrated amounts of pesticides and other chemicals given to animals.  Dairy especially contains estrogen from breastfeeding cows, many of whom are already pregnant again.


Foods for keeping your breasts healthy in menopause

Phytoestrogens found in beans, soy, flaxseed, and broccoli have a protective effect against cancer. Flax contains high amounts of lignans, which bind to estrogen receptors and block the cancer-promoting effects of estrogen.  Phytoestrogens also contain globulin, which removes excess estrogen from the body.

Vegetables in the brassica family, including broccoli, kale, cabbage, and cauliflower, are high in phytochemicals with anticancer properties.  The main one is indole-3-carbinol.  It is especially protective against breast cancer because it is able to turn cancer-causing forms of estrogen into non-toxic products of being broken down.

It’s well known that in Asian populations, women have lower rates of breast cancer than North America, 1 in 100,000 women in China, but when they adopt a North American lifestyle, their rates go up.  The differences between Asian diets and North American are that North Americans typically consume less fruits and vegetables, more meats, dairy, and processed foods.  Asian diets are typically high in soy.  Soy has a protective effect but only when eaten in the least processed forms.  Edamame, tofu, and fermented soy such as miso and tempeh are the forms to eat.  I would recommend avoiding the type of soy that is highly processed into unrecognizable forms, such as fake meats, with unpronounceable ingredients added.  I’d also be cautious to eat only organic products because soy is one of the largest genetically modified crops.  Highly processed soy doesn’t seem to have any beneficial effect and is more likely detrimental to your health if you consume it regularly.

Hydrogenated fats are also linked to increased cancer risk.  That would be the type of fats found in many packaged foods and margarines.  Having a higher level of omega-3 fats, such as from hemp seeds, chia, flax, and walnuts, decreases cancer risk.

Avoiding alcohol can also help. The liver filters out excess estrogen so if the liver is compromised due to alcohol, that could potentially have a negative effect on the breasts.

Caffeine can also have a negative effect on breast cancer.  Coffee is often grown using pesticides and chemicals which are endocrine disruptors.

Iodine helps remove heavy metals from the body.  Iodine also helps balance excess estrogen, and the breasts, like the thyroid, absorb iodine.  We can get iodine by consuming sea vegetables such as dulse or kelp.



Lifestyle factors to reduce breast cancer risk

Exercise helps to reduce cancer risk and can lead to a better prognosis if breast cancer is diagnosed.  We tend not to get cancer in body parts that get a lot of energy flowing through them, such as muscles.  When we use our muscles, the tissue gets squeezed and released, pushing out toxins and allowing fresh blood to flow in.  But because breast tissue is more passive, it is more vulnerable to collecting toxins, and to stagnation.  Certain chemicals from our diet or environment, or cosmetics, circulate in the bloodstream and become lodged in the breast tissue.  

The main time in life that breasts have the most energy flowing through them is during breastfeeding, and we know that breastfeeding decreases the risk of cancer.  What if you have never breastfed?  There is still a lot you can do to break up stagnation.

To increase blood flow to the breasts, we can use massage.  If you have breast lumps, definitely do get them checked out by a medical profession first.  Massage allows fresh blood and oxygen to enter the cells.  But I mean massaging much more vigorously and frequently than a monthly self examination, enough to move energy around the tissues.  Daily, if possible.  We have breast tissue from the sternum to the underarms, and down to the sixth or seventh rib.  The muscles between the ribs may not have been touched since the breast tissue developed over them.  You can move the breast tissue away.  Try moving it in different directions to allow you to palpate these muscles. 

lifestyle factors to reduce breast cancer risk

You can also massage in circles, so your hands meet at your sternum as you are going upwards,  and then out to your underarms and back down.  My favorite product for this is Living Libations Breast Massage Oil.  This is kind of like food for your skin and breasts.  It has broccoli seed oil, which is very high in antioxidants and essential fatty acids, and the breast tissue absorbs what you put on it.  As I mentioned earlier, broccoli is high in indole-3-carbinole, which breaks down cancer-causing forms of estrogen.  The breast massage oil also has yarrow, cypress, grapefruit, and laurel, which help with stimulating the tissues and moving stagnation.  Breast tissue also loses elasticity as we get older, so this product also has calendula, rose otto, and chamomile to help with moisture and resilience of the skin.  

Dry skin brushing also helps release stagnation.  Lightly brushing your breasts with a gentle brush meant for dry brushing helps with circulation and removing toxins.  You can also brush your entire body from feet to head, in the direction of the heart.

Avoid antiperspirants.  They block sweat from leaving the underarm area (which has breast tissue) and toxins can accumulate there.  Deodorants should be okay but be careful of the ingredients they contain.  Fragrance or parfum can often mean phthalates – which are endocrine disruptors.  I recommend using baking soda based deodorants.  There are many businesses selling handmade deodorants as well as recipes available online that usually contain coconut oil, baking soda, and essential oils.


Why you should avoid underwire bras

My next tip is to avoid underwire bras.  They block lymph flow and encourage stagnation in the breasts, stopping the body’s ability to flush out toxins and compromising breast health.  If you have red marks on your body after removing your bra, you can be sure that the bra is causing stagnation in your breast tissues.

I recommend the Revolution Adjustable Pullover Bra by Knix.  It is super comfortable and has no clasps or seams.  It’s especially good if you have a shoulder injury, as I do.  I struggle to do up a clasp behind my back, I would have to do up the clasp in the front and spin it around, which is not the most comfortable way.  With the pullover bra, if you have a shoulder injury, you just put your injured arm through first and your good arm second.  This makes it easier to pull it over.  Bras can feel irritating and constricting but this is a bra that I never feel throughout the day.


Meditation for Breast Health

Another thing you can do – and admittedly this may sound a bit esoteric and woo but you can move energy using meditation.  If you’ve done yoga, you’ve heard of prana, and if you’ve done tai chi or qi gong, you know of chi.  This is the vital energy of your body.  Both of these practices are thousands of years old so this is nothing new.  Where the attention goes, the energy flows, and you can visualize this energy swirling around your breasts.  If you put your attention there you may even feel tingling and increased circulation.  It’s more subtle than a massage but it does have an effect, and the more you do this, the more you will start to feel aliveness and energy in your breasts throughout the day.  

If you are interested in a guided meditation audio for the practice of moving energy through the breasts, send me a DM on Instagram and if people want it, I will create one.

Breathing deeply can help with circulation and you can visualize directing the energy with your breath.  Meditation is also helpful because high stress and increased cortisol levels compete with progesterone.  Estrogen that is unopposed by progesterone can be a cancer risk factor.

I hope you have found this information on breast care helpful.  If you have any questions or topic suggestions, please let me know and I will do my best to either answer you either personally or in a podcast.  


References:

Welch, Claudia (2011).  Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life.  Hachette Books. 

Artemis, Nadine (2017). Renegade Beauty. North Atlantic Books.

Holford, Patrick (2004). The New Optimum Nutrition Bible. Crossing Press.

Murray, Michael (2012). The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (3rd Ed). Atria Books.


Further Menopause Help

In my free guide, Five Action Steps to Elevate Your Vegan Menopause Experience, I share five simple steps you can implement immediately, to feel more calm, more positive, and less affected by menopausal symptoms.


If you're struggling with menopause symptoms, a Menopause Wellness Check will help! You will get a custom video with feedback and tips based on the information you provide.


DISCLAIMER: This information on this website is general in nature and for informational purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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