Are You Gaining Weight or Gaining Estrogen?

As we age many women gain weight due to our high fat, oversized portions, preservative laden, lack of exercise, menopausal American lifestyle. As a result, excess weight around a woman’s waist often results in excess estrogen in the body. If you’re like me and are “of a certain age” and your breast cancer was estrogen positive, this is not good news because estrogen fuels your cancer. Therefore we need to keep our weight down and avoid products and foods that contain estrogen or convert to estrogen-like compounds in our bodies.

Other than hormone replacement therapy, one of the biggest sources of estrogen is soy. I know we’ve all heard soy is a breast cancer inhibitor, but this is a complex issue and one that is fraught with controversy. Regardless, once you have been diagnosed with estrogen positive breast cancer, soy is at the top of the list of things you want to avoid. Stay away from products high in soy as well as estrogen-like substances called isoflavones, pesticides and herbicides in fruits and vegetables, hormones in meat and dairy products, plus canola, corn and safflower oils. Body and skin care products containing soy and parabens, which convert to estrogen in the body, should also be avoided but that is a topic we will save for another day. Estrogen, soy and parabens… Talk about a can of worms! So what do we do? What do we eat?

If you’ve been diagnosed with estrogen positive breast cancer and/or are menopausal, and without notice turn into the werewolf from Waxahachie, the plot thickens. To keep my breast cancer from recurring, my doctor wants me to avoid all forms of estrogen including estrogen creams, patches and foods containing estrogen, plus I am taking Arimidex, which keeps my body from making estrogen in the first place. I’m told if you stand too close to me you can actually hear the estrogen being sucked out of my body or… maybe that’s the heart palpitations… due to my lack of estrogen. You may ask “what about bioidentical hormones?” which again, we will save for another day. Either way, girlfriends, I hear your pain.

There is however some good news about what we can do to reduce excess estrogen. My friend, Lisa Powell, Director of Nutrition at the fabulous Canyon Ranch resort and spa in Tucson, Arizona, is not just an expert on integrative nutrition as well as preventive and wellness nutrition, but she is a breast cancer survivor. A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of hearing Lisa speak to a group of survivors. In addition to avoiding products with soy, Lisa gave us some rules of thumb for managing our weight and reducing our risk of recurrence.

1. Be as lean as you can, within normal body weight, but not skinny.
2. Be physically active every day, walk 30 minutes, six days a week.
3. Limit sugar, processed foods and fast foods.
4. Eat a diet primarily of plant origin, including berries, nuts and seeds.
5. Limit red meat and processed meats.
6. Limit alcohol consumption.

The issues surrounding breast cancer and estrogen are complex indeed. Now that half of all medical students are women, hopefully more attention will be paid to the cause and effects surrounding women’s health issues. In the meantime, do your best to control your weight, exercise regularly and avoid soy. You may also want to get one of those bumper stickers that warns people, “I’m out of estrogen, and I have a gun.”