Heavy Metals and Breast Cancer: What You Need to Know
If you've been diagnosed with breast cancer, it may be a good idea to test your levels of heavy metals. Because heavy metals are found in everything from our water to the food we eat, it's difficult to believe they may actually be dangerous.
Many of us have heard that heavy metals such as mercury can cause serious health problems, but most people don't realize that heavy metal toxicity can also lead to breast cancer, especially if we have a genetic vulnerability (polymorphism) for clearing heavy metals out of our body!
A polymorphism is an alteration in a gene that results in the creation of different forms of the same enzyme. When heavy metals are involved, it means heavy metals accumulate in the body and this can lead to heavy metal toxicity.
In this article, I'll tell you why heavy metals can be toxic and how they might affect your risk of getting breast cancer. We'll also go over four heavy metals that have been linked with breast cancer, as well as how to reduce heavy metal toxicity.
Why are Heavy Metals Toxic?
Heavy metals are found naturally in the earth. They enter the body through food, water, air, or absorption through the skin. They become toxic when they are not metabolized by the body and accumulate in our lungs, soft tissues, and kidneys, disturbing natural physiologic processes. Those with a genetic weakness for clearance of heavy metals are at a higher risk for accumulation.
According to studies, both acute exposure, as well as chronic accumulation of heavy metals in breast tissue, can promote cancer development.
Heavy metals are considered to be a primary risk factor in breast cancer development. They accumulate in breast tissue and can stimulate the progression of breast cancer, as well as reduce its sensitivity to treatment. One study showed that concentrations of heavy metals have been found in different parts of breast cancer tissues. (1) Another study showed that heavy metals can stimulate the growth of estrogen-sensitive cells and tumors. (2)
Over the last half-century, owing to an increased environmental release of these metals and a higher contamination in food and water supplies, as well as smoking tobacco products, there has been a substantial increase in exposure.
Metalloestrogens are heavy metals that mimic estrogen and add to the estrogenic burden of the body... this is what can stimulate the growth of estrogen-sensitive cells and tumors. The four metalloestrogens we will discuss in the rest of this article are mercury, lead, aluminum, and cadmium.
Mercury may be ingested through seafood that has been contaminated. Large, longer-living fish like shark, swordfish, and albacore tuna accumulate heavy metals in their tissues as they swim in waters polluted with industrial waste, including mercury.
It also enters the body through environmental exposure via improper disposal of mercury-containing thermometers and fluorescent lamps.
According to the World Health Organization, one of the most significant sources of human mercury exposure is silver amalgam fillings, which are used to repair cavities caused by tooth decay. Amalgam fillings are comprised of a mixture of metals: approximately 50% is made up of mercury, with the remainder consisting largely of silver, tin, and copper.
Amalgam fillings can release mercury vapors into our mouths, especially when they come in contact with hot foods and liquids. These are absorbed through our lungs and into our bloodstream where they can act as powerful toxins.
Lead is the most prevalent heavy metal contaminant in the environment. It has been shown to promote the development of existing tumors and accelerate tumor growth rates.
One study from Nigeria showed that newly diagnosed breast cancer patients were found to have higher lead levels than women from the same area without breast cancer. The lead levels in the hair samples were directly correlated with the size of the tumors. (3)
Sources of lead include personal care products such as black eyeliner and mascara, as well as lead-based paints and lead-contaminated dust.
Aluminum is another heavy metal that has been linked with breast cancer development by interfering with the function of estrogen receptors. (3) It has also been shown to cause oxidative stress and inflammation, both of which boost the risk for breast cancer. (4) One study showed that there was a 100% increase in non-invasive (stage 0) breast tumors among mice injected with aluminum chloride as compared to those without exposure. (5)
Sources of aluminum include personal care products such as antiperspirants, lipsticks, some toothpastes, buffered aspirin, and sunscreens.
Aluminum in antiperspirants is absorbed through the skin, especially skin that has been abraded from shaving. It can migrate through the lymphatic system and accumulate in breast tissue.
Aluminum is also found in many household items such as aluminum foil, cooking utensils, and cans. Food sources include baking soda and stabilizers in many processed foods including cake mixes and coffee creamers.
The most thoroughly researched metalloestrogen is cadmium. It's an environmental pollutant with well-known estrogenic effects that has been linked to breast tumor development.
Cadmium is found in many farm fertilizers and can make its way into groundwater and soil, ending up in potatoes, root crops, and vegetables.
Cigarettes are also a major source of exposure, as cigarette paper is coated in cadmium to slow down the burning process.
Some other sources of cadmium include batteries, cosmetics, bread and other cereals, paint, exhaust fumes, dental alloys, and motor oil.
Testing for Heavy Metals
A blood test, hair analysis, or urine examination can all be used to analyze for heavy metals. Blood tests generally indicate acute exposure, and hair analysis reveals more about a recent encounter. The most accurate is a urine test, which provides more information about the body's overall burden of these toxins.
A specific urine test called the Toxic Element Clearance Profile, available through Genova Diagnostics, identifies mercury, lead, aluminum, and cadmium as well as several other heavy metals that are toxic to breast tissue. Test kits can be ordered thru your health practitioner and the urine collection is done at home.
Various genetic tests identify the polymorphisms that hinder heavy metal removal from our bodies. The DetoxiGenomic Profile, offered by Genova Diagnostics, is a simple cheek swab requiring a cotton swab to be gently swiped on the inside of the mouth to collect a few cells for genetic testing.
Five Ways to Reduce Heavy Metals in the Body
1) Sulfur Nutrients
The use of cruciferous and allium vegetables, as well as L-Methionine and N-acetyl cysteine supplements, can help to reduce metal accumulation in the body by methylation.
These nutrients are particularly essential for individuals who have a reduced ability to excrete metals from their bodies. If you have a Cytochrome P450 polymorphism, for example, your metal excretion abilities may be diminished.
Sweating can eliminate heavy metals from the body, which is why many detox programs include periodic saunas or steam baths to stimulate sweating. Sweating through exercise also releases heavy metals. After a sweat, remember to replenish lost fluids and electrolytes.
Melatonin protects estrogen-dependent tumors from the effects of xenoestrogens like heavy metals (metalloestrogens). Tests may help you determine whether you require melatonin supplements or can boost your own natural melatonin production. Melatonin levels may be increased by deep sleep on a daily basis.
Glutathione is a major detoxification nutrient made by our bodies from the following dietary supplements: N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), glycine, and L-glutamic acid... They can all be used in conjunction with a heavy metal detox. These three compounds work together to make glutathione, which is an important detoxification agent that supports the excretion of many toxins, including heavy metals.
Not only does glutathione help us excrete heavy metals, but when we are exposed to heavy metals, our own internal glutathione production is hampered.
The excretion of heavy metals is aided by hydration. We can increase the removal of heavy metals from our bodies through urine by hydrating.
One of my goals is to prevent breast cancer, and since heavy metals are so ubiquitous in our environment, I've decided to test my urine levels. This will help me determine whether heavy metals are something I need to address in trying to live an anti-cancer lifestyle.
If you would like more information on how you can use nutrition and lifestyle strategies to encourage breast cancer recovery and discourage breast cancer recurrence, go ahead and CLICK THIS LINK to set up a call to speak with me!
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1) https://occup-med.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12995-017-0178-1 - accessed Nov 25, 2021
2) Darbre PD. Environmental oestrogens, cosmetics and breast cancer. Best Prac Res Clin Endocrinol 2006; 20:121-143
3) I. Alatise and G. N. Schrauzer, “Lead exposure: a contributing cause of the current breast cancer epidemic in Nigerian Women,” Biological Trace Element Research, vol. 136, no. 2, pp. 127–139, 2010.
4) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S128601151600028X - accessed Nov 25, 2021
5) Mandriota S., Mirna T., Ferrari P., Sappino A. Aluminium chloride promotes tumorigenesis and metastasis in normal murine mammary gland epithelial cells. International J of Cancer. 2016; 139: 2781-2790
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