Re-Examining Breast Health
Know Your Risk Factors
Alcohol consumption is risky too. As little as one drink per day increases your risk by 40 percent, and higher consumption brings more risk. High exposure to radiation—from radioactive fallout, radiation accidents, or a large number of chest X-rays—also increases breast cancer risk. One recent study (Spine vol. 25, August 15, 2000) showed that women with scoliosis who were given multiple chest X-rays during puberty are 70 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than other women.
For most women, though, by far the most important risk factor for breast cancer is their lifetime exposure to estrogen. In other words, the more menstrual cycles a woman goes through in her life, the greater her breast cancer risk. The fewer cycles, the less risk: Late onset of menstruation, pregnancies (especially pregnancies before age 30), breastfeeding, and early menopause all decrease the risk of breast cancer.
Of course, it's not as if estrogen were some foreign, toxic substance. Your body is designed to make and use estrogen. But in today's industrialized world, women probably both produce and are otherwise exposed to more estrogen than ever before. We start menstruation earlier, we have smaller families later in life, we breastfeed for shorter periods of time, and we're exposed to many more estrogenlike, human-made chemicals in our food, water, and environment.
In addition, stress—the far-too-frequent stimulation of the body's fight-or-flight response—can disrupt the glandular system. Also, for proper estrogen levels to be maintained, your body's liver and kidneys must be healthy. If too much estrogen is produced or if the body isn't utilizing estrogen efficiently, the liver must break down the excess and send it to the kidneys to be flushed from the system. If the liver is overworked, sluggish from dealing with too many toxins, the excess estrogen gets reabsorbed back into the bloodstream and the body has more of the hormone than it can use.
Practice for Health
Many yogis believe that both a well-rounded yoga practice and specific asanas support the endocrine glands in maintaining an optimal balance of hormones in the body. According to the teachings of yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar, inversions are the body's best friend. A number of critical glands—the pineal, thyroid, parathyroid, and thymus—are all located in the head, neck, and chest. Simply getting your feet over your head is thought to improve circulation to these glands, which can then work better.