Dr. Kristi Funk, M.D., is a renowned breast cancer surgeon who has worked with celebrities from her Pink Lotus Breast Center in Beverly Hills. Dr. Funk is maybe best-known as the physician who performed Sheryl Crow and Angelina Jolie’s breast cancer surgeries years ago, and for her 2018 book, “Breasts: The Owner’s Manual.”
Jolie’s surgery made headlines in particular because she had a preventative double mastectomy without a breast cancer diagnosis, due to a genetic mutation she carried, called BRCA1. But while there’s a lot of attention paid to those with hereditary risk factors—like family history and genetic mutations (because women who have them see their risk increase so significantly)—Dr. Funk’s mission is to call attention to the more common cases.
“Eighty-seven percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a single first-degree relative with breast cancer,” she says in her book, “Breasts: The Owner’s Manual: Every Woman’s Guide to Reducing Cancer Risk, Making Treatment Choices, and Optimizing Outcomes”.
While it’s certainly true that incredibly healthy people who do everything right do still get breast cancer, her mission is to shed light on the scientific evidence that shows how changing your diet and lifestyle can help you reduce your risk.
“I think the biggest myth is that nutrition doesn’t matter,” she says. “[Breast cancer risk] has to do largely with diet and nutrition, alcohol, exercise, obesity, emotional stress, and environmental toxicity.” (If this sounds familiar, check out the eight pillars of living a Nutritious Life.)
Dr. Funk shares five simple changes you can make to your routine to reduce your breast cancer risk. Even if you’re not terribly worried about breast cancer prevention, these strategies all align with making you a healthier, happier person overall, so why not give them a shot?
1. Eat More Plants
When she started her book research, Dr. Funk set out to prove that the way she ate—the Mediterranean Diet—was the best anti-cancer diet. And while a lot of science does point to the benefits of that way of eating for heart health, longevity and more, Dr. Funk ultimately decided to become a vegan. “It threw me for such a loop,” she says of the research she looked at on the body’s cellular response to animal protein. Many studies, including the famous China Study, have linked eating meat to an increased risk of cancer.
Interestingly, while a lot of the old science on soy’s role in breast cancer risk was contradictory or inconclusive, more recent large-scale studies have established that soy may be protective, Dr Funk says. (Just make sure you’re eating real foods made from whole, organic soybeans, like organic tofu and tempeh! Processed soy—like soy protein isolate—added to packaged foods is not what we’re talking about and can actually be counterproductive.) Also make sure to limit your soy intake and make it part of a balanced diet that’s high in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats.
Dr. Funk switched her entire family to a 100% whole-food, plant-based diet. While a vegan diet isn’t for everyone, you can still focus on upping your produce and plant protein intake. “The more you trend toward most of your plate being plants, the healthier your cells will be for the long run,” Dr. Funk says.
2. Maintain a Healthy Weight
“Obesity is undeniably connected to breast cancer,” Dr. Funk says, especially post-menopause. That’s thanks to the fact that most breast cancers are fueled by estrogen, and excess fat tissue leads to increased estrogen production.
The good news: “When you lose the weight, you lose the risk,” she says.
3. Drink Less Alcohol
More and more research points to how drinking alcohol is linked to increased breast cancer risk. (It can also increase estrogen levels, by the way.) Recommendations vary on how much is too much, but even one drink a day does raise your risk slightly, so keep that in mind and plan your intake accordingly. Hey, it’ll help you keep weight off, too.
4. Exercise Regularly
Speaking of strategies for reducing cancer risk that also help you maintain a healthy weight, regular exercise is key. You don’t have to be a marathon runner either. Dr. Funk recommends five hours of active time a week if you’re doing something low-key like walking at a fast clip, or 2.5 hours if you’re putting in serious sweat time.
5. Manage Your Stress
You probably know that stress increases inflammation in the body, and inflammation is involved in most chronic diseases, including cancer. Dr. Funk is a huge proponent of cutting or managing the stress and negativity in your life as a breast cancer risk-reduction strategy. Maybe it’s finally time to commit to a month of regular meditation?
“Try to Zen out as much as you can,” she says..