Kristi Funk, MD, is known as the doctor who performed Sheryl Crow and Angelina Jolie’s breast surgeries.
Jolie’s, especially, made headlines because she had a preventative double mastectomy without a breast cancer diagnosis, because of 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.
“87 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. And 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 how much scientific evidence there is on 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.” (Hmm, sounds similar to the pillars of living a Nutritious Life…just sayin’.)
She stopped by our office as a spokesperson for Silk to share more on the simple changes you can make to your routine to reduce your risk. And yes, all of them align with making you a healthier, happier person overall, so why not give them a shot?
5 Ways to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk
1. Eat more plants (including soy)
When she started her book research, Dr. Funk says she basically 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, she 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, many large-scale studies since 2009 have also established that soy is protective, Dr Funk explained. (Just make sure you’re eating 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.)
She switched her entire family to a 100 percent whole-food, plant-based diet, but if you’re not interested in going vegan, you can still focus on upping your produce and plant protein intake. “The more you trend towards most of your plate being plants, the healthier your cells will be for the long run,” she said.
RELATED: How to Be a Healthy Vegan
2. Maintain a healthy weight
“Obesity is undeniably connected to breast cancer,” Dr. Funk said, 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 moderate your intake. Hey, it’ll help you keep weight off, too.
4. Exercise regularly
Speaking of cancer-risk-reducing strategies 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 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 said.