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Originally published February 11 2008

Lignans: A Component of Optimal Breast Health and Cancer Prevention

by Barbara L. Minton

(NaturalNews) Among the many stressors in the lives of women today is the question of breast health. We want to be proactive in the care of our bodies. Yet we feel torn between the traditional medical approach which offers us Tamoxifen, and the natural or holistic approach. Recent research points to lignans as a significant natural supporter of breast wellness. Let's examine these alternatives.

Tamoxifen is a drug that has long been used to treat patients suffering from breast cancer. In 1998, the FDA approved Tamoxifen for use in breast cancer prevention. Tamoxifen acts as an "anti-estrogen" in the body. Just as estrogen is currently believed to promote the growth of breast cancer cells, Tamoxifen is believed to slow or stop the growth of any breast cancer cells already present in the body.

Known side effects of Tamoxifen include endometrial cancer (cancer of the lining of the uterus), pulmonary embolism (blood clots in the lungs), and deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in major veins).

Is there something better?

As is almost always the case, we are finding that mother nature can do it better. Researchers are now identifying the benefits of lignans.

Human lignans are created when natural plant compounds locked into the cellular matrix of certain seeds, beans, legumes, fruits, and vegetables are acted upon by bacteria in the digestive tract. These compounds resemble the shape and structure of estrogen and have some of estrogen's functionality. Studies have shown that women with the highest levels of lignans in their breasts have the greatest levels of breast health.

Due to their structural resemblance to estrogen, lignans are able to compete with estrogen for estrogen receptor sites on breast cells. It is believed that through these estrogen receptor sites, estrogen may cause cancerous mutations in DNA. When lignans block the receptor sites they displace estrogen, and reduce the possibilities for mutations. Flaxseeds are the richest dietary source of lignan precursors.

In order for lignans to effectively compete with estrogen for the estrogen receptor sites, there must be a large number of lignans in the body. This can be accomplished by consistently eating a diet high in lignan precursors including flax seeds, supplementing with high lignan flax oil, or taking one of a number of high lignan products formulated as capsules, the best known of which is Brevail made by the Barleans Company (I have absolutely no affiliation with the Barleans company but would like to praise them for including vitamin D in their product before current research revealed its importance in cancer prevention).

Lignans pass through the body in a 24 to 48 hour period, so care must be taken to ingest lignan precursors almost daily. Supplementing with flax oil or a lignan capsule formulation insures that you will get a quantifiable amount every day.

Since lignans are created by the action of intestinal bacteria upon the lignan precursors found in these certain vegetables and fruits, supplementing for lignan production following the use of antibiotics is particularly important. The use of antibiotics results in a reduced count of these intestinal bacteria.

Unlike the diet of our ancestors, today's western diet does not include much in the way of high lignan foods. Add to that the fact that we are not generally as active as our ancestors and therefore hopefully eat less. So the amount of lignans available to us from our food is small. Research suggests that this decrease in food sources containing lignan precursors may have left women without the ability to modulate estrogen naturally.

Hormonal Harmony

According to research reports, women ingesting significant levels of lignan precursors to promote optimal breast health have reported other added benefits such as improved mood, and reduced levels of hot flashes, irritability, cramping, bloating, breast tenderness, headache and insomnia.

In a study sponsored by one of the makers of lignan capsules, the thirty women studied were able to raise their blood and urine levels of lignans to a point comparable to women with an extraordinary history of breast health and hormonal health.

In a follow up study, one hundred women reported improvement in mood, sense of well being, and peace of mind, as well as relief from symptoms related to pre and post menopausal discomfort.

About the author

Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.

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