It’s October, which means out come the pink ribbons and co-branded, limited-edition Breast Cancer Awareness gear. But even if you aren’t one of the one in eight women in the United States diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime, breast health is tied to your overall health. And that can begin with your body’s microbiome. Here’s how.
Your Breast Bacteria
Once thought to be sterile, the breast tissue actually has its own colony of bacteria that make up the microbiome of the breast. Some of those bugs include Proteobacteria, Firmicutes, Actinobacteria, and Bacteroidetes species.
What do they do? It’s been hypothesized that the breast microbiome is used for maintaining healthy breast tissue and stimulating local immune system cells if needed. Also, depending on the type of bacteria, it’s been hypothesized that the bacteria’s metabolic activity may be able to degrade carcinogens, or cancer-causing chemicals that have been shown to increase risk for cancers. Furthermore, bacteria that can be normal flora to the breast tissue, including Streptococcus bacteria, can produce its own source of antioxidants and help to quench free-radical inflammation that may damage DNA. Who knew?
In women who choose to and are able to breastfeed, the bacteria that is in your breast ductal system will eventually cross over into your baby. And your bacteria will become your baby’s central immune system support until the infant’s own immune system develops.
Gut Microbiome + Breast Health
Another surprising link between breast health and bacteria is how your gut microbiome can impact the development of breast cancer. Less diversity of your gut microbiome may be linked to increased breast cancer risk, and while the exact mechanism is not completely known, it may be linked to the estrogen metabolism of certain bacteria.
How, you may ask? Different types of bacteria that can live in your gut have different abilities to control how your estrogens are processed. Bacteria that is considered “abnormal” flora typically secrete high levels of an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase. This unpackages the estrogens that were sent to be excreted and allows them to be reabsorbed into the system, adding to the estrogen load of your body. For estrogen-dependant conditions such as (some) breast cancers, endometriosis, and fibrocystic breast disease, having this extra load of estrogens in your system can exacerbate the condition.
Gut bacteria is also important when it comes to regulating your immune system. A lot of research is being shifted towards utilizing and supporting the gut bacteria to enhance the anti-cancer response of medications, having them work together in treatment plans. Mayo Clinic is currently doing a study to try to determine the role of taking probiotics prior to surgery for breast cancer. The hope is that it will positively affect the immune system and improve breast cancer surgery outcomes.
It’s clear that your microbiome is key to your breast, immune, and overall health. Maintaining your microbiome and helping it diversify supports so many of your body’s systems that it’s kind of a no brainer.
Wondering the best way to do that? Schedule a complimentary 15-minute consult with us to get more info on an approach that’s right for you, your breasts, and your complete well-being.
Dr. Cassie Wilder is a registered Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD) and founder of MIMC. Her passion is empowering her patients through education, understanding, and support through their healing journey. After graduating from Iowa State University with a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology and Health, Dr. Wilder earned her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences, a fully accredited and nationally recognized institution in Phoenix, AZ. During her clinical training, she received extensive hands-on training with many leading experts in the field of functional medicine and developed a passion for treating hormonal imbalances, thyroid disorders, cardiovascular concerns, and adrenal fatigue.