A HERBALIST'S APPROACH
BY TAMARA WELSH - Clinical Herbalist
Have you thought much about the health of your breasts? For some women this is perhaps an odd question, but for others it is at the forefront of their minds either due to their own health history or that of female family relatives. Regardless, it is something we should all consider and, in this article, I’m going to outline ways in which you can support your breast health using simple natural interventions including herbs, nutrition and selfcare habits.
It is normal for breasts to change as women move through the many transitional stages of their lives. Healthy breasts are breasts that are free of pain, cysts, fibrous tissue, swelling and also cancer. When considering breast health, we must look at a range of different body systems that all play a role in the health of our breasts and their cells, tissues and glands. First and foremost, we think of hormones and their impact, but we must also consider other systems and organs in the body including the lymphatic system, the role of the liver and the health of the circulatory system. There are also a few simple behaviors we can incorporate into our daily routines to enhance our breast health and indeed our health in general. So lets dive in…
SUPPORTING OVARIAN HORMONES
Hormonal imbalances are often the first to be considered when dealing with breast health issues. Breast pain and swelling are often cyclical, occurring at similar times each month during the menstrual cycle suggesting that variations in the ovarian hormones are the cause of the symptoms. This is commonly due to either elevated estrogen or alternatively low progesterone. Furthermore, research shows that estrogens play a key role in promoting the proliferation of breast cells in both normal and neoplastic (cancerous) breast conditions. Therefore, improving the estrogen-progesterone balance can bring relief to women with cyclical breast symptoms and reduce the risk of both benign and cancerous breast tumors.
Two herbs to consider that may help to balance the ovarian hormones are Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) and Peony (Paeonia lactiflora).
Used often by herbalists to alleviate PMS symptoms, Chaste tree is a commonly used herbal treatment for the relief of breast pain, swelling and lumps prior to the menstrual bleed. One of its actions is via its ability to inhibit prolactin secretion which in turn boosts progesterone, helping with the estrogen-progesterone balance.
In Chinese medicine, Peony is used to treat a wide range of gynecological problems caused by hormonal irregularities including elevated androgens, low progesterone, high or low estrogen and elevated prolactin. Often it is found in combination with other herbs and with its strong anti-inflammatory effects, it is very effective for breast pain.
Dietary additions can also be helpful to support healthy hormone balance including increasing omega-3 fatty acids, ensuring adequate protein intake (especially at breakfast time) and increasing phytoestrogens in the diet. Phytoestrogens are estrogen-like compounds that are found in foods such as linseeds, soy, legumes and red clover. These compounds compete with estrogens in the body (endogenous estrogen) and inhibit them from exerting their usual effects.
SUPPORTING DIGESTION AND LIVER
With any potential hormone imbalance, we must consider the elimination pathways i.e. How are these hormones leaving the body? The liver plays a key role in estrogen clearance from the body and so bringing a focus to supporting and improving liver function and digestion is crucial when considering breast health and hormonal imbalances. Constipation worsens hormonal conditions, so it is essential that the bowels are moving daily. A dietary focus on adequate fibre and hydration are therefore very important (and often overlooked!)
To help stimulate digestion, bitter herbs such as Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale) can be used. Dandelion root also encourages the flow of bile helping to improve stagnancy in the liver. Bitter foods can be added to the diet such as dandelion leaves, rocket, artichoke and cruciferous vegetables such as brocolli and brocolli sprouts, brussel sprouts, kale and cauliflower. Cruciferous vegetables have the added benefit of enhancing phase I and II detoxification pathways in the liver.
SUPPORTING LYMPH AND BLOOD FLOW
To allow the removal of wastes from breast tissue, the lymph and circulation must be moving well. While the heart is responsible for pumping blood around the body, the lymphatic system relies on movement of smooth muscles to transport lymphatic fluid through the lymph vessels. Movement is essential to keep this system working well and so a consistent exercise regime is an important part of any breast health treatment plan.
Herbs to support the lymphatic system are known as depuratives or alterative herbs. They have a blood purifying effect because of their ability to improve the removal of cellular wastes via the lymphatic system. These herbs can be particularly useful if lumps are found in the breast tissue or lymph nodes and include herbs such as Calendula (Calendula officinalis), Cleavers (Galium aparine) and Red Clover (Trifolium pretense), with red clover having the added benefit of containing phytoestrogens.
Again, adequate hydration is essential for healthy lymph flow and blood flow and will help with swelling and pain so ensure you are drinking plenty of good quality water. Body brushing is a wonderful way to improve the flow of lymph and herbs such as Gingko (Gingko biloba) and Ginger (Zingiber officinale) work as circulation stimulants to support blood flow.
As you can probably see, supporting the health of your breasts requires taking into consideration the many cells, tissues and organ systems that support them. Naturopathic medicine has so much to offer women in the proactive care of their breasts, and indeed, their entire health journey. If you’re struggling with breast health issues, I’d love to help.
Tamara Welsh is a Clinical Herbalist (Adv. Dip. Clinical Western Herbal Medicine). She sees clients in clinic on Sydney's Northern Beaches and also via telehealth. Tamara has a special interest in treating women and their children. She believes good health means living with vibrancy, feeling energetic and passionate about life and being able to keep a calm and open mind.
Herbal medicine is the oldest and still the most widely used form of medicine practiced today. Western herbal medicine practitioners draw from ancient knowledge paired with the latest scientific research to create herbal formulas to help support and improve all systems in the body. It is a holistic form of medicine which aims to not only address symptoms but also address the underlying causes of a condition or disease. Learn more about Tamara here.
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