By Dr. Alan Shair
When Angelina Jolie went public with her voluntary double mastectomy in 2013, awareness of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations shot up exponentially. It became common knowledge that the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations are closely linked with breast and ovarian cancer, and that those women who carry them have an estimated 80% chance of developing breast cancer. However, this information was presented to the world as immutable fact and not subject to change. As a result, women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations may have gotten the impression that no matter what they do, cancer is inevitable.
History, however, disputes this. Research from the 1930’s and 40’s showed that the risk of cancer as the result of the BRCA mutation was only 24%, significantly less than the 82% today. How does one explain such a drastic jump in statistics? The human body, which has functioned perfectly well from time immemorial, didn’t suddenly go haywire in the last 80 years. In fact, life expectancies are longer than ever. One conclusion for the increase in cancer risk as the result of BRCA mutations, then, is environment and lifestyle. According to Dr. Mary-Claire King, who discovered the BRCA mutation, low activity levels, adolescent obesity and the early onset of menses can all contribute to BRCA-related cancers.
BRCA proteins function to repair DNA and to control the body’s production of aromatase, the enzyme which turns testosterone into estrogen and is linked with hormone-related cancers. An omega-6 fatty acid called arachidonic acid creates a prostaglandin called PGE2, which, in excess, can actually undermine the work of a normal BRCA1 gene by inhibiting it and causing increased production of aromatase – making more estrogen and upping the odds of breast and ovarian cancer. Essentially, high levels of PGE2, caused by arachidonic acid, can have the same negative effects as a BRCA1 gene mutation.
Here’s what you need to know about arachidonic acid: while it is vital for proper immune function, it can be created in excess from a diet high in simple carbs and sugar, low in nutrients and full of inflammatory omega-6 fats – in other words, the typical American diet.
It follows, then, that a healthy, diet can protect from the development of breast and ovarian cancers. This is true for all women, but especially women with a BRCA mutation. It is possible to cut the overproduction of Arachidonic acid with both an anti-inflammatory food plan and omega 3 fatty acid supplements (which inhibit PGE2’s), while other steps can be taken to undercut the effect of estrogen on the body.
Treating one’s body well is the ultimate preventative, and can not only act as insurance for long-term health, it can also reverse chronic diseases and the potential effects of genetic mutations and autoimmune diseases. With this in mind, women with a BRCA gene mutation do not have to feel that they have been given an irreversible death sentence; instead, they can become empowered to reclaim their health – and the rest of their lives.