There has been a lot of recent publicity on certain celebrities with a BReast CAncer susceptibility gene mutation, also known as BRCA. But most people are unaware of how this gene can make us more susceptible to cancer and how certain diets and nutrients have been shown to help prevent many types of cancer. With the integration of modern medicine and key components of naturopathic medicine, the diagnosis of a BRCA gene mutation is no longer as detrimental as it once was considered to be; women at high risk for breast cancer can now live full, healthy lives.

It is common knowledge that what we eat affects our health later in life. But research has shown, across various cultures and lifestyles, that women can take more control of their lives and health through the intake of identified foods, herbs and minerals most helpful to our gender.

The Science: BRCA1 and BRCA2 Gene Mutations Explained

 Only 5-10 percent of all cases of breast cancer are actually hereditary through a gene mutation. BRCA is a tumor suppressor gene which, when “turned off” or stops working by a mutation, lacks the ability to destroy cancerous cells. A mutation in these genes makes us more susceptible to breast cancer, as well as to ovarian, pancreatic, fallopian and peroneal cancer in women, and pancreatic and prostatic cancer in men.

Depending on whether the BRCA1 or the BRCA2 gene is mutated and “turned off”, the risk factors and timelines of the predisposed cancers change. A BRCA1 mutation-related cancer often appears earlier in life. A BRCA2 mutation-related cancer is associated with a higher risk of premenopausal breast cancer but often presents later in life.

Thanks to modern medicine and Mother Nature, there are ways to activate the BRCA gene, stimulating its ability to destroy cancer cells. In recent years, a concept called “PARP-BRCA synthetic lethality” has been researched. By stopping the PARP-1 gene and its ability to repair, cancerous cells with BRCA-mutated genes can be eradicated. Inhibiting PARP-1 is another way to prevent cancer in women, or men, with a BRCA gene mutation.

 Key Nutrients: Herbs and Foods That Can Help

 Wogonin is a constituent found in the plant Scutellaria baicalensis (common name Chinese Skullcap). Wogonin was shown to stop cancer cell growth and to stimulate cell death in both BRCA1 and BRCA2 forms of breast cancer. It can slow down the body’s response to estrogen, which results in reduced cellular reproduction of the breast cancer cells. This action makes Chinese Skullcap an excellent herb in the prevention of breast cancer.

Small amounts of Genistein, a derivative of soy, has been shown to stimulate both the BRCA1 and the BRCA2 genes. This leads to an enhancement in the suppression of tumor formation. While most of the studies conducted on soy have been done on a cellular level and not on people, intake of foods high in isoflavones have been hypothesized to be the reason for the lower breast cancer incidence in Japanese women who have a high intake of soy foods like tofu.

Indole-3-carbinol, a derivative of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, was also shown to work in a similar manner as soy as it can stimulate BRCA gene actions. Soy and indole-3-carbinol were shown to work best in small amounts and to be more effective together than by themselves. How does tofu broccoli stir fry sound for dinner?

As discussed earlier, “PARP-BRCA synthetic lethality” would be another route to prevent cancer in people with a BRCA gene mutation. Nutrients that inhibit PARP-1 include L-carnosine, trehalose and curcumin. Carnosine is an amino acid found in red meat and darker fish like tuna. Trehalose, a disaccharide sugar, is most commonly found in mushrooms like the oyster mushroom. Curcumin is found in plants or herbs like turmeric. All of these have been isolated and manufactured into supplements to increase their strength and action effectiveness.

While all these nutrients and herbs can help in the prevention of cancer, we should work with a naturopathic physician to create an individualized plan specific for us. A naturopath can show us a healthier, more positive path to living a long and happy life.

Sara Frawley, N.D., graduated with her doctorate from the University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine and is currently practicing at 5 Elements NHC in Wallingford, CT. Connect at 203-284-1119.