Childhood Obesity and Breast Cancer Links

overweightl woman meditation on beach

Kokhanchikov / Dollar Photo Club

I have said that a girl developing breasts at 8 and starting her menstrual cycle by age 9 is a very scary recipe for breast cancer.

And yet this is exactly what we are seeing.  The number of Elementary school girls who can be classified as overweight or obesity has risen continually in the past decade or so.  While these numbers seem to be leveling off, it will remain a concern for many years to come.

I have written continually about how situations that occur in childhood will affect that child decades later as an adult.  Obesity cuts across so many of future health conditions in so many ways, with conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer having roots in childhood health conditions.

In this particular study, researchers looked at how the bodies of obese adolescent girls break down estrogen.  In general, estrogens can get broken down into one of 3 pathways—the 16 and 4 pathways, which are known to damage DNA and cause cancer, and the 2 pathway, which is generally considered protective and lowers the risk of cancer.

In this small study, researchers looked at 12 lean and 23 obese pre-pubertal girls (Tanner Stage I breast and pubic hair) and compared body weight to estrogen breakdown products.  Here’s what they found:

  • Estradiol concentrations were 6.9 times higher in obese versus lean girls (3.45 pg/ml vs 0.5).
  • Concentrations of 16α-OH-E1 were 14.34 times higher in the obese girls (7.17 vs 0.5).
  • The protective 2-MeO-E2 levels were lower in the obese group.

In other words, even at a very young age, these girls were priming their risk for breast cancer.  Obviously, maintaining an ideal body weight is a top priority.  It is also very important for society to understand that being overweight as a child is not a temporary thing or something to brush aside as aesthetic but not health-damaging.

In the meantime, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, radishes, Brussel sprouts…) are known to help our bodies break down estrogens in a protective, non-cancerous way.

Another very important factor that is hardly ever addressed is our exposure to environmental estrogens.  Plastics, Styrofoam, phthlates and flame retardants can all have estrogen-like activity in the human body. Identifying and eliminating (or at least reducing) these chemicals in yours and you children’s lives needs to be a consistent habit.

Lastly, constipation can actually increase the estrogen levels in the body.  The body eliminates estrogens through a process called conjugation that occurs in the liver.  The conjugated estrogen is then put into bile and is supposed to be eliminated in the feces.  But, if you’re constipated, that estrogen never makes it out—rather it is broken down by bacteria in the gut and thrown back into the bloodstream, free to wreak havoc on estrogen sensitive tissues like the breast and endometrial lining.

Of course, living an anti-cancer lifestyle in general will also help protect the estrogen levels from obesity from damaging the breast tissue, but this is all just going to be a band-aid until the weight is better managed.

James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.