So, the doctor told you that you need an aromatase inhibitor. Are you concerned about the side effects or the resulting effects? Or have you started on one and feel terrible? It might be time to look at alternatives. Just because your doctor prescribed an AI, doesn’t mean that it is right for you. Making the right decision for you, for your body, is bigger than just accepting doctor’s orders.
Aromatase inhibitors, drugs such as Fermara, Aromasin and Arimidex, stop the production of estrogen in postmenopausal women; more specifically, they block the enzyme aromatase, the enzyme responsible for the biosynthesis and balance of estrogens. As we age, our hormones become out of balance, and often make us more vulnerable to cancer. Estrogen can be metabolized in two different pathways in the liver, which results in two different kinds of estrogen, “good” and “bad” estrogen. “Good” estrogen metabolites are released into the bloodstream there they cause many of the benefits estrogen provides, such as prevention of heart disease, and strong, healthy bones. “Bad” estrogen, in large quantities, causes trouble. By blocking estrogen, less “bad” estrogen is available to stimulate the growth of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer cells. However, this also means that you have less of the protective “good”. So, the question is, do they increase survival and prevent the cell mutations that contribute to cancer? Or do they come with too many resulting effects?
I remember when I first read about Tamoxifen; I learned that Tamoxifen does not increase survival; it’s just that you don’t die of your cancer, but rather the toxicity of the drug. Hum….what a trade off. It may well be the case with AI’s as well….or worse. Although AIs were found to prevent breast cancer recurrence, they were not found to prolong life, due to the resulting effects—as I like to call them—particularly the heart problems (think less “good” estrogen), and reduce quality of life due to the side effects, such as the never ending flu symptoms, hair thinning and loss, vaginal bleeding, skin rashes, joint pain, stiffness and swelling (severe enough to require pain medication), hot flashes and night sweats, vaginal dryness, nausea and headaches. Women may also feel tired and lethargic while on the drug, experience breathing difficulties, depression and mood swings, tightness in the chest, and again, because of the loss of the “good” estrogen, bone thinning (think broken bones). Osteoporosis is a major concern, and women should have the health of their bones checked before they begin aromatase therapy. If the bones are already showing signs of deterioration, an osteoporosis drug will probably be prescribed (more drugs, and drug interactions; wonderful).
Geez, where can I get some of this stuff? Okay, so is there a natural alternative to aromatase inhibitors?
Again, as I said in my post about Tamoxifen, there is not an easy answer. However, there are many powerful natural aromatase inhibitors in your local grocery store. Look for button mushrooms, celery, parsley, mushrooms, basil, artichokes, oranges, red grapes, onions, garlic, olives, olive leaves and extract and members of the cruciferous family. The key is to eat these foods every day, and several times a day—here’s where supplementation may be helpful if you can’t make this work with your schedule. Supplements can be in powered form or capsule, but as always, look for quality and choose organic when possible. Dindolylmethane (DIM) is a phytonutrient and plant indole found in cruciferous vegetables that has the ability to increase anti-cancer estrogen metabolites while decreasing cancer promoting estrogen metabolites; DIM can be taken in supplement form, and this is something I highly recommend. Juicing is also a great way to get these nutrients, as consuming more than one variety at a time, especially in the case of the crucifers, can increase the effectiveness of any one type. Keep in mind that the thousands of chemical compounds in plants, some known and some yet identified, work synergistically to provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and overall anti-cancer benefits, so eat a wide variety of fruits and veges each and every day, several times a day.
Feeling a bit dull? Spice up your food, herbs and spices contain powerful anticancer agents, and “hot” spices, such as cayenne pepper and mustard have been found to boost the cancer-fighting properties in foods like broccoli, so spice up your life!
Natural AL’s may well be the best choice for an AI for preventing breast cancer. Not only do they work as effectively as drugs, but have no side effects and carry a host of other benefits. Remember, estrogen is not the only factor with breast cancer…so an overall anti-cancer strategy along with the boost of natural aromatase inhibitors is your best bet. Think of fruits and vegetables as soldiers doing double duty, as nutrients and plant-based chemicals are capable of halting or slowing the spread of cancer. While no one is suggesting that the compounds in food will single-handedly eradicate cancer, each provides a powerful punch in addressing the various mechanisms that drive cancer, and can synergistically interact to create an inhospitable microenvironment for cancer. For more on the ability of nutrients to fight cancer and block its pathways, please visit: http://elynjacobs.wordpress.com/2012/06/02/why-we-are-not-winning-the-war-on-cancer/. For more information on specific foods to manage estrogen, please visit: http://elynjacobs.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/natural-alternatives-to-tamoxifen/. For more information about food as an anti-estrogen, anti-cancer protocol, please visit:http://elynjacobs.blogspot.com/2012/09/food-natural-alternative-for-tamoxifen.html
Seem like too much? Consider the alternative. That said, have two stalks and call me in the morning…doctor’s orders.
A few more tips:
Remember to limit alcohol–as while recent studies have found red wine to be mildly protective against breast cancer, this may not be so for post menopausal women, and other types of alcohol don’t share this benefit. If you drink, enjoy red wine conservatively.
Limit sugar; avoid junk food and hormone laced animal products such as meat and dairy.
Nothing in this post represents medical advice, and I encourage you to discuss this information with your integrative oncologist or naturopathic doctor. I have compiled this information solely for those seeking an alternative to aromatase inhibitors and cannot endorse either protocol.
Elyn Jacobs is a breast cancer survivor, professional cancer coach, radio talk show host, speaker, and the Executive Director for the Emerald Heart Cancer Foundation. Elyn empowers women to choose the path for treatment that best fits their own individual needs. She is passionate about helping others move forward into a life of health and wellbeing. Elyn lives in New York with her husband and two young boys. To learn about Elyn’s coaching services, please visit: http://elynjacobs.wordpress.com. To tune into the Survive and Live Well radio show, please visit http://www.W4CS.com, Tuesdays at 1pm (EST). To view info on upcoming topics and guests, please visit: http://elynjacobs.wordpress.com/elyns-blog/.
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