October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and with approximately 1 in 8 women being diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime the importance of breast health cannot be overstated. Much of the conversation around breast cancer is focused on early detection and treatment. While those are both vitally important, I want to focus on preventative self-care for breast health. I have found that most women know they should do breast self-exams and get regular mammograms, but few know how to preventatively keep their breast healthy. Let’s look at 3 ways we can help keep our breast healthy.
Love your Lymph - Healthy Lymphatics for Healthy Breast
A commonly overlooked aspect of breast health is a healthy lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a system of specialized vessels and organs that work together to return lymph (fluid that has leaked out of the blood vessels) back into the bloodstream. It is unusual in the fact that it is considered part of both the circulatory and immune systems. As a part of the circulatory system, it helps maintain proper fluid levels in the body and it transports metabolic waste, toxins, and abnormal cells from the tissues. As a part of the immune system, it produces white blood cells and other immune cells that monitor and destroy foreign invaders. It is easy to see why a healthy lymphatic system is connected to healthy breast. Unlike the circulatory system, where blood is pumped around the body by the heart, the lymphatic system, has no pump of its own. Lymph is “pumped” by movement of the body, pulsation of the arteries and the contraction of skeletal muscles.
The breasts have a vast lymphatic network and healthy breast require optimal lymphatic flow. In the breast however, there aren't any skeletal muscles to help pump the old, dirty lymph out and bring fresh lymph in. Lymph is moved from the breast in two major ways, movement and breathing.
1) Movement - As a woman walks around, laughs, or exercises the breast tissue naturally moves. This movement helps to circulate the lymph. Breast massage is another form of movement effective at moving old lymph out. The more active you are the healthier your breast will be. For more information on movement for healthy breasts read this post by Mackenzie Brooke Wellness.
2) Breathing - How does breathing work to move lymph? The breasts have lymph vessels that travel between the ribs. As a woman inhales and exhales the space between the ribs expands and contracts. This creates a pumping action helping the lymph to circulate. Occasionally a rib will not be moving properly causing it to be an ineffective pump. The lymph vessels usually pumped by that rib's movement will then stagnate and back up. That stagnation causes metabolic waste and toxins to build up in the breast tissues. Long term lymphatic stagnation creates an unhealthy environment that promotes dysplastic changes to the breast tissue. Regular visits a chiropractor or osteopath, to ensure your ribs are moving properly, will minimize lymph stagnation and keep the breast healthy.
The lymph vessels of the breast are very superficial, traveling just below the skin line, and the vessel walls have no muscle causing them to compress easily. Wearing tight, restrictive bras, whether underwire or compressive, is unhealthy for lymph flow from the breast. As often as possible go without wearing a bra or wear one without a tight elastic band. If you can see marks on your skin from the bra after taking it off, the lymphatic vessels are being compressed, compromising lymphatic flow.
Another way to support the lymphatic system is with castor oil packs on the liver. After the lymph reenters the circulatory system, it relies on the liver to clean it. Castor oil has a long tradition, across many cultures, of being used to promote lymphatic flow and liver detoxification. A 2012 study published in the International Journal of Naturopathic Medicine, showed regular application of castor oil packs to the liver positively impacted liver function. The better your liver functions the better it can clean the lymph.
A castor oil pack is easy to do and especially soothing during the cooler winter months. It is done by soaking, not saturating, a cotton flannel cloth with castor oil. The flannel cloth is then placed on the area of the liver and a heating pad or hot water bottle is placed over the cloth. You rest for 30-60 minutes with the heat on the oil-soaked cloth. Be sure to stay well hydrated to support your body's increased detoxification.