Breast Health Tip #10: Antioxidants

BREAST HEALTH TIP #10: Antioxidants Taking supplemental antioxidants, like selenium, can lower your risk of breast cancer by as much as 50%.

Oxygen free radicals are tiny unstable molecules of oxygen normally created as by-products of cellular metabolism. We need them to drive all the chemical reactions in our body. But, if there are too many of them, they can cause biological devastation by attacking cell membranes and DNA. The damage they cause initiates and fuels chronic degenerative diseases like atherosclerosis, heart disease, strokes, emphysema, diabetes, arthritis, senility, accelerate aging and cancer, including breast cancer. Pollution, pesticides, smoking, alcohol, and grilled red meat are just a few of the things that pour excess oxygen free radicals into our body, so avoiding them will help to decrease your oxygen free radical load.

Another good way to combat excess oxygen free radicals is with substances called antioxidants. Antioxidants neutralize oxygen free radicals. Our body makes its own antioxidants, but usually it isn’t enough to keep with the large number of oxygen radicals that are constantly bombarding us. So we need to get additional antioxidants from outside sources. Fresh organic fruits and vegetables contain large amounts of diverse and powerful antioxidants. Not surprisingly, research shows that women that eat a diet rich in them have a significantly lower risk of breast cancer.








Brussels sprouts





Red grapes

Red pepper



But in this age of widespread pollution, toxins, and stressful lifestyles that fuel the production of oxygen free radicals, most of us we need more antioxidant protection than what we can get from our food. That’s why research shows taking an additional antioxidant supplement, like the mineral selenium, can be of great benefit in lowering the risk of several different kinds of cancer, including cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon.

One of the reasons selenium is so effective in lowering the risk of cancer is that it causes our body make its own powerful antioxidant — an enzyme called “glutathione peroxidase.” Selenium makes up a fundamental part of the structure of this enzyme. Without it, the enzyme can�t work.

Selenium also helps to fight cancer in several other ways. Research shows it is able to prevent cancer cells from growing, causes cancer cells to die, foils the formation of blood vessels needed for cancer to grow, and enhances the immune system, especially natural killer cell and T-cell function. It also has anti-inflammatory effects.

With all these anti-cancer effects, it�s easy to understand why there is a growing mountain of evidence that taking supplemental selenium can be of enormous help for preventing and treating cancer. In a double blinded, randomized, prospective study published in 1996, patients were given 200 micrograms (mcg) of supplemental selenium everyday. After 6 years, the patients taking selenium had half the deaths from cancer compared to the patients who weren�t taking the additional selenium. In other words, during this study, the number of people who died of cancer in the group taking selenium was 52% lower than the number of people who died of cancer in the group that wasn�t taking it. The subjects taking selenium also had 35% less new cancers diagnosed. So taking selenium not only lowers the risk of developing cancer, it also appears to lengthen the life of those with cancer. Since that time, numerous studies have confirmed these same impressive statistics. The conclusion of the vast majority of studies looking at the relationship between selenium and cancer, is that taking supplemental selenium, or eating a selenium-rich diet, reduces your risk of most types of cancer, including breast cancer, by as much as 50% and improves your chances of survival if you have cancer.


Our main source of selenium comes from the plants we eat. Selenium is naturally found in soil and is absorbed by plants as they grow. But the amount of selenium in soil varies considerably from region to region. If there’s not much selenium in the soil, there won’t be much in the plants growing in that soil. Research shows that the amount of selenium in the soil and the rate of cancer at that location, are inversely proportional. This means the areas of the world with the highest selenium levels in the soil have the lowest rates of cancer, and those with the lowest amount of selenium are found to have the highest rates of cancer.

The best food source of selenium is Brazil Nuts. Just one ounce of Brazil Nuts a day gives you 1200% of the daily recommended allowances. Other foods high in selenium include garlic, onions, green leafy vegetables, mushrooms and whole grains, especially whole wheat. You can also take selenium in supplement form. The recommended dose is about 200 micrograms a day.

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Written by Christine Horner MD FACS

Explore Wellness in 2021