Breast Health Tip #17: Sleep

BREAST HEALTH TIP #17: Sleep Go to bed by 10PM, pull down the shades and turn off all the lights.

A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2001 found nurses that worked the night shift had a 50% increased risk of breast cancer. The longer they worked the night shift, the higher their risk of breast cancer became. The reason is simple. It has to do with the daily rhythms of the sun and the hormone “melatonin.” Melatonin is extremely powerful at protecting against and fighting breast cancer – but only if you go to bed early and it’s dark.

Scientists have discovered that when it gets dark the pineal gland in our brain produces more melatonin. As this hormone rises, you start to feel sleepy. The moment you fall asleep the level of melatonin goes much higher. But here’s the catch – melatonin doesn’t rise very high unless you’ve gone to bed by 10 pm and it’s dark.

The darker it is, the higher your melatonin will rise. Any type of light-even a soft night light can keep your melatonin levels from rising very high. Researchers think that is why breast cancer is more common in industrialized regions where city lights burn all night and why blind women have a 50% lower incidence breast cancer than women who can see.

If you have breast cancer, going to bed early in a dark room is important too. Breast cancer tumors in experimental animals exposed to constant light grew 7 times faster.

There are several big reasons melatonin is such a great breast cancer fighter. 1) Melatonin is a very potent antioxidant. Antioxidants destroy oxygen free radicals that can damage your cells and DNA –damage that can lead to cancer. 2) Melatonin slows down the production of estrogen. Estrogen stimulates breast cells causing cell division to speed up. The faster cells divide, the higher the risk of cancer. 3) Melatonin prevents the over production of estrogen, and blocks its stimulatory effects on breast cells. But melatonin’s great defenses don’t stop there. 4) Melatonin blocks the effects of two other threats, a hormone and a growth factor that can also increase cell division in the breast: the hormone is called “prolactin” and a growth factor is called “epidermal growth factor.” 5) Melatonin enhances the tumor fighting power of Vitamin D. It increases Vitamin D’s ability to stop tumor growth. Melatonin makes vitamin D’s tumor fighting abilities 20-100 times stronger.

If you have breast cancer and are being treated with chemotherapy, you may want to ask your doctor about taking supplemental melatonin. Researchers found it can enhance the effectiveness of chemotherapy by increasing chemotherapy’s ability to kill tumors. In a 1999 study from Italy, researchers found that breast cancer patients treated with chemotherapy lived longer if they were also given supplemental melatonin. In scientific terms, these patients had an increased “1 year survival.” That means more women than normally expected were alive at one year following the diagnosis and treatment of their breast cancer. Melatonin supplements given in addition to chemotherapy also caused the size of tumors in women to significantly decrease compared to women just receiving chemotherapy alone.

All of melatonin’s diverse breast cancer fighting skills can be summed up into 3 major effects: 1) it prevents the initiation of breast cancer 2) it slows down tumor growth by as much as 70% 3) it prevents metastasis or the spread of tumors to other areas of the body.

The bottom line is: melatonin is a powerful weapon against breast cancer. All you have to do is go to bed by 10 PM, pull down the shades, turn off all the lights and let it work its magic.

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Written by Christine Horner MD FACS

Explore Wellness in 2021