Aromatase Inhibitors – are there natural alternatives to the breast cancer drugs?
The use of Aromatase Inhibitors (AI’s) is now common practice with breast cancer patients who are Oestrogen Positive (ER+).. As breast cancer drugs, AI’s work by inhibiting enzymes in the body that are needed for the production of the female sex-hormone Oestrogen. Oestrogen is typically produced by the ovaries, but this declines as a source after menopause. What few women realise is that there are several other sources for oestrogen production – for example the liver, and fatty tissue under the skin. AI’s affect them all.
Before the advent of the AI drugs like Arimidex, Exemestane, and Letrozole (Femara), 20th Century women seemed exposed to the new threat of too much oestrogen. This of course is not true – for thousands of years, nature provided the answer.
New research evidence
If diets high in natural foods that inhibit the aromatase enzyme are eaten, breast cancers in postmenopausal women don't get a chance to start, according to research from the University of Aromatase Inhibitors Munster in Germany. Scientists there have found that aromatase inhibitors are what keep normal cells from developing to the point where they can be classified as Grade 1 cancer.
All women have oestrogen receptor sites on the surfaces of their breast cells – alpha and beta sites. After puberty, these sites receive the oestrogen hormone and as a result the cells grow and the breast develop. It is only much later in life that an excess of oestrogen can continue to stimulate the rapid division of breast cells and create the problem that occurs in the majority of breast cancers.
In a study designed to determine the effectiveness of natural AI’s compared with common anti-oestrogen drugs, German scientists analysed 21 human breast cancer tissue samples and concluded that the transition from normal breast cells to grade 1tumours was characterised by the down-regulation of the beta sites, while the transition from grade 1 to grade 3 tumours involved a decrease in alpha expression.
Their research then tested the breast cancer drug tamoxifen which saw an increase in alpha expression and left ER beta unchanged. Next they tested AI drugs and found that beta expression was increased and thus the initiation of cancer was blocked. (Anticancer Research, June 2009)
Unsurprisingly for those of us who have studied natural compounds in foods, nature equipped women to fight breast cancer all along. Importantly, our scientific knowledge is improving all the time.
Possibly the most potent natural compound is Indole 3 Carbinol, which acts in a number of ways, from denaturing aggressive oestrogen and its by products to rebalancing oestrogen receptor sites. I3C is almost ‘the wonder compound’ it has so many beneficial effects – from being a natural Tamoxifen, without the side effects to an inhibitor of dangerous dioxins in the body. Natural supplements are available; synthetic drugs are in preparation.
Phytoestrogens from all manner of plants can increase alpha and beta expression and effectively block the disruptive effects of excess of the aggressive human hormone. Abundant in green vegetables, fruits and particularly pulses like chick peas and beans, you can also find a particularly potent alpha and beta site balancer in red clover – the herb of Hippocrates – the active ingredient is genistein. Flavenoids are abundant natural sources of alpha and beta site regulation:
Quercetin is a main ingredient of the Plaskett therapy (Professor Plaskett ‘polished’ the Gerson Therapy in the mid 1990’s using the latest scientific research). It is widely available in onions and apples, however it denatures rapidly in the body and so it seems that the potency comes not so much from the quercitin itself but from its breakdown by-products. Science is playing catch-up tracking their effects, but apart from the usual antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, and anti-bacterial/anti-viral factors, there is research indicating that they have AI benefits in breast cancer cells. Other sources include garlic, kale, brussel sprouts and cabbage. You can supplement.
Resveratrol is another flavenoid covered on our web site – we have featured research on it from Harvard several times in Cancer Watch. It is the natural protective agent in the skins of red grapes and black and red berries. Amongst its many benefits, there is research on its breast cancer control via oestrogen receptors. But as we have told you before, please don’t think drinking a glass or two of red wine will have any effect, the doses would be way too low. Natural supplements are available – and drugs are on their way.
Just as we can tell you about the benefits of certain foods, so we can warn you of others! For example, some foods might be avoided if you are looking to reduce your oestrogen effect – for example grapefruit, which is a source of the flavenoid naringenin. Unfortunately, this flavenoid inhibits human cytochrome P450 isofrom, an enzyme involved in actually breaking down and metabolising sex hormones and preventing their excess accumulation in the body!
Finally there is chrysin, a flavonoid from the passion flower plant and a strong natural AI with clear research supporting its effects. Drugs have been prepared from this plant, but the natural compound also exists as a supplement Another natural compound, piperine, enhances its action..
We cover many such natural compounds in detail in this web site, and in my book ‘The Rainbow Diet – and how it can help you beat cancer’.