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Although BMI (body mass index) is controversial because a higher BMI is not necessarily indicative of poor health, according to an American Cancer Study, for every one-point increase in BMI, there is a 4 percent rise in breast cancer risk. BMI is calculated using a person’s height and mass to get their relative weight or, to put it another way, their thickness or thinness. You can use the American Cancer website to calculate your BMI.

If your BMI score falls between 18.5 and 25, you fall into the “normal weight” category. However this does not necessarily mean that your risk of breast cancer is low. To reduce breast cancer risk, it is best not to even be in the upper half of the “normal weight” category.

Why Does Higher BMI Raise Breast Cancer Risk

According to Harvard researchers, “As people go through their middle years, their proportion of fat to body weight tends to increase — more so in women than men. Extra pounds tend to park themselves around the midsection. As our waistlines grow, so do our health risks. Abdominal, or visceral, fat is of particular concern because it’s a key player in a variety of health problems — much more so than subcutaneous fat, the kind you can grasp with your hand. Visceral fat, on the other hand, lies out of reach, deep within the abdominal cavity, where it pads the spaces between our abdominal organs. Visceral fat has been linked to metabolic disturbances and increased risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. In women, it is also associated with breast cancer and the need for gallbladder surgery.”

Even with a “normal weight” BMI, especially after menopause, most women have a hard time avoiding adding this type of fat. There is a known correlation between cancer risk and abdominal fat. One study published in Cancer showed breast cancer patients had 45% more visceral fat than healthy women. According to the National Cancer Institute this abdominal fat-breast cancer connection may be because extra fat changes the hormonal landscape in the body, creating excesses of hormones like estrogen.

What to do about it

The good news is that abdominal fat yields fairly easily to exercise and diet.

So what can we do about tubby tummies?  The starting point for combating abdominal fat is regular moderate-intensity physical activity — at least 4 or more times per week for 45 to 60 minutes in your target heart zone (intense enough that you would rather not talk while exercising). This should also include some strength training (exercising with weights) as well. Spot exercising, such as doing sit-ups, can tighten abdominal muscles, but it won’t get at visceral fat.

Diet is also important. One of the best diets to reduce BMI and abdominal fat is offered by the Wellness Forum and Dr. Pam Popper, a nationally well-known nutritional expert. It is a no-dairy, plant-focused diet based on a food pyramid with a minimum of 64 ounces of water, loads of veggies and only an occasional treat. (Organic meat two to three times a week is optional).