If you talk to holistic health practitioners Queen Afua or Dr. Jesse Brown for any length of time about breast health in the Black community, there will be one topic you won’t be able to escape: bowel movements.
While digestive health may have never crossed your mind as being connected to other health issues, both Afua and Brown agree that one of the keys to optimal breast health and overall wellness is having regular bowel movements.
“In my opinion, a lot of it [breast cancer] is stemming from constipation and poor bowel elimination habits that are plaguing African-American women in particular,” Brown told BET.com, citing the fact that many of his Black, female patients suffer from chronic constipation. “I think the chronic constipation has come from poor bowel habits, which is exacerbated by poor diet.”
While neither Afua or Brown are traditional M.D.s, Brown mentioned a highly cited clinical study that showed women who suffered from severe constipation were determined to be at a higher risk for breast cancer based on the composition of fluids extracted from their breasts. The fluid from constipated women showed precancerous cells and a higher rate than their more "regular" counterparts.
Afua agreed with Brown’s take on the bowel-breast connection.
“One of the questions I ask in consultation is, “how many meals do you have a day?” Then I ask how many bowel movements do you have a day," Afua told BET.com. "The average woman, in the case of breast cancer or other forms of cancer, would have probably one a few times a week."
That’s when Afua says she breaks down the math with her patients.
“For each meal you take in, you are to digest, assimilate and eliminate. So, if you have three meals a day, at the end of seven days a week, that’s 21 meals. For each meal you should have elimination, so that means you should have 21 bowel movements. But if you have only one bowel movement for the day, that means you have 14 of those backed up in your system,” she said.
According to Afua, that backup allows toxins that should be leaving your body to be reabsorbed in the blood stream, where they cause illness in the breasts and other parts of the body.
Both Afua and Brown suggest that more Black women should make sure they are having regular bowel movements, even if that means abandoning old beliefs about where and when it is OK to use the toilet.
“We both have spoken to thousands of women, and we know if they’re not some place where they’re comfortable, they’re not eliminating their bowels,” Brown said, mentioning the many women who refuse to take a bowel movement in public restrooms. “Some women say, 'I don’t go in a public restroom, that’s nasty.' So then there becomes a cultural expectation that if you’re not at home, if you’re not some place comfortable, you don’t go.”
Afua and Brown encourage Black women to adopt a plant-based diet free from fried and fatty foods that tend to make proper digestion difficult. And although both agree that digestion is paramount to optimal breast health, they mentioned the importance of stemming other issues, like stress, that may contribute to poor eating habits and poor digestion.
“It is a body, mind and spirit connection. The breasts are not in a world by itself,” Afua said.
“We’re eating late at night, we’re eating poor combinations, we’re eating out of anger, we’re eating out of hurt, we’re eating out of loneliness, and the colon becomes a garbage disposal of our emotions. All of this because life is eating at us and its showing up in our digestive system.”
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