About Andrea Hejtmanek, D.TCM, RAc

Andrea Hejtmanek is a Registered Acupuncturist and Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine, in private practice since 2010. She also teaches at the Calgary College of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture. In addition, Andrea sits on the board of the Alberta Association of Traditional Chinese Medical Doctors and is the co-chair of membership services for the College and Association of Acupuncturists of Alberta.

Preventative Strategies for Reducing Breast Disorders

Early diagnosis is key for detecting and possibly preventing any disorders in the breasts. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) uses several tools for diagnosing the development or “pathogenesis” of disease. Discerning a person’s signs and symptoms—which may be physical, mental, or emotional, and which may at first seem unrelated to a breast disorder—is the first step for detecting any change in the breast tissue or any pathological condition of the breasts.

Japanese Red Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) is a beneficial supplement for these disorders because of its wide-ranging health effects. For example, a recent study has found that “Ganoderma lucidum suppresses the invasive behavior of breast cancer cells by inhibiting the transcription factor NF-kappaB” (Jiang J, et al.).

Although six bilateral meridians run through or near the breast, many pathologies of this delicate tissue are related to an imbalance in the Liver Meridian.

The Liver organ system in TCM:

  1. Controls detoxification,
  2. Regulates emotions,
  3. Circulates Qi energy efficiently throughout the entire body,
  4. Regulates menstruation in women,
  5. Aids in digestion, and
  6. Stores the blood.

Listed below are some TCM Liver functions and specific indications of imbalances, together with some suggestions for correcting these imbalances.

Liver Detoxification

Symptoms: A bitter taste in the mouth, frequent headaches, usually in the area of the forehead, vertex or occiput; sluggish feelings and insufficient energy; skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, acne and any outbreak of the skin that manifests in red and possibly hot bumps.

Recommendations: To counteract these, eating more Liver-cleansing foods is wonderfully helpful. Such foods and herbs include: dandelion greens, artichokes, milk thistle, liquid chlorophyll or chlorophyll rich foods, as well as beginning each morning with 1 – 2 cups of warm lemon water. Regular dry brushing and lymphatic drainage massage are also very beneficial to remove congestion in the breast area.

Did you know: According to a recent study “Ganoderma lucidum elicits its anti-tumor effects by suppressing cell growth and inducing antioxidative/detoxification [of cells] (Hsieh & Wu). Also, the Red Reishi mushroom “encourages cellular detoxification by activating and energizing the cells to deal with the accumulating toxins either in the cell nucleus or membrane” (“Health Benefits of Ganoderma Lucidum,”n.d.).

Regulating Emotions and Circulating Qi Energy

Symptoms: Frequent upsetting emotions, stress, frequent sighing, frustration, anger, irritablility, depression, and repressed emotions can cause energy in the body to get stuck. In TCM, this stuck energy can develop into masses if not released. When the Liver fails to circulate energy freely throughout the body we can see many emotional symptoms, but we can also see pain, or distension, especially along the sides of the torso.

Recommendations: Regulating the Liver by finding a healthy way to express your emotions is key. Getting regular exercise also helps tremendously in moving stuck energies, as do practices such as meditation, yoga and qi gong.

Did you know: Reishi in Chinese medicine is often used as a stand-alone herb in helping to treat the emotions and is said to “calm the spirit” (Bensky, et al., 936).

Regulating Menstruation

Symptoms: Most problems with the menstrual cycle are typically related to an imbalance in the Liver organ. Examples include pre-menstrual tension, breast tenderness or breast lumps before the menses, fibroids, clots or pain on menstruation, scanty or heavy menstruation, irregular periods, etc.

Recommendations: In addition to the strategies noted in part one of this article, acupuncture and specific Chinese herbal formulas can be effective in easing any menstrual problems in women.

Did you know: An extract of reishi mushroom has been found to be beneficial in reducing or eliminating excessive menstrual pain and irregularities (Sabota).

Aiding Digestion

Symptoms: Bloating, burping, nausea, heartburn, constipation or diarrhea, gas, and intestinal rumbling are conditions that are exacerbated when a pathology of the Liver is involved.

Recommendations: Making a tea of the following herbs can ease digestive troubles significantly: 1 cup each of flax, fennel, fenugreek, nettles and ¼ cup of licorice root. Place all ingredients in a bag or jar, shake, and take 2-3 tablespoons of the mixture twice per day for one month to help heal the entire gastrointestinal system. Drinking bone broth regularly also helps.

Did you know: It is common to supplement with reishi mushroom to help combat candida yeast overgrowth in the body, which is known to impair digestive function substantially (Li P. et. al).

Storing Blood

Symptoms: In TCM the Liver is often deficient in Blood and Yin. Blood and Yin nourish the sinews and tendons in the body. If they are lacking we can see muscle cramps, tendons that are easily torn, restless leg syndrome, muscle tics or tremors. The Liver is also said to “open into the eyes,” so we can often detect pathologies of the eyes such as blurred vision, floating elements in the field of vision, and red, dry or tired eyes. The Liver also affects the quality of the nails. Ridged or brittle nails often indicate a Liver Blood Deficiency.

Recommendations: We can build Liver Blood and Yin by eating plenty of leafy greens and good quality (grass finished) beef or lamb, including organ meats.

Red Reishi mushroom is especially helpful here because in TCM it is thought to enter the Liver system directly. Supplementing with Reishi can help with healthy breasts, but it can also help with the many other signs and symptoms associated with the Liver that women can experience by helping to regulate and strengthen the Liver function.

The Breasts as a Barometer

A women’s breasts can be viewed as a gauge of her external and internal environments. If there is a problem in either, the breasts may begin to show their condition via a physical or a felt change by the woman. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) there are many early warning signs that the breasts display, such as distention, pain, and even lumps, yet, especially if these signs seem minor, they can be overlooked, and the condition may be perceived as being normal. However, even a small change in a woman’s breasts can be an early indication that something is wrong. Using the breasts as a barometer can help a woman manage and potentially avoid developing serious disease in this delicate tissue.

TCM holds that the external environment that a women is exposed to can contribute to or detract from her health. In modern cities and many rural areas people are exposed to unclean air and water, and various causes of stress. Exposure to toxic substances has been shown greatly to affect the breast tissue (a wonderful book to read on this subject is, Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History, by Florence Williams). It may be surprising, but the daily minor exposure to seemingly benign products such as deodorants containing aluminum, body cleansers with sodium lauryl sulfate, and non-organic cosmetics can all directly affect the healthy tissue of the breasts. Due to the great amount of pesticides, chemicals, and pollution in many places, reducing exposure to these chemicals can greatly reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. Eating organic foods and using only natural products on the skin can help reduce the daily amounts of toxic exposure.

An important topic, often overlooked, is a woman’s internal environment, including her emotions. In TCM, emotions have a large and significant impact on the health of an organism. Worrying too much can injure the digestive system; having too much fear can deplete the adrenals; grief may damage the lungs; anger disrupts the liver’s proper functioning; and anxiety could damage the heart. All of these TCM organs have their own meridian system, and the main ones that affect the breasts are the liver, kidney, heart, pericardium, lung, and stomach. Each of these meridians goes through or connects with the breasts. Therefore, keeping one’s emotions in proper balance is crucial. One can cultivate balance in emotions by practicing mind-body exercises such as yoga, qi gong, meditation, and also by connecting with nature.

One of the best and most consistent ways for a woman to keep harmony between her external and internal environments is to eat highly nutritious foods, avoid toxins and/or detoxify regularly, regulate the emotions, and take the right supplements. Reishi mushroom is a herb that can be used to help with the external environment by protecting the body from harmful substances via its immune-regulatory functions. Reishi, when used in the context of the internal environment, can help settle the emotions, especially those of the organs that it directly influences: the heart, lung and liver. Reishi is also a very strong detoxifier and can help regulate and restore cellular vitality. The breasts, a woman’s guide to health, benefit from a balanced and healthy environment, inside and out.