A woman's breasts are a key part of her experience of herself. More than just mammary glands, a woman's breasts are also a secondary sexual characteristic, contributing to her beauty, attractiveness and self-esteem as well as to her sexual arousal. Yet with close to a quarter of a million new cases of breast cancer being diagnosed in America annually, a woman's breasts may also be perceived as a source of threat. In this article, we offer tips and suggestions for breast health from the standpoint of Ayurveda, an ancient Indian healing system with a strong focus on wellness and prevention.
Breast health begins in early childhood, before the onset of puberty. During childhood, a healthy diet and exercise are important for maintaining normal body weight. Childhood obesity in girls contributes to early menarche and thus to an increased lifetime risk of breast cancer. A vegetarian diet high in fibre has been found to slow the onset of puberty, contributing to future breast health.
As breast buds begin to develop and a girl enters her pubertal years, Ayurveda suggests use of supportive herbs such as Shatavari. A delicious recipe is to roast an ounce of Shatavari with one or two tablespoons ghee in a cast iron pan until light brown and add two tablespoons turbinado sugar, two pinches saffron and a pinch of cardamom. A teaspoon of this recipe can be taken twice daily to support healthy breast development.
During the reproductive years, the breasts undergo cyclical changes, increasing in size during the second half of the cycle. Some very important lifestyle changes must be introduced at this time, to help prevent fibrocystic breast disease and breast cancer. It is best for women to avoid tight bras or bras with underwire and to select only natural fibres such as cotton to be worn over the breasts. Daily breast massage with strokes towards the axilla increases blood flow to the breasts, stimulates lymphatic drainage and enhances oxytocin production. A mixture of castor, coconut and flax oil is ideal for massaging tender or lumpy breasts, while shatavari ghee breast massage is traditionally used to increase breast size. An important tip for pregnant and nursing mothers is to avoid using soap on the nipples. The Montgomery Glands in the nipples produce a natural antibacterial substance that is destroyed by soap.
During the post-menopausal years, the breasts gradually undergo regression. 'Enjoy them while you've got them,' commented one eighty-five year old! Older women should continue their daily breast massage and also take rejuvenative herbs to support breast health. A great Ayurvedic treat useful at any age but ideal for older women is Energy Balls, made from tahini, almond butter, honey, Shatavari and Viadari rolled in coconut flakes.
A feature of the special genius of Ayurveda is the use of diet, lifestyle and herbs not only to manage diseases but also to support health throughout all the stages of life. Suggestions such as these are only a few of the array of ideas Ayurveda has to offer for a lifetime of breast health.
- Supporting Sthanyavaha srota: A guide to breast health (alandiashram.org)