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{Note from Jessica: Today’s post is shared by my lovely friend, Marjorie Saveski, author of the This is So Good website. Marjorie is a blogger and a home cook with a passion for real food, health, and fitness. She hopes to share what she has learned through her real life experience and research with her readers. Stop by her site, This is So Good, to find more delicious recipes and helpful health information.}

This post is very near and dear to my heart. I share this story because I want to reach as many women as possible in hopes that they can heal themselves just as I did several years ago.

Fibrocystic Breast Disease can be very painful and very scary – hopefully this post will give you a starting point for taking control of your pain and your future. Please note that I am not a doctor and the information given in this post is not medical advice. It is my story and I hope that you will use the information to seek out a physician who can guide you through you own healing process.

My Personal Story with Fibrocystic Breast Disease

In 2005 (at age 28), I found a small mass in my left breast. For years I had been told by my physician and my gynecologist that I had very “fibrous” breasts and that I should do regular breast exams.

Well, I didn’t.

I found this lump accidentally.

I was scratching the side of my rib cage and felt pain in my breast. Upon further inspection, there was a marble sized mass.

I panicked! What was this?

I quickly made an appointment with my primary care doctor and was evaluated. She recommended a mammogram after her evaluation confirmed the abnormal mass.

Now at this point in my life, I was deeply set in the conventional wisdom mindset. I was a low-fat, whole grains kind of girl and I was serious about long hours spent on intense cardio workouts. I had heard of alternative medicine, but believed that conventional Western medicine had all of the answers I needed.

So, at the ripe old age of 28, I headed off for my first mammogram. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. Between the pain of the test and the anxiety over what the films might show, I almost passed out during the test.

A few days later I received a call from my doctor. She told me there was “something” on the films and I needed to see a surgeon to discuss my options.

I met with the surgeon she recommended and was told that I had Fibrocystic Breast Disease and that my only option was to have the mass (called a fibroadenoma) surgically removed, otherwise these masses can grow to the size of softballs.

During an outpatient surgery, I had the mass removed. I was awake for the procedure and the surgeon showed me the mass after removing it. It was the size of a small marble. Testing was done and a few days later I was given the all clear – no cancer.

So, why did this happen to me? What can I do about it? Will I continue to undergo surgery after surgery as these show up in the future?

I didn’t like the answers I was receiving.

“We don’t know why this happens.”  

“There is nothing you can do about it – just continue with regular mammograms.”  

“Yes, you will need to have these masses removed. Ignoring them could be very dangerous.”  

So, I continued to have regular breast exams and routine mammograms (two, plus numerous ultrasounds). During this time there were no suspicious masses or lumps. After the second mammogram, I started to refuse. My conventional medicine doctor agreed to let me stop them until I turned 40 as long as I did regular breast exams. OK. Deal.

Fast-forward to 2009.

After years of dealing with chronic low back pain and fatigue, I finally found success with a Holistic physician. I was diagnosed with severe Adrenal Fatigue and Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS).

Part of my healing process involved adapting a Paleo diet and cutting intense, chronic cardio out of my workouts.

I was now a firm believer in Alternative/Holistic/Naturopathic medicine (while still respecting the great advances made by conventional medicine) and I asked for a referral to a Holistic family practice doctor.

In May of 2011, I found another mass, this time in my right breast. And this one was bigger – about the size of a nickel.

During the week leading up to my doctor’s appointment, the mass grew to the size of a quarter and was quite painful. I rushed in to see my new doctor and let loose –

“Why is this happening?”

“I don’t want to have surgery again!”

“Please don’t tell me I need a mammogram!”

Fortunately, she was very understanding and quickly calmed my fears. No mammograms and a very high chance I would not need surgery.

My Natural Action Plan

Step One: Breast Thermology:

This is a totally non-invasive, painless and radiation-free way to evaluate the breasts for abnormalities including benign and cancerous masses. I was excited by this procedure and at the same time disappointed that I had never been given this option in the past. My test came back negative for cancer, but positive for a fibroadenoma.

Step Two: Supplement with High Doses of Iodine:

My instructions were to take 50 mg of iodine in table form and 100 mcg selenium one time a day for 6 weeks and then cut the iodine in half to 25 mg (continue to take the selenium) for another 6 weeks.

After that, my physician said I could again cut the iodine dose in half (12.5 mg) and continue to take the selenium. This would be my maintenance dose.

Guess what?

It worked! Within a few weeks of starting the supplementation, the mass was decreasing in size. Within two months, the mass was GONE. No surgery needed, thank you.

So why did it work? From Dr. David Brownstein’s book Iodine Why You Need It and Why You Can’t Live Without It:

Animal studies have shown conclusively that an iodine deficient state can alter the structure and function of the breasts. After my own research and study, I concur with several investigators that iodine deficiency is a causative factor in breast cancer and fibrocystic breast disease. I believe it is essential that women have their iodine levels tested, and if it is shown there is an iodine deficiency, iodine supplementation should be initiated.

The breasts are one of the body’s main storage sites for iodine in the body. In an iodine-deficient state, the thyroid gland and the breasts will compete for what little iodine is available. Therefore, this will leave the thyroid gland and the breasts iodine depleted and can set the stage for illnesses such as goiter, hypothyroidism, autoimmune thyroid disease, breast illnesses including cancer, and cystic breast disease. In addition, other glandular tissues such as the ovaries which contain the second highest concentration of iodine in the body, will also be depleted in an iodine deficient state.

As noted above, my Fibrocystic Breast Disease was present way before I started a Paleo/Primal/Ancestral lifestyle, but I think it’s valuable to note that this eating style is generally low in iodine.

Most often, we opt for Celtic sea salt over iodized table salt when cooking. Eating real food means cutting out packaged, processed foods and that means cutting out iodized salt intake found in these items. Our soil, especially in the Mid-Western states, is deficient in iodine, meaning our produce and pastured animal products are not a good source.

Wild caught fish can be a decent source, and sea vegetables are fabulous sources, but these are not foods that are typically eaten every day by most people.

I have continued to supplement with iodine (although my functional medicine doctor recently cut my daily dose to 6mg) and have had no reoccurrence of symptoms!

My Ongoing Maintenance Plan

So now that I have healthy, soft breasts, I want to keep them that way! In addition to the Iodine supplementation, there are a few other things I do on a regular basis to maintain breast health:

  • I no longer wear bras with underwires.  These types of bras can restrict lymphatic flow through the breasts and the chest area. I instead opt for a comfortable, loosely fitted, lightly padded bra when I have to wear one. When I am at home, I go without.
  • I dry brush to stimulate lymphatic flow.  I can’t say I do this every night, but I try to get a quick session in before my evening shower.
  • I eat cleanly.  No gluten, no legumes, no industrial seed oils, no refined sugars. As a result of my adrenal fatigue diagnosis, I was required to quit my coffee habit, thereby eliminating caffeine. Caffeine consumption may exacerbate the symptoms of Fibrocystic Breast Disease. I eat plenty of good fats from clean sources (pastured lard, grass-fed tallow and butter, organic coconut and olive oils). Wild-caught seafood and pastured meats and chicken are staples in my kitchen. My whole body thanks me for this!
  • I know what my breasts look like and feel like. I cannot overstate how important this point is – know your body! I can honestly say that I look for changes in shape and color in the mirror almost every night before my shower. I regularly (every few weeks and through different times during my cycle) feel for changes in my breasts, chest, and underarms.

What Worked for Me May Not Work for You

Before supplementing on your own, I would strongly encourage you to find a holistic or naturopathic physician that can assist you in testing and determine your need for iodine supplementation. I wouldn’t recommend undertaking this on your own, as your doctor will likely want to monitor your thyroid function while supplementing.

Iodine supplementation can be very tricky, so it’s important to work with a practitioner who is well-versed in this area and can monitor your intake and your levels.

For more information on my story please check out this post. And learn more about my journey to real food and holistic medicine here.

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