I am honored to have Dr. Jenn Simmons joining me on the podcast today! She is a top breast cancer surgeon who made a pivotal shift in her practice after developing an illness that led her into the functional medicine world. She has since become a beacon of hope as the doctor with the answer to breast cancer in helping her patients reclaim their health.
In our discussion, Dr. Jenn shares her background, and we dive into breast physiology and the role of hormones, dispelling the myth that estrogen causes breast cancer. We explore the latest advancements in breast cancer screening, including some new screening tools Dr. Jenn employs in her practice. Our conversation also encompasses risk factors, diagnostic approaches for women, and lifestyle-related choices that can play a role in either preventing breast cancer or helping women heal from it. I have incorporated many of your questions into our discussion, including information about alcohol consumption, whether or not breast implant illness is a real issue, and how Dr. Jenn helps her patients heal from it.
Dr. Jenn possesses deep wisdom, and her insights are bound to enhance your understanding of breast cancer.
“The truth is that 80% of chronic diseases, including breast cancer, are diseases caused by food and lifestyle, and we have the ability to correct that.”
– Dr. Jenn Simmons
IN THIS EPISODE YOU WILL LEARN:
- Why Dr. Jenn made it her mission to save and empower women
- Dr. Jenn dives into breast physiology and all the changes that breasts go through in a lifetime
- Why estrogen does not cause breast cancer
- How can we be proactive in protecting ourselves from breast cancer?
- Lifestyle choices that are essential for our health
- How QT Imaging will soon replace mammograms
- Some of the risk factors for breast cancer
- Small changes you can make to avoid breast cancer
- Why Dr. Jenn routinely looks at gut health first and always insists that her patients remove all grains, including gluten-free varieties, from their diet
- Why is there no safe amount of alcohol for all women?
- Is breast implant illness a real issue
Connect with Cynthia Thurlow
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Want more of Dr. Jenn? You can catch her on her podcast, KEEPING ABREAST with Dr. Jenn here (new episodes drop every Monday!):
If you have general questions about breast health or screening, we recommend joining our free Facebook group, Keeping Abreast with Dr. Jenn. You can join here:
You can find Dr. Jenn’s book, The Smart Person’s Guide to Breast Cancer, here:
If you are looking to learn more about working privately with Dr. Jenn, please use this link to set up a call with a member of the team:
Cynthia Thurlow: Welcome to Everyday Wellness podcast. I’m your host, Nurse Practitioner, Cynthia Thurlow. This podcast is designed to educate, empower, and inspire you to achieve your health and wellness goals. My goal and intent, is to provide you with the best content and conversations from leaders in the health and wellness industry each week and impact over a million lives.
My wonderful Everyday Wellness community. I wanted to take an opportunity to express gratitude. I actually love reading your reviews and this is a recent iTunes review from Love Bicycling. I am a 71-year-old woman who wasn’t sleeping well, wake up tired, with no energy. I had pain in an old injury to my knee and needed to lose 10 pounds. Somehow, Cynthia Thurlow came up on my YouTube feed and I watched her video on intermittent fasting and hormonal changes occurring after 40. I was hooked after one episode. I started binge watching her videos and started listening to her podcast every day for the past eight weeks. I have learned so much and now feel in control of my health for the first time in my life, I lost the 10 pounds, I am no longer insulin resistant, I sleep 7 hours a night. I am well rested when I wake up and I have an abundance of energy.
I haven’t felt this good since my 30s. These podcasts give me the motivation to go on for another day while I am continuing to learn on how to stay healthy. I cannot thank Cynthia Thurlow enough for her dedication in putting out so much worthwhile information. This information makes so much sense to me and I am proof that it works. Thank you so much, Love Bicycling. Please know how much I appreciate and how grateful I am to have the opportunity to connect with so many of you.
Today, I recorded a podcast with Dr. Jenn Simmons. Dr. Jenn Simmons is a top breast cancer surgeon who shifted her practice when she developed an illness that led her down a functional medicine path. She now helps patients take back their health and she is the doctor with the answer to breast cancer. Dr. Simmons and I spoke at great length about her background about breast physiology, the role of hormones, and how estrogen in particular does not cause breast cancer.
We spoke at great length about screenings, including some new screening tools that she is using in her practice, the risk factors for breast cancer, how women are diagnosed, lifestyle related factors that can improve or reduce our likelihood of developing breast cancer or can play a role in helping healing us from breast cancer. I took many of the listeners questions, including information on alcohol intake and whether or not breast implant illness is a real thing and how she helps patients heal from this as well. I hope you will enjoy this conversation as much as I did recording it.
Welcome Dr. Jenn, it’s so good to connect with you on the podcast today. I know this is going to be an invaluable conversation for listeners.
Dr. Jenn Simmons: Well, I am delighted to be here and talk about my favorite topic, which is all things breast.
Cynthia Thurlow: Yes, absolutely. So, I know quite a bit about your background story, but your real pain to purpose story originated with a loved one who got very sick. I would love for you to share that story with listeners.
Dr. Jenn Simmons: Yeah. So, like most healthcare providers, I come to my mission because of my life experience. I come from a breast cancer family. The vast majority of the female members of my family have breast cancer and those that don’t, have colon cancer. So as a child, I really don’t remember a time when I didn’t know what breast cancer was, which is pretty abnormal to really know as a child about this devastating illness. But it just so happened that my first cousin was a woman named Linda Creed. Linda was a singer songwriter in the 1970s and 1980s. She wrote all the music for The Spinners and The Stylistics. Her most famous song was The Greatest Love of all. So, she wrote that in 1977 as the title track to the movie The Greatest, starring Muhammad Ali. But it really received its acclaim when Whitney Houston released that song to the world in March of 1986.
At that time, it would spend 14 weeks at the top of the charts. Only Linda would never know that because she died of metastatic breast cancer just one month after Whitney released that song. I was 16 years old when my hero died. That day, I made it my life’s mission to do whatever I could do to not be powerless, to save other women, other families from having to know that degree of devastation. Because when Linda died, because of her impact on this world when she was alive, the fact that she died of metastatic breast cancer at 37 had a tidal wave in its wake. So, I did the only thing I knew how to do. I became a doctor. I became a surgeon. I became the first fellowship trained breast surgeon in Philadelphia. I’m doing really innovative things, I’m doing oncoplastics which is a combination of cancer surgery and reconstructive surgery, and I’m really the only person doing this.
I’m at the top of my game. I’m running the cancer program for my hospital, I’m a wife, I’m a mother, a stepmother, an athlete, and a philanthropist, and I have all these balls in the air and think I’m an expert juggler until the day for me where everything comes crashing down. So, I go from being super high functioning, thinking that I can literally burn my candle at both ends and in between to I can’t do anything. I can’t walk across the room without being short of breath. So, I’m sitting there in the office of my friend, colleague, and physician. He tells me that I need to have surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and beyond lifelong hormone replacement. I’m sitting there listening to these words that I say all day, every day without hesitation or reservation. When they’re coming at me, I’m like having an out of body experience, this cannot be happening.
And call it God, call it universe, call it whatever you want to call it, I floated out of that room that day refusing treatment, and here I am running a cancer program. I know what the standard of care is and I know what my friend thinks of me because he told me, if you don’t do this, you’re going to die. That’s a question that I get asked all the time as a breast cancer doctor, like, “What would happen to me if I don’t do this?” But I just somehow knew that there was another answer, that there was another solution. I went to find it. And in my search, I learned about functional medicine. In addition to using, it to heal myself, it gave me a completely different perspective on life. It was a bell that I couldn’t un-ring.
So, once that change happened for me, I couldn’t go back to being a surgeon and participating in a process that I knew ultimately wasn’t helping people and was really hurting people. So, I know that was a very [laughs] long-winded answer to your question, but we all arrive at our places because it’s where God intended us to be. And when we deviate from that path, we get signals. My illness was my signal that if I was truly meant to make an impact in the space of breast cancer, it wasn’t going to be by cutting out tumors. It didn’t matter how talented a surgeon I was, that was not going to change the trajectory of people’s lives. Only by teaching people how to mind their health, promote their health, create their health, that was going to be my impact and that’s going to be my legacy.
So, I have vowed to leave the world a better place than when I found it. As far as breast cancer is concerned, I fully intend to do that.
Cynthia Thurlow: Well, it’s really interesting to me. I feel so honored that there have been almost 300 recorded podcasts of everyday wellness and I hear similar trajectories for different healthcare professionals that they were traditional allopathic trained, they were very talented in their field, and there was this interruption in their day-to-day schedule mindset. And the concept of once you see you cannot unsee, once you understand that traditional allopathic medicine, especially for emergent or urgent care, is fantastic. But we do such a lousy job with prevention of disease. And what I hear in your message about your beautiful aunt who succumbed to a disease far too young and your own pain to purpose story is, “I want to help other women not go through what I’m seeing so many women going through right now.” When I was looking at the statistics before our conversation, one in eight women are impacted by breast cancer.
Dr. Jenn Simmons: Well, I would say it’s even more than that. Because even if you don’t have breast cancer, it’s nearly impossible to not know someone, be connected to someone that is going through that. So, it truly affects us all.
Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s interesting for me, this is the first time I’ve brought on a breast cancer expert for the podcast and my traditional nerdy thought process. I was like, “I want to think about breast physiology. What is happening into our breasts? What are the types of tissues that we find there? What’s going on with hormones that has this interplay?” Obviously, we go through puberty if we are fortunate enough to be able to breastfeed our children. All these changes that our breasts go through throughout our lifetime that impact the potentiality of living long enough to experience this. So, let’s start the conversation there, because I do think this is particularly of interest. And as a surgeon, you got to see it all from the inside out.
Dr. Jenn Simmons: Yeah. So essentially, when we think about the breast and the makeup of the breast, the breast is made up of glandular tissue that is the milk-producing tissue. That’s the tissue that both grows and develops in order to feed a child and fat, which makes up the in between tissue. And for many women, the majority of the breast tissue, and usually the difference in the size of the breast, is how much adipose tissue or fat tissue that you’re going to put into your breast, because the glandular tissue, by and large, is fairly consistent. And then there’s connective tissue holding it all together. There are blood vessels coursing through, there are some nerves, coursing through. But by and large, the breast is made up of glandular tissue, connective tissue, and fat.
It is very, very rare to get a tumor of the fatty tissue in the breast. It does happen. There are benign, what we call lipomas. There are instances where we do get tumors of the connective tissue of the breast. They’re fairly common. They’re called fibroadenomas and its mostly reproduction of the fibrous tissue or the connective tissue in the breast. Sometimes, it contains a little bit of glandular tissue, but mostly that’s fibrous tissue. They’re very, very common and almost always benign. There is a variant of them that is very uncommon. Thankfully, in my 20 years as a surgeon, I only saw two malignant ones because when they’re malignant, they can be very aggressive. Then there’s the glandular tissue and the glandular tissue, you can have benign changes, you can have cancerous changes. Yes, they are sensitive and modulated by our circulating hormones. But I want to be very clear about one thing, estrogen does not cause breast cancer. We need to unlearn that.
That is such a simplistic concept that is borne out of the fact that a certain percentage of breast cancers have upregulated their estrogen sensitivity, so they put more estrogen on their surface. So, because of that, we say that estrogen causes breast cancer. It’s actually the other way around. What’s happening is that breast cancer is a normal response to an abnormal environment. So, when that environment shifts, the breast cells sense that abnormality, that imbalance, and they go into survival mode. So, if you need estrogen to grow and there’s a paucity of estrogen around, what are you going to do? You’re going to upregulate your estrogen receptor? This is just survival talking. So, the answer to that is not to block out all the estrogen. The answer is to get back to homeostasis, find the rebalance. And our cancer system is so focused on the wrong thing because all of our focus, like the entire allopathic system, like the entire conventional medical system, the focus is on the symptom and not on what’s causing the symptom.
So, we spend all this time focused on the tumor, the tumor, the tumor and no one’s thinking about why is the tumor there in the first place and the problem with that is when you cut and burn and drug that tumor, you’re also cutting and burning and drugging the person that’s housing that tumor. That tumor is every bit part of you as anything else and you have not done anything to restore homeostasis. So, what is then stopping the cancer from coming back? Or what actually happens to most people? Because the vast majority of women that get breast cancer don’t die of breast cancer. The vast majority of women that get breast cancer die of heart disease. Because not only is that the number one threat to a woman’s life, but everything that we do to treat breast cancer only accelerates heart disease.
So having come from that world, it’s so hard for me to think of this and I spent 20 years there. But we’re hurting people and it’s time for a new perspective. We have to look at this differently. We have to learn how to drive health, learn how to restore balance, learn how to restore homeostasis so that people don’t have to suffer any more than they’re already suffering and don’t have to live just to encounter the next disease state. But God would never give us a hormone that caused the disease. When you look at estrogen levels, if estrogen caused breast cancer, we would see the preponderance of the disease in the teen years, in pregnancy. But where do we see estrogen and where do we see breast cancer? We see it mostly in the postmenopausal state when estrogen is scarce. It’s the quest for estrogen that’s driving many disease states. We know that because we see what happens to the postmenopausal woman in the first 10 years after menopause, the bone loss is heavily accelerated.
The cardiovascular disease is accelerated, and this is where the first signs of dementia are starting. I don’t know about you, but until I went on hormone replacement, I 100 times a day, would walk into the other room and say, “Why did I come in here?” And it happens that quickly once our ovaries are shut down. So, if we did learn anything from today, we need to know estrogen does not cause breast cancer.
Cynthia Thurlow: But I think that’s such an important distinction to make. I would imagine that we were finishing up our training around the same time in 2002 when the Women’s Health Initiative came out, and I was safely in cardiology. I say safely because in cardiology, we don’t want to deal with [laughs] sex hormone issues. But I recall– [crosstalk]
Dr. Jenn Simmons: Although that’s what the study was powered for. Yeah, the study was never powered for breast cancer. It was only powered to determine if hormone replacement was protective against cardiovascular disease. And then they took women who were 10 years out of menopause to test for it.
Cynthia Thurlow: So, we’re not entirely healthy. And I remember patients and my mother’s generation talking about how their hormone replacement therapy was stopped abruptly. I interviewed Dr. Avrum Bluming last year, who’s an oncologist. He and Dr. Carol Tavris wrote what I consider to be this groundbreaking book coming out talking about why estrogen matters. There’s an entire generation of clinicians that are paranoid to prescribe. Exactly right behind you I’ve got one on my shelf.
Dr. Jenn Simmons: [laughs]
Cynthia Thurlow: And women who are fearful to take HRT. So, I use my platform so that women can make a good decision. Obviously, there are women who choose not to take HRT, but if you’re choosing not to take HRT, understand the ramifications, because you can be a very healthy individual. I am about three years into menopause. I abruptly headed into menopause early because I spent 13 days in the hospital, lost 15 pounds, and that just shoved me in there a whole lot faster than I’d anticipated. I went through a period of time where I started HRT, then we stopped it because I was having some side effects. My new functional medicine doctor started drawing some labs, some inflammatory labs. He looked at me and he said, “You’re at a perfect weight, you’re physically active, your diet is pristine, you sleep well, you manage your stress.”
But when I look on the paper, what this tells me is you are putting yourself at risk for developing cardiovascular disease. It’s not a question of if, but when. My ApoB was sky high, my NMR results were showing I had light dense particle size for my LDL. We had this whole conversation, and he said, “Listen, I don’t necessarily like to push anyone to do anything, but I think it’s time to revisit this conversation.” To your point, the things I started noticing, low motivation from low testosterone, forgetting things. I was saying to my husband, “If I don’t put it on a list, sometimes I don’t remember.” My team knows this. Sometimes, I’m in the middle of a conversation, I’m like, “Hold on a second, [laughs] I have to remember what I was talking about.” So, I think it’s important for people to understand that it’s not the HRT that is driving, causing all of these sequelae of menopause.
Menopause is a disease state. I had Dr. Amy Killen on and she talked about that. She said, “I’m going to put myself out on a limb and I’m going to say I think menopause is a disease state and we need to treat it as such.” So, I think that’s a super important distinction to make. Now, I know many people were asking about how do we screen, how do we protect ourselves, how do we remain proactive? I know we’re going to talk about lifestyle, but a lot of the questions that came up are talking about thermography, mammography, self-breast exam. What are your thoughts, what are your recommendations for just broadly?
Dr. Jenn Simmons: Let’s start with, there is no broadly available test right now that is perfect or anywhere near it. I am going to start to talk about a test which is available, FDA approved, and we’re working on marketing in it and getting it out there and getting it available. But the first thing is lifestyle, like 100% across the board you have to do the things that promote health. So, you have to be eating a clean diet, whatever that macro part is that works for you, whatever your protein source is, you just have to be eating a clean diet. You have to be as close as your ideal weight as possible.
As you cross over 40, you need to make that shift, that exercise shift between the cardiovascular and the weight training. It just has to go in the way of weight training. We need to preserve lean muscle mass. We need to preserve our muscle mass. And you need to prioritize sleep. You need to figure out how to manage the stress. The stress isn’t going anywhere, but it’s the impact that the stress has on you that matters. So, everyone has to figure out what works for you. If you hate meditating, I don’t know what to tell you, figure out something else that works for you. Get a breathing practice going, become a yogi. Whatever is going to work for you, whatever can get your body into that safe space, you need to find it because there’s no workaround here.
We just are not built for running away from a saber-tooth tiger all day, every day, day after day, week after week, month after month. But that’s how we’re living. That’s how we’re living with cell phones and deadlines and bosses and toxic relationships and toxic atmospheres. We are all on cortisol overload. I think you call it living like a woman and we just can’t, we’re not built for it. So, there’s that and there’s detoxifying our environment. So then when you talk about screening, first of all, I believe in self-examination. I really do. I think that– no one is going to know your body better than you know yourself. I think it’s all of our responsibility to be in touch and in tune enough with our body that we should know what it looks like and know what it feels like so that we notice a difference.
One of the first tells of when I was getting sick is that I actually noticed a change in my muscle mass. I was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, what is going on here? I haven’t changed the way I eat. I haven’t changed the way I moved and that was my tell that what I was doing while it worked for me 10 years ago, is not working anymore. So, knowing yourself, knowing what your breasts feel like, knowing what your breasts look like, because sometimes that is the first tell for someone, is that they have some dimpling or a change in the shape or a change in the appearance. So just on a monthly basis, I don’t think anyone needs to be examining their breasts every day. But I think that self-breast examination and knowing what you are and what you look like is important. And then I don’t believe in mammogram for screening. I think that there is the evidence and the data is there. Mammogram does not save lives. I’m sorry if you think it saved your life, I’m almost certain it didn’t. And for every life saved, for every one in 10,000 women whose lives were saved by mammogram, we’re causing seven breast cancers.
So, we’re causing exponentially more breast cancers than lives we’re saving. No matter how many mammograms we do and how many people we treat for breast cancer, the exact same number of women die every single year of breast cancer. The exact same number. We are not making an impact by screening more women, by finding of these infantile breast cancers, because those infantile breast cancers weren’t going to become anything. So, by upping the screening program, we’re just diagnosing more women that don’t need to be treated. We’re treating more women and our treatments are not harmless. Our treatments are harmful. So, we’re taking women with noninvasive disease, DCIS, ductal carcinoma in situ. We’re giving them bilateral mastectomies. Now, they’re living the rest of their lives with no breasts or reconstructed breasts and there will never come a day for the rest of their lives that they won’t remember that they had breast cancer.
And it’s not even breast cancer. And then these early breast cancers that we’re treating these women with five years or 10 years of aromatase inhibitors and hormone blockade and all the while, we’re accelerating heart disease, we’re accelerating bone loss, we’re increasing their risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. I don’t think we’re helping these people. So, the people that we need to identify are the people that are going to have aggressive disease and really need to be treated. And that’s not happening with mammogram. It’s not happening with mammogram.
Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah, it’s interesting. I just want to interject that when I was preparing for this, there were significant differences between the United States and even the EU. And in Switzerland, as an example, they’ve abolished mammograms altogether.
Dr. Jenn Simmons: Listen, Europe tops us across the board in the way they eat, in the way they live, in the way they treat, like, you know, the United States. Unfortunately, every single program that we have is about financial gain for someone and something. I mean, we don’t have a healthcare system. We have a sick care system that we have created by design. Our food industry is designed to create illness so that our pharmaceutical industry can take over from there. And it’s a really sick system. We do really well in certain areas. If you break your hip or you rupture your appendix or something like that, we’re very good at acute care medicine, but we’re using this acute care model for chronic disease and it doesn’t work. And the truth is that 80% of diseases, chronic diseases, and that includes breast cancer, these are lifestyle diseases. These are caused by food and lifestyle and we have the ability to correct that, we don’t.
Cynthia Thurlow: You had alluded to a new technology, that is, if you’re able to I’d love to hear more about that.
Dr. Jenn Simmons: I can share. This is where politics really gets in the way. But MRI has been, for the last 20 years, the definitive study for breast. So, if you have an abnormal mammogram or if you have very dense breasts or you have a history of implants or you have a history of breast cancer, then mammogram is not such a reliable technique and they’ve gone to MRI. But MRI is cumbersome, expensive, not very affordable. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a breast MRI, but they take a long time. You have to get gadolinium. Gadolinium is a heavy metal, and as we know, heavy metals are stored in our bodies, so the fact that the American College of Radiology tells us that gadolinium is safe, it’s going somewhere. It’s being stored somewhere. If it’s being stored somewhere, it’s being stored at the expense of whatever else is supposed to be there.
So, for instance, if it’s being stored in our bones, well, that’s giving our bones less flexibility and strength because it’s interfering with the architecture of the bone. I test people for gadolinium and people are spilling gadolinium in their urine for years, years after they’ve had an MRI.
Cynthia Thurlow: Just one MRI?
Dr. Jenn Simmons: Just one MRI.
Cynthia Thurlow: Wow.
Dr. Jenn Simmons: So, I really, really worry about the safety of MRI, but the biggest thing about MRI is it’s really not affordable. Certainly, in the rest of the world, it’s not affordable or accessible. So, the NIH gave a man named John Clark, who invented the calcium score and the CT colonoscopy, brilliant, brilliant man. They gave him $20 million and said, “Please come up with something that will be a substitute for MRI.” He did. He has a test that is 40 times more sensitive, 40 times more resolution than MRI. So, you can see blood vessels, you can see nerves, you can see exactly what a lesion is. The test takes about four minutes per breast. There is no compression. Your breast is submerged in that of warm water. It’s like going for an eight-minute swim. If you have a normal scan, you do not need imaging again for two years.
Cynthia Thurlow: Wow.
Dr. Jenn Simmons: That’s how sensitive this test is. The hospitals really don’t want any part of it because they’re invested in mammogram and MRI, and they’ve spent millions of dollars on their MRI machines, and they want their return on investment. So, it’s going to be people like me and other practitioners that are going to bring this technology to the public. I’m in the throes of doing that right now.
Cynthia Thurlow: That’s so cool. Can you tell me what the name of the technology is?
Dr. Jenn Simmons: So, it’s called QT imaging and it utilizes sound, but not loud sound, it’s a silent utilization ultrasound would be, but it doesn’t involve a probe. So, it is novel technology. It doesn’t exist anywhere else and I’m hoping to have one in every city within the next 10 years.
Cynthia Thurlow: That’s exciting. I can tell you, as someone who’s had many mammograms, I would love to have an alternative to that.
Dr. Jenn Simmons: Yeah. Well, this will replace mammogram. It is not FDA approved for screening unless you have dense breasts. In that case, it is FDA approved for screening and it’s FDA approved for everything else. So, everything that you would have had an MRI for now, this will be the substitute for MRI.
Cynthia Thurlow: That’s amazing. Do you think thermography has any place in screening for breast.
Dr. Jenn Simmons: Thermography is a value in first of all, it’s not going to catch everything. That’s why I started off saying, “There’s no perfect scan until now.” This scan is as perfect as we’re going to see in our lifetimes. But I think thermography can be an indication for you, an indication that maybe you need to look into, are you as balanced as you think you are, and is there any optimization that you need to work on? I don’t think it’s valuable much beyond that, but it’s certainly better than nothing, and way better, in my opinion, than radiating yourself every year, which for most women, it turns out to be more than once a year with mammography because the callback rate is high.
Cynthia Thurlow: Absolutely.
Dr. Jenn Simmons: So, I think it’s a better alternative than mammography, but it’s not great. It will be replaced by QT imaging but everything’s going to be replaced by QT imaging.
Cynthia Thurlow: That’s really exciting. Now, I know that you alluded to, touched on some of the risk factors for breast cancer and to me something that I found startling. We talk a lot on the podcast about estrogen-mimicking chemicals, herbicides, and pesticides. The thing that I found astounding when I was looking at some statistics was that exposure to plastics in particular or estrogen-mimicking chemicals are 1000 times more powerful than estrogen alone. When I read that I thought to myself is it any wonder we’re dealing with catastrophic health implications relative to the amount of plastic like chemicals we have in our lives, they’re everywhere.
Dr. Jenn Simmons: Yeah, and the response from industry has not been to cut back on that and the response from the medical industry has not been to cut back on that. The response from the medical industry is let’s develop another drug. It’s like the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. So, the issue with all of these xenoestrogens, these environmental estrogens is that they do resemble estrogen and I know you talk about insulin a lot and the lock and key activation so these chemicals do look like estrogen but they’re like a little different. So, they go and sit on the estrogen receptor but when estrogen sits on the estrogen receptor it does its signaling and it lets go, it dissociates and that’s it. But these chemicals get locked onto the estrogen receptor. Besides that, they are overloading our detoxification systems.
So, our detoxification systems were built to detox our endogenous estrogen. But they were not meant for the chemical load that we’re giving it because the plasticizers are everywhere and with things that you don’t even think about, the shampoo that you’re using on your head is probably in a plastic bottle or the cream that you’re using on your face or the toothpaste that you’re using to brush your teeth with, not to mention that they all also have triclosan in them. So, they have an antibiotic that also acts like an estrogen that is preventing growth of anything inside of that bottle and that tube and all the aerosols and the nonstick. If you think that you’re drinking out of a can, well, guess what that can is completely lined in a plasticizer. And all the prepared food that you’re buying, everything that’s in a package is lined with a plasticizer.
And as food goes between states so hot to cold, cold to hot, that kind of thing, it’s incorporating the plastic in it. So, even if you think like, “Oh, well, I’m just freezing in this plastic bag,” guess what? The same thing is happening because every time it changes state it’s incorporating these plastics and so they’re just everywhere. You can’t avoid all of them but you can avoid a lot of them, you can just say no. So, you put a water filtration system. You can either put one under your kitchen sink or put one in your whole house, or get something to drink out of, get a Berkey for your counter and then use that for everything. You can stop drinking out of plastic bottles and use a different kind of toothpaste and use different kind of products and not make coffee in a Keurig. It takes a conscious mind, for sure, but it’s doable. It’s necessary because we don’t see more breast cancer because something has changed in our endogenous estrogen. I mean, it’s a ridiculous concept. We see more breast cancer because we’re living in this synthetic world that’s acting like a toxic estrogen in our bodies.
Cynthia Thurlow: I think that’s an important understanding. I don’t want anyone to walk away and feel like they have to change everything all at once. But small changes really do ultimately add up over time.
Dr. Jenn Simmons: Really do.
Cynthia Thurlow: Even something as simple as you’re no longer going to buy plastic water bottles, you’re going to purchase a glass that’s got an inner silicone sheath or buy something that’s stainless steel, something that–
Dr. Jenn Simmons: The water part alone is huge, huge.
Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah, and I think what a lot of people don’t realize and I think about this in greater amounts now that I have teenage boys. For every individual that’s on HRT or taking oral contraceptives, you urinate into the toilet, you flush the toilet, it goes into the water supply. Most municipalities are not filtering out synthetic or even bioidentical hormones. So, we’re just exposed to so many chemicals-
Dr. Jenn Simmons: For sure, for sure.
Cynthia Thurlow: -on a day-to-day basis, it’s overwhelming. Now, for someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, I guess this is the next thing to touch on. I know that you mentioned that there’s this overtreatment. A lot of these breast cancers would not go on to create significant disease. But I know here in the United States, there’s staging, there’s prognosis. I mean, there’re all these different size of the tumor with or without MetS biomarkers.
I mean, obviously something you know better than I do, let’s talk a little bit about and I know this is an area that you are an expert in when the staging is applied to breast cancer patients. In your experience, when women would come to you, I would imagine that there’s a degree of comfort in knowing that you’re seeing a surgeon who’s also a woman who shares the same anatomical organs that you’re looking at. But what were some of the first things when you were working with women and they were contemplating surgery or contemplating their options? I would imagine you were probably having these conversations about lifestyle in conjunction with these more and I don’t want to use the term aggressive. I’m not using it pejoratively. I’m just saying more aggressive. What were some of the things that you were considering with them in terms of the staging and what needed to happen next before whether or not they were having chemo or radiation or surgical intervention, etc.
Dr. Jenn Simmons: Yeah. So unfortunately, our staging system has not caught up to where it should be. Because something like size, that is just a function of when you found it. There are really big tumors that have no propensity for metastasis and little tumors that are very likely to metastasize. So, we should be running genetics on every single tumor from the onset and knowing that this tumor doesn’t need treatment. This tumor is going to need everything that you can throw at it and more. But we’re not doing that. We’re still treating based on some really arbitrary and archaic criteria. So, when I first started practice, we were offering every single woman who had a tumor of one cm and above chemotherapy. It was wholly, wholly, wholly unnecessary. The vast majority of the women that got chemotherapy got zero benefit and all side effect. Then around, I want to say, like 2013 or so, the TAILORx study came out and we were then doing oncotype’s on people’s tumors.
This is like a 37 gene array on a hormone positive tumor to determine who does and who doesn’t benefit from chemotherapy. So, at least that saved a lot of women from chemotherapy. But still, we’re still not doing enough to really say who does and who does not need treatment, because even those women that have an oncotype done, if they have a low-oncotype score, they’re still put on anti-hormonal therapy. What they should be getting is counseling. Well, first of all, they should have a genetic study to look at their SNPs to see how they metabolize their own estrogen, and then they should be given environmental counseling on how to create an environment that’s optimal for health promotion. But none of this is happening inside the scope of traditional medicine. None of it. So, I am still considered fringe despite the fact that I ran a cancer program for 20 years, I’m still considered fringe, dangerous.
And that’s okay, because I know that I’m on the right side of history. So, I’m okay with people saying those things about me as long as I am serving the public and that I know I’m doing. If you think I’m dangerous because I’m telling people to clean up their diet, to prioritize sleep, to move in a way that’s meaningful for them, to clean up their environment, to manage their stress, okay, call me dangerous. I’m a sick sling shooter. What can I tell you? This is what needs to happen. Are there people who are going to need the aggressive therapy? Yeah, for sure. There are people with very aggressive tumors with a lot of tumor burden and I liken that too– your sink is overflowing. You need to mop up the floor. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, they are mopping up the floor. But the far more important thing that needs to happen is figuring out why your sink is overflowing, because no one was ever cured by chemotherapy or radiation.
Because cancer is not a chemotherapy deficiency. It’s not a radiation deficiency. This is every bit the band-aid that any other pill or drug or thing is. It’s a band-aid. What needs to happen is you need to figure out your why. So, I didn’t know that until I was 17 years into my career, until I got sick, and I had to ask myself that question. I had to figure out that I was living in a moldy environment, that my body was crashing. But I didn’t know that and I didn’t even know to ask the question right. When I was trained, the answer to why did I get breast cancer? Was, you had bad luck. That’s what we told people breast cancer was bad luck. Now, I don’t want people to come away thinking like I’m blaming the victim. I mean, that’s ridiculous.
What I’m trying to do is empower you. I’m trying to help you figure out how you can be your best self. And the people that I work with have better health after their breast cancer than they ever had before. So, I think that I’m probably 10 years ahead of the curve. I think that cancer care will advance. That is not going to be by bigger, better drugs. It’s going to be by realizing that there’s a person sitting in front of you and that we only have one system. Breast cancer doesn’t happen because you have a bad breast. And ultimately, breast health is health. So, if there’s a breast cancer there, it’s because there is a systemic issue. It’s only by solving that systemic issue and restoring homeostasis that that person can be healthy.
Cynthia Thurlow: And that makes so much sense. I think for so many of us that deviated from our traditional allopathic training. Many of us have come to the realization that lifestyle is medicine in and of itself. If you’re not addressing that, then you’re missing opportunities for patients to have their health optimized. I do want to ask you, are you running DUTCH hormone tests on your patients looking at their estrogen metabolism or metabolites? Is that something that’s of interest to you? I’m just curious because–
Dr. Jenn Simmons: So, I routinely first look at gut health, because gut health has so much to do with hormonal health. I am always looking at a DUTCH because I want to see what hormones you’re making and how you’re metabolizing them. I’m also routinely running a toxin panel. I want to know what’s there. I want to know what your burdens are. I want to know what you’re dealing with. I also run a DNA panel because I want to know what your inherent ability to clear toxins, to clear hormones. I want to know what you can do. So, we know how we can help you. It’s about understanding your nature so you can nurture it.
Cynthia Thurlow: I would imagine that’s pretty powerful. I mean, I use the DUTCH in my practice, and I’ve had maybe a handful of women that have upregulation of their 4-0H and metabolite pathway and talking to them what that could potentially represent. It’s highly motivating when people understand that you are metabolizing most of your estrogen down a nonbeneficial, potentially harmful pathway. I’m amazed at how motivating that is. So, I can imagine, in conjunction with those other things that you’re doing, that’s quite helpful. I want to just touch on diet in particular because there were a lot of questions that came in. I have some breast cancer thrivers in programs and so they in particular were asking, they know from working with me that we’re in a catabolic state in menopause in the conjunction with low estrogen and high FSH, we’re really in this catabolic state. So, why protein is so important? My question is, are you encouraging your patients to be mindful of things that are also inflammatory, like dairy and gluten and grains in particular? Because I heard you talking about grains and I thought that this in particular was very relevant.
Dr. Jenn Simmons: Yeah. So, I don’t believe that grains benefit anyone. But the people that I work with that have breast cancer, I’m strict across the board. No grains. I’m not even the gluten free grains. Grains are the seeds of grass and we are not grass eaters. We are not ruminators. Ruminators have a very, very different GI tract than we do. So, they are actually able to extract the nutrient from the grains because they process it for a lot longer than we do. So, when we eat grains, first of all, because weren’t built to eat grains, and we are modern beings living on a very old gene code. So, we only understand certain things as foods. The truth is that we’ve only been eating grains for the last few thousand years. And before that, grains were not a part of any of our diets.
So, it’s seen as foreign to everyone. Some people get a little reaction. Some people get a lot of reaction. But my goal is to have you have no foreign reaction to food. So, my rule that I am pretty hard and fast about in my practice is no grains, no dairy. Then what the rest of the diet looks like depends on where you are in terms of your cancer journey. Obviously, I don’t want people eating processed food. If you are actively cancering, we are very careful about your protein. I am with you that our protein needs increase as we age. So, the amount of protein that you need to be healthy when you’re in your 20s and 30s starts to look very different in your 40s and 50s. We get much and much less able to extract our protein from food and so we need more of it. We also have to have adequate acid.
As acid decreases, our protein needs increase. But if you’re actively cancering, we want to be in that Goldilocks spot. We want to be in that just right spot not too little because we know that’s dangerous, but not too much because we know that’s dangerous too. And then beyond that, I want people, once they’ve recovered from their cancer and they’re in a steady state, I want them to continue to be mindful of the protein and then match their activity. So, more weightbearing exercise and flexibility and balance than cardiovascular, because we need to maintain that lean muscle mass and we need to maintain homeostasis. But I am a no grain person across the board and no dairy because there’s so much crossover between grains and dairy, especially because the proteins in dairy come from the animals eating grass. So, I don’t think that they’re good for anyone. Sorry for the people that love their grains and dairy, [Cynthia laughs] but I just don’t think it’s good for you. [laughs]
Cynthia Thurlow: No. And it’s interesting that especially for women and it doesn’t necessarily have to be women who are dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis. I just find perimenopausal/menopausal women are much more sensitive to inflammatory foods and sometimes the exclusion of these can really be very helpful.
Dr. Jenn Simmons: The other thing that happens when you take grains out of the diet is you take a significant chemical load out of the diet too, because it’s nearly impossible. Even if you’re buying organic grains, they are grown next door to an inorganic farm and the groundwater and the air there is spread. So, it takes a huge chemical burden out of your diet when you eliminate grains.
Cynthia Thurlow: Such a good point. Just a couple more questions from listeners. First and foremost, what are your thoughts on alcohol use for women in perimenopause and menopause?
Dr. Jenn Simmons: Yeah, so don’t shoot the messenger, [chuckles] but the American Cancer Society says that there is no safe amount of alcohol for women across the board. If you are actively cancering, alcohol we know is a toxin, it is directly toxic to the liver, which is why you feel like garbage the day after you drink alcohol and your body is already working hard enough to detoxify. We don’t want to do anything to negatively impact the liver’s work. So, I think certainly if you’re actively cancering, there is no role for alcohol at all.
If you are through that part of your journey and you’re in a good state and there’s a celebration and you want to have a glass of champagne, I don’t think that that is going to bring your disease back. But we have to remember that alcohol is toxic and men and women are not equal and men have increased liver capacity that women don’t. So, men will tolerate a little more toxin than women will. Men will tolerate more alcohol than women will, they’ll tolerate more caffeine than women will. It may not be fair, but it is what it is. So, women just do not do well with alcohol. So, in as much as you can, I don’t recommend drinking.
Cynthia Thurlow: Last couple of questions are specific to women that have gone through reconstructive surgery, have had a breast cancer diagnosis, have had breast implants, and their questions were, has it been your clinical experience that is breast implant illness a real issue?
Dr. Jenn Simmons: Well, so it’s certainly a real issue. Without question, there is going to be a certain percentage of people that will adversely react to a foreign body placed in them. Now, your body does a really great job of walling it off. And anyone who has had a breast implant or anyone like me who has had the privilege of seeing that cavity, your body does create a cavity and for some people, that’s enough to isolate it and not allow them to respond any longer. For other people, it’s really not enough and they continue to have an immune response to the fact that there is a foreign body there. There’s another subset of people that have a subclinical infection and it’s not enough to generate pus, and it’s not enough to generate pain or fever, but there’s enough organism there to generate an immune response. For all of these people, the only solution is removal of the implant.
I’ve had so many people that we have tried to cure them of mold illness, to cure them of autoimmune disease, to restore them to health, and nothing works until we take the implants out. There are certainly going to be people that don’t get better even after the implant comes out. I don’t know what to say about that. But I think that breast implant illness is very real. For most people, taking out the implant is curative as long as it’s all removed including the capsule that it was housed in. But I don’t think everyone gets it. So, if you are asymptomatic and happy with your implants, keep them. But breast implant illness is very very real and significantly impacts the health of those that have it.
Cynthia Thurlow: Oh, for sure. I mean, it’s obviously not something I’ve dealt with clinically, but I know that there are a lot of support groups and women online that talk very openly about it. Dr. Jenn, this has been an invaluable conversation. Thank you so much for your time. Please let my listeners know how to connect with you, how to work with you if they live on the East Coast or close to the Philadelphia area, how easy is to connect with you on social media?
Dr. Jenn Simmons: Yeah. So please reach out to me on Instagram @drjennsimmons. And my Jenn has two n’s. My website is RealHealthMD, and you can connect with me there. I have a course for anyone at any point along their breast cancer journey called My Answer to Breast Cancer, which is basically how to guide to create that anti-inflammatory environment that we were talking about. Then I do have a couple of opportunities to work with me one-on-one and you can reach out to us at the website Real Health MD and connect with us there and we can talk about working together.
Cynthia Thurlow: Wonderful. Thank you again for your time today.
Dr. Jenn Simmons: It was my pleasure. It was great time.
Cynthia Thurlow: If you love this podcast episode, please leave a rating and review, subscribe, and tell a friend.