Every day, you hear reports of another cancer-causing element in your food, water, clothing, or some other corner of your life.
Assuming you have a strong passion to keep your health, how do you even know where to begin to take up arms against this onslaught? Sometimes it’s easier to just do what most people do – don’t think about it. It’s called fatalism – an attitude of “What’s the use?”
But if you’re like me and you prefer to take action (and live a long time), there’s a short list of things you can do that make a big difference. . .
While he was still in office, President Obama’s Cancer Panel published a report called “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now.” It stated, “The true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated.” The authors also confessed that government agencies are “failing to carry out their responsibilities.”1
This panel admitted that while tens of thousands of chemicals are available in the U.S., most of them have never been studied enough to be classified as safe – if they’ve been studied at all.2 We simply don’t know how dangerous they are. (Actually, we have a pretty good idea. More about that in a moment.)
The report was met with both support and skepticism. Opponents argued that we should focus on the things we already know cause cancer, like obesity and tobacco. These are under an individual’s control, more or less.
I’m all for tackling things that we’re able to control. But the list is much longer than “tobacco and obesity.”
8 practical ways to cut your carcinogen exposure
While cutting every suspected toxin out of your daily life may be impossible, a few adjustments can greatly decrease the volume of toxins you ingest through breathing, touching, eating, and drinking.
The idea is not to eliminate every single toxin, but to reduce your toxic load to a level your body might have a chance to handle. You know the expression “the last straw that broke the camel’s back.” The aim here is to eliminate the last 7 or 8 straws so you’re well shy of the back-breaker.
- Test and filter your water – Both city and well water can contain any number of known or suspected carcinogens, such as chlorine, fluoride, and arsenic. Rather than buying bottled water – stored in toxic plastic bottles – get your own tap water professionally tested. Then get a good filter that removes the chemicals you find.3 It’s a good idea to filter where water enters your home, plus at the faucet itself, to help protect against bad pipes.
- Switch to organic foods – According to a report by Christos Damalas and Ilias Eleftherohorinos, “24 pesticides are characterized as endocrine disruptors . . . 22 pesticides are characterized as presenting reproductive and developmental toxicity . . . and 28 pesticides as presenting acute toxicity.”4Eating organically grown produce and meat raised without hormones and antibiotics helps you avoid an enormous number of potentially dangerous chemicals. All in one simple step.
Likewise, use fewer chemicals on your yard and home garden. Or go all natural – a good safety precaution that’ll help guard your pets and young children from carcinogen exposure also.
- Take your own containers – Whether you’re going to the coffee shop for a cup of Joe or saving leftovers from your favorite restaurant for lunch tomorrow, bring your own non-plastic containers, instead of using their Styrofoam cups and doggy bags.
- Avoid antibacterial soaps and commercial cleansers -Triclosan, an ingredient in many antibacterial products, can react with the chlorine in your water to create chloroform.5Chloroform has been labeled a carcinogen, and Triclosan has been outlawed in some states. Besides, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say warm water and soap are equally effective for handwashing.6Cleaning products also contain potentially dangerous chemicals. Instead, use healthy alternatives like baking soda, white vinegar, lemon juice, and essential oils.
- Say no to vinyl – The simplest way to avoid a deadly chemical in vinyl plastics called DEHP is to avoid plastics. Even if it’s not labeled as such, if it’s flexible and smells like plastic, it’s probably vinyl. Replace your vinyl shower curtain with a fabric one. Use metal or wood shelving instead of plastic. Use glass dishes for leftovers instead of plastic.
- Wash your hands often – Some exposure to toxins is inevitable. So wash your hands immediately after touching anything containing vinyl, lead, etc., to reduce the amount ending up in your system. For example, the external casing on electrical wiring and plastic wire shelving both contain these chemicals. Frequent hand washing can also decrease your exposure to the BPA in cash register and credit card receipts – not ot mention germs linked to flu!
- Avoid the dry cleaner – Protect yourself from perchloroethylene, also known as perc, by dry cleaning as little as possible. HINT: Most delicate items can be washed at home with gentle detergent, cold water, and air-drying… which also saves you money! For highly fragile materials, find alternative “green” dry cleaners in your area that don’t use perc. They’re becoming more common. And thankfully, your clothes won’t come out smelling like a chemical factory.
- Carefully consider home remodeling projects – Furniture, cabinets, and building materials often contain formaldehyde. Before you renovate, ask contractors about the materials they use. Demand formaldehyde-free glues, finishes, and other construction materials. Use hardwood or tile instead of vinyl flooring, natural fiber carpeting instead of synthetics, low VOC paints instead of regular paint. If your home was built before 1978, test your paint for lead and remediate as necessary.One inexpensive way to reduce indoor air pollutants in your home, whether we’re talking formaldehyde or anything else, is to simply open windows on both ends of your home and allow the fresh air from outside to flow through. What could be easier? It’s a good thing to do, because it’s highly likely you suffer more from indoor pollution than you do from outdoor pollution.
In search of the real culprits
As for the Cancer Panel’s idea that we just don’t know whether thousands of chemicals are safe – well, we do know enough to get started on avoiding some of the worst.
The American Cancer Society (ACS), three government agencies, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) formed a consensus and published a list of the 20 common chemicals with the strongest evidence against them, based on lab tests and animal studies.7
If it kills animals, I don’t want to wait around and see if I get lucky.
As far as I’m concerned, you can call these “the things we know cause cancer.”
Here are nine of the most common from their list. How many are present in your life, and how many of them can you nix today or in the next week or year? Probably more than you think.
1. Atrazine – a widely used herbicide, known to cause cancer in animals
2. Chloroform – found in drinking and swimming pool water, listed by the EPA as a probable human carcinogen8
3. Diesel engine exhaust
4. Diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) – the element of vinyl plastic that makes it flexible
5. Formaldehyde – an ingredient in dozens of construction materials and furniture, causes cancer in humans
6. Lead and lead compounds – found most often in soil, old paint (in pre-1978 homes), and contaminated water pipes
7. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) – although banned for decades, they’ve infiltrated our food supply9
8. Styrene – used in Styrofoam cups; also present in containers that are used by restaurants and in your own kitchen
9. Perchloroethylene – otherwise known as perc, commonly used in dry cleaning, but also found in paint removers, glues, and polishes
In short, don’t let yourself be paralyzed by the vast sea of chemical toxins. Even one change in your life, repeated daily over the course of a year, reduces your exposure to carcinogens.
Don’t scoff at a mere ten percent per cent reduction in your total “toxic load.” Over a decade, it constitutes a potentially revolutionary change. It can be the difference between life and death. So why not pick one or two suggestions from this article and get started today?
There’s another way to avoid cancer, of course, and that’s to add things to your life that can help. One of the best is a delicious food that most of us like. This article appeared in our last issue, but if you missed it, it’s running again just below.