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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Cancer and our Children: Protecting our Future Generations

Cancer rates are not falling, and alarmingly, pediatric and adolescent cancers are rising.  Many cancers develop slowly, over a long period of time, sometimes decades, so what your children are exposed to and consume now may increase their risk of cancer later in life.  Children are little people.  This means that exposure to environmental toxins and pesticides have a greater affect on them then on adults.  It is true that many toxins (e.g.  BPA and pesticides on foods) leave the body after a few days.  However, if your child has a poor diet or is exposed to toxins on a daily basis, then the exposure could become problematic. 

What can you do? I share with you the same advice I offer for adults.  A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains is best.  Foods such as white flour, white bread, and white pasta are treated by the body as simple sugar and should be considered an occasional treat.  Sugar adversely affects blood sugar, compromises the immune system and increases inflammation.   Processed foods often contain excessive amounts of sodium and nitrates, not to mention artificial preservatives, dyes and GMO”S (genetically modified foods).  Limit fried foods. Consider organic foods whenever possible, but especially for beef, dairy, fruits and vegetables, as many of these produced or grown conventionally are high in pesticides and hormones. A good rule is that if you cannot spell it, pronounce it or if your great-grandmother didn’t serve it, it shouldn’t be eaten.

But, we are not just what we eat.  We are also what we breathe, drink, and absorb through our skin.  So the topic of environmental toxins is always part of my cancer prevention lifestyle advice.  We owe it to our children to do what we can to minimize their exposure to environmental toxins.

Home is the place where we feel safest, but in most homes, toxins are everywhere.  We spray them, wash and scrub with them, bathe with them, brush them on our teeth, and track them in from our lawns and streets.  This isn’t the inevitable state of our homes and lives, but the outcome of our choices.  Prevention is a state-of-mind - as well as the best assurance that you are reducing unnecessary risk, and in the process, helping to preserve the planet and the future.  There are a few things you can do to curtail, if not eliminate your exposure.

Pesticides are ubiquitous in our world - from our food, to our lawns, to the school playgrounds and parks.  Avoid pesticides to the best of your ability as women with high pesticide levels in their breast tissue have greater incidents of cancer.  If you use fertilizers on your lawn, wait until after a heavy rain before you walk on the grass, and know that common weed killers are highly toxic to you as well.  Please - if you use fertilizers and weed killers, do not let your children walk barefoot on your lawn and don’t walk through your home wearing the shoes with which you walked through your toxic lawn.

Air pollution is not limited to factory districts.  Indoor air pollution is pervasive.  Two of the most common indoor air pollutants that can cause cancer are formaldehyde and benzene, found in such things as pressed wood, particle board, air fresheners (should be called indoor air polluters), paint strippers, and wood stains all contain formaldehyde and/or benzene. In addition to limiting these items in your home, house plants in the home can help to remove indoor pollutants.  Consider a few easy-to-care-for Boston Ferns and Spider Plants.

Household Cleaning Products  Use toxin free, natural cleaning products whenever possible.  Children and unborn babies are particularly at risk.  (Ref: http://living.amuchbetterway.com/harmful-effects of-household-cleaners/)

Plastic Never heat food in anything plastic, including plastic wrap.  I suggest avoiding plastic altogether, even for food storage.  Glass is a better choice.  Remember the glass storage containers your mother used?  They were replaced by plastic for a convenience that comes with serious costs.  Our convenient lifestyles are poisoning us.  Plastic bottles leach toxic chemicals into water and food, especially at high temperatures.  Never put plastic in the dishwasher or wash at high temperatures.  Plastics marked with a 3, 6, or 7 should never be used.  Those labeled with 2, 4, and 5 are less dangerous, but limit their use.  Never reuse number 1 plastic water bottles.


Limit radiation exposure Avoid CT scans as they have been linked to the progression of cancer and are often performed needlessly.  This is especially a concern for children. Hospital ER’s often perform them routinely, perhaps for liability reasons, but question the necessity and refuse the test if not absolutely necessary. Do not allow your children to pass through the new full-body screeners at airports.  While there are claims that the radiation is not a concern for adults (which I challenge), the risk escalates for children.


Personal Care Products  Ever take your daughter, granddaughter or niece for a manicure?  Nail salon formulas contain a bevy of dangerous toxins, both what is painted on as well as breathed in (think formaldehyde, nail polish remover).  One manicure is not a problem.  However, weekly manicures add up.  There are many less toxic substitutes on the market that work just as well, so consider bringing your own products (and ask the salon to open the doors and windows if the air smells toxic). Cosmetics are another cause for concern.  Help your child avoid cosmetics that contain formaldehyde, parabens, and phthalates (endocrine disrupting preservatives).  The average adult is exposed to over 100 unique chemicals in personal products every day; just imagine the effect they have on growing children.  Vaseline and Aquaphor are petroleum based and mineral oil (liquid petroleum) is a by-product of petroleum, which is known to increase the risk of cancer.  Significant amounts of cosmetic ingredients, including carcinogenic substances, penetrate the skin and end up in the blood stream.  These chemicals slowly poison our children through repeated use.


Avoid electromagnetic fields (EMF’s) whenever possible.  EMF’s are electrical fields that radiate from all electronics - power lines, modems, and appliances, and have been linked to cancer.  If your child has a bedside clock, move it so that it is at least 5 or 6 ft from the bed.  Limit computer time.  For years, I suspected that the cramped, computer-laden trading floor where I worked was a health hazard.  A few of us sat behind old monitors and next to plenty more.  Two of us developed cancer, one died.  The research out there is confusing to the non-scientists among us, but few believe that constant exposure to EMF’s is safe.  In fact, at a recent conference I attended, EMF’s were addressed several times - the cancer connection was quite clear.  Cell phones are of particular concern as they are held to the brain for long periods of time and are often clipped to the body.  There are many devices on the market that can reduce your exposure.  If there’s a $30 device that can help prevent cancer, I’m here to tell you it’s worth it.
While I know that changing the toxic environment in your home will likely go un-noticed by your children, I do imagine that a change in diet may not be received well.  If it is any extra incentive, I truly believe that children who eat better, behave better, that is certainly motivating for all of us!


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Elyn Jacobs is President of Elyn Jacobs Consulting, Inc. and a breast cancer survivor.  She helps women diagnosed with cancer to navigate the process of treatment and care, and she educates about how to prevent recurrence and new cancers.  She is passionate about helping others get past their cancer and into a cancer-free life.
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