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Reducing Environmental Cancer Risks

The President’s Cancer Panel issued a report to the President of the United States in 2009 entitled ‘Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk’. This panel is affiliated with the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services and the National Cancer Institute. A brief summary of these findings is important for all Americans to consider.

The entire U.S. population is exposed on a daily basis to numerous agricultural chemicals including many used in residential landscaping. Many of these chemicals have known or suspected carcinogenic or endocrine disrupting (chemicals that cause hormones to malfunction) properties. Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides which are approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contain almost 900 active ingredients many of which are toxic. 1

According to the panel’s report, 41 percent of the American public will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives and about 21 percent will die from cancer. 1 They further stated that the incidence of occurrence of some cancers, especially among children, is increasing for unexplained reasons. Children are far more susceptible to damage from environmental carcinogens and endocrine disrupting compounds than adults.

Some of the panel’s recommendations included:

  • Parents and child care providers should choose foods, house and garden products, play spaces, toys and medicines which might help minimize a child’s exposure to toxic substances as much as possible. Both mothers and fathers should avoid exposure to suspected carcinogens and hormone disrupting chemicals prior to a child’s conception and throughout pregnancy.
  • To reduce chemical exposures, individuals and families are to do things as simple as removing shoes before entering the home and to wash work clothes separately from other laundry.
  • Filtering home tap or well water will help to minimize exposure to numerous known and suspected carcinogens and hormone disrupting chemicals.
  • Avoid microwaving food or beverages in plastic containers.
  • Store and carry water in stainless steel, glass containers or other phthalate-free containers. Phthaltes are known toxic chemicals found in plastic products and are now ubiquitously found in the environment. 2
  • Americans should attempt to decrease exposure to pesticides by choosing food grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Additionally, all people are encouraged to wash conventionally grown produce to remove chemical residues.

It was the Panel’s opinion that a thorough, new assessment of workplace chemicals and toxin exposure is needed to quantify current health risks to Americans as previous estimates of occupational cancer risk were outdated and should no longer be used by government or industry.

Treating Toxin Exposure

To treat the effects of toxin exposure it is necessary to reduce your exposure and then apply therapies to facilitate removal of the toxic burdens. Nutrition plays a key role in toxin management. Nutrient deficiencies can lead to difficulty with toxin clearance and detoxification.

To a large extent, a person’s response to environmental toxins depends on their nutrient status. The human body will attempt to detoxify these cancer causing chemicals, which are often referred to as xenobiotics, in the liver. This is a two step process known as phase 1 and phase 2 hepatic detoxification. Phase 2 detoxification is largely dependent on adequate amounts of protein with a special emphasis on amino acids containing sulfur including glycine, L-glutamine, methionine, L-cysteine and N-acetylcysteine.

Essential trace elements such as zinc, magnesium calcium and manganese are also high on the priory list of almost every case of clinical toxicology. 2 Beans, eggs, garlic and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and brussels spouts are rich sources for many of these critical nutrients. High fiber diets based upon whole foods to include generous portions of fruit and vegetables help maintain speedy intestinal transit to assist in toxin removal.

Whole foods, particularly those in the vegetable family, contain phytochemicals that support detoxification systems. 3

There are several laboratories that currently offer testing to quantify the level of organic toxins in the blood, urine or adipose tissue. Available panels include testing for such things as organochlorine pesticides, PCB’s, fire retardants and dioxins. These same laboratories also perform functional testing to measure your body’s particular ability to detoxify chemicals and detect genetic weaknesses in detoxification systems.

If you are experiencing unexplained symptoms or believe you could be at risk to toxin exposure presently or in the past, ask your health care provider if this type of testing might be of benefit to you.

Dr. John Dixon can be reached at the Natural Medicine Group 760.776.0022

Resources: 1) Presidents Cancer Panel, Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk, annual report 2008-2009. 2) Lord,R. et al, Laboratory Evaluations for Integrative and Functional Medicine,2008. 3) Textbook of Functional Medicine,Bland,J. et al, 2005

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