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A look at Environmental Toxins

22 Nov 2021

‘We’ve just had a Wigwam Cancer Support Group discussion that looked at environmental toxins. We looked at what some of the issues are and what we can do to help. At the end of this blog are some further notes about reducing the toxic load. We’ve also got a wonderful list on indoor air pollution concerns produced by Tony Davis who helps facilitate one of the other Wigwam groups. Do also check out on this website details of our online Wigwam Cancer Support Groups if you are interested in learning more’. Philip Booth

Since the 1970s more than 78,000 chemicals have been approved for commercial use. Only 1,000 have been formally examined and considered for their carcinogenic potential – and of those the World Health Organisation consider 120 as ‘known’ carcinogens, 81 as probable carcinogens and 299 as possible carcinogens (i).

We know little about the other thousands of chemicals. What is the impact of each of those chemicals on one another? Do some change our internal biology that could lead to the onset of diseases? What is the accumulative effect?

The average adult uses 9 personal care products a day with 126 unique chemical ingredients (ii)! One in five adults are exposed to all the top seven carcinogenic impurities found in personal care products including formaldehyde. Women are hit harder with an average of 168 chemicals every day. Indeed many everyday products could be a concern; in 2016 Johnson and Johnson’s baby powder and other talc products for feminine hygiene were determined by a Missouri state court to cause ovarian cancer.

I remember a ground-breaking study in 2004 that still shocks; the Environmental Working Group commissioned five laboratories to examine the umbilical cord blood from ten babies and found more than 200 chemicals in each newborn. They report that they would have found more if they had tested for more.

It is easy to become paralysed by the overwhelming number of possible toxins in our environment. However we can become informed and thoughtful consumers. The list of chemicals is likely to grow and we are unlikely to know what impact many of them will have on ourselves. Many of us have adopted a precautionary principle so that until a chemical has been found to be harmless we will try not to use it. One example of this is if a product has the word ‘fragrance’ it may well have endocrine disrupters in it – so we just don’t use it.

Toxins role in Cancer?

Professors Rosalie David and Michael Zimmerman looked at cancer prevalence by reviewing the remains of Egyptian mummies and data gathered since then. They concluded that “Cancer certainly existed in antiquity…but the rarity of that diagnosis in the tens of thousands of skeletal remains and thousands of mummies that have been examined supports our view that most cancers in our modern populations are due to man-made factors”.

There is increasing evidence for the impact of environmental factors on cancer. In a Nature article in Jan 2016 it was estimated 70-90% of cancers are caused by diet, lifestyle and environmental factors. While a Pubmed article (iv) by Schneiderman found 80% of cancer is related to the environment. Cohen and Jefferies in their great book ‘Anti-Cancer Living’, say research shows diet and sedentary behaviour in the US is around 30-35%, tobacco 30% worldwide, viral infections 15%, radiation up to 10%, alcohol 3.5%, but they acknowledge that environmental toxins are too hard to estimate.

Our homes and lives are certainly full of chemicals – and it is true that some of those will have an impact on our health. It is also true that we can’t realistically avoid them all but we can limit exposure.

Nutrition

There are varying reports about the possible impact of pesticides in our food. Amazingly we can lower pesticide levels in washed produce by 80% by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and veg (most years these include apples, potatoes, tomatoes and strawberries). While the Journal of Environmental Research found 7 days on an organic diet led to dialkyl phosphate pesticide (DAP) levels dropping by 89% in urinary secretion. DAPs make up 70 to 80% of organophosphate pesticides.

There are also concerns regarding other foods including some processed foods, dairy, meat and more. This is a topic for another blog.

Yes to Life Wigwammer service users thoughts

In the Yes to Life Wigwam group people shared various thoughts and ideas. Here are those thoughts in no particular order:

  • vinegar for cleaning,

  • shampoo and conditioner from Faith in Nature or Thrive shampoo in USA (plus consideration re other ‘beauty’ products),

  • reusable cloths for make-up removal,

  • glass storage (as opposed to plastic) but also avoid tinned food that has BPA liners

  • ‘Astonish’ oven cleaner,

  • replace foil for baking paper,

  • replace clingfilm with beeswax paper,

  • replace toilet bleach with bicarbonate of soda

  • a kangen water machine for acidic water to help with cleaning

  • clothing, furnishings and even bedding can have flame retardants on them – for more info see the book ‘Killer Clothes’ by Drs Brian and Anna Maria Clement

  • Purified Water; this is a whole other topic that includes filtering, reverse osmosis and lots more

  • Be aware of Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs); this is also a whole other topic!

There are probably many other potential toxins that we’ve not covered including for example the possible impact of mercury in food and fillings, some medications and treatments/screenings, radon, asbestos and more.

Other resources mentioned

Several other resources were shared (we got a smile when we were warned to be careful re entering the web address for the last one of these!):

  • The EWG.org (European Working Group) is a great site for checking facts

  • www.firzone.co.uk for home saunas

  • Dr Jenny Goodman talking toxins at last years Your Life and Cancer conference; video available to purchase here. Her book was called ‘Staying Alive in Toxic Times: A Seasonal Guide to Lifelong Health.”

  • Dr Tom O’Bryan has a couple of books that help you reduce toxins

  • A new brilliant app for product searching and facts is: thinkdirtyapp.com

Air quality

There are over 36,000 premature deaths in the UK linked with air pollution (v) – more than from obesity or alcohol. The UK Government has breached EU limits on air quality and been found guilty twice in court. Cancer Research UK estimate 3,600 cases of cancer due to air pollution (vi).

One of the more common pollutants is benzene; it is known to cause cancer and is found in many products and places including cigarettes, glues, solvents, paints, pesticides, airports and petrol stations. Since learning this I’ve been far more careful now to avoid breathing in fumes when I fill up with petrol!

Outside air is one thing but inside our homes and work places can also be polluted and in many cases can be more polluted than outside. See Tony’s list below.

Indoor Air Pollution list

  1. There is no safe level of tobacco consumption, a major cause of cancer, do not allow it indoors;

  2. Open windows to air the home for a few minutes daily, do NOT use ‘air fresheners’ that can contain toxic chemicals eg: volatile organic compounds (VOCs) (respiratory irritants), benzene, formaldehyde, toluene, m,p-xylene, phthalates, and more.

  3. The British Lung Foundation advise NOT to burn scented candles and incense in a confined space as they let off VOCs and other pollutants eg formaldehydes (linked to cancer);

  4. Lavender and Jasmine promote good sleep, Aloe Vera plants produce a lot of oxygen, spider plants remove formaldehydes and other toxins – all good to have in the bedroom. One of the Wigwam group sent this re houseplants that help clean air: “according to NASA Snake plants are one of the best houseplants for absorbing airborne toxins, including formaldehyde, nitrogen oxide, benzene, xylene and trichloroethylene. There are many websites with lists of plants that are good – here’s one: https://www.cancerdefeated.com/are-your-houseplants-%E2%80%A8really-purifying-your-air/

  5. Keep humidity below 55% (hygrometers to measure this are cheap and readily available) to minimise chance of mould growth eg Aspergillus (black) which affects lungs & breathing. People most at risk are those with asthma, COPD, had TB or have a weakened immune system eg after chemotherapy;

  6. Ventilate all rooms especially kitchens when cooking and bathrooms;

  7. Remove condensation from windows, sills and surrounds;

  8. Try to avoid drying clothes on radiators, a significant source of humidity. Best practice is to dry them outside, otherwise use a tumble drier that vents or collects moisture;

  9. Use dehumidifiers but they can be expensive to buy and run.

  10. Keep kitchen and bathroom surfaces clean and dry, watch for mould in fridge drip pans, washing machine, fridge etc door seals and bins;

  11. If mould does start to grow eg blackness around windows or tiling remember chlorine based bleach is itself a Xenoestrogen and thus carcinogenic and only kills spores on non-porous surfaces. Use vinegar, tea tree oil, hydrogen peroxide and then baking soda.

  12. According to Asthma UK, 64% of asthma is triggered by dust mites living in soft furnishings and particularly mattresses, pillows and bedroom carpets feeding on dead skin, so:

  13. Regularly clean, including vacuuming, mattress and pillows;

  14. Keep humidity down;

  15. Use air filters;

  16. Wash bedding at 60 deg to kill the dust mites.

  17. Open fires and stoves that burn wood or coal release toxic waste and particulate matter that can cause breathing problems or exacerbate heart or lung conditions, they are also about 20% efficient. Closed stoves built to EPA standards are about 80% efficient and healthier;

  18. Identify and deal with structural sources of dampness or air pollution eg rising damp, leaking gutters, loose roof tiles.

What can we do?

Again a collection of ideas were discussed which we list here but each of them could be a blog. Some have good science behind them and others less so:

  • reduce chemical exposure,

  • filter your water

  • reduce toxins that are put on and in body,

  • consider using a sauna,

  • air purifiers,

  • dehumidifiers,

  • fasting,

  • diet incl using detox foods like beets, lemon, chlorella, spirulina, broccoli sprouts, milk thistle and more

As always our blogs are personal views – do check out our disclaimer. Also do comment below if you have something to add.

Notes

(i) ‘Anti Cancer Living’ by Dr Lorenzo Cohen and Alison Jefferies (2018)

(ii) www.ewg.org

(iii) https://www.nature.com/articles/nrc2914-c3

(iv) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/642654/

(v) https://friendsoftheearth.uk/clean-air

(vi) https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/air-pollution-radon-gas-and-cancer/how-can-air-pollution-cause-cancer and see BBC report: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-24564446