Are there carcinogens in your salami?

August 31, 2010 by  
Filed under CANCER

Nitrates and nitrites have been used for years as preservatives and flavouring for processed meat such as hotdogs, salami and other sausages. But a recent study gives some indications that these food grade chemicals may be partly responsible for increased risk for bladder cancer.

In the US, about 70,000 cases of the cancer of the urinary bladder are diagnosed each year. The most common symptom of the disease is hematuria (blood in the urine), sometimes accompanied by stress incontinence (urine leakage during physical exertion and coughing). However, rare cases of bladder cancer have been diagnosed despite the absence of blood in the urine.

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute in Rockville, Maryland looked at 300,933 people from all over the US as part of a study that began in 1995. The study participants were followed up for 7 years and within this period, 854 were diagnosed with bladder cancer, an incidence of 0.3%. This may seem low but estimates indicate that longer follow-ups would witness a rise in incidence, with 2% of the population expected to develop bladder cancer in their lifetime.

The incidence of bladder cancer was linked to eating processed meat, with those ranked in the top 5th in terms of processed red meat consumption having a 30% increased risk for bladder cancer than those in the bottom 5th of the of the consumption rankings. But it is not only the processed meat but other food stuffs containing the additives nitrites and nitrates that are linked to bladder cancer risk.

Previous reports have linked processed meat consumption to gastrointestinal cancers. But how do nitrates and nitrites get into the urinary bladder to cause cancer? According to a Reuters report:

“During the cooking process, nitrites and nitrates combine with other chemicals that are naturally present in meat to form potentially cancer-causing N-nitroso compounds [heterocyclic amines or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons], which may then be excreted through the urinary tract where they can contact the lining of the bladder.”

But take note that it is not only these food additives that can increase your risk. There are other carcinogens in our environment as well that may have an additive impact. Besides, red meat processed or not, is linked to a lot of health problems, from cancer to cardiovascular disorders. According to a 2007 World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research report, we should “limit consumption of red meats (such as beef, pork and lamb) and avoid processed meat (ham, bacon, salami).”

Nicotine-free smokes: how safe are they?

August 9, 2010 by  

With the irrevocable proof that smoking is bad for our health and causes cancer, people are searching for safer smoking alternatives, products with reduced toxicity or nicotine-free. But are the so-called “safe smokes” really safe?

An example of what is touted as safe smokes are the tobacco and nicotine free (T&N-free) cigarettes such as those made from non-tobacco leaves, flowers and herbal extracts.

For example, smoking iceberg lettuce is being advertised as a healthy and safe smoke that can help smokers quit smoking.

Lettuce is a vegetable that is healthy when eaten. But is it safe when dried, lighted up, smoked and inhaled? The supporters of lettuce smoking think it is a safe smoke because lettuce does not contain nicotine. A study by researchers at University of Minnesota indicated that some T&N-free cigarettes help in quitting.

“The study, which appeared in the journal Addiction, showed that people who used the nicotine-free cigarettes before quitting were just as likely to be smoke-free after six weeks as those who used the lozenges.”

Some T&N-free cigarettes still contain minute amounts of nicotine – 0.05 mg per cigarette, whereas the so-called low-nicotine cigarettes contain six times as much (0.3 mg). This helps in the gradual weaning off nicotine.

But are they safe?

Researchers at the Brander Cancer Research Institute and Department of Pathology at the New York Medical College conducted a research on health effects of nicotine-free cigarettes using laser scanning cytometry (LSC) technology

Their results showed smoking T&N-free cigarettes can cause genetic damage such as double-strand DNA breaks (DSBs). DSBs are potentially carcinogenic and present similar or even more serious hazards as smoking cigarettes with tobacco and nicotine.

According to senior study author Professor Zbigniew Darzynkiewicz:

“Smoke from cigarettes that do not contain tobacco and nicotine is inducing DNA damage in cells to an even greater extent than smoke from standard cigarettes.”

In recent years, many “safe smoke” alternatives that supposed also help overcome smoking addiction have been brought to the market, such as

  • e-cigarettes
  • chewing tobacco and snuff
  • nicotine replacement products

E-cigs and snuff are not as healthy as they are purported to be and nicotine patches and gums come with a lot of side effects.

Still, the search for cigarettes with reduced toxicity and health hazards continues.

Professor Darzynkiewicz gives a very simple advice: avoid smoke, from cigarettes of any type and from other sources.

US cigarettes top in carcinogen content

June 22, 2010 by  
Filed under CANCER

What’s so different about American cigarettes compared to say, European cigarettes? Is it the price, the taste, the packaging? No! It is the amount of carcinogens. Yes, Americans are actually getting more of the bad stuff for their money. American cigarettes reportedly have more cancer-causing compounds than cigarettes manufactured and sold in the UK, Canada and Australia.

This is according to a study by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The results were published in the June issue of Cancer Epidemiology.

The ingredients and the manufacturing process of cigarettes vary from one manufacturer to another and from one country to another. Just how varied these can be was investigated by this study. The researchers wrote:

“Seventeen eligible cigarette brands (between 3 and 5 brands from each country) were selected on the basis of national sales and nicotine yield to identify popular brands with a range of ventilation … [how much air is mixed in with the smoke from the cigarette as it is inhaled].”

The researchers looked at 126 smokers and performed in-depth analysis of their urine and saliva as well as their cigarette butts. Nicotine, tobacco-specific nitrosamines or TSNAs (4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK) and NNAL which is the breakdown product of NNK in the body were analyzed. According to Dr. Jim Pirkle who heads the CDC lab which measures levels of chemicals in people’s bodies using a mass spectrometer:

“All of these cigarettes contain harmful levels of carcinogens, but these findings show that amounts of tobacco-specific nitrosamines differ from country to country, and U.S. brands are the highest in the study.”

The study results showed:

  • NNAL levels in the urine of American smokers are much higher than levels of smoker from Canada or Australia.
  • The “American blend” tobacco in US cigarettes contains more TSNAs than tobacco used in the comparator countries.
  • Australian and Canadian smokers get more nicotine from their cigarettes than UK and US smokers. However, they still get lower TSNAs than the Americans.


Some the brands tested are:

Now, before you head for the Canadian border to shop for “less dangerous” smokes there, make sure you check what the Customs requirements are.  The easiest solution, of course, is quitting.

Cancer cause: environmental pollutants or unhealthy lifestyle?

May 25, 2010 by  
Filed under CANCER

Experts agree that cancer is killing us. What they cannot agree on is the root cause of this evil. Let us take a look at the ongoing debate.

Blame the environment

A presidential panel issued a report that claims that environmental cancer risks are “grossly underestimated.” The panel consists of two cancer experts LaSalle D. Leffall Jr., MD, of Howard University and Margaret L. Kripke, PhD, of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and was set up by the Bush administration to conduct a 3-year study.

In the report entitled Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now, the panelists point to the fact that nearly 80,000 chemicals currently on the market in the United States are largely unregulated, many of them understudied in terms of health and environmental effects. Among these chemicals are most likely carcinogens.

The report says:

“The grievous harm from this group of carcinogens has not been addressed adequately by the National Cancer Program. The Panel urges you most strongly to use the power of your office to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water, and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our nation’s productivity, and devastate American lives.”

The report sparked a debate over an issue that has been controversial for years: What is the actual burden of environmentally-induced cancer?

Many advocacy groups welcome the report especially the Environmental Working Group, a strong advocate for more environmental legislations.

According to environmental health professor Richard Clapp of Boston University at a news conference sponsored by the Breast Cancer Fund:

“This is an attempt to update the science. This report … calls for action on things where we don’t yet know all the details. We shouldn’t wait until the bodies are counted to say, ‘Well, maybe people shouldn’t be exposed so much to that chemical.”

Blame your lifestyle

Dr. Graham Colditz of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, a cancer epidemiology expert, thinks we are using environmental issues as the scapegoat when in fact, the cause of cancer is a bit closer to home – our unhealthy lifestyle.

“The lack of physical activity, weight gain, obesity clearly account for 20 percent or more of cancer in the United States today.”

Dr. Colditz believes that instead of blaming BPA, phthalates, dioxins, and other substances in the air, water, and food, we should take responsibility for our life. The report that blamed cancer on pollutants will only give people an excuse to ignore the risk factors they can control and modify.

“The damage is that it distracts us, as a society, from actually acting on the things that are already in our grasp.”

Colditz uses the examples of well-known cancer causes in our lives, e.g. tobacco, alcohol, and meat. Smoking causes the majority of lung and other cancers. Alcohol causes 4% of cancers. Red meat is also a known cause for colon cancer. Yet despite all the cancer warnings on tobacco packaging, despites all the educational and media campaigns, people are still smoking, drinking alcohol, and eating meat. In addition, no legislation was able to completely ban these carcinogens from our lives.

The American Cancer Society seems to agree with Colditz and fears the report will undermine cancer prevention programs currently in place.

“…the panel’s report goes too far in trashing established efforts to prevent cancer and that its conclusions go well beyond established facts.”

Environment and lifestyle

Cancer is a very complex disease and experts are still trying to decipher the relationships between genetic, environmental and lifestyle risk factors. To say that one set of risk factors is more important than the other would be a gross mistake. The report on environmental causes of cancer brings to light new insights on this deadly disease that scientists and policy makers shouldn’t ignore. Yet, it also shouldn’t trivialize the role of lifestyle factors that we can modify. In the fight against cancer, these are all our enemies and solidarity against multiple enemies is the key to success.

What you might not know environmental carcinogens

March 18, 2010 by  
Filed under CANCER

When we talk about things environmental, we think of air and water. And when we talk about environmental carcinogens, we think of man-made toxic chemicals in the things that we eat and drink and the air we breathe. This way of thinking is basically right. But there is more to environmental carcinogens than what many people are aware of. Let us take a look.

Carcinogens in body care products

You don’t have to eat carcinogens to get exposed to them.

What you might not know: Carcinogens may also be present in the soap and shampoo, in your household cleaning liquids. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has prepared a safety guide to body care products called Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database.

What you might not know: Lots of these chemicals are found in significant amounts in natural waters that could potentially contaminate our drinking water. Phthalates, triclosan and bisphenol A (BPA) are just 3 examples of chemicals identified.

Carcinogens in the air

Ok, so everybody knows that smoking can kill you. Smoking is associated mainly with lung cancer but also increase in risk for other cancers including breast, prostate, and neck cancers.

What you might not know: You don’t have to be a smoker to get lung cancer. Passive or secondhand smokers can get lung cancer, too. Exposure to asbestos, an industrial chemical can also cause lung cancer.

What you might not know: And finally, carcinogens need not be dirty, stinky, or man-made. Radon is an odorless, colorless naturally-occurring gas that causes most of the lung cancer cases among non-smokers.

Carcinogens in your food

Organic food is becoming popular. The American Cancer Society advocates the use of organic food to avoid taking in pesticides, preservatives, and other food additives. The EWG regularly tests fresh produce for pesticides and releases their so-called Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists.

What you might not know: Carcinogens may not be in the food itself. It might be in the food packaging (e.g. bisphenol A). It might be in your teflon cookware. It might be in your granite countertops (e.g. radon and uranium.

Carcinogens and electromagnetic field

Still a hotly debated topic is whether the use of mobile phones causes cancer or not. But phone manufacturers are developing phones that emit less and less radiation. The EWG has just released its 2010 Cell Phone Radiation Report.

What you might not know: The cancer threat is not only coming from your handset, but also from phone masts and antennas.

Third hand smoke sticks, stays, – and kills

February 16, 2010 by  
Filed under ADDICTION, Featured

While most countries in the developed world are smoke-free, Switzerland, the country that is super-clean, super-efficient and super-healthy is still struggling with its anti-smoking legislations. The last time we went to a restaurant, we asked upon reservation by phone if they have a ”non-smoking section” and the answer was “yes.” When we got there, we go a table for 6 at one end of the room, the so-called non-smoking half. The other half was reserved for the smokers. There was no physical barrier whatever between the two halves. We all ended up “smoked” anyway, including my 2 little kids.

So you may ask, what’s the big deal? As long as nobody’s blowing cigarette smoke right in front of your face, it’s OK, right?

No, it’s not.

First of all, second-hand smoke spreads fast in an enclosed room. You can catch it even if you are meters away. Then there’s third hand smoke – residual tobacco smoke contamination that remains after the cigarette is extinguished”.

Have you ever wondered why the smell of cigarette smoking lingers long, long after (days!) the smoker has left the premises? Well, it’s the residues which remain on the furniture, the curtains, the carpet, the upholstery. It even remains on your clothes and your hair – and even on your skin. Third hand smoke sticks and stays. And it is deadly.

It is not nicotine that presents the most threat in third hand smoke. At least 69 carcinogens have been identified in cigarette smoke. Some of these are the so-called nitrosamines or TSNAs. TSNAs are not present in freshly produced cigarette smoke. However, the smoke residue reacts with nitrous acid, a common indoor air pollutant, to produce the deadly TSNAs.

According to researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).

“The burning of tobacco releases nicotine in the form of a vapor that adsorbs strongly onto indoor surfaces, such as walls, floors, carpeting, drapes and furniture. Nicotine can persist on those materials for days, weeks and even months. Our study shows that when this residual nicotine reacts with ambient nitrous acid it forms carcinogenic tobacco-specific nitrosamines or TSNAs. TSNAs are among the most broadly acting and potent carcinogens present in unburned tobacco and tobacco smoke.”

Nitrous acid is emitted by unvented gas appliances and vehicle engines. The researchers tested for TSNA before and after exposure to cigarette smoke. In one tests, they detected TSNA concentrations which were 10 times higher after exposure. In another test, they detected substantial amounts of TSNAs in a truck of a heavy smoker driver. There are several types of TSNAs. During the test, the researchers found three TSNAs, the NNA, the NNN, and the NNK, which are all potent carcinogens.

“Breathing air in a room today where people smoked yesterday can harm the health of infants and children.”

According to lead author Mohamad Sleiman

Time-course measurements revealed fast TSNA formation, up to 0.4 percent conversion of nicotine within the first hour… Given the rapid sorption and persistence of high levels of nicotine on indoor surfaces, including clothing and human skin, our findings indicate that third-hand smoke represents an unappreciated health hazard through dermal exposure, dust inhalation and ingestion.”

What about smoking outdoors? Most restaurants here in Switzerland simply declare the terrace or the patio as their smoking lounge. Does not help? Well, the researchers say it does, but not much. The residues will still stick to your clothes and your body anyway and you will carry them with you when you go inside.

What about ventilators and windows? They also help only minimally. The residues will still stick and stay, no matter what.

What about e-cigs? The researchers believe that they too are not completely harmless. They also produce residues that can be hazardous.

Those of you smokers who have kids, can you imagine the danger you are putting your children in, each time you hold them in your arms? The carcinogens are in your clothes, on your very skin! According to one of the authors:

“Those residues follow a smoker back inside and get spread everywhere. The biggest risk is to young children. Dermal uptake of the nicotine through a child’s skin is likely to occur when the smoker returns and if nitrous acid is in the air, which it usually is, then TSNAs will be formed.”

A 2009 study revealed that people are not really convinced that third-hand smoke is dangerous. In a survey about the statement:

“Breathing air in a room today where people smoked yesterday can harm the health of infants and children.”

…only 65% of non-smokers and 43% of smokers agree.

Cancer villages in China: the high price of economic growth

October 1, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

water_pollution_and_dead_fishChina has the fastest growing economy in world today. But as we’ve seen in many ways, this seemingly unstoppable economic growth comes with a price, from tainted drugs and milk to environmental problems.

And now it’s th health of the population that is affected, according to this special report by Reuters. In the province of Guangdong in the southern part of the country, the incidence of cancer is several times higher than in the general population. And it is not the common cancers that are to be seen nor the older generation who suffers. It is the relatively rare cancers that occur and it is the young who has htem. Welcome to China’s cancer villages.

In 2006, death rates from cancer increased by 19% in cities and 23% in rural areas compared to the previous year. No current figures are available but is suspected to have increased even more. What is troubling is that people dying from cancer are in their 30s and 40s. The most common forms of cancer, which account for 85% of cancer incidence in China are cancer of the digestive tract specifically, cancers of

  • Stomach
  • Liver
  • Kidney
  • Colon

And this points to one thing – exposure to carcinogens that are ingested by the people. And one doesn’t have to look that far. The rivers and other bodies of water in that area are a cocktail of pollutants that comes from factories and mines. These environmental pollutants get into the ground water system, into the drinking water, and even into the very plants such as rice that the people are eating. In a recent rough survey, the following sheavy metals have been found in high levels:

  • Cadmium
  • Lead
  • Zinc
  • Indium

That’s just the metals. For sure, more deadly contaminants can be found if one looks more closely. Except that no one does.

The heavy metals alone are deadly enough. They are carcinogenic and they accumulate in the environment through the process of bioaccumulation, e.g. they accumulate in fish, other aquatic animals and plants so that their concentrations in these creatures that are part of the food chain are several times higher than in the water where they come from. The fish dies but the plants usually don’t. The next thing on the menu is cadmium-flavored fried rice.

According to a World Bank study in 2007, more than 460,000 Chinese die prematurely due to air and water pollution. The air pollution problem is China is well-known mainly from the publicity of the 2008 Olympics. Nobody seems to pay attention about the water pollution. Until now.

The cost of cancer treatment in China has reached almost $14.6 billion, which is supposedly 20% of the country’s medical expenditure. Unfortunately, this only accounts for those who can afford treatment at all. Despite its social origins, China does not have a nationalized health system. Only the well off and those who live in the cities get access to cancer treatment. Those in rural areas have to suffer in silence. Because remote and faraway they may be, they still cannot escape the pollution and the high price of economic growth.

FDA warning: e-cigs contain carcinogens

August 24, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

e-cigFinally, the US FDA spoke up and issued a warning about electronic cigarettes last month. Lab analysis by the Center for Drug Evaluation, Division of Pharmaceutical Analysis (DPA) showed that the so-called “e-cigs” contain carcinogens and other toxic substances.

Electronic cigarettes, also called “e-cigarettes,” are battery-operated devices that generally contain cartridges filled with nicotine, flavor and other chemicals. The electronic cigarette turns nicotine…and other chemicals into a vapor that is inhaled by the user.

Last March, I wrote a post on e-cigs, purported to be healthy alternative to cigarette smoking. Here are some of the e-cig manufacturers’ health claims:

■E-cig has no fire, no tar, no carbon monoxide, no ash, no stub. The CEO of Smoking Everywhere tells CNN that e-cig does not contain any of the substances that cause cancer.

■It lets you enjoy those tactile taste sensations without the risks associated with smoking and tobacco.

■You can smoke e-cig without polluting the environment or passing on second hand smoke, thus circumventing the anti-smoking bans in bars and restaurants.

■”It can help you to quit nicotine without giving up the smoking habits.” It supposedly works just like a nicotine patch does but with the satisfaction of the oral fixation.

■E-cig even comes in different colors and different flavours.

Here are some concerns expressed the the US FDA and health experts regarding the potential dangers of e-cigs:

  • E-cigs tested contain detectatble amounts carcinogenic (e.g. nitrosamines) and toxic substances (e.g. diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze). See analysis report here.
  • E-cigs contain high amounts of nicotiine which ius highly addictive.
  • E-cig labels and packaging do not contain any health warnings comparable to FDA-approved nicotine replacement products or conventional cigarettes.
  • E-cigs haven’t been submitted to the FDA for evaluation or approval.
  • FDA analysis suggest that the quality control during the manufacture of these products are either inconsistent or practically non-existent.

Currently, the jurisdiction of the US FDA over e-cigs, a relative new product  is being contested in court. The regulatory body states that e-cigs so far examine “meet the definition of a combination drug-device product under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.”

What the health experts have to say (FDA media transcripts):

Dr. Jonathan Samet, Director for the Institute for Global Health at the University of Southern California:

“…we know very little about these devices and what they deliver to people. Consequently any claims as to possible benefits to health or utility in cessation just cannot be supported … Again it speaks to the needs of the public to understand that in using a product that is poorly characterized, inhaling a vapor, a heated vapor into their body’s that has had very little characterization is assuming potentially some unknown risks.”

Dr. Jonathan Winickoff, a practicing Pediatrician and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and the Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Tobacco Consortium:

“…electronic cigarettes are available on the market in a variety of flavors such as bubblegum, chocolate and mint. Past experience suggests that these products may be particularly appealing to young people… Flavored regular cigarettes promote youth initiation and help young occasional smokers to become daily smokers. Similarly e-cigarettes might encourage children, teens and young adults to take their first step toward smoking cigarettes. Young people may be attracted to these products due to their novelty, safety claims and the av- availability of the products in a variety of fruit, candy, cola and chocolate flavors. In addition these products are easily accessed online, in stores and at mall kiosks where young people often hang out… Once you’ve smoked the e-cigarette and are nicotine dependent the leap to a regular cigarette may not seem as great. Between 1/3 and 1/2 of all youth who try a regular cigarette will become daily smokers because of the highly addictive nature of nicotine. It is therefore vital to decrease exposure to products that would lead to experimentation with nicotine. It is not a safe drug to try.”

Photo credit: US FDA

Cigarette smoke carcinogens: they hurt HER more than HIM

May 5, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

lips_with_smokeHealth problems and outcomes can vary depending on gender. Men and women can have different susceptibility to certain diseases. Several recent studies indicate that women are more susceptible to carcinogens in cigarette smoke than men.

Swiss researchers followed up 683 lung cancer patients who have been referred to a cancer center between 2000 and 2005. The results showed that female cancer patients tended to be younger when they developed the cancer, despite having smoked on average significantly less than their male counterparts.

According to lead researcher Dr Martin Frueh

“Our findings suggest that women may have an increased susceptibility to tobacco carcinogens.”

When people are asked what the leading cause of cancer death among women in the US is, the reply is usually breast cancer. However, the correct answer is actually lung cancer. Lung cancer used to be considered a “man’s disease.” However, since smoking became popular among women, the incidence of lung cancer among women has dramatically increased.

Irish researchers, however, report a silver lining to the cloud of lung cancer. It seems that women have better outcomes than men after surgical removal of lung tumors. The researchers studied 640 patients whose non-small-cell lung cancer was surgically removed over a 10-year period, 239 of whom were women. They found that median survival after surgery was 2.1 years for men, and 4.7 years for women.

Apparently, lung cancer is not the only evidence of women’s vulnerability to the adverse effects of cigarette smoke. American researchers reported last year that cigarette smoke carcinogens also cause colorectal cancer and that women are more susceptible than men. The study followed up 2,707 patients who had colonoscopy between 1999 and 2006.The patients’ average age was 57 years. The study looked at the extent of tobacco exposure, which was expressed in terms of “pack years ” calculated by multiplying the packs of cigarettes smoked per day by the number of smoking years.

According to lead researcher Dr. Joseph Anderson

“While men and women shared a similar two-fold risk for developing significant colorectal neoplasia, women required less tobacco exposure in pack years than men to have an increase in colorectal cancer risk.”

According to the National Cancer Institute, cigarette smoke contains more 4,000 chemicals. More than 60 of these are classified as carcinogenic. The aforementioned studies only looked at the effects of carcinogens on the smokers. It is also a well-known fact that second hand or environemental smoke passes on some of these carcinogens to non-smokers.

 Why women are more susceptible to carcinogens in cigarette smoke is not so clearly understood. However, it is something that should be taken seriously.

EWG’s New Shoppers’ Guide to Pesticides

March 25, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has recently released a guide dirty_dozen_pesticides_fruits_vegetables1listing the dirtiest and cleanest natural food products found in the supermarket. The Shoppers’ Guide to Pesticides show that not all food products were created equal. The “Dirty Dozen” are food stuffs found to be have the highest pesticide content while the “Clean 15” are those lowest in pesticides.

EWG analysts have developed the Guide based on data from nearly 87,000 tests for pesticide residues in produce conducted between 2000 and 2007 and collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

According to EWG research, when people eat the fruit and vegetables on the Dirty Dozen list, they are exposed to no less than 10 types of pesticides a day. When eating the Clean 15 each day, people are exposed to 2 or less types of pesticides.

The criteria used by EWG to develop these rankings plus the complete list of fruits and vegetables tested can be found at website,

Pesticides are used by farmers and food growers in preventing insects and other pests from attacking fruit and vegetables. They may make our food look good by pesticides can have adverse effects on our health, especially during fetal development and childhood. Long-term exposure to pesticides has been reported to cause different types of life-threatening conditions, including cancer.

In the landmark “10 Americans” study of EWG in 2005, no less than 287 industrial chemicals have been detected in the umbilical cord blood of newborn babies across the US. Almost half of the chemicals identified were carcinogens including dozens of widely used brominated flame retardants (PBDEs) and their toxic by-products, and numerous pesticides, including DDT and others, which were banned more than 30 years ago.

There are many ways to reduce pesticide exposure through the food. Using this guide to make intelligent and health choices is one of them. Other strategies are:

  • Washing can reduce but does not get rid of all pesticides.
  • Peeling can get rid of pesticides on the skin but a lot of nutrients and fibers are lost.
  • Buying organic products helps as long as you are sure that what is declared as organic is really organic. Beware of organic food scams.

The best approach, according to EWG, is a combination of different strategies, e.g. eating a varied diet, rinsing fresh produce thoroughly, and buying organic food when possible.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit organization with the mission “to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment.”

Photo credit: stock.xchng

The carcinogens in third hand smoke

February 3, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

It is an undeniable fact based on irrevocable evidence. Cigarette smoke is bad for our health and can cause cancer. Cigarette smoke contains more than 4000 chemicals, and 250 of these are poisonous gases and other toxic chemicals, according to this New York Times article. According to Cancer Research UK, cigarette smoke contains at least 69 carcinogens. Some of these are listed below.

Remember Polonium 210? It was the radioactive material used in the well-publicized 2006 murder of the Russian ex-spy Alexander V. Litvinenko.

Now, we know the hazards of first and second hand smoking. But here’s something newly recognized – and just as dangerous – third hand smoke.

So what’ third hand smoke?

According to this study recently published in the journal Pediatrics, “third hand smoke is residual tobacco smoke contamination that remains after the cigarette is extinguished.

It seems that long after smoking is finished, long after the cigarette butt has been thrown away, the toxic substances in the cigarette smoke persist and stay, sticking to your clothes, hair, the furniture, the curtains, the carpet, the car upholstery. This means that by simply taking away the smokers and opening the windows does not make a room “smoke-free.”

In these days where smoke-free legislations have become widespread in developed countries, there are concerns about the possible increase of smoking in the privacy of the home, thus creating an environment full of second and third hand smoke. Unfortunately, the people most highly susceptible to toxic substances in the cigarette smoke are children. A little baby in its smoker mother’s arms, the little one crawling on the carpet, the toddler hiding behind the curtain or the school-aged child in the back seat of the car. They are exposed to the abovelisted carcinogens even if Mom or Dad never smokes in their presence through third hand smoke. This is why there is now a discussion going on about banning smoking at home.

This survey polled people’s opinion on third hand smoke and home smoking bans. A large majority of people, non-smokers as well as smokers are well aware of the hazards of third hand smoke. However, as expected, it is easy for the non-smokers to say “yes” to home-smoking ban than the smokers.

Nicotine addiction is a very hard habit to kick and I’m sure many smoking parents are doing their best to protect their children from the hazards of cigarette smoke. Unfortunately, short of quitting, they can’t really get rid of the threat of cigarette smoke.

I am all for home-smoking ban but this should be coupled with educational drives and smoking cessation help and support. In marginalizing smoking parents, we are also marginalizing their children.

A database of breast cancer carcinogens

January 29, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

Breast cancer is easily the most well-studied of all cancers. Hundreds, if not thousands of research studies have identified the many risk factors that makes a woman susceptible to breast cancer. These risks are now available in a database, with links to the supporting evidence.

The Science Review Database is a joint project of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the Environmental Factors and Breast Cancer Science Review, and the Silent Spring Institute. It includes information on breast cancer risk factors such as diet, obesity, smoking, physical activity, and more than 216 carcinogenic chemicals. The database only takes into account environmental factors but not the genetic factors.

The carcinogens included in the database were those that were tested in animal studies and exhibited induction of tumors in the mammary glands of these animals. The current database pooled together data from other databases which are not specific for breast cancer, namely

Included in the database are besides the identity and the characteristics of the chemicals are:

carcinogenic potential

ability to cause gene mutations

exposure in the general population and for women at work

other characteristics of chemical use, sources, and regulation

According to Dr. Robert Schneider, co-director of breast cancer research at New York University School of Medicine, the top three risk factors he thinks most associated with breast cancer are bisphenol A (BPA), radiation exposure from CT scans and delayed first pregnancy. Other experts would probably have other opinions on this.

However, we cannot deny that we live in an environment full of chemicals. According to the database, approximately 80,000 chemicals have been registered for commercial use in the US. So far, only about 100 of these have been identified as human carcinogens by the IARC.

Although many factors have been associated with breast cancer, Schneider said his top three would include the

The mammary carcinogen database is far from complete and data development is still ongoing.

According to Dr. Schneider

Breast cancer is multifactorial. It would be rare for there to be a single environmental chemical that alone would be sufficient to cause an increase in breast cancer…In many cases, an increased risk of breast cancer is quite small, and we don’t yet know how each factor affects the risk of breast cancer. [Similar to a puzzle] we need to know how all of the pieces fit together, and this database begins to help us start assessing some of that.”

Photo credit: stock. xchng

Acrylamide in the News

August 5, 2008 by  
Filed under CANCER

The FDA has released a detailed question and answer page on acrylamide. With so much information on this topic in the news lately, this would be a good time to review what acrylamide is and how it affects you.

From the FDA:

  1. What is acrylamide?Acrylamide is a chemical that can form in some foods during high-temperature cooking processes, such as frying, roasting, and baking. Acrylamide in food forms from sugars and an amino acid that are naturally present in food; it does not come from food packaging or the environment.
  2. Is there a risk from eating foods that contain acrylamide?Acrylamide caused cancer in animals in studies where animals were exposed to acrylamide at very high doses. Acrylamide causes nerve damage in people exposed to very high levels at work. FDA has not yet determined the exact public health impact, if any, of acrylamide from the much lower levels found in foods. FDA is conducting research studies to determine whether acrylamide in food is a potential risk to human health.

From the World Health Organization FAQ page:

What can be done to avoid acrylamide in food? Should I stop eating starchy foods including potato chips?

We don’t know exactly at what temperature acrylamide is formed in food. However acrylamide has so far not been found in food prepared at temperatures below 120 degrees Celsius, including boiled foods.

Food should not be cooked excessively, i.e. for too long or at too high a temperature. However, all food, especially meat and meat products, should be cooked sufficiently to destroy food poisoning bacteria.

The information available on acrylamide so far reinforces general advice on healthy eating, including moderating consumption of fried and fatty foods. There is not enough evidence about the amounts of acrylamide in different types of food to recommend avoiding any particular food product.

Acrylamide in the News:

In 2005, in an effort to force major companies to cut down acrylamides in their foods, Attorney General Jerry Brown filed lawsuits against Frito-Lay, Lance Inc., Kettle Foods, H.J. Heinz, Procter & Gamble, KFC, Burger King, Wendy’s, and McDondald’s.

Last week a settlement was reached in those lawsuits which is not only a financial settlement but a reduction in levels of acrylamide.

Read the full story here in the San Francisco Chronicle.

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.