The March/April 2013 issue of CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians published a review by the U.S. National Cancer Institute and others reporting the widespread recognition that exposure (through our food, water, skin and air) to MANY different pesticides are convincingly linked to an increase in cancer risk.
This is an important acknowledgement, as this appears in one of the most widely read medical journals (published by the American Cancer Society.)
The authors present a clear picture of the link between pesticide exposure and the following cancer types:
- Breast cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- although these cancers are the most recognized for their association with pesticide exposure, many others have been linked in studies (i.e. lung, pancreatic, brain, stomach, ovarian, kidney, etc.)
Herbicides and Cancer:
Perhaps the most famous is Monsanto’s “Agent Orange.” Infamously, Agent Orange was used in Vietnam, exposing thousands of human lives to this carcinogenic compound. It wasn’t until years later that it was learned Agent Orange was responsible for causing numerous cancers and diseases. The US Department of Veterans Affairs maintains a growing list of medical conditions that are considered caused by this drug.
There are 3 main mechanisms through which these carcinogenic chemicals cause cancer:
- Increasing the production of DNA damaging free radicals
- Acting as “endocrine disrupters”: this means that these chemicals are able to block or mimic the actions of our body’s hormones (i.e. stimulating estrogen or androgen pathways)
- Causing epigenetic changes to our DNA: this means that these chemicals can increase the activity of cancer promoting genes or decrease the activity of cancer suppressing genes
Disturbingly, many of the culprit carcinogenic pesticides are fat soluble…which means they can stick around in the fat tissues of our body for years-to-decades.
“Rather than wait for human carcinogens to be identified, several European countries including Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, and others have initiated pesticide reduction policies that have resulted in substantially diminished pesticide use overall.” –World Wildlife Fund
“In the United States, a nationwide use reduction policy has met with resistance politically because of disagreements about the net benefit to health and debate concerning the disproportionate economic impact of these policies on selected groups (e.g., farmers, food processors, and pesticide manufacturers) and on food prices.” –US Environmental Protection Agency
What can we do about this?
- Step 1: Become more aware of the known carcinogens and potential carcinogens.
- Step 2: Identify the ways in which we are exposed to them.
- Step 3: Minimize our exposure to these carcinogens.
But whatever you do, don’t avoid consuming fruits and vegetables to limit exposure to pesticides. In fact, eating lots of fruit and vegetables actually reduces your risk of numerous cancers, despite any pesticide residues on them.
- Read our recent blog post on brassicas (cruciferous vegetables), which have significant detoxifying and anti-cancer activity.
One of my favorite websites, dedicated to helping the public become more aware of these toxic compounds, is the Environmental Working Group.
On their easy to navigate site, you can find information such as:
- “Dirty Dozen“: Produce that are known to have a higher concentration of pesticides and other toxic chemicals. So, you might be better off buying these organic.
- “Clean 15“: These produce have lower levels of toxins and carcinogens, so you can more safely consume the non-organic varieties of these.
- Safe Skin Care Products & Cosmetics
- Safe Household Cleaning Products
- Clean Water
- Genetically Modified Foods
- Safer Cell Phone Use
- Safer Cookware
- and many other important topics!
US Environmental Protection Agency (Pesticides)
The World Health Organization (Pesticides)
National Pesticide Information Center (Oregon State University and the US EPA)
Beyond Pesticides: They work to provide the public with useful information on pesticides and alternatives to their use.
Natural News (Pesticides)
PAN/Pesticide Action Network: Works to replace the use of hazardous pesticides with ecologically sound and socially just alternatives.
Cancer Council Australia (Pesticides and Cancer)
Video On Pesticides (and other environmental toxins) and Cancer:
Watch Ken Cook, Environmental Working Group President, share shocking information about how babies are born pre-polluted with as many as 300 industrial chemicals in their bodies. One of the most entertaining presentations that you’ll see about the health effects of environmental pollution.