In this election, arguments about women’s healthcare have often focused on abortion and contraception coverage. While I agree these are important issues, I would like to share my views from the perspective of a female cancer patient. The Affordable Care Act (ACA), a.k.a. “Obamacare,” requires insurance companies to cover such preventative services as breast cancer mammography screenings every one to two years for women over 40, breast cancer chemoprevention counseling for women at higher risk, and annual screenings for cervical cancer. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have pledged to repeal Obamacare, meaning many women could lose these important benefits from their paid insurance plans.
Even worse is the Republican plan, or lack thereof, for the many women currently without coverage. When money is tight, women are often the family members who go uncovered because we are often charged as much as three times the insurance rates of men (a problem Obamacare resolves as of 2014). I know many hard-working women — single and married — who are self-employed or work jobs that offer no insurance coverage and who can’t afford to pay for coverage themselves. Many married women whose spouses have good health insurance policies still go uncovered because of the high cost of adding family coverage. Obamacare will make more options available to ALL women when the program goes into full force in 2014. But meanwhile, women without coverage need Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood of Eastern Iowa has been awarded funds by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to offer free breast cancer and cervical cancer screenings to qualified women between the ages 40 and 64. Planned Parenthood is pretty much the only way a woman in Iowa City and in other towns across eastern Iowa can get a mammogram if she doesn’t have insurance and can’t afford the $450 cost of the screening (not to mention the cost of the doctor’s visit; the full cost of my annual physical this year was around $1,000). What does Mr. Romney think about this essential healthcare service for women? “Planned Parenthood, we’re going to get rid of that,” he said.
For me, these issues are personal. In August, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Because my cancer was caught early, my prognosis is excellent. It is not an exaggeration to say that my “Obamacare mammogram” may have saved my life. If the mammogram had not been covered as part of my annual exam, I would not have been able to afford to have one. Obamacare also ensures that I don’t have to worry about lifetime caps on insurance coverage or being dropped by my insurance company. It gives me the power to shop around for affordable insurance premiums without being rejected because of a pre-existing condition. And because my coverage is more secure, I don’t have to worry about saddling my family with insurmountable debt should my condition worsen. No family should go bankrupt just because one family member happens to get sick.
One out of every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime. Yet when breast cancer is detected in the early, localized stages, the five-year survival rate is 98%. The evidence of my cancer was so small that I would not have discovered it with a self-exam until the cancer was much more life threatening. Access to mammograms and other preventative cancer screenings is crucial, and Barack Obama has pledged to maintain access to these services for ALL women. As you mark your ballot in this election, the choice you make for president could save the lives of the women you love.
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Karen Nichols is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in Iowa City with her husband, Tom Lindsey, and their five-year-old son, Jackson.
They sound so harmless: tiny mineral fibers, interspersed throughout rock deposits, mined for their natural insulating qualities. Just how bad can these asbestos fibers be?
Just ask any of the 3,000 Americans who are diagnosed with mesothelioma in any given year – or any of the thousands of others diagnosed with different asbestos-related diseases: Asbestos is much more dangerous than it sounds.
What is Asbestos?
Found all across the world, including major deposits in Canada, China, Russia and Australia, asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber that can be classified into six different types:
Each of these types of fibers was found to be excellent at fireproofing industrial materials, and they were used in countless industrial products until the 1980s. Inexpensive and readily available, asbestos was a preferred ingredient in insulation, paint, shingles, tiles, caulking and various other construction products.
However, even during the peak of industrial asbestos use, many health professionals were warning companies about the health risks that asbestos industry workers faced. Use of asbestos fibers continued on – unregulated – until the 1980s.
Why is Asbestos Dangerous?
Despite its popularity in the industrial world, asbestos is a class A carcinogen for its association with cancerous diseases.
Since the 1960s, asbestos has been linked to an aggressive cancer called mesothelioma. This primary asbestos cancer is typically terminal, spreading rapidly and causing disabling side effects until it has reached its final stage.
Asbestos is also known to cause ovarian cancer, laryngeal cancer and lung cancer, with up to 4 percent of all lung cancer cases having a link to asbestos. Other several studies suggest a link between asbestos exposure and gastrointestinal cancer and colorectal cancer, while asbestos may also be associated with the following cancers:
- Kidney cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Gallbladder cancer
In addition to these cancers, asbestos can cause conditions such as asbestosis (a progressive scarring of the lungs), pleural effusions and pleural plaques. Asbestos exposure can also cause lung damage that makes existing cases of COPD worse than they already are.
How Does Asbestos Cause Disease?
Asbestos exposure – when someone either inhales or ingests asbestos fibers over an extended period of time – can lead to the development of these diseases.
Because asbestos fibers break apart very easily and any sort of disturbance can release them into the air, asbestos exposure can occur any time asbestos (in its natural form or in a finished product) is handled.
Once asbestos has been inhaled, the thin, sharp fibers can easily become lodged within the body. Over time, the fibers cause scarring, inflammation and biological changes that can lead to cancerous and non-cancerous diseases.
For some illnesses, these changes can occur over a period of years, with a latency period of up to 50 years for pleural mesothelioma. As a result, anyone who has been exposed to asbestos during their lifetime should consider regular screenings for asbestos-related diseases.
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Author bio: Faith Franz is a writer for the Mesothelioma Center. She combines her interests in whole-body health and medical research to educate the mesothelioma community about the newest developments in cancer care.
Our “Notes from…” series features thoughtful essays by people from around the globe. Frequently, the writers present us with a discussion of an environmental problem in their home nations. Through their posts, we see that virtually no place on Earth is entirely free of environmental degradation, toxins, and trash. Writing from India, Dipak Kumar Singh reminds us in today’s post that we can’t begin to find solutions until we courageously face the problems. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
How does one think or write about pollution of water and soil (not dirt, as this website makes an effort to point out) without spreading guilt in the heart of people who take their humanity seriously? It’s not easy, though you will notice I have tried. There isn’t a new fact that I bring to you — but just the fact that we have so much inertia of inaction and perhaps more so in thinking.
All of us use the three-pronged plug for electrical appliances. The third, thicker pin is for the earth. So with any amount of electricity we consume, the earth has to be a party to it. This is fine, scientifically, but it reflects our attitude towards the earth, which we symbolically call “Mother Earth” in most societies. What if, someday, our mother stops taking all the third-pin electricity?
Just now this is a hypothesis of nonsense. But a very similar thing has happened. In many instances, the earth has stopped cleansing itself. If the earth had legs, she would have run away from us by now.
Toxins in the Water
As you take a sip of that wonderful hot or cold tea, think about the tea bush in Assam, India or Kenya that is sprayed with pesticides many times during a single crop season. All that pesticide gets washed into rivers and finally into the sea. The sea will take some time to show a red flag.
The grapes you and I eat could be from a vine that was sprayed 30 times in a single year with pesticides such as Endosulfan. That makes 300 sprayings in a decade. This chemical has nowhere to go, so it just gets washed into the groundwater.
Endosulfan has a half-life of up to 20 days in water and 60 to 800 days in soil. So, think of the accumulation of this pesticide in crop-growing villages. In the Indian state of Kerala, Endosulphan has been linked to the birth of malformed children.
Cotton and Cancer
Welcome to the world’s favorite fabric: cotton. The cotton plant is sprayed with Endosulfan sometimes twice a week all over the world.
In every cotton-growing village on Earth, there is a soil/water pollution problem. I venture to make this sweeping statement to provoke you to tell me about the happy exception, so we can find how to replicate it elsewhere.
In Malwa district of Punjab, a new cancer wing has been opened to benefit patients from the districts of Barnala, Bhatinda, Ferozepur, Muktsa, Mausa, Moga, Faridkot and Sangrun — all cotton-growing districts.
Spoilt for Choice
Have we broken some sacred self-rejuvenating system of Mother Earth?
We have done it before. After World War II, we misused penicillin. In the 1960s, we misused DDT. And now what chemical shall it be?
We are spoilt for choice: Phorates, Monocrotophos, Carbofuran, Dimethoate, Carbaryl, Endosulfan — and some or all of these already have entered our food chain.
Will the next chemical we abuse be Endosulfan? It does have the distinction of being used for a very long time and in huge quantities. India alone produces over 8000 tonnes of it.
The world production of this pesticide must be at least double this quantity. This is shocking, because the first reports of Endosulfan getting into the food chain came in the late 1960s. Endosulfan is a bioaccumulator in kidney, liver, and fat tissues. It is an endocrine disruptor and enhances the effects of estrogen.
Yet, scientists in India and many other countries are still debating if Endosulfan really causes cancer. Can there be a darker black humor?
Endosulfan in the Environment
According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), Endosulfan breaks down into endosulfan sulfate and endosulfan diol, both of which have “structures similar to the parent compound and are also of toxicological concern… The estimated half-lives for the combined toxic residues (endosulfan plus endosulfan sulfate) [range] from roughly 9 months to 6 years.”*
Endosulfan has relatively high potential to bioaccumulate in fish. It is also toxic to amphibians; low levels have been found to kill tadpoles. When Endosulphan is sprayed, it kills all little living things: insects, birds, and small animals. The area smells awful for weeks as the scavenging animals die, too.
Endosulfan travels long distances in the atmosphere from where it is used. It has been detected in dust from the Sahara Desert that was collected in the Caribbean after being blown across the Atlantic Ocean.
Dietary exposure to Endosulfan is 0.015 mg/kg for adults and 0.0015 mg/kg for children. For chronic dietary expsoure, the U.S. EPA reference doses are 0.006 mg/(kg·day) and 0.0006 mg/(kg·day) for adults and children, respectively. This is scary for a very popular pesticide.*
With Endosulfan exposure, humans die at a dose of 35 mg/kg body weight. At higher doses, we will die within an hour, says a WHO report of 1984. Is that an unreachable dose for a chemical with 800 days’ half life?*
As early as 1995, Endosulfan runoff from cotton fields killed tonnes of fish in Alabama rivers in the U.S.^ And it was only last year that the U.S. EPA announced that all uses of Endosulfan will soon be banned. Yet, in India, we are still debating. Why do decision-makers take 15 years to understand what others already know?
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*IPCS (1984) Endosulfan. Geneva, World Health Organization, International Programme on Chemical Safety (Environmental Health Criteria 40.)
^This is a very unemotional bottom line for a race of unintelligent humanity. I say this not because I hate humans, but because I value all living beings; so, the tonnes of fish that died in Alabama river in 1995 were 240,000 individual fish. We can begin by reading our own scientific papers and reports and take timely action.
A recent report (Thursday, December 9, 2010) published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed what many of us in the preventive medicine circles have feared: Americans are now dying at a younger age.
This is the third report in the last few years that indicates life expectancy in the United States is no longer increasing and, in fact, is decreasing.
Sadly, this generation of children may be the first to die before their parents.
The reality, according to the nonprofit, nonpartisan Child Trends DataBank, is this: “[C]hildren in the United States have a shorter life expectancy than those in at least 20 other countries with populations of one million or more.”
And while we seem to have made inroads in some areas of longevity, chronic conditions such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases remain rather unscathed at the top of the list of overall killers, with a combined contribution that accounts for half of all deaths in the U.S.
Fatter by the Minute
But it is most likely not these diseases that are leading to Americans’ earlier demise. No, this dip in life expectancy appears to be related to one colossal concern. And it’s one that unfortunately has been overlooked — or at best been given flippant lip-service — in the delivery of health care here in America. What’s worse, it’s easily treatable and highly preventable. What is it?
Americans, and our children in particular, are getting fatter by the minute.
In 1985, the CDC reported that roughly 15% of the population in some states was obese. By 2000, that figure had grown to a staggering 24%. And, by 2009, it had become greater than 30% in some areas (http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html).
This trend in obesity parallels the rapid growth in diabetes — in particular, Type 2 diabetes in children — the treatment of which is conspicuously consuming over 500 billion dollars annually.
Preventable Risk Factors
In 2002, the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) published a fantastic study that outlined a “constellation of risk factors,” including obesity, high blood sugar and cholesterol levels and hypertension that collectively increase one’s likelihood of death by enormous proportions.
Now referred to as “metabolic syndrome,” this group of risk factors is becoming increasingly common in the United States. The researchers identified obesity and diabetes as two prevalent, preventable factors that have led to our bulging belt lines and resultant health issues.
The NHLBI study suggested that the best initial treatment for these risk factors is not drug therapy, but, instead, therapeutic lifestyle changes (TLC). These include dietary changes, exercise prescriptions, and smoking cessation. In fact, the authors of the study say that the majority of persons with metabolic syndrome can be successfully treated within twelve weeks of care and without medications.
So why is metabolic syndrome still a problem? It’s hard to get patients to be compliant to TLCs.
In fact, the authors concluded, “[I]nterventions to improve adherence must be sustained and reinforced. [I]nterventions to improve adherence last only as long as they are provided. [And,] if the intervention is discontinued, even if the patient is fully adherent at the time, adherence will deteriorate.”
In other words, patients don’t seem to be able to make lasting lifestyle changes on their own.
RX for the Doctor
The study authors’ advice to your doctor, then? To increase the length of visits to help patients reach their goals.
Sounds simple enough. After all, doctors — at least most of them — want nothing more than to see their patients live long, happy, fulfilling, disease-free lives.
The problem is, there is just no way for most physicians to spend enough time with any particular patient to make meaningful changes in lifestyle and generate enough revenue to keep open a clinic, with its massively increasing expenses. (Just ask them how much their malpractice insurance costs, not to mention their $200,000 student loans.)
And, by the way, if a physician tries to give you extra time, the insurance company won’t pay for it. Neither will they pay for nutritional medicine visits to teach you about those TLCs.
Obviously, the best treatment is prevention, but for us to help this generation of children to grow older, healthfully, we need to live by example. We need systems in place that allow doctors to intervene, as they — not the insurance companies — see fit, and to spend the time needed to help patients make the lifestyle changes they need to make, for their own health and for the health of future generations.
We can grow old gracefully free of fat, infirmity, and fatigue.
We can set good examples for this generation of children.
The first step is just a little personal TLC.
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June 4, 2009 by Sabrina Potirala
Filed under Agriculture, Blog, Cancer, Central America, Consumer Spending, Diet, Food & Drink, Front Page, Health, Nutrition, Research, Scams, Slideshow, South America
If you listen to the hype, you may begin to think that the acai (pronounced a-sigh-EE) berry is the wonder food for everything that could possibly ail you. The ads are all over the Internet, in magazines, on television. They lure you in with questionable (if not outright fabricated) celebrity endorsements, “free” sample offers, and broad claims of almost mythical proportions.
Although acai is most commonly advertised as a weight-loss product, marketers also claim that it provides increased energy levels, improved sexual performance, improved digestion, detoxification, high fiber content, high antioxidant content, improved skin appearance, improved heart health, improved sleep, and reduction of cholesterol levels.
The acai berry has been touted as one of the most highly beneficial dietary supplements on the market. And WalletPop named it the #1 hottest product of 2008, after marketers dubbed the berry a “super food.”
But despite all the hype, groups are challenging acai’s health and weight-loss claims, and warning consumers to beware of acai berry scams. With so much conflicting information, it’s hard to know what is fact and what is fiction.
What It Is
The acai berry grows in Central and South America on eight different varieties of palm trees, primarily in swamps and floodplains — areas with heavy rainfall or standing water. The berries are small, round and black-purple in color. You might find them similar in appearance to a blueberry, but with a large, inedible seed in the center. Acai palm trees are tall and slender, reaching between 50 to 100 feet. Due to recent demand for their berries, acai palm trees are currently cultivated primarily for their fruit; but their fronds can also be made into hats, mats, baskets, and brooms.
Acai is commercially available in a number of forms, including juice, pulp, powder, and capsules. It has been marketed as an antioxidant, an anti-inflammatory, and an antibacterial. It’s also said to contain Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential to human health.
Acai’s other chemical contents are impressive, too:
- A concentration of 10 times more antioxidants than red grapes, and 10 to 30 times the anthocyanins of red wine, which helps combat premature aging
- Monounsaturated (healthy) fats, dietary fiber, and phytosterols to help promote cardiovascular and digestive health
- Anthocyanins and flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants that help prevent free radicals from forming in the body and starting chain reactions that damage cells
- Amino acids and trace minerals that are vital to proper muscle contraction and regeneration
Amazon Wonder Berry?
Although some people say they have more energy and feel healthier after taking acai dietary supplements, these claims are not supported by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But the medical community does agree that — like the cranberry, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, and blueberry — the acai berry, carries antioxidants.
Claims of weight loss from acai are unfounded, however, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). “There’s no evidence whatsoever to suggest that acai pills will help shed pounds, flatten tummies, cleanse colons, enhance sexual desire, or perform any of the other commonly advertised functions,” according to a press release from CSPI.
Kristina Conner, a licensed naturopathic physician and Assistant Professor of Naturopathic Medicine at National University of Health Sciences in Lombard, Illinois, said naturopaths sometimes work with the acai berry, because it is a natural substance. But she agrees that the berry is not a one-stop, quick fix for weight loss or any of the other ailments the companies are claiming the berry can improve.
“It is important to address lifestyle things first. So supplements including something like the acai would be considered beneficial on top of making healthy lifestyle changes — like a good diet, sleep, exercise, all of that stuff. Relying on just one agent like [the acai berry], no matter what it is, is not the wisest course. If you look at things like weight loss or cardiovascular disease, it is never one cause, so it should never be one fix,” Conner said.
According to Conner, the acai berry is a reasonable alternative to drinking red wine, because the two products are both preventive substances. Because many people do not incorporate the acai berry into their normal diets, some people can see positive results where others may not.
“There is probably going to be a percentage of people who do [an acai] diet and are going to respond really well to it, but then there is a larger percentage who probably aren’t. They need to make sure they are not throwing out common sense when they try a new diet or a new product,” Conner said.
A Pricey Alternative
Mark Stibich, a physician specializing in health behavior, has expressed concerns about the sudden and tremendous fame of the acai berry. “A week’s supply of acai berry juice will cost you about $40 (over $2,000 a year). For that much money, there are a lot of more proven things you can do to increase your health.” Yet Stibich said that the fruit did hold at least some promise, commenting, “It is true that the acai berry has about 10 times the antioxidants of grapes and twice the antioxidants of blueberries, but that’s not enough nutritional punch for all the claims.”
Even nutritionists are weary of the numerous health benefit claims associated with the acai berry. I spoke with 10 nutritionists and dieticians, all of whom said they were unfamiliar with the real benefits of the acai berry. None said they would recommend any acai products until they themselves became more familiar with the fruit.
Although other research studies are reportedly in progress, a recent study by the University of Florida is the only research that has been completed to investigate the benefits of the acai berry. Researchers at the University of Florida found that in a laboratory setting, acai berry extract caused a significant decrease in cultured cancer cells. During the testing, various concentrations of acai extract were applied to the cells. After a period of 24 hours, the results varied from 35 percent to 86 percent of the cancer cells dying. The acai berry stands up well in a lab setting, but this claim has yet to be tested and proven in humans.
“A lot of claims are being made, but most of them haven’t been tested scientifically,” Assistant Professor at the University of Florida Stephen Talcott said in a press release. “We are just beginning to understand the complexity of the acai berry and its health-promoting effects.”
The acai berry has just recently become popular, so not all of the claims have been researched. But with time, Talcott said that more nutritional information will be revealed.
“One reason so little is known about acai berries is that they’re perishable and are traditionally used immediately after picking. Products made with processed acai berries have only been available for about five years, so researchers in many parts of the world have had little or no opportunity to study them,” Talcott said.
Beware of Scams
Since the berry’s popularity has exploded in the past few months, offers for free acai berry trials are becoming ubiquitous online.
But remember how your parents told you, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is”? That warning is certainly applicable to any company claiming it will send you acai products for free. Free trial offers for acai berry supplements are rarely — if ever — free.
The CSPI and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) said companies offering free trials of diet pills made with the acai berries have tricked thousands of consumers using fake celebrity endorsements and blogs to lure customers into buying the acai products.
According to the Better Business Bureau, FWM Laboratories, Advanced Wellness Research, AcaiBurn, FX Supplements, and SFL Nutrition all received an F rating, which is the BBB’s lowest rating. The BBB evaluates companies on numerous categories before assigning a grade, such as the number of customer complaints and a company’s ability to adequately resolve issues.
Central Coast Nutraceuticals, FX Supplements, FWM Laboratories and Advanced Wellness Research are just some of the businesses accused of scamming customers into accepting “free” trials. These companies reportedly hook consumers by advertising a “free” bottle of acai pills, for example, and by claiming that the customer only has to pay for shipping and handling. Many customers neglect to read the terms and conditions pages, which often specify that the total price for the bottle of pills will be charged to the credit card used to pay the shipping and handling fee. Often, the companies will sign consumers up for a monthly subscription of the product and charge them for more bottles of the pills that the customers unwittingly “consented” to receiving each month when agreeing with the fine print. Each of these bottles costs approximately $80 and will be billed to a credit card every month until the customer calls and cancels the subscription.
I signed up for a “free” trial of Acai Berry Edge in order to test the scam claims. For this product, the terms and conditions specified that the customer would “Get two bottles of Acai Berry Edge free for 21 days during the trial period. You invest $3.97 s&h today then $39.95 per bottle at day 21 only if you are satisfied.” I sent both bottles back within the 21 day time frame, yet was still charged $79.90. Upon calling the company, a representative said that they had not received the bottles. Yet I intentionally sent the bottles back with a delivery confirmation receipt from the U.S. Postal Service. With the delivery confirmation number, the representatives could not dispute that the bottles had been returned. Even if you do read the fine print and return the bottles, make sure to send the product back with a confirmation number from the postal service or an express carrier. Those few extra quarters could end up saving you $80 — or more — in the long run.
Connor said people can ask the company for objective information about the product or studies published about the product to determine whether or not any health claims made about products are true. She also recommended asking a health care practitioner who knows about natural products and cautioned consumers to always be skeptical.
“If people find that it is one company offering a particular type of product no one else offers, or if it seems very expensive — more expensive than other products on the market that are like it — that always raises my suspicion level,” she said.
The Jury’s Still Out
Much is still unknown about the acai berry. And, with studies still in progress, health care professionals are understandably cautious about judging the berry’s merits as a “super food.” Nutritionists say that, for most people, taking moderate amounts of acai supplements won’t negatively impact your physical health. But it just might hurt the health of your wallet.
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Think skin cancer couldn’t happen to you? Think again.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) estimates that more than a million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed this year in the U.S. alone. Unless you want to be among that number, protecting your skin with sunscreen is more than just a good idea. It’s a necessity.
As a person who tans easily, I didn’t think I was likely to get skin cancer. I spent much of my youth basking in the sun. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, we didn’t worry about such things. But times have changed, and there’s danger outdoors.
I’m now in my 50s, and I’m paying for my sun-worshiping behavior. I have a small scar on my nose, where a dermatologist scraped off a layer of cancerous tissue. I was lucky. My skin cancer turned out to be a slow-growing, basal cell carcinoma, not melanoma — which could have killed me.
But this isn’t about me. It’s about you — and the people you love. Skin cancer can strike anyone — even teenagers — and it’s a lot safer to prevent it than to try to cure it. So, do yourself and your loved ones a favor: Limit your exposure to the sun, and find a safe and effective sunscreen you can rely on to protect you against harmful rays.
Two Kinds of Rays
There are two types of ultraviolet rays that do us harm. Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays reach deep into the layers of the skin. These rays suppress the immune system, so that your body can’t fight against skin cancer. They also are responsible for much of the aging effect that you see in people who have long-term exposure to the sun. And they can even penetrate glass, so being inside isn’t necessarily going to protect you from the sun’s aging effects.
Ever wondered why you don’t get sunburned through a car or house window even in direct, bright sunlight? The rays responsible for burning, Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, don’t penetrate glass. It’s the UVB rays that give you a sunburn after a day at the pool or beach (or too much time on a tanning bed).
Both UVA (aging rays) and UVB (burning rays) are potentially harmful. Here’s a sobering thought from the AAD: “The United States Department of Health & Human Services has declared ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and artificial sources, such as tanning beds and sun lamps [emphasis added], as a known carcinogen (cancer-causing substance).” It may look pleasing to have a tan, but is it worth the risk? The small divot in my nose has convinced me otherwise.
Tanning may look good from a purely cosmetic vantage point, but it’s hardly good for us. “There is no safe way to tan,” says the AAD:
A tan is the skin’s response to injury caused by UV exposure. Tanning occurs when ultraviolet rays penetrate the epidermis, the skin’s outer layer, causing the production of melanin as a response to the injury. Chronic exposure to ultraviolet light, both natural and artificial, results in a change in the skin’s texture, causing wrinkling and age spots. Thus, tanning to improve appearance is ultimately self-defeating.
Every time you tan, you damage your skin and this damage accumulates over time. This accumulated damage, in addition to accelerating the aging process, also increases your risk for all types of skin cancer.
That has an ominous ring in a culture that celebrates a tanned skin.
Forgo the Fake Bake
It’s more clear all the time that baking in the sun is bad for us. And the “fake bake” of tanning salons is no better, despite their popularity. According to the AAD, “Studies have demonstrated that exposure to UV radiation during indoor tanning damages the DNA in the skin cells. Also excessive exposure to UV radiation during indoor tanning can lead to skin aging, immune suppression, and eye damage, including cataracts and ocular melanoma.” That’s a lot of scary stuff to be wary of.
You may be surprised to learn that the AAD recommends sunscreen even when you are going to be inside the house. (Remember that UVA can penetrate window glass.) It’s not necessary to put sunscreen under clothing — just on exposed areas of skin. And when you’re outside, don’t think it’s safe to skip sunscreen on a cloudy day. Up to about 80% of those UV rays can still get through the haze. Even winter days aren’t safe; as skiers are well aware, sunlight reflecting off snow can cause a sunburn. And sand on the beach reflects a quarter of the sun’s rays.
AAD recommends that you apply sunscreen up to half an hour before going outside. Make sure you apply it liberally to all exposed areas, especially your face, ears, hands, and arms. Having had plenty of sunburns in the part of my hair, I’d recommend that spot for your consideration, as well. And if you’re bald or balding, you’ll need to be extra careful to cover your pate. In fact, think about the parts of your body that tend to burn, then cover them well with sunscreen — and plenty of it. Most of us just don’t use enough in the first place, and don’t reapply frequently enough to maintain good coverage.
The Right Amount of Protection
What SPF should you use? It helps to understand what the term SPF means. An SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, rating tells how a sunscreen protects you against UVB (burning) rays. Imagine that John Smith’s unprotected skin burns in 5 minutes on a bright, sunny day. So, if he wears SPF 10 sunscreen under the same conditions, he should be able to stay in the sun 10 times longer, or 50 minutes. If he covers the same skin with SPF 20 under the same conditions, he shouldn’t burn for 100 minutes. The SPF you use will depend on your skin type and how easily you burn. If you’re a fair redhead, you’ll want higher protection. If you’re dark skinned and tolerate the sun well, you don’t need as much.
But don’t think that an SPF of 30 is twice as strong as an SPF of 15, according to the AAD:
UVB protection does not actually increase proportionately with a designated SPF number. For example, an SPF of 30 screens 97 percent of UVB rays, while an SPF of 15 screens 93 percent of UVB rays and an SPF of 2 screens 50 percent of UVB rays. However, inadequate application of sunscreen may result in a lower SPF than the product contains.
Slather with Care
You probably have your favorite sunscreen that you’ve grown accustomed to over the years. But many old favorites are not actually healthy choices. A 2008 report says, “In a new investigation of 946 name-brand sunscreens, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that 4 out of 5 sunscreen products offer inadequate protection from the sun, or contain ingredients with significant safety concerns. Leading brands were the worst offenders…”
One way to know whether a particular sunscreen is safe and effective is to check the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Skin Deep Cosmetic Database. Type in the name of your sunscreen, and you’ll find out how it ranks in overall hazards, what the ingredients are, and how they might be harmful to you.
If you don’t find a review for a particular product, don’t jump to conclusions one way or the other. It probably just hasn’t been evaluated by the EWG team yet. What you can do is to look up the active ingredients in the Skin Deep database and find out what EWG has to say about their safety and effectiveness.
The Best Active Ingredients
According to the EWG, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are considered to be the most effective of the active ingredients commonly used in sunscreens — and they’re the safest. EWG says this of the chemicals in sunscreens:
The UV-protective properties of sunscreens are determined by their active ingredients. Only 17 chemicals have been approved by FDA as active ingredients in sunscreen. The efficacy of any sunscreen depends on the amount of each active ingredient, and the stability of the chemical mixture on its own and under UV radiation. In addition, some sunscreen makers skirt the rules by including chemicals approved in other countries but not in the U.S., and not labeling them “active ingredients.”
We reviewed the scientific literature and government assessments for common sunscreen chemicals’ efficacy and toxicity. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are known as “mineral sunscreens” or “physical blockers” since they reflect and scatter UV rays. The other actives are called “chemical blockers” because they absorb and disperse UV rays.
Studies show that unlike other common sunscreen chemicals, little to no zinc and titanium absorb through the skin, and they provide stable UVA protection relative to the other ingredients. For these reasons many zinc and titanium-based sunscreens appear at the top of our recommended product lists….
Sunshine: Handle with Care
There’s a lot more to know about the sun’s effects on your body, and it makes important reading. As the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) points out, exposure to the sun is “the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers, including melanoma.” So, if you can prevent a disfiguring — and potentially deadly — disease, doesn’t it just make sense to do it?
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We’ve heard it all before. We’ve read it a million times, and now we’re sick of it. We’ve all had it up to here about why we shouldn’t eat red meat. You did hear about the recent study published in The Archives of Internal Medicine — the one in which researchers followed half million people for ten years. Oh, you missed that one?
It involved 322,263 men, and 223,390 women ages 50 to 71. That’s my demographic — and the single largest demographic in the US. Maybe it’s your demographic, too. Or your parents’ or grandparents’ (if you’re really young). Ever wonder why we Baby Boomers are experiencing such high rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer?
One answer is red meat. Hamburgers. Steaks. Hot dogs. Italian beef. Chili. Stew. Roasts. Even bologna. As a nation, we love red meat — so much so that we’re eating twice as much red meat today as people did 50 years ago.
Is it just because of good marketing? Is it because we’re all gluttons, having “Super-Sized” our diets and our waists? Look around. See anyone who’s overweight? Ask them what they ate today. Could be they had a meat appetizer, meat on their salad, a bacon wrapped triple burger or a meat-lover’s pizza. We consume meat like we’re addicted to it.
Meat Intake and Mortality, a research study directed by Rashmi Sinha, followed people who ate between one to four ounces of meat a day. After 10 years, researchers reported a 20 to 40 percent increase in mortality — considered a “modest” increase by study reviewers — among subjects who ate the most red and processed meat. Maybe 20 percent higher could be called modest, but a 40 percent increase is huge, in my mind. And if you or a loved one count among the 20 percent, there’s nothing modest about such numbers.
If you apply these figures over the whole U.S. population, we could prevent the deaths of 1 million men and half a million women every decade. Perhaps you’re young enough to be thinking, Those old people are going to die soon anyway.
To that I say, If this trend continues, young people will be affected much earlier in your lives and your mortality will be even greater. And that’s not me eating sour grapes. It’s a scary fact: Red meat can kill you.
Interestingly, white meats (poultry and fish) don’t seem to have the same effect. The study revealed an “inverse association” between death rate and consumption of white meat. So, if you’re determined to eat meat, it seems that white meat is the safer bet.
Want to get the full scoop? Read the study at The Archives of Internal Medicine website (be aware though, there’s a fee for downloading the study). If you’re a red-meat lover, the results should scare the meat out of you.
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Did something in the environment cause my cancer? This is a question I heard asked repeatedly by young adult cancer patients across the country while researching my book Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s.
I was diagnosed with cancer at the age of twenty-seven and often wondered if growing up amid Pittsburgh’s steel town relics may have contributed to my own cancer. I leapt at the chance to interview Richard Acker, a 36-year-old metastatic colon cancer patient and environmental attorney. Here is a part of our interview, excerpted from my book:
In an industrialized society like ours, we are putting huge amounts of chemicals into the environment and into our bodies. We do not know the long-term effects, especially synergistically. More and more studies are showing one to two hundred synthetic chemicals in the average person’s bloodstream. Did you know the average person has fire retardant in their bloodstream because of all the cushions we sit on and the clothes we wear? The FDA, the EPA, no one has ever studied the effects of these many chemicals together. Each chemical is thought to individually pose a minimum risk, but what if you have 150 things that are each individually minimal risks, but perhaps three or four of them together might cause a greater risk than we have ever learned about? … Could they be causing cancer? Maybe, I don’t know. There is that chance.
Part of the reason they don’t do the research on cancer and chemicals is because the chemical companies don’t really want them to. And the federal government is not particularly enthused either about researching things that could cause economic impact if they were withdrawn or restricted. But also it is partly just the difficulty. You do the math. If you have one to two hundred chemicals, in order to research the potential effects of the combination of each of those, if you take a pair of every three or four of those chemicals, there would be hundreds of thousands of potential experiments. It would be totally cost prohibitive. And to do it on a large-enough scale where you could get statistically significant results, how could you do that? It would be extremely difficult, so I don’t totally blame industry or the government for not doing it. But the truth is, the consequence of the expense and the reticence of not doing this testing is that the whole American population is in a sense guinea pigs for the effects of dozens of synthetic chemicals being put into the human body. That is just reality.
Whether you are a cancer survivor or not, the question is what do you do with the reality Richard described? Some people do nothing and let fear fester. Others overreact with what I call enviroparanoia, binging on unproven cleansing diets and regimens. I try to find balance by taking reasonable steps to limit society’s and my own personal carcinogenic burden.
1. Cosmetics and body products are loaded with known carcinogens. Do your own consumer research on Skin Deep and shop wisely.
2. Dry cleaning chemicals are extremely toxic. Hand wash more, dry clean less.
3. Car exhaust spews carcinogens. Drive less, take public transit more, and limit the amount of time you spend in close proximity to highways.
4. Power plants throw off tons of carcinogens into the air. Conserve and limit your personal use of energy, and advocate for higher energy efficiency standards and cleaner energy by getting involved with national organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council.
5. Knowledge is power. Align yourself with cancer organizations that are advocating for government funding for research into the connections between cancer and the environment, like Breast Cancer Action.
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“When a parent loses a child, there really are no words. There are no words to describe this grief, and there are no words to mend the broken heart that remains forever after. But my husband and I chose to try to make a difference,” said Nancy Chuda, referring to the death of their only child, Colette. “We said, let us take the remains of what would have been her life and, in her memory, establish something that would give benefit to countless millions. It fueled our passion. It was our pain that carried us through — from pain to passion — in building the network.”
I spoke with Nancy Chuda about Healthy Child Healthy World, the organization she and her husband, Jim, founded nearly twenty years ago in honor and memory of their daughter. This is her story.
It all began with a group of very committed friends, Wednesday’s Moms. My best friend, Olivia Newton-John, and I had shared the joys of motherhood together. We conceived our girls within weeks of one another, and they were born six weeks apart. Like us, Chloe and Colette had a very unique bond. They were glued at the hip.
On Wednesdays, we would meet in special places with a group of friends and their kids. The William O. Douglas Outdoor Classroom is a beautiful park, filled with old-growth redwood trees and a duck pond with coots and mallards. It was the perfect place. It captured our children’s attention and inspired us moms to protect them and the environment. We sensed then that the fragile ecosystems that supported all life — air, food, and water — were becoming tainted with chemicals. Nature herself was beckoning, “Protect me.”
As mothers, we were sensitive to this calamity. We knew we had to defend our children. And we had to speak out against the use of pesticides and other chemicals that were invading our environment. Yet, in many ways, we felt helpless.
When Colette was born, I was a television journalist. I had been working as a reporter for The Home Show, an ABC network daytime talk program, a predecessor to programs like The View, where topical subjects became a platform for discussion. I was fortunate to obtain an interview with Meryl Streep, whom I had gotten to know as a member of an organization she co-founded with Wendy Rockefeller, called Mothers and Others for Pesticide Limits.
Meryl had graced the cover of Time to defend the rights of children whose food supply — mainly apples — had become tainted with Alar (daminozide). This agricultural spray, a pesticide, was causing worldwide concern. Meryl had testified before Congress, demanding its removal. The controversy became the centerpiece for the Children’s Environmental Health movement. It gave birth to the need for greater science and investigation in terms of children’s vulnerabilities.
Meryl’s determination to awaken others to the misuse of pesticides gave me an opportunity to take a stand. I rallied many of my influential friends in the entertainment community to support the passage of an all-inclusive environmental measure, California’s Big Green initiative.
To get national attention and raise awareness in support of this initiative — which would provide clean air, water, and food in California, as well as what I believed would be a template or model for other state initiatives — I produced an ABC television variety special called An Evening with Friends for the Environment. It starred Meryl Streep, Olivia Newton-John, Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, Cher, Lilly Tomlin, and Robin Williams.
Then all of my work as an advocate became distilled in what I call an “infinitesimal moment of disbelief” the day I learned Colette had cancer.
On May 23, 1990, our lives changed forever. Colette was given an 80 percent chance of survival, but the odds changed when her cancer metastasized. She lived briefly, only five years. But she lived long enough to experience what she had always felt and believed as a child — something that is intuitive to all children — that animals and humans share a precious habitat, Earth. Nature had gone awry, and we had a mission to protect and defend life against the threat of man-made chemicals, many of which would cause illness and life-threatening disease.
Two weeks before she died in 1991, Colette wrote a short story called, “Inga Binga and Whitepaw on an Easter Day.” We sat on her bed, propped up against her favorite stuffed animals and pillows, and she recited, word for word, her dream for what she described as “the best day ever”: a world in which her loving animals, cats, birds, horses, dogs, chickens, zebras, monkeys all lived in harmony with nature — not against it. At a very early age, Colette developed a respect for life and living things, and, as a child stricken with cancer, she sensed her own vulnerability.
Even while undergoing chemo and losing all of her hair, she refused to wear a hat. Instead, she insisted on leading “babe walks” in the park she dearly loved. She wanted to teach other children how to protect the environment. This was her mission.
In our darkest hours, days before she passed, we made a promise that we would keep her memory alive. Like her favorite color, we would make the word “green” and children’s environmental health a global educational platform for all parents worldwide.
On April 21, 1991, on the eve of Earth Day, we held her in our arms for the last time. But when morning came, her spirit took hold. Within a few short months, and with the help of our dear friend, Olivia, and a small group of committed friends and family, we established The Colette Chuda Environmental Fund, to conduct research into the causes of childhood cancer in relation to the environment.
We knew that millions of dollars — now billions — had been spent trying to find cures for cancer, but very little effort was placed toward prevention.
We conducted many research studies, which led to major scientific epidemiological results. We proved that carcinogenic substances trapped in airborne particulates could traverse the blood barrier of pregnant women and affect the developing fetus in the womb environment.
The science mounted. In cities like Krakow, Poland, evidence revealed that environmental exposures to vulnerable sub-populations put children’s health at risk. Other parts of the world benefited from the early epidemiological studies we conducted. We later proved that children who suffer from early exposures have a greater predisposition to disease; however, the onset of certain childhood cancers could be prevented, if the exposures to harmful chemicals could be avoided.
Knowing that the science was critical to, if not the most important motivation for, establishing a grassroots movement, we decided to build an impossible dream. We would pull together a coalition of groups and committed citizens who would rally behind this basic principle: By educating parents, we would protect children and, hopefully, eliminate the use of harmful chemicals in the environment.
The Children’s Health Environmental Coalition (CHEC) was born in the summer of 1992, at the Snake River Ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. A very dear friend, Elizabeth Sword, had offered her family’s ranch retreat as a meeting place. It was the perfect destination and location, set beneath the Grand Tetons, a pristine and inspirational gift.
The following year, 1993, the National Academy of Science (NAS) presented findings on how pesticides were affecting the diets of infants and children. Dr. Philip Landrigan, who is referred to as the “Father of the Children’s Environmental Health Movement,” and who is a leading pediatrician and scientist based at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, joined us at the ranch for our second annual meeting to reveal the findings.
Jim and I had invited guests, who brought tremendous experience and expertise in pediatrics, science, media, and government. Those early meetings under the magnificent Tetons would later become the foundation from which we would create Healthy Child Healthy World‘s mission and goals. Together, we carved a vision for the future. Each individual dedicated their time and resources. Today, our founding Board members comprise an Honorary Board of great distinction.
Almost twenty years have passed since that historic meeting. Some of our earlier accomplishments include:
- the launch of our first website (www.checnet.org);
- the publication of the CHEC Report;
- an educational video called, Not Under My Roof: Protecting Your Baby from Toxins in the Home;
- passage of state and federal legislation protective of children’s health;
- working with the Clinton administration to establish an executive order that would protect children from harm in public places; and
- the launch of a national educational childproofing campaign, reaching more than 80 million people with our message of inspiring parents to protect children from harmful chemicals.
Looking back, I would say one of our greatest accomplishments happened in 1998, when the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) gave us a grant. “We’re going to give you half a million dollars to build a Health eHouse,” they told us. And it became the very first, virtual, Internet, interactive medium — a one-stop, cyber shop — that gave people the opportunity to explore, room by room, using a mouse or a keypad, to learn safer alternatives to protect children in their homes.
We did this with the help and support of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). We translated hard-to-comprehend scientific data by making it consumer friendly. At the time, most people did not understand, for example, what the term “VOC” (volatile organic compounds) meant, though it is a term that is well understood today. People now know that many products contain harmful ingredients that, when used, create a vapor trail we refer to as off-gassing.
We helped people understand the danger of exposure to certain chemicals that were found in everyday products used in homes. These products contain inert ingredients, some of which have been proven in laboratory studies to cause cancer. Yet, US trademark law does not require inert ingredients to be revealed on product packaging, even though they may be carcinogenic.
Today, parents enter the marketplace wanting to do the right thing — intuitively knowing that some products are safer than others. Thanks to companies like Seventh Generation, one of our partners, we are able to provide information about a multitude of consumer products that are safe to use.
By educating parents to become smart shoppers — to use the power of choice by purchasing cleaner, greener, and safer products, we were able to burst that bubble of trademark protection.
Today, focus studies on children’s welfare reveal parents’ primary concern is health and safety.
At a time when our nation’s economy dictates cutting back, for some that just might mean less money spent on recreational pleasures and toys. But for most parents, ensuring health care for the entire family is the only insurance they have to protect their children.
The sad news is that our children’s health is suffering due to the inexplicable amounts of toxic chemicals that are released into the environment. Only half of all chemicals have undergone toxicity testing, but less than 1 in 5 have been tested for possible toxicity to children.
In 1995, Senator Barbara Boxer introduced legislation in the United States Senate in memory of our daughter, Colette Chuda. The Children’s Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) was the first amendment to safeguard children from toxins in the environment. This vanguard legislation contains language inclusive of children and their unique vulnerabilities. It was later amended onto other bills to support children’s disproportionate physiological needs, as well as other vulnerable subsets of the population, such as pregnant women and the elderly.
As parents who lost a child to cancer in 1991, we believe that Colette would have survived had we had the knowledge and tools Healthy Child Healthy World provides parents today.
In the mid-eighties, we were all living in a “toxic soup.” Few knew about the harmful dangers of living with and around a perversity of chemicals — and fewer knew about the compounded exposures due to their cumulative effects. It took time for scientific studies to reveal that chemicals are now known to be a major cause of cancer, and it took even more time to prove that heredity may predispose cells and DNA to cancer.
This year, we invite you to share the news that Healthy Child Healthy World will expand its knowledge base throughout the entire world by:
- collaborating on the groundbreaking National Children’s Study that will collect health and environmental data on over 100,000 children in the U.S. for over 20 years;
- participating and partially funding the creation of the Autism Discovery Project at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine; and
- nationally advocating and promoting the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act, federal legislation designed to protect children from risky chemicals in everyday products by making manufacturers prove products are safe before they land on store shelves.
I wanted to share our story with the hope that together we can build a stronger alliance to protect children’s health. We want to partner with you — build a solid relationship with the Environmental Protection Agency and continue to work with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences — to provide a solid platform for this change.
Jim and I are very proud of the organization we founded. Today, thanks to the leadership of Christopher Gavigan, the CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World, we have been able to reach a much larger audience, build a consensus amongst constituents, create partnerships that are aligned with our mission and goals.
Healthy Child Healthy World exists because of Colette and for the millions of children we protect everyday. And a day does not pass without her inspiring words, “Green is my favorite color. I love you a million, kabillion, trillion, bigger than God, bigger than the universe, two times.”
Many years ago we decided we weren’t going to let our personal tragedy, losing our only child to a non-hereditary cancer, beat us. Instead, we decided to set some winning goals — to help others — so that other children would not have to experience our daughter’s fate.
Nancy Chuda, Co-Founder
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