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Think Before You Pink

I love fall, the cooler temperatures, the crispness in the air, and the changing leaves. One thing I don’t love… Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

We are all aware of breast cancer. I am pretty sure that each and every one of you reading this has been touched personally or through someone you love. We are all very aware of breast cancer. And it is hard not to be. The rise in cancer rates is alarming. In the 1940’s the lifetime breast cancer risk was 1 in 22. And now it is 1 in 8. From 1975 to 2007, breast cancer rates increased by one third. Plus, there are pink ribbons everywhere!

So if cancer rates are increasing then why do I have a problem with breast cancer awareness month? It isn’t helping and I think we can do better.

How can we do better?

The world wants you to believe that everyone’s best hope is early detection. GET YOUR MAMMOGRAM is shouted at every woman on a daily basis. But what if we could prevent breast cancer?

Breast Cancer Awareness for most people is a great way to help fundraise to help scientists look for a cure (or at least that is what we hope). This is our fist problem. We have fought a war on cancer for over 45 years where 40,000 people die annually from breast cancer alone, where we have spent trillions of dollars and there is still no end in sight? I am not saying we do not need research for diagnosis, treatment or to find a cure. But just maybe it is time to get a new war plan.

In her book A World Without Cancer, Dr. Margaret Cuomo says, “Simply put, we have not adequately channeled our scientific know how, funding, and energy into a full exploration of the path certain to save lives: prevention.”

Shouldn’t prevention become the ultimate goal of cancer research? Wouldn’t it be great to live in a world where most of us never had to hear the terrible words “you have cancer”? Wouldn’t it be better to never get cancer than to have to go through treatments to cure it? Dr. Cuomo tells us that as recently as 2012 public health experts say that we could actually prevent more than half of the cancers that occur in the United States if we applied the knowledge we already have.

The President’s Cancer Panel reported that just 10% of cancer is genetic and 90% is environmental. In May of 2010 the Cancer Panel reported to President Obama that “the true burden of environmentally induced cancers has been grossly underestimated {and} …the American people-even before they are born-are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures.”

So what does this all mean? It means that most people with breast cancer have none of the known risk factors. The common risk factors include early puberty, late menopause, having children later in life or a family history of breast cancer. All of these risk factors are linked to higher exposure of estrogen in the body.

If only 10% of cancer is genetic and most people who get breast cancer don’t have the common risk factors then why are so many people getting cancer and what are the environmental factors the President’s Cancer Panel is referring to?

Environmental factors include many things such as, smoking, nutrition, physical activity and exposure to environmental carcinogens. We hear about the importance of not smoking, eating right and exercising all the time. But we don’t hear much about other environmental factors. Environmental factors do not just mean pollution in the air or water. Exposure to environmental carcinogens can occur in our workplaces and in our homes, as well as through our personal care and cleaning products.

To explain further about environmental factors, lets go back to World War II. According to Tufts scientist Dr. Ana Soto, “the increasing risk of breast cancer and other cancers has paralleled the proliferation of synthetic chemicals since World War II.” It was around that time when thousands of chemicals were created by industries that promised us “better living through chemistry.”

These chemicals have taken over every aspect of our lives. They are in the foods in our kitchens, they are in our shampoos and deodorants, they are on our lawns, they are the chemicals in our toys and baby bottles, in our mattresses and sofas, and in our cleaning products and laundry detergent and now they are in our air and water. But the biggest problem is they are now also in us. These are the environmental factors the cancer panel was referring to.

“Today, we are all subjects in the largest set of drug trials ever. Without our knowledge or our consent, we are testing thousands of suspected toxic chemicals whose safety is unproven and effects are unknown. We have become human guinea pigs for an unregulated industry.”

There are over 85,000 synthetic chemicals on the market today with an average of seven new chemicals coming on the market daily. They are in everything from plastics, to food, to cleaning products to sofas to pesticides and cosmetics. The US government has no adequate chemical regulation policy. Therefore, companies are allowed to manufacture and use chemicals without ever establishing their safety. Yes, you heard that correctly. No one is regulating the industry. They are allowed to manufacture and use chemicals without knowing the effects the chemicals will have on the environment or on us. I am going to say it one more time, companies are allowed to use chemicals in their products without ever proving that those chemicals are safe. This is how we have become human guinea pigs.

Many Americans assume that the chemicals in their consumer products like personal care items and cleaning products have been thoroughly tested and approved. The FDA does not assess the safety of personal care products, or their ingredients. The FDA does not have authority to require companies to safety test personal care products before they go on the market and cannot even recall defective or possibly harmful cosmetics.

In 1997, Senator Edward Kennedy stated “The cosmetics industry has borrowed a page from the playbook of the tobacco industry by putting profits ahead of public health.”

Unfortunately, the mixture of chemicals with various toxic properties is more complicated. The average woman puts on over 500 toxic chemicals every day. Think about it, what did you do to get ready to come here this morning? Did you use toothpaste, soap, shower gel, shaving cream, shampoo, conditioner, styling cream, hair spray, deodorant, moisturizer, foundation, blush, mascara, and lipstick? Maybe you used more products maybe you used less. The average product contains dozens of toxic chemicals. We are rarely exposed to a chemical just one time. We may use the same product every day, several days a week, for months or even years. So exposure from one product on one day may be small, but we in fact use multiple products a day for extended periods of time.

As we stated earlier, many of the ingredients have not been proven safe and furthermore, many have never been tested to see what happens when they combine. We also don’t know the long-term effect that these chemicals have on our bodies. This is called our toxic body burden. To make matters worse, many companies routinely market products with ingredients that are actually known to pose potentially serious health risks. A small amount of these chemicals combined day after day, year after year, can really add up.

We are all exposed to a cocktail of carcinogens and endocrine disruptors everyday that puts us at greater risk for breast cancer. We know that carcinogens means it is something known to cause cancer. But what is an endocrine disruptor?

The endocrine system is a complex network of glands and hormones that regulates all biological processes in the body including development of the brain and nervous system, growth and function of the reproductive system, metabolism and blood sugar levels, ovaries, testes, pituitary, thyroid and adrenal glands. An endocrine disruptor is a synthetic chemical that acts like estrogen in our bodies and when absorbed into the body either mimics or blocks hormones and disrupts the body's normal functions.

Dr. Elizabeth Smith has stated that "It is a known medical fact that estrogen stimulates breast cancer." There is wide spread agreement in the scientific community that higher exposure to estrogens over a woman’s lifetime leads to a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

For example, girls who begin menstruating or developing breasts before age 12 are more likely to develop breast cancer. Early puberty is one of the common risk factors for breast cancer. However, early onset puberty is now occurring at a disturbing rate according to biologist Dr. Sandra Steinberger. 30% of girls are now reaching puberty by age 8. This alarming trend seems to be a combination of many things from obesity (which has also been linked to endocrine disruptors) to exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals. Teenagers have been shown to have hazardous amounts of toxic chemicals in their bodies. This is particularly scary because it is such an important period in their development. Teenage girls use an average of 17 personal care products per day compared to an average of 12 for adult women, each product containing numerous toxic chemicals. Emerging research suggests that teens may be particularly sensitive to exposures of even trace levels of endocrine disrupting chemicals while undergoing the transformation from childhood to adulthood.

Because endocrine disruptors affect the development of the body's vital organs and hormonal systems, infants, children and developing fetuses are more vulnerable to exposure. A test of infants cord blood at birth reveled an alarming 100 plus toxic chemicals. This means that our nations infants are being pre polluted. We can only imagine the damage these chemicals can do to a developing fetus. Dr. Philip Landrigan a world renowned leader in children’s environmental health and Director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and his team link some endocrine disruptors with birth defects, breast cancer, diabetes, obesity, autism and ADHD in the first and third trimesters of pregnancy.

We know that early life exposure to toxic chemicals like endocrine disruptors can lead to later health problems. The greatest modern example of this is DES. DES was synthetic estrogen prescribed to millions of women in the US to prevent miscarriage. It was banned in 1971 after the discovery of “DES daughters”. Daughters exposed to the drug in the womb were developing cancer two decades after exposure. It was also linked to higher rates of infertility, miscarriages and malformed reproductive tracts in the daughters. DES daughters who are now over 40 are more than twice as likely to get breast cancer than women whose mothers did not take DES. Guess what, DES is an endocrine disruptor.

The World Health organization (WHO) and the UN recently released a report that called endocrine disrupters a “Global threat”. The non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG-a great resource on toxic chemicals in everyday products) did a study in 2005 and found that 1/3 of our personal care products contain at least one chemical linked to cancer and that 60% of products contain endocrine disruptors. It should also be noted that your skin is your largest organ and any product you place on your skin is directly absorbed into your body with in 28 seconds. We absorb on average 5 pounds of toxic chemicals per year through our skin. But what is really scary is that anything absorbed through the skin may be as high as ten times the concentration of an oral dose.

To read about all of the toxic chemicals that our in personal care products, please check out my blog and the article on Toxic Chemicals to Avoid. This explains how to read your labels, what to avoid and why.

According to the State of Evidence 2006: a report that summarizes more than 350 studies on the environmental links to breast cancer. "Compelling scientific evidence points to some of the 85,000 synthetic chemicals in use today as contributing to the development of breast cancer, either by altering hormone function or gene expression, “

Jeanne Rizzo the President of the Breast Cancer Fund, says that “while there is no single smoking gun, the trends that emerge lead us to stop asking if there is a link between breast cancer and toxic chemicals, and instead to ask how to act to reduce our exposure, given the strong and compelling evidence we now have.”

So what does this all mean? Why am I going on and on about the link between breast cancer and toxic chemicals? Because our focus should not be breast cancer awareness, it should be breast cancer prevention. It is true; it is impossible to avoid all toxic chemicals. But small changes can go a long way to reducing your toxic body burden.

The Hypocrisy that started it all and continues to fuel the flame:

Breast Cancer Awareness month was not started by someone’s daughter who lost their mom to breast cancer. A big pharmaceutical company started it. AstraZeneca is the company that manufactured (until it went generic in 2006) the most widely prescribed breast cancer drug known as tamoxifen. AstraZeneca made over $400 million dollars annually for a drug which also had controversial side effects including links to uterine cancer and stroke. When Astra Zeneca created breast cancer awareness month in 1985, it was owned by Imperial Chemical Industries, a multi billion dollar producer of paper, pesticides, and plastics. Imperial is a chemical giant, and is one of the world's top producers of organochlorides. Organochlorides are known carcinogens and are used in the manufacture of a wide variety of compounds, including Agent Orange, PCB's, and DDT. Studies have found organochlorides to be specifically associated with increased incidence of breast cancer. In other words, Imperial made products directly linked to breast cancer. But AstraZeneca also sold the leading breast cancer drug on the market and incidentally, Astra Zeneca also has a large stake in cancer treatment centers across the country. Doesn’t that make you angry?

Where did that sweet little pink ribbon come from?

“In the early 1990s, 68-year-old Charlotte Haley began making peach ribbons by hand in her home. Her daughter, sister, and grandmother had breast cancer. She distributed thousands of ribbons at supermarkets with cards that read: “The National Cancer Institute annual budget is $1.8 billion, only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon.”

As the word spread, executives from Estée Lauder and Self magazine asked Haley for permission to use her ribbon. Haley refused, and Self magazine was startled by Haley’s answer. “She wanted nothing to do with us. Said we were too commercial.” But Self really wanted to have her ribbon. The magazine consulted its lawyers and was advised to come up with another color. It chose pink, a color that focus groups say is “soothing, comforting, and healing” — everything breast cancer is not. Soon Charlotte Haley’s grassroots peach ribbon was history, and the pink ribbon became the worldwide symbol for breast cancer.

Breast cancer has become the darling of corporate America. Companies use the pink ribbon to sell their products and boost their image with consumers as they boost their bottom line. Meanwhile, breast cancer rates continue to rise every year. Ending the breast cancer epidemic will take more than just pink ribbons and awareness.” (History of the Pink Ribbon taken from the Breast Cancer Action Fund)

Hypocrisy and The Marlboro Man:

Pinkwashing is a term used to describe companies who promote pink ribbon merchandise or breast cancer awareness but continue to produce, manufacture, or sell products linked to the disease. As one of the organizers of breast cancer walks around the United States, Avon talks the talk but literally doesn’t walk the walk. Avon is one of the most flagrant examples of pink washing. Avon continues to use chemicals linked to breast cancer including triclosan, parabens, and so many more. A paper in the June 2011 issue of Environmental Justice cites Avon’s “Kiss Goodbye to Breast Cancer” campaign as one of the company’s most “poignant instances of pinkwashing.” Designed to raise funds for breast cancer research, the initiative launched in 2001 and contained six shades of lipsticks all containing endocrine disruptors linked to breast cancer.

Avon is not the only pink washer. Revlon also sponsors runs and walks to support breast and ovarian cancer, I have walked in one myself. And Estee Lauder companies annually run the Power of Pink campaign for Breast Cancer Awareness. All of these companies, through their trade association, have opposed a California Bill that would require cosmetics companies to disclose their use of chemicals linked to cancer or birth defects. And none of these three companies have signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, a pledge to remove hazardous chemicals and replace them with safer alternatives. They have all been asked to sign the campaign and have all refused. So why do these companies act like they care about breast cancer? One easy answer: profits. That little pink ribbon brings in millions of dollars in profits.

Corporations develop brand loyalty, get free advertising and dissuade questions about the roles of their products and a link to cancer. Furthermore, research has shown that, given the same cost and quality, more than half of consumers would switch from a particular brand to one connected to a good cause. And what better cause than breast cancer?

To me, Avon, Revlon, Estee Lauder and the hundreds of other companies who pink wash are the equivalent of the Marlboro Man leading a walk against lung cancer all while smoking a pack of cigarettes. It is hypocrisy at its finest.

Remember though, it isn’t just cosmetic companies touting the pink ribbon. You can get blenders, curling irons, cars, footballs and even laxatives with pink ribbons. They are all doing it for the same reason as the cosmetic companies: profit. It is unlikely that much of these funds actually go to research. Always investigate before you donate or purchase.

Now what?

In order to reduce our exposure to these toxic chemicals, we need to apply the precautionary principle to our own lives as much as possible. If something may cause harm then why are we going to risk it? Do you want to be a human guinea pig anymore? I do not.

Remember that we aren’t working to prevent just breast cancer. Avoiding all of these toxic things can help prevent pretty much every chronic diseases plaguing Americans right now-from Cancer to diabetes to Alzheimer’s and more.

What you can change:

1. Water is a huge problem. It is highly polluted with all of the run off from pesticides and with the billions of gallons of our personal care, cleaning products and even medications that go down the drain every single day. Our water systems are designed to clean out bacteria but not toxic chemicals. And high doses of toxic chemicals are added to our water in order to kill that bacteria. Not only are we drinking that water but that water is used on farms so our food is absorbing those chemicals too. It is one big bad cycle. I would highly recommend getting a water purification system. I don’t mean a little pitcher like a brita or even the filer on your refrigerator door. Those actually do next to nothing and you are wasting your money. If you want my recommendations on Water Purification Systems, please email me.

2. I also encourage you to stay away from bottled water. Bottled water is not any cleaner or better for you, most of the time it is actually worse. The other items that are important in implementing the precautionary principle are:

3. Detoxify your diet: Eat organic foods, foods without GMO’s, pesticides or antibiotics. Avoid processed foods and sugar substitutes and especially avoid colas and sports drinks. Try to eat a more plant-based diet.

4. Don’t use chemical pesticides or fertilizers around your home. Did you know our Canadian neighbors are not allowed to use chemical fertilizers on their lawns? There are organic options or you can embrace the weeds!

5. Exercise daily/Reduce Stress. Yoga and mindfulness go a long way.

6. Get rid of plastic food storage and plastic wrap. You want to avoid Bisphosanal A also called BPA. BPA now must come with a warning label in California and we are just hearing about legislation to make sure it is removed from baby bottles and baby toys. Avoid plastic in general, as much as possible.

7. Use an air purification system for your home to help remove off gassing from products like your couch, mattresses, carpet and paint and remove dust particles that can also contain toxins. My favorite is IQAIr. Healthmate is also a great choice.

8. Get rid of Teflon coated and non stick pans that contain PTFE and PFOA and switch to ceramic or cast iron pans.

9. Detoxify your personal care and cleaning products. Learn to read your labels. Remember, the proof is in the ingredients, the rest is just marketing. Be weary of products that say “natural” or “organic”-they do not necessarily mean safe or non-toxic.

10. When buying new furniture, mattresses, pillows and bedding, make sure they do not contain toxic materials and avoid products treated with flame retardants.

Show the big companies that you will take your dollars elsewhere. The more organic food and non-toxic personal care products you buy, the more likely it is that the big companies will change their ways in order to get your dollar back. You vote with your dollar. Isn’t that a vote we can all agree on this year?

Lastly, I don’t want to discount what the pink ribbon does in terms of bringing people together and possibly giving them hope and a sense of camaraderie. I just want you to be fully aware of everything it does not or should not represent and how we can do better for all of those we love.

Want more information?

Watch Pink Ribbons, Inc. It is the story of the commercialization of the breast cancer movement and the exploitation of hope and trust . It is now available on netflix and Amazon. This is a must see!

Donate to an amazing charity that is actually working towards prevention and not funded by big corporations: Breast Cancer Action Fund They are also full of great information on prevention!

My blog is all about going non-toxic, please subscribe and also remember to like my facebook page and encourage your friends to do the same. THIS IS MY WHY! I want to prevent disease and help make people happier and healthier.

Thank you! And Happy October!