Today, avoiding cancer means avoiding potentially harmful chemicals and radiation exposure as much as possible. As a practicing physician, one of the most common questions I hear from patients is, “How can I avoid getting cancer?” These days, that answer has two parts.
First, I remind patients that they need to follow the basic ground rules for good health: Eat a nutritious diet of whole foods (as opposed to fast, packaged, and processed foods); take part in some daily activity, like walking; get seven to eight hours of deep, restful sleep every night; drink plenty of fresh, filtered water; and take appropriate supplements.
But the second part of my advice is a bit trickier, because we’re being bombarded by heavy doses of cancer-causing radiation, along with thousands of toxic chemicals in the environment, most every day. Conventional physicians rarely discuss this double whammy of invisible, inescapable threats to our health. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize the dangers surrounding you.
Radiation: A Growing Danger Most of the lethal radiation we’re being exposed to is due to a stunning 600% increase in medical imaging since 1980. Radiation sources include dental x-rays, mammograms, bone mineral density tests, and CT scans, according to a new report from the American Cancer Society. Mammograms, for example, are touted as the best way to identify breast cancer in its early stages, when it’s most treatable. But they are not for everyone. Experts acknowledge that for women under age 50, radiation from the mammogram increases the risk of breast cancer by one to two percent. For a woman who follows the recommendation for annual screenings, five years of mammograms can elevate her breast cancer risk by 10 percent. Furthermore, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has warned that among women under age 35, mammography is downright dangerous.
Experts there estimate that for every fifteen cases of breast cancer found via mammography, the unnecessary radiation could be responsible for creating 75 new breast cancer cases. Of course, you don’t need to have a mammogram to be exposed to radiation. Chest x-rays and CT scans during physicals, dental x-rays, airport body scanners, computers, cell phones, and even compact fluorescent light bulbs all emit radiation, and we’re further exposed every time we fly in an airplane. Medical imaging, however, is now responsible for about half of our radiation dose, and the over-use of diagnostic tools like CT scans has devastating consequences.
The 70 million CT scans performed in this country in 2007, for example, could result in the development of nearly 30,000 cases of cancer down the road, including leukemia, colon, and lung cancer. Are all these scans necessary? I doubt it. The much-ballyhooed whole-body CT scans, for example, are actually worthless as a health screening tool, since no clear benefit has ever been proven.
Correcting Chemical Exposure
Here’s another way environmental toxins can harm us. Cadmium, one of many heavy metals that are turning up in our bodies, has been linked to increasing rates of breast cancer. Cadmium is an ingredient in commonly used fertilizers. This carcinogenic (cancer-causing) substance has leached into the food supply, and is now found in whole grains, vegetables, and even shellfish! One study of more than 55,000 post-menopausal women showed that the one-third with the highest cadmium levels in their bodies were 21% more likely to develop breast cancer. Cadmium is just one of many environmental toxins.
Many of these chemicals mimic the effects of estrogen, the hormone responsible for female sex characteristics. While estrogen is not a bad thing in normal doses, we are currently seeing a huge increase in a condition known as “estrogen dominance,” due to far too many estrogen-mimicking chemicals. Estrogen dominance has been linked to a number of health issues, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, genital irregularities, and, of course, cancer.
How To Restore Your Health
Clearly, radiation and environmental chemicals are not going away any time soon. Fortunately, there are a number of things we can all do to protect ourselves. First, avoid unnecessary medical X-rays whenever possible. Instead of having an annual mammogram, for example, tell your physician you would prefer breast thermography to screen for breast cancer. Thermography can detect cancer years before it appears in a mammogram. Similarly, discuss the need for routine dental X-rays with your dentist. The likelihood of developing thyroid cancer increases with the number of dental X-rays an individual has, according to a recent study.
Here are some other ways to avoid the consequences of environmental toxins that I have developed with the team at Oasis of Hope, where I am medical director:
Eat a nutritious, whole foods diet with as many organic ingredients as possible. Organic food reduces your body’s toxic load and gives it a chance to heal.
Pick up some inexpensive pH test strips to determine the acid levels of your body. Cancer and other ailments thrive in an acidic environment. To reduce acidity, I recommend more alkaline foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables.
Schedule a daily exercise session, if your doctor feels you’re healthy enough. Simply walking at a brisk enough pace to break a sweat helps your body eliminate toxins. Saunas are another option for healthy sweating.
Drink plenty of fresh, filtered water all throughout the day. Add a wedge of lemon. Citrus is not acidic in the body, so it’s a good addition to an alkaline diet.
Get plenty of sleep. Our bodies repair mechanisms work hard while we sleep to correct cellular malfunctions and to remove chemicals from the body, so sleep is actually a healing process.
If you are overweight, take steps to lose at least a few pounds. Fat cells play host to cancer-causing estrogenic chemicals.
Above all, continue to educate yourself about various resources and steps you can take to restore or maintain your health.
The key to staying well is not in your physician’s prescription pad; it’s in your own hands and I hope you will use it.
About Leigh Erin Connealy M.D.: Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D., attended the University of Texas School of Public Health, and then attended the University of Health Sciences Chicago Medical School. She completed her post-graduate training at the Harbor/UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. Dr. Connealy soon realized that conventional medicine had very limited returns and did not always improve the health of her patients.
Her patients were hungry for alternative approaches for improving their health. This led her to study integrative and complementary therapies, and since then she has revolutionized the landscape of medicine. Dr. Connealy feels that we must treat the patient with the disease and not the disease of the patient. She has discovered that many factors contribute to the disease process; therefore, many modalities must be used to reverse it. Find out more about Dr. Connealy at Perfectly Healthy, or at her website.
Picture courtesy ribarnica via Flickr.com.