Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of persistent chemical pollutants that have gained attention due to their potential health impacts. PFAS exposure occurs through various sources, including consumer products like waterproof and nonstick items, household cleaners, clothes, dental floss, in food and food packaging, in 45% of our water supply and more. In recent years, concerns about PFAS exposure and its harms have come to the forefront.
In the United States, the dangers of PFAS exposure were highlighted by a lawsuit involving a DuPont factory in West Virginia, which dumped PFAS waste into the environment, contaminating drinking water and air. The subsequent study revealed a “probable link” between a specific PFAS variant and health issues like high cholesterol, thyroid disease, and certain cancers. Research conducted by scientists such as Grandjean and Weihe has shown that PFAS can interfere with immune responses, potentially reducing the effectiveness of routine vaccinations. However, broader concerns arise due to the numerous health conditions associated with PFAS exposure, including endocrine disruption, immune dysfunction, liver disease, asthma, infertility, and neurobehavioral problems.
Despite the widespread presence of PFAS and their potential health risks, many individuals, including medical professionals, remain unaware or unconcerned about the issue. The complexity of PFAS-related health problems, coupled with their prevalence in everyday products, makes it paramount to address this issue now. In fact, a report published in The Lancet in 2022 estimated that nine million people die each year from chronic diseases caused by environmental toxins. The connection between environmental exposures and chronic diseases emphasizes the need for prevention and recognition of the role of pollutants like PFAS in disease development.
To address the challenges posed by PFAS exposure, it is essential to raise awareness about their potential harms and promote strategies to reduce contact with these chemicals. Researchers continue to investigate the long-term impacts of PFAS on human health, particularly as exposed individuals transition from childhood to adulthood. Could PFAS chemicals be partly responsible for the increased incidence of multiple cancers in people under 50, and especially between 30-39? By understanding the breadth of health conditions associated with PFAS and taking proactive steps to minimize exposure, individuals and communities can work towards better overall health and well-being.
To lower our exposure to PFAS and protect our health, here are three things we can do:
By being aware of PFAS and taking these steps, we can minimize our exposure to these potentially harmful chemicals and promote better health for ourselves and our families.
Artificial sweeteners are popular for those looking to reduce their sugar intake, reduce calories, and maintain a healthy lifestyle. However, recent research raises concerns about the safety of these sweeteners, particularly in relation to their potential link to cancer. The evidence linking aspartame (aka, NutraSweet, Equal, and Canderel), in particular, to our health is so concerning that in July 2023 it will be listed as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the World Health Organization’s (WHO) cancer research arm. The final nail in the coffin came from a recent large cohort study conducted in France that revealed some alarming findings.
The study, conducted over a period of 12 years and involving more than 100,000 adults, examined the associations between artificial sweetener intake and cancer risk. The researchers focused on three commonly used sweeteners: aspartame, acesulfame-K (aka, Sunett and Sweet One), and sucralose (aka, Splenda). By analyzing dietary records and using statistical models to adjust for various factors, they found that individuals consuming higher amounts of artificial sweeteners had a higher risk of overall cancer compared to non-consumers. Specifically, aspartame and acesulfame-K were associated with an increased risk of cancer. Furthermore, the risks were found to be particularly elevated for breast cancer and obesity-related cancers (e.g., gastrointestinal, ovarian, endometrial, kidney, etc.) among artificial sweetener consumers.
Although these types of observational studies cannot determine true causality, the researchers conducted sensitivity analyses to address some concerns and validated their results. There is also extensive mechanistic animal data linking the use of aspartame to cancer risk.
If the possible risk of cancer was not enough, the WHO also advises people to not use non-sugar sweeteners for weight control, as evidence suggests that use of non-sugar sweeteners does not help in reducing body fat in the long run for adults or children. Added to this are the potential undesirable effects from long-term use of non-sugar sweeteners, such as an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and mortality in adults. There are those who will say the harms of aspartame are exaggerated and that you need to consume copious amounts over a lifetime to result in harm. Yet that still acknowledges that aspartame is not healthy per se. Perhaps it is prudent to try and avoid consuming a “possible carcinogen” when there are so many healthy alternatives.
What can consumers do?
While further research is needed to confirm the findings and establish a clear cause-and-effect relationship, it is prudent for consumers to be cautious when consuming artificial sweeteners. Opting for natural sweeteners like stevia, honey, or fruit can be a healthier alternative. Here are three healthy alternatives:
All three options provide a hydrating and safer alternative to diet soda. Cheers!
Image credit: Mikhail Nilov
The thought that relentlessly haunts cancer survivors, even after successfully having their illness treated, is the fear of its return. This becomes especially salient around the time of getting regular post-treatment screenings. Unfortunately, even when we think the cancer is gone, it is common that some cancer cells remain and are dormant. Scientists have been studying how dormant cancer cells, which are inactive and hidden, can become active again and lead to cancer recurrence. A new study focused on the role of stress and a type of white blood cell called neutrophils and how stress can cause recurrence of disease.
The researchers discovered that stress hormones can make neutrophils release certain proteins called S100A8/A9, which cause inflammation in the body – one factor linked with increased risk of cancer. These proteins activate a substance called myeloperoxidase and lead to the buildup of harmful substances called oxidized lipids inside the neutrophils. When these lipids are released from the neutrophils, they stimulate the growth of cancer cells, causing them to wake up from dormancy and form new cancers.
In patients with lung cancer who had their tumors completely removed, higher levels of S100A8/A9 in their blood were linked to a shorter time until the cancer came back. However, the researchers found that by targeting either S100A8/A9 or certain receptors called β2-adrenergic receptors, which are involved in the stress response and cancer growth, they could prevent the reactivation of dormant cancer cells caused by stress.
These findings show that there is a connection between stress, the activity of specific neutrophils, and early recurrence of cancer. Managing stress is important for cancer patients, and here are three ways to do it:
Remember, managing stress is not only beneficial for your mental health but may also play a role in preventing cancer recurrence and improving your long-term outcomes.
Photo credit: Rhoda Baer
In recent years, the widespread prevalence of microplastics has emerged as a growing concern. These tiny plastic particles, measuring less than 5mm in size, have infiltrated various ecosystems, including our oceans, rivers, or bodies, and even the air we breathe. While their impact on the environment is well-documented, the potential health risks posed by microplastics to human beings have raised significant alarm bells among scientists and researchers.
Several studies have shown that certain types of microplastics, such as phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA), which are known endocrine disruptors, can leach from plastic particles. These chemicals have the potential to mimic or interfere with natural hormones in the body, leading to disruptions in the endocrine system. While human exposure to microplastics is widespread, it is challenging to establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship between microplastics and endocrine-related health issues.
One study examined the presence of microplastics in human stool samples. The study found microplastics in all the samples analyzed, indicating that humans are exposed to microplastics through ingestion. Another study analyzed the presence of microplastics in human tissues, including the colon and another study found MPs in lung tissue. It is estimated that on average humans consume a credit card worth of microplastics on a weekly basis.
There is a more definitive harmful effect of microplastics when we look to the animal studies. Research suggests that exposure to microplastics and can impact inflammation-related disorders. An animal study conducted at the University of California exposed mice to various concentrations of microplastic particles commonly in the environment, including polyethylene and polystyrene, and found that there was a significant increase in inflammation markers, indicating a potential correlation between microplastics exposure and inflammation-related health issues. The study suggested that microplastics may play a role in the development or exacerbation of conditions such as asthma, allergies, cardiovascular diseases, and autoimmune disorders, which linked with chronic inflammation.
Microplastics have even been found to disrupt the gut microbiota. A study explored the impact of microplastics on the gut microbiota—a complex community of microorganisms residing in our digestive system that plays a crucial role in maintaining overall health. The researchers exposed zebrafish to environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastics commonly found in marine ecosystems. The results revealed a significant disruption in the composition and diversity of the zebrafish gut microbiota. This disruption was accompanied by microbiota dysbiosis, metabolomic dysregulation, and oxidative stress. Disruptions in gut microbiota have been associated with a wide range of health issues, including metabolic disorders, immune dysfunction, and mental health disorders, suggesting that microplastics may have the potential to disturb the delicate balance of our gut microbiota and contribute to various health complications.
Microplastics undergo various changes in the digestive system and appear to be different in structure when they reach the colon. A recent study found that consuming microplastics can alter the composition of the microbial community in the human colon. The researchers suggest that some bacteria in the colon may attach to the surface of microplastics, leading to the formation of biofilms. These findings indicate that microplastics can have negative effects on digestive health. Given the growing exposure to microplastics in the food and beverages we consume, it is important to investigate how plastics affect the functioning of the gut microbiome and whether they can be broken down by digestion and intestinal bacteria.
While these studies provide valuable insights into the presence of microplastics in humans, they do not establish a clear cause-and-effect relationship between microplastics and health issues. Further research is needed to understand the potential long-term effects of microplastics on the endocrine system and human health. Controlled human studies, along with more comprehensive monitoring and analytical techniques, are essential for drawing more definitive conclusions.
As the research in this field continues to progress, it is crucial to prioritize measures to reduce microplastic pollution and limit human exposure. By minimizing the production and consumption of single-use plastics and promoting sustainable waste management practices, we can contribute to a healthier environment and potentially reduce the potential risks associated with microplastics to the endocrine system and human health.
Reducing exposure to microplastics is essential for both personal and environmental well-being. Here are three simple ways to minimize your exposure to microplastics:
By incorporating these simple practices into your daily life, you can significantly reduce your exposure to microplastics and contribute to a healthier environment.
Photo: Close-up of microplastics. Credit – pcess609 Getty Images / iStockphoto
The American Cancer Society recommends that cancer patients aim for 150 minutes, or 2.5 hours, of physical activity a week. Broken down over seven days, this amount of time averages out to about twenty-two minutes a day. If you think about it this way, this is an incredibly doable goal. What’s even better is that those twenty-two minutes don’t have to be done at once.
In fact, research suggests that shorter bouts of exercise may have greater health benefits than longer endurance workouts. A 2016 study by Martin Gibala and his colleagues at McMaster University found that in previously sedentary individuals brief, but strenuous (10 minutes total, with only three 20 second episodes of flat-out exertion) exercise bouts three times a week for 12 weeks resulted in similar improvements in physiological and biological measures of fitness compared to those who exercised 45 minutes a week for twelve weeks.
It seems that benefits are also derived from bouts of intense exercise even as short as 4 seconds every hour! A study published last week by Edward Coyle and his team from the Human Performance Laboratory at University of Texas at Austin found that hourly 4 second bursts of maximal intensity cycle sprints interrupting prolonged sitting lowered the next day’s biological response to a high fat meal, decreasing markers of cardiovascular risk (triglyceride spike).
Previous research found the same effect for three 10-minute walks compared to a 30-minute walk in adults with borderline hypertension. The shorter walks had the same effect on blood pressure, but unlike the thirty-minute walk, they also reduced spikes in blood pressure, and so they had greater implications for overall health. We also know that simply sitting less and moving more is the ideal approach, as research suggests that:
Exercise During a Pandemic
The extend time we are all spending at home due to SARS-CoV-2 virus and the ensuing COVID-19 illness is resulting in excess sitting and lack of exercise. However, this is a time to stand up and get moving as being in motion will improve all aspects of your health, boost your immune system, and create an environment that can better keep you virus free.
The human body, which is an evolutionary masterpiece of biological engineering, is designed to be in motion. Yet in large part, most of the hours of our lives are spent sitting. Recently, scientists have discovered that sitting is becoming a major health liability, and it is as detrimental to our health as smoking or eating poorly or any other number of less-than-healthy lifestyle choices that make us vulnerable to disease.
It is a well-accepted fact that exercise lowers your risk of cancer and other diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as leading to increased quality and quantity of life. As we are all more or less isolated in our homes, how do we make it work for ourselves.
Making it Work for You
We believe that the best coach is our own body, so listen to your body and respond to its requests and needs. If you feel strong, balanced, flexible, and confident, you’re likely on the right track. Getting aerobic exercise (elevating your heart rate) on a regular basis is important, as is keeping your muscle strength up.
Break Up Your Day with Exercise Bursts
Break Up Your Sitting Time
Based on multiple studies, we encourage you to break up your sitting time by at least standing up:
Walk Instead of Sitting
Develop a Fitness Routine
When you are ready for aerobic training and fitness, we suggest finding a friend to join you. For Alison, having a workout partner is an essential part of improving her fitness that helps keep her motivated and makes her responsible to someone other than herself.
Build your strength and your stamina. Resistance work is great for building muscle mass and protecting bone health. And your own body is your best source of resistance. A near perfect exercise is the simple plank. This activates your large muscle groups and builds arm strength. You can include free weights or resistance bands to create more tension on the muscles.
Start with something easily accessible that works with your schedule and temperament. Alison admires the runners who jog by our house every morning and evening, but she has no desire to be one of them. Be honest with yourself about what you want to do and what you can sustain. You don’t have to run a marathon. You just have to find a way to move more that works for you.
SLEEP AS A SUPERNUTRIENT
Sleeping well is profoundly healing; a vital “activity” in which we must engage to foster well-being. Virtually nothing else can change your outlook on life and your ability to heal as much as sleep does, and there’s a lot to be said about what goes on biologically during these hours, too. Anticancer living means prioritizing this highly productive healing time, and addressing any obstacles or difficulties. Your body will thank you!
Taking Pills versus Changing Behaviors
We are strong proponents of cancer survivors and others avoiding sleeping pills. There are of course times when taking sleeping pills may be appropriate, under the guidance of a physician, to help break a bad cycle or for a limited period to help with jet lag. But it is vital to understand that sleeping pills do not tackle the root problem leading to sleep disturbances. Also, pill-assisted sleep is not truly restorative sleep. While sleeping pills do put you to sleep, benzodiazepines and other drugs do not move you through all stages of sleep. In fact, no drug on the market increases the deepest stages of sleep, the restorative part of sleep, critical for maintaining health. So, you may feel like you have gotten a good night’s sleep, but the true restoration needed to improve your health will still be missing.
Methods for Improving Sleep
There are several anticancer living approaches to addressing the stressors that inhibit healthy sleep, and these include the following:
COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY-INSOMNIA (CBT-I)
This short, focused talk therapy is extremely effective in treating insomnia. In just a few weeks, patients learn to change their sleep habits and research shows that it is much more effective than prescription drugs in providing long- term results. CBTI can be delivered in person, in group formats, by telephone, or via internet-based treatment and has been shown to have long-term benefits for improving sleep.
In his work at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience, UCLA, Michael Irwin, MD, has done remarkable research that looks at the efficacy of tai chi for helping breast cancer survivors who suffer from insomnia. The results show that tai chi promotes “robust” improvements in sleep duration and quality, which are comparable to CBTI, or talk therapy, and provides additional benefits of reduction of depression and daytime fatigue. This is a remarkable finding in that CBTI has been the gold standard nonpharmaceutical treatment for insomnia— but it can be expensive. Tai chi, on the other hand, is often offered at community or senior centers, public libraries, or in outdoor parks, for little or no cost. Plus, there is the added benefit of doing it as part of a group, which bestows additional health benefits associated with being connected to a social group or network. Irwin notes that the subtle, rhythmic movements of tai chi relax the body, slow breathing, and reduce inflammation, which is associated with cancer recurrence.
Irwin’s study recruited ninety breast cancer survivors ranging in age from fortytwo to eighty-three. Half the women were in a group that engaged in weekly CBTI and the other group did weekly tai chi for three months. Both groups were closely monitored monthly, and fifteen months later both groups reported continued improved sleep and less fatigue. Not only was tai chi as effective as CBTI at improving sleep outcomes, Irwin found that tai chi led to greater reduction in inflammatory markers than CBTI. They also demonstrated that this practice reduced inflammatory gene expression profiles— a key factor in preventing disease onset or progression, including cancer.
This study, Irwin believes, points to the importance of sleep in terms of overall health and homeostasis (internal balance). “We know that quality sleep is important to the regulation of our endocrine system, the sympathetic nervous system, and the immune system— three systems that need to be well balanced in order to stave off serious diseases, including cancers. Making lifestyle changes such as engaging in tai chi, for example, can rebalance one’s circadian rhythm and restore and reinforce healthy sleep architecture, which are thought to be important in promoting health and even possibly in preventing cancer recurrence.”
Meditation has also been shown to promote restful sleep. Irwin and his team taught meditation to a small group of people over fifty-five years of age who complained of moderate sleep disruption. These meditators were compared to another control group of the same age that was given basic sleep education. The meditators not only slept better but also reported less depression and daytime fatigue. Also important, in study after study we see that participating in meditation also leads to higher melatonin levels, the hormone that is necessary to help us initiate and maintain our sleep.
In a study conducted at the University of Rochester, four hundred cancer survivors who were experiencing sleep disturbances reported that both their subjective and objective sleep quality improved after attending two yoga sessions a week for just four weeks. In addition, research we conducted at MD Anderson in women with breast cancer undergoing radiotherapy found that those who practiced yoga up to three times a week during radiotherapy had better cortisol regulation than a light stretching control group at the end of treatment and one month later. In fact, cortisol levels for the women in the yoga group dropped more on a daily basis than that of the control group, allowing the body to relax and prepare itself for sleep. We have also found that women undergoing chemotherapy who practice yoga at least two times a week or more also report improved sleep outcomes. Though more research is needed to show if tai chi, meditation, yoga, or other mind- body practices have a long-term impact on sleep quality and health outcomes, the data that’s been gathered is promising.