Unusual Suspects: What is fueling the spread of disease?

Although eating right, drinking moderately, exercising regularly and not smoking are still important factors in warding off disease, more and more people are asking the question, “Is this enough?”

The fact is that today, cancer is more prevalent than ever. Nearly one out of every two Canadians will be affected by it. And many of those stricken by the disease will have followed the rules for healthy living. So what else is going on?

Where does it start?

Cancer occurs when cells are triggered to grow abnormally. Triggers include genetics, radiation and carcinogens – chemicals known or believed to cause cancer. We live in an increasingly chemical society. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, about five percent of cancers can be directly linked to environmental contaminants. That’s about 6,400 cases across the country each year.

We are what we eat, what we breathe and what we expose our bodies to in our day-to-day lives. If it’s on the shelf, it must be tested and safe, right? Not so. Currently, Canadian manufacturers do not have to identify carcinogens on their product labels.

Everything from fruits and vegetables, to beauty products, to cleaning supplies may contain carcinogens and could be accessories to the crime. One of the most important things we can do for ourselves is to be aware of what we are bringing into our homes and exposing our families to.

What is lurking in the produce aisle?

In its “CancerSmart Consumer Guide” (available on www.leas.ca, the Environmental Alliance Society (LEAS) lists the 15 most likely contaminated and the 15 least likely contaminated fruits and vegetables, based on data from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) 1994–1998 tests.

Clean up your cleaning supplies

Also listed in the CancerSmart Consumer Guide as being dangerous are cleaning products that contain these known carcinogens: silica, found in some abrasive cleaners and brass cleaners, and trisodium, found in laundry detergents.

When shopping for weed-control products, avoid those that contain Amitrole, Phenoxy herbicides, and Trifluralin.

The beauty myth

We all want to look our best, and we’re willing to pay dearly for make-up, shampoos, deodorants and hair spray. But would you still apply these products to your skin and scalp knowing that they contain ingredients suspected of causing cancer?

Here are just a few things that LEAS recommends we watch out for in personal care products:

Benzyl violet (violet 2 or violet 6B) – a colouring agent in cosmetics and nail polish
Coal tars – used in permanent hair dyes
Cocamide diethanolamine (cocamide DEA) – found in shampoos,lotions and creams
Formaldehyde - a preservative used in some cosmetics and nail hardeners

So what can we do about it?

There are many things you can do to minimize your exposure to harmful products.

If you’re concerned about food safety, you probably already look for organic produce at the supermarket. But if you can’t always buy organic, you can still dramatically lower your family’s exposure to chemical pesticides by choosing the least pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables.

Choose less toxic products for cleaning or, better yet, opt for homemade solutions and a little elbow grease. For a complete guide to less toxic products, including household cleaners, visit [www. lesstoxicguide.ca](http://www. lesstoxicguide.ca).

Want a greener home? Try the environmental cleaning solutions at [http:// housekeeping.about.com/od/environment/ Environmental_Cleaning_Solutions.htm](http:// housekeeping.about.com/od/environment/ Environmental_Cleaning_Solutions.htm).

The Environmental Defence website (www.environmentaldefence.ca) Toxic Nation campaign offers tips for reducing the toxic load in your home. You can download a “Make your home a healthy home” checklist.

It’s a difficult concept for most of us to steer clear of the make-up counter or beauty products aisle. But by replacing one or two products with less harmful or more natural alternatives, you’ll be making a huge leap towards looking and feeling good. Visit www.care2.com/greenliving for natural personal care solutions.

Finally, stay informed, be cautious and use your voice. Lobby regulatory bodies to enforce stricter regulations on manufacturers and to reduce the number of contaminants in products that we unwittingly bring into our homes. We all deserve to be happy and healthy.

15 Most Contaminated

  • apples
  • celery
  • cherries
  • grapes
  • grapefruit
  • leaf lettuce
  • head lettuce
  • nectarines
  • oranges
  • peaches
  • pears
  • potatoes
  • snow peas
  • spinach
  • strawberries

15 Least Contaminated

  • artichokes
  • asparagus
  • avocados
  • beets
  • corn
  • cranberries
  • eggplant
  • endive
  • leeks
  • onions
  • papaya
  • parsnips
  • pineapple
  • squash
  • zucchini