October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and while I support the underlying motivation to “find a cure” most of the funding raised by “pink ribbon” events is directed towards treatment, and not prevention.
As a Naturopathic Doctor we try to find the root of all illness, and in the case of most hormone related cancers (such as breast cancer) the role of environmental chemicals hasn’t received the kind of attention it deserves. Let’s start with Bisphenol A.
Bisphenol A (BPA)
BPA made headlines a few years ago when Health Canada banned its use in baby bottles. This chemical is still found in hard plastics marked with the recycling #7, on thermal receipts, in dental amalgams and in the lining of most cans. The issue with BPA is that it acts like a very strong estrogen and many studies have linked its use to changes in the breast and potentially an increased risk of breast cancer. And, recent research has linked in-utero exposure to BPA with an increased lifetime risk of cancer in mice. The available research on the harmful effects of BPA is quite astounding, yet Health Canada has yet to ban it. The good news is that you can take steps in your own life to avoid it!
- limiting canned foods unless they specifically say they don’t contain BPA; choose fresh or frozen food and bottled items instead. Eden Organic is one such brand that is found in Canada.
- buying only water bottles and baby bottles that explicitly say they are BPA-Free
- using glass bottles and reusable water bottles made from stainless steel or aluminum
- avoiding plastic food and beverage containers that are made with #7 plastic; you should see the number in a triangle on the bottom of the bottle.
- Washing your hands after touching thermal receipt paper.
Parabens and Pthalates
Parabens and pthalates are other two chemicals that act as endocrine disruptors, meaning they can act like estrogens. They are found in everything from plastics to cosmetics.
- Parabens will be listed as an ingredient. Look on the label for the following ingredients: methylparaben, propylparaben, isoparaben, or butylparaben.
- The generic “fragrance” is often a source of pthalates so it’s important to look for unscented or fragrance-free options. Cosmetic companies don’t have to list pthalates as a component of fragrance, so you have no way of knowing if they’re there.
- Pthalates are commonly found in PVC (polyvinylchloride), used in some toy manufacturing. Softer plactics that bend are more likely to contain pthalates.
What can you do?
- Choose personal care products wisely. The EWG’s Skin Deep database is a good place to start.
- Choose products with short ingredient lists with things you can pronounce. Smaller, eco-conscious companies like Anointment offer a wonderful selection of safe skin care products.
- Be wary of toys made in China, unless they are made by a reputable company. Choose wood over plastic and recycle plastic toys that are old or showing signs of breakdown.
- Choose glass over plastic when it comes to food storage. And, alternatives to plastic wrap do exist! I love the Abeego wraps (available at Nurtured) and use them in place of plastic. Reusable cloth snack bags are another alternative to plastic bags.
Who should be concerned about exposure to these chemicals? And, what can I do?
While no one is immune to the effects of these chemical estrogens, some people may be more concerned than others. These may include:
- People with a personal or family history of breast cancer, especially ER+ breast cancer.
- Women with endometriosis, or heavy painful periods.
- Couples who are having difficulty conceiving.
What can you do?
- Limit exposure! Be meticulous about what comes into your home.
- See a Naturopathic Doctor to ensure that your liver’s detoxification pathways are working optimally. ND’s also have access to specialized urine testing to test for pthalates and parabens if necessary.
- Lobby government to ban chemicals such as BPA, parabens and pthalates.