Susan Luck, Educational Director of the Earthrose Institute, discusses a recent CDC report on environmental toxins in humans and their effects on our health.
by Susan Luck, Educational Director, Earthrose Institute
In today’s world, many people experience unexplained symptoms that eventually drive them to our office seeking a diagnosis and treatment. Common complaints presented include unexplained onset of allergies, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, mood and behavioral changes, hormonal disruption, and immune and autoimmune issues.
Although environmental factors contribute to up to 80% of those seeking medical services, many practitioners do not have the information or tools to include an environmental assessment as part of their work up and therefore may be missing key information into the environmental triggers and what may be needed for an effective prevention strategy and treatment protocol.
It is estimated that currently there are 100,000 synthetic chemicals registered for commercial use in the world today with several thousand new ones being formulated every year. Few have been tested for human safety and while many are known to be potentially toxic and carcinogenic, new research is just beginning to show how low dose exposures over time impacts our health. We swallow, inhale, ingest, and absorb through our skin, plastics, pesticides, fire retardants, exhaust fumes, fragrances, and much more every day. They are ubiquitous and are in our homes, automobiles, cleaning products, cosmetics, clothing, children’s toys, and contribute to our continual exposure to many that have been classified as endocrine disruptor chemicals or EDCs.
A growing pandemic of endocrine-related disorders, including ADHD, Parkinsons, Alzheimers, diabetes, obesity, early puberty, infertility and other reproductive disorders, and childhood and adult cancers, is seriously undermining the health and wealth of our nation. Recent data from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) shows that all of these diseases can be caused by developmental exposure to EDCs in animal models.
Epidemiological evidence increasingly suggests that environmental exposures during critical windows of development including in utero, play a role in susceptibility to disease later in life, including breast and testicular cancers, and can be passed on through subsequent generations. Epigenetic modifications provide a link between the environment and alterations in gene expression that might lead to disease phenotypes.
Last month, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued their Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals and concluded that Americans of all ages carry a body burden of at least 148 chemicals, some of them banned for decades. This is the most comprehensive assessment to date on the exposure of the U.S. population to chemicals in our environment. The CDC measured 212 chemicals in people’s blood or urine-75 of which have never before been measured in the U.S. population. The new chemicals tested include acrylamide, arsenic, environmental phenols, including bisphenol A and triclosan, and perchlorate.
Although the full impact of exposures to endocrine disruptors is still to come, there can be no denying that we are witnessing a spike in breast cancer, testicular, and prostate cancers along with a huge increase in infertility in both men and women.
Children, particularly vulnerable, continue to have rising rates of autism, childhood cancers, chemical sensitivities, allergies, asthma, and ADHD. Scientists and advocacy groups are leading the way to informing the public, urging health policy actions, and confronting industry on this urgent issue.
Banned in Europe, and defended in the US by the chemical industry, Bisphenol A is an example of a known endocrine disruptor originally developed to replace DES. Today, it permeates our products and our bodies and is commonly found in umbilical cord blood. For the first time, research indicates that early exposure to PBA is a predictor for breast cancer later in life.
Today, women in the United State face a greater lifetime risk of breast cancer than any previous generation, having tripled during the past 40 years, with estimates of one in six women having a diagnosis in their lifetime. Only about 5 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have a link to the “breast cancer gene”. This means that the vast majority of women never know what “caused” their diagnosis.
Currently, 216 estrogen disruptor chemicals have been identified. Global research estimates that women’s cumulative exposures to estrogenic compounds, both exogenous and endogenous, may be responsible for up to 50% percent of all breast cancers today.
Known environmental factors that contribute to the increase breast cancer risk include: exposure to radiation from chest x-rays in childhood, hormone replacement therapy, alcohol, tobacco and second hand smoke. Breast cancer rates are higher in women who are obese, and women who gain excess weight during adulthood. In a surprising reversal, at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America this past month, a study was presented associating low-dose radiation from annual mammography screening with an increase in breast cancer risk in women with genetic or familial predisposition to breast cancer.
The degree of alarm within the scientific community concerning the dangers of radiation and hormone disrupting environmental pollutants is also apparent in a report recently released by the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), a European umbrella group of non-governmental research organizations. This report directly questions the growing tendency to label breast cancer a lifestyle and genetic disease and states, “We will not be able to reduce the risk of breast cancer without addressing preventable causes, particularly exposure to chemicals.”
To compound the problem of our toxic environment, we have refined away much of the nutritional value of our food supply, and replaced it with imitation foods lacking essential elements and protective phyonutrients. Our modern poor quality diet, combined with agricultural pesticides and animals being raised on antibiotics, chemical feed, and growth hormones, may have predisposed many of us to experience a toxic body burden, stressing our body’s ability to detoxify and eliminate these substances.
The good news is that cancer can be reduced by avoiding or lowering exposures to environmental toxicants as well as by optimizing our immune surveillance systems and cellular energy metabolism with nutritional intervention strategies.
As part of an integrative wellness assessment, and to be more effective in our outcomes, asking our patients about possible environmental exposures in the workplace, home, community, diet, and personal care products, can assist us in addressing how cumulative toxic exposures can impact our health, immune system, and genes and guide our intervention strategies.
There has been no public health policy campaign to address these environmental issues until last month, when the Endocrine Disruption Prevention Act, legislation introduced by Congressman Jim Moran of Northern Virginia and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, (HB 4190) and (S2828) proposed a bill to explore links between hormone disrupting chemicals in the environment and everyday products. This legislation also emphasizes the dramatic increase of autism, hyperactivity, diabetes, obesity, breast cancer, prostate cancer and other hormone related disorders.
As citizens and as practitioners, we now have a tremendous opportunity to impact environmental health policy by contacting our U.S. Senators and Representatives and asking them to cosponsor this bill. We need to share this with our colleagues, patients, and community to take action for changing current environmental health policy.