By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
For the last 90 years, heart disease has consistently remained the leading cause of death, claiming the lives of 375,000 Americans every year. But in recent years, according to the CDC, a new trend has emerged: In some states, cancer has actually started to surpass heart disease for that dubious distinction. In fact, in 2014, 22 states reported cancer as their number-one cause of death. Folks, this alarms me… As much as I’d like to report that heart disease death rates are going down, they aren’t. It’s cancer that’s on the rise!
What Causes Cancer?
Cancer is a complicated disease with many potential causes. Genetics may play a role, as can several other factors that are beyond our control. But we also know that there are a lot of cancer risk factors that we are able to control, many of which surround us every single day. In fact, our homes—our havens from all the dangers in the outside world—may very well harbor some very serious and silent threats that could potentially increase the risk of certain cancers.
Here’s some good news…It’s relatively easy to reduce cancer risk in your home. Here are 3 steps I suggest you take:
Purify Your Air
I strongly suspect that environmental pollution is contributing to the rise in cancer rates. But it’s not just the air outside that’s problematic. Indoor air can be just as, or even more, polluted than outdoor air. Bacteria, viruses, asbestos, carbon monoxide, lead, mold, formaldehyde, household chemicals and cleaning supplies, and radon are just a few of the airborne threats that in lurk in our homes with no telltale warning signs.
One of the smartest and easiest things you can do to counter a lot of these assaults is to use an air filter/purifier in your home. Good quality air filters and purifiers can remove up to 99 percent of the pollutants in your home—everything from thick and dense to low-micron particles, as well as gases, viruses, dangerous bacteria, dust mites, fungi, mold, pollen, animal dander, and other allergens. Be sure you buy a true HEPA filter (not “HEPA-like”) for best protection.
Radon gas is another concern. According to a paper published in 2016, “Radon exposure is the second most common cause of lung cancer and the first risk factor for lung cancer in never-smokers.”
I saw this happen firsthand when I was a young doctor in my 40s. A fellow 39-year-old colleague developed lung cancer even though he never smoked. He got it from the radon gas seeping into his house.
So what exactly is radon? It’s a colorless, tasteless, odorless gas emitted from the ground that can enter your house through cracks in walls, foundations, basement floors, and other openings. When it gets trapped indoors, it can build up to dangerously high concentrations and this is what makes it a significant cancer risk factor.
How do you know if there’s radon gas lurking in your home? Radon testing. It’s the only way to check the radon gas levels in the air in your home. You can hire a professional or do it yourself (kits are readily available at hardware stores). If you discover that your home has high levels of radon gas, don’t despair—but act fast to correct the issue. Hire a contractor certified in radon mitigation who can seal cracks, address airflow issues, and make other fixes necessary to protect you and your family.
Finally, you’d be shocked to learn about some of the toxic ingredients in regular everyday cleaning supplies. Formaldehyde, ammonia, and morpholine are just some of the common components found in products millions of people use and breathe in every day.
Look under your kitchen sink. It’s probably a cesspool of unnecessary chemicals. Get rid of them and opt for safer alternatives. Seventh Generation, Ecover, and Earth Friendly products are three great brands I like. Or better yet, use safe, natural cleaning agents you already have in your kitchen or laundry room: white vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, and Borax.
Reduce Electromagnetic Pollution
Unlike it was 25 years ago, almost everyone now has a cell phone, laptop, and personal tablet. Wifi (“wireless fidelity”) is available at most coffee shops, airports, restaurants, and stores. Cities themselves are even wireless via “hot spots.”
While I embrace technological advancement (and use these devices myself), I worry – based on the literature I’ve seen – that all this convenience has an unseen cost: “electropollution.”
This is the collective term for unseen, unfelt, and unnatural electromagnetic radiation. We get it from our computers, TVs, microwaves, smart meters, outside power lines, and even the wiring in the walls of our homes. The worst culprits, though, are wireless devices that we tend to carry with us at all times.
Research is starting to uncover what a real cancer risk factor electropollution might be, especially with brain tumors. I’m not suggesting that anyone shun technology, but there are a few lifestyle adjustments you can make to minimize the risks associated with electropollution:
- Keep your landline. I know the trend these days is to forgo landlines in favor of cell phones all the time. But old-fashioned phones with cords really are the safest bet if you plan to hold a phone to your ear for a long period of time.
- Keep wireless devices away from your head. Use the speaker function if you plan on talking on your cell phone for more than a couple minutes. For simple communication, text instead of call.
- Get your computers wired. Ethernet cables may not be the most visually appealing or convenient way to stay connected, but it’s the safer, longer-term approach to staying connected.
- Keep laptops and tablets a good distance from your body—at least 8 inches away.
- Keep your phone away from your body when not using it – if you carry your phone in your bra, pants pocket, or even a purse under your arm, you’re getting exposed to radiation as the phone sends out and receives signals. Keep it several feet away from you, on airplane mode (yes, we all need to know what time it is), or even off when not in use.
Filter Your Water
Water…we need it to live, but could it also be harming us? Maybe. Just look at what happened in Flint, MI, a couple years ago. To cut costs, the state decided to source the city’s water from the Flint River rather than paying to pipe it in from Detroit. The residents quickly realized something was very wrong when they started becoming sick with rashes, memory issues, and other unexplained symptoms.
It turns out the lead level in the water was 13,200 parts per billion (ppb)—almost 900 times higher than the level deemed safe by the EPA.
While this is an extreme case, tap water across the rest of the country isn’t necessarily what I’d call safe. And lead isn’t the only toxin of concern. In 2009, the Environmental Working Group found evidence of 316 pollutants in tap water across 45 states—contaminants such as industrial solvents, pesticides, heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, and even biological waste.
You obviously can’t give up water. But you can and should purify your water prior to drinking it.
Filtered pitchers such as Brita use carbon to remove chlorine and some bacteria and pollutants. While it’s not the best purification method, it’s better than drinking straight out of the tap.
Two much more effective purification methods are reverse osmosis and distillation, both of which are systems you can have installed in your home. While both are very different in how they eliminate impurities, they do have one thing in common: They also remove health-enhancing minerals naturally found in water. So, I recommend adding an electrolyte mix to your water to replenish these minerals.
Cancer prevention can and should start in your home. By cleaning and purifying your air and water, and reducing electropollution in your house, you are well on your way to dramatically decreasing some major cancer risk factors.
Another crucial cancer prevention step is to eat right – that means adopting an anti-inflammatory diet. It’s all the little things you eat, drink, breathe in or absorb that make a difference over the long run.
- American Lung Association. “Indoor Air Pollutants and Health“. Accessed Aug. 25.
- Sheen S, et al. An updated review of case-control studies of lung cancer and indoor radon—Is radon the risk factor for lung cancer? Ann Occup Environ Med. 2016 Mar 3;28:9.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Prevalence of Heart Disease – United States 20015.” Accessed Aug 25.
- American Heart Association. “CDC – U.S. Deaths from heart disease, cancer on the rise.” Accessed Aug 25.
- American Lung Association. “Healthy Air Indoors.” Accessed Aug. 25.
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