Finally…Connecting the Dots

Well, my stint as a professional blogger for Time Magazine is ancient history. Ironically, instead of giving me a burning desire to blog,  it turned me off of blogging for awhile. Not in any theoretical sense, I was just bone tired of cranking out words. Even last month’s mammogram mayhem wasn’t enough to draw me out of my anti-blogging funk. (Maybe because I had so much to say…I just couldn’t begin to distill it down.)

But today is different. Today I want to shout from the rooftops about a recently published article in the New York Times. An article that made me want to jump up and say “Hallelujah!” The op-ed, titled “Cancer from the Kitchen” and written by Nicholas Kristof, is about the connection between chemicals in the environment and breast cancer. Long before I was diagnosed with breast cancer I was frustrated by the lack of attention given to environmental toxins and their role in cancer. Since my diagnosis, my low-grade irritation transformed into a red-hot annoyance. So I was thrilled to see someone at the NYT discussing the subject.

In a nutshell: it’s the estrogen stupid. Scientists have long known that a woman’s lifetime exposure to estrogen is directly linked to her risk of breast cancer. The more estrogen percolating through her bloodstream, the higher her risk of breast cancer creeps. That’s because estrogen fuels rapid cell division in breast tissue and cancer is a disease of rapid cell production.

But what scientists are only now beginning to understand (insert sound of forehead smacking here) is just how much environmental estrogen is contributing to breast cancer rates. More than 80,000 new chemicals have been developed since World War II, states Kristof, but “even of the major chemicals, fewer than 20 percent have been tested for toxicity.” And, since 1975, a woman’s risk of breast cancer has gone from 1 in 100 to 12 in 100.

Many of these chemicals act like estrogen in the human body, meaning they are estrogenic. These substances aren’t esoteric agents handled by people in biohazard gear, these chemicals are in our homes, more specifically they are in our pantries and in our medicine cabinets. They hide in plain sight in our detergents, our perfumes, our make-up, and our plastics. Estrogen swims in the food we eat and the lotion we slather onto our skin. Over the years I’ve written about this topic at length for Health Magazine, Yoga Journal, and others. In doing so, I’ve interviewed some of the top endocrinologists in the country. They’ve been sounding the alarm bells but no one seems to be listening.

Earlier this year a 10-year-old girl in California was diagnosed with breast cancer. (Here’s a link to her blog.) Makes you wonder how bad things will need to get before more people get red hot and insist on a change.

4 Responses

  1. Beth says:

    10 years old??? That’s crazy. Have you come across the top things to avoid/change? Kind of like the top pesticide fruit list? It’s so overwhelming. But my baby has her plastic bowls and bottles warmed daily. Ack!

  2. Catherine Guthrie says:

    Definitely! Here are four things you can do right now:

    *Eliminate plastics #3, 6, and 7 from your kitchen. Containers made with these three plastics in particular are known to leach hormone-altering chemicals into foods and beverages, especially when heated. Recycle them if you can!

    *Don’t put any plastics through the dishwasher. The heat weakens their molecular structure making the plastic more likely to seep chemicals into foods next time you use it.

    *Toss any plastic containers that have gouges or scratches. A marred surface is more likely to bleed chemicals into food.

    *Buy BPA-free baby bottles, sippy cups, and food-storage containers. The sale of baby products made with hormone-leaching plastics is now banned in Canada and Europe. Maybe someday the US will get onboard. Until then, here’s a link to a list of safe products. (Caveat: even if a product is on the safe list, if you can find time, double check by either calling or logging onto the company’s web site.)

  3. Melanie says:

    I wish as much stink would be made about this as was made about the mammogram guidelines.

  4. Paul says:

    Hi, Catherine,

    It’s great to find your blog. A friend passed along your article, “The Light-Cancer Connection,” and I found my way from there to here.

    I was struck by your comment that you have “interviewed some of the top endocrinologists in the country. They’ve been sounding the alarm bells but no one seems to be listening.” One key reason for this, in my opinion, is the horrendous state of what Aldo Leopold called “an ecological education” in this country. Americans–even doctors and researchers and government officials, people with PhDs–are pathetically educated when it comes to what we call “the environment.” (Even by naming it so, we separate ourselves from it.) We go through college and graduate school without ever having to take a class where we might learn basic ecological laws such as ‘everything is connected’ and ‘there is no away.’ I am endlessly frustrated, for example, by our human ability to imagine that we are not affected by the toxins we’ve poured into the land, water, and sky around us. Toxins in our food? Who would have thunk it–unless you understand basic ecology, and then it makes perfect sense. A link between breast cancer and artificial light at night, or toxins our kitchen? Same thing–we don’t make these connections because we’re so separated from the natural world of which we are part. In my hopeful moments I believe that with more and more of us talking about this, more and more good people in the general public will begin to stand up, speak out, etc. In my less hopeful moments, I feel as though we as a society are barreling down a path with no breaks.

    Thanks for your work. Sincerely,