Your 12-year-old son brushes his teeth with fluoride-filled toothpaste upon awakening, grabs a protein bar for breakfast, texts on his iPhone on the way to school, and spends the school day working on an iPad. When he gets home, he grabs a bag of chips and a sports drink, jumps back on his iPad to do his homework after baseball practice, takes a shower using paraben-laden shampoo, and then slathers his body with lotion from the drugstore. An hour before bed, he nestles down with his Kindle to read a novel.
From the moment they wake to the time they go to sleep, our children are bombarded with toxins from their personal care products, their diet, storage containers they use, and even the cars in which they ride. They are also exposed to blue light wavelengths and harmful radiation from devices throughout a large portion of their day.
More than one in five personal care products contain toxic chemicals linked to cancer; furthermore, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics reports that a study of teenage girls found 13 hormone-disrupting cosmetic chemicals in their urine, including parabens, phthalates, and synthetic fragrances. The National Institutes of Health reports that these endocrine disruptors can increase the risk of developing reproductive cancers, including ovarian cancer—one of the most common cancers in adolescents.
“While ovarian cancer rates in children are still very rare, we are seeing more cases in adolescents,” says Dr. Brian Slomovitz, an ovarian cancer expert at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami. “We’re also seeing more adult cases of ovarian cancer occurring at younger ages.”
Cancer is now the leading cause of death by disease in children below age 15 in the United States.; one in 285 children will develop cancer by age 20, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Dr. Slomovitz elaborates on the way environmental factors contribute to the development of cancer in children: “While childhood cancers can be a result of DNA-related changes occurring early in life, the former is only one of the factors,” he explains. “There’s also a category of factor called ‘post-translational’ (what happens after DNA changes) that is affected by toxin exposure. Cancer development can be significantly influenced by toxin absorption, since the latter affects the proteins involved in its formation.”
It’s critical to consider the cancer-promoting environmental factors in your child’s home and lifestyle. However, reducing their exposure to cancer-related toxins doesn’t have to be overwhelming. These five primary strategies are a good start for detoxifying your child’s environment:
Fight food additives: There are over 10,000 additives that the FDA has approved for addition to our food, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG); the latter released a “Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives” that highlights those substances that are linked to serious health concerns, including cancer and endocrine disruption. Until the FDA follows other developed countries in banning or restricting food additives linked to cancer and other diseases, it’s up to us to read labels carefully and buy food that is free of the substances found in the guide (http://www.ewg.org/research/ewg-s-dirty-dozen-guide-food-additives). “Eating an unhealthy diet can lead to cancer,” Dr. Slomovitz says. “On the other hand, eating well as a child can also prevent cancers later on.”
Eliminate endocrine disruptors: Hormone-altering chemicals are lurking in many of the personal care products we put directly on our bodies, including soaps, lotions, and perfumes. Other synthetic chemicals are found in our cars, furniture, plastic food containers, and even children’s toys. Chemicals like Bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, fire retardants, and lead can cause a litany of health problems, including heightened risk of developing cancer, reproductive problems, obesity, early puberty, heart disease, and other problems. The EWG reports that 93 percent of Americans harbor BPA in their tissues. “It’s important to look at the personal care products, cosmetics, and other everyday products that we use,” Dr. Slomovitz said. He recommends that parents learn which ingredients are toxic, rather than relying on companies to self-regulate their ingredients. “Read labels. If a product contains toxic chemicals, avoid it.”
Do a digital detox: The pineal gland, responsible for producing melatonin and other hormones that regulate sleep, is highly sensitive to blue light wavelengths emitted from electronic devices. Because sleep is our brains’ prime detoxification opportunity, Dr. David Below, a fourth-generation chiropractor based in Cullman, Alabama, recommends that parents limit children’s use of these devices to two hours a day and turn them off no less than an hour before bedtime. A Swedish study found that cell-phone use, especially before age 20, raised the risk of developing brain tumors over time (Pathophysiology 2015).
Demand “green” vaccines: You can’t ignore the toxic ingredients listed on vaccine package inserts, which include sorbitol, sodium chloride, human albumin, formaldehyde, phenoxyethanol, aluminum phosphate, and MSG. The U.S. childhood immunization schedule specifies 26 vaccine doses for infants younger than one year – more than any other country in the world. And yet, research shows that infant mortality rates increased with the number of vaccines routinely given (Human and Experimental Toxicology, 2011). Studies on plant-derived green vaccines (which require no adjuvants like aluminum or monophosphoryl lipid A) show promising results as a safer approach to protection against infectious diseases, according to a review published in Human Vaccines (2009).
Sweat it out: Eliminating toxins from our systems is just as important as avoiding them in the first place. The American Institute for Cancer Research states that one in three kids in the U.S. is overweight or obese; however, if this cohort becomes leaner via healthier diet and increased activity, it could cut the incidence of major childhood cancer by one-third. “Obesity has huge implications for cancer development,” Dr. Slomovitz warns. If your family time usually consists of watching TV and movies, or playing video games, consider getting active outside instead. Designate a weekly family hike day, sign your child up for a team sport, or make time to chat while you walk the family dog together.
Between working, managing a household, and shuttling your kids to various activities, it’s a challenge to make healthful eating and living a priority. When you feel like adding one more thing to your (already full) plate is ultimately too difficult, consider this advice from a medical expert who diagnoses and treats children with reproductive cancers: “Modifying environmental and lifestyle inputs in your family’s life can definitely help your child now,” Dr. Slomovitz says, “but it can also help them enjoy better health and longevity as they approach adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, and into their senior years. A healthy lifestyle is going to yield benefits throughout their entire lives.”
1. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Market Shift: The Story of the Compact for Safe Cosmetics. November 2011. Available at: http://www.safecosmetics.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Market-Shift-report.pdf.
2. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Endocrine Disruptors. May 2010. Available at: https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/materials/endocrine_disruptors_508.pdf.
3. National Cancer Institute. “Cancer in Children and Adolescents.” May 12, 2014. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/types/childhood-cancers/child-adolescent-cancers-fact-sheet.
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13. American Institute for Cancer Research. “New Cancer Prevention Campaign Starts with Kids.” December 12, 2012. http://www.aicr.org/press/press-releases/cancer-prevention-for-kids.html.
14. Dr. Brian Slomovitz, ovarian cancer expert at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami: firstname.lastname@example.org.
15. Dr. David Below, chiropractor at Below Chiropractic Center in Cullman, Alabama: belowchiropractic.com.