Childhood Cancer Rates Rising

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A friend from high school lost her 9 year old daughter to cancer on Saturday. This post is dedicated to Sophie June.

According to the American Cancer Society “the incidence of childhood cancers has been rising slightly for the past decade.” But that’s o.k. Really. They go on to say “because of treatment advances, more than 80 %  of children with cancer now survive more than 5 years.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME? That is supposed to be comforting? 

First off, RATES ARE RISING PEOPLE! Why?? Second, who hasn’t seen the emotional, bodily and financial  toll that chemo, radiation and disfiguring surgery can cause, not to mention the many unknown consequences later in life. I’m so glad treatments are improving and saving lives. So grateful there are scientists who dedicate their careers to battling this beast. I’m so glad there are brave families who participate in cancer treatment research. But why the relative silence surrounding prevention? Do an internet search of childhood cancer causes and I found NONE speaking about funding research surrounding prevention. The American Cancer society website speaks to cancer being caused by changes in DNA, and “there is no way to prevent childhood cancers.” Wow, pretty definitive statement.  I say we know a lot more about potential causes than that. Why have we all sipped the kool-aid?

Environmental carcinogens are responsible for a far greater number of cancers than previously believed according to the 2010 report of a presidential advisory panel (and we do know children  are much more susceptible to environmental toxins-take lead for example). The President’s Cancer Panel was established by the National Cancer Act of 1971.  An annual report is submitted to the president describing the status of the “war on cancer” and identifying both progress and barriers to continued advances. 

 ”For the past 30 years … there has been systematic effort to minimize the importance of environmental factors in carcinogenesis,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan, director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

“There has been disproportionate emphasis on lifestyle factors and insufficient attention paid to discovering and controlling environmental exposures,” he said. “This report marks a sea change.”  Environmental carcinogens are responsible for a far greater number of cancers than previously believed — a fact that suggests eradicating these environmental threats should be a priority for President Obama — according to the report of a presidential advisory panel. 

 I would have to disagree to some extent with Dr. Landrigan. With the exception of sun exposure and smoking, I don’t think there has been near enough emphasis on lifestyle factors either. Associations have been found between consumption of certain foods and cancer (such as grilled meats and nitrates found in lunch meat and hot dogs, and many other unnecessary food additives). There is also extensive evidence that what we eat has the potential to prevent cancer (garlic, onions, berries, cruciferous vegetables, mushrooms, and green tea to name a few).

I think there are myriad reasons for this travesty. First, medicine and research have long been focused on treating diseases. It is a mindset as well as much more exciting and lucrative to pioneer new treatments.  Again, I am incredibly grateful for this research. I only wish it wasn’t essentially the only research. Second, a lot of people have a lot of money to lose, if environmental factors and food additives are definitively linked to cancer, especially childhood cancers. In 2010 The New York Times reported David Koch, President of Koch Industries, was forced to step down from his position on the National Cancer Institute Advisory Board when it was revealed his company was lobbying against designating formaldehyde  as a known carcinogen. He sat on the panel while also owning a company with a “clear interest in promoting formaldehyde.”  Huge conflict of interest on a panel designated to influence public policy. How often does this type of conflict of interest occur? I am betting a lot more often than we know. 

When environmental toxins are studied, they are isolated. They look at how one chemical affects lab animals. That is the way good research can conclude this thing causes that thing. But then the research is released and the threat often seems minor. You may have to be exposed to the chemical at such high amounts, it seems a ridiculous concern. The problem is,  people don’t live in these isolated conditions. We are exposed to multiple toxins in varying levels daily. What is the additive affect of these toxins? Or worse the potential synergistic  affects? When 1 +1= more than 2. Researchers need to be asking more of these questions. We need to be demanding it. The rate of childhood cancer should not be rising. My prayer is that one day no parent will hear the words “it’s cancer.”



Are we growing even more unhealthy?

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A large study from the Netherlands found adult generations today are less healthy than previous generations. The study found, in general, obesity, overweight, high blood pressure and diabetes (in men only) occurred more often in more recently born generations than those born 10 years earlier. For example, 40% of the males who were in their 30s at baseline were classified as overweight; 11 years later the prevalence of overweight among the second generation of men in their 30s had increased to 52%. The study does not draw any conclusions regarding why this might be, but I don’t think anyone would disagree likely causes include a poor diet and lack of exercise. If the trends continue the ramifications are astounding. I would love to see the results of a similar study conducted in the U.S.

The good news is these trends can change for the better with more healthy lifestyle education, healthier school lunches, a focus on preventative medicine, and, of course, greater utilization of health coaches!

Healthy Kids Today-Prevent Cancer Tomorrow

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According to the American Institute for Cancer Research  approximately 1 in 3 cancers could be prevented if we ate better, exercised more and weighed less. Wow, that is huge- 1 in 3! They have begun a new campaign to encourage families to do just that.  They are providing great information, recipes, games and activities to share with children to encourage healthy habits now and in the future. 

I really feel information and knowledge are so important. I know it is hard to eat right. I know bacon tastes sooo good. But I also know many people who don’t really believe  what they put in their body really matters, especially if they don’t have a weight problem. They put the best oil in their car but think nothing of eating fast food regularly. Ugh! Not to mention the fact we are inundated with so many unhealthy images. When was the last time you saw a commercial for apples on television? How about McDonald’s or Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, oh yeah, 5 minutes ago. When I watch t.v. I can crave things I don’t even like. 

So go visit American Institute for Cancer Research and check out this great campaign.



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Moving and powerful. Watch this, you will not regret it.

Great News About Smoking Cessation

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First the bad news, smokers live an average of ten years less than non-smokers. The good news? If you quit before age 40, you can regain most of those lost years according to researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. The findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine were obtained through analysis of previous studies on smoking looking as far back as 1959. 

Another interesting finding, those who quit smoking prior to age 60 had a lower risk of dying from smoking related causes than those who continued to smoke but smoked fewer than 10 cigarettes a day. Quitting is much more effective in avoiding smoking related illness and death than cutting back.

Don’t be mislead in thinking it is safe to smoke until age 40. Previous smokers still have higher risk of dying sooner than those who have never smoked. However, it is clearly never too late to reap health benefits from smoking cessation!

Lose Fat Faster Before Breakfast

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According to a study published  online in the British Journal of Nutrition, men who exercised on an empty stomach before breakfast burned up to 20% more body fat than those who had eaten breakfast. Additionally, they did not consume more calories or experience increased appetite due to the physical activity.

Better Living Through Chemicals?

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The evidence is growing that chemicals in our environment are associated with increased obesity. Though the scientific community had been discussing and researching this previously, the term “obesogen” was coined by University of California, Irvine, biology professor and researcher Bruce Blumberg in 2006. Blumberg found that when exposed to a chemical compound (tributyltin [TBT])  in utero, mice grew to be fatter than their counterparts even though diet and exercise were the same. And mice exposed to only one part per BILLION of this chemical at birth, grew fatter than those not exposed. Let me say that again, ONE PART PER BILLION. That ain’t a lot! Though no longer used for it’s original purpose, TBT is still showing up in human blood, breast milk and liver samples. 

As interest has grown in researching obesogens, a growing number of peer-reviewed studies are revealing more chemicals that seem to predispose to obesity. ”There are between fifteen and twenty chemicals that have been shown to cause weight gain, mostly from developmental exposure,” says Jerry Heindel, who leads the extramural research program in obesity at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).   These chemical include Bispenol A (BPA), Phalates, MSG  and two pesticides, atrazine and DDE, and many more. How are we exposed? They are basically lurking everywhere. In our drinking water, plastics used to store food, furniture, carpet, shampoo, conventional produce and dairy. It might make you think, why bother? They’re everywhere. But there are ways to reduce your exposure. Use metal or glass to store food and beverages, filter your drinking water, buy organic produce when able, avoid chemicals such as Scotch-guard, and non-stick cookware made with teflon  as well as scented products such as laundry softeners and detergents. Also try to buy less canned goods. Though cans are metal, most are lined with BPA. Most stuff that comes in a can is full of additional chemicals and salt, and ideally should be avoided, anyway. 



Just Breathe

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We all know that awful feeling as anxiety sets in. Your pulse quickens, your breathing becomes more shallow, you may get clammy and nauseous or worse!  Whether your anxious because you’re stuck in traffic, going for a job interview or you’re experiencing an anxiety attack, how you breathe can help.  

The bummer is, your body’s natural response is to do that which will worsen the tension and anxiety. You begin to breath shallow, only pulling air into the upper chest. But consciously changing how you breathe, can reverse the panicky feelings and promote feelings of calm. Think about how babies breathe. Their bellies rise and fall as they pull air deep into the bases of their lungs. This is because it is the most efficient way to breathe and greater oxygen exchange takes place in the base of the lungs. The result is increased oxygen throughout the body as well as calming the autonomic nervous system which is responsible for the “fight or flight reaction.”

What’s a stressed person to do? Begin diaphragmatic or belly breathing. It’s simple. Slowly and deliberately inhale through your nose and let the air flow to the base of your lungs as you feel your abdomen expand.  It may help to place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen for a few breaths so you are able to feel when you are chest breathing and belly breathing. Once you get the hang of it, you can use this time to focus for a few breaths or much longer. You will be amazed at how you can feel the stress leave your body after just a few proper breaths. 

Another breathing technique I have been using for years is the 4-7-8 Breath Technique. I first learned about it while reading Spontaneous Healing: How to Discover and Embrace Your Bodies Natural Ability to Maintain and Heal Itself,  by Andrew Weil. I have used this technique thousands of times. It has incredible power to stop anxious feelings and make me feel more calm and relaxed. Dr. Weil says doing this several times a day, whether anxious or not, has health benefits.

Begin by breathing out through your nose to expel all the breath in your lungs.

Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth just behind your teeth and leave it here during the entire exercise.

Slowly breath in through your nose for a count of four. 

Hold the breath in for a count of seven then slowly exhale out of your mouth (with your tongue still behind your teeth) for a count of eight. 

Make sure you are counting at the same speed on the in breath, hold, and out breath, so the ratio is correct.

Repeat this four times.

It is recommended to perform no more than  4 cycles (or full breaths) a day during your first month of practice. Though I did not experience it, some people feel slightly light-headed when they first start the practice.

This technique has also been shown to reduce blood pressure and increase focus. I have known people to be successful calming panic associated with flying, test taking and as a strategy to reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms when quitting smoking. The potential uses are endless.

The real beauty is these techniques are free and can be done anytime, anywhere

Think You Don’t Have Time to Exercise?

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I used to think if I didn’t have at least 30 minutes available for exercise, it wasn’t worth my time. However, researchers are finding this isn’t true. Five minutes here, 10 minutes there-exercise adds up.  A recent study published in The American Journal of Health Promotion found improvements in several important health indicators when adults exercised for 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week. The good news was that it didn’t matter whether the participants engaged in many short bouts or fewer but longer increments.  As long as the activity added up to the recommended physical activity guidelines, improvements in all but Body Mass Index were similar.

The study included more than 6,300 adults, ages 18-85. Researchers looked at physical activity data from accelerometers worn by participants, which measured acceleration in one minute increments. It didn’t matter how the participants accrued  the time, waist circumference, triglycerides, blood glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure were all similar.

Look for those opportunities to add physical activity into your day. Whether it’s a quick walk around the block with the dog, a 15 minute game of basketball, or taking the stairs at work, know you’re doing your body good. 

Health is a Continuum

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“Everything in moderation. Nothing in excess,” so said Socrates several thousand years ago. Sounds like great advice that has stood the test of time. “Everything” might be a bit of an exaggeration, right? There are many things that shouldn’t even be done in moderation. But that isn’t my problem with the theory. Repeating that phrase to ourselves can be simple rationalization. I think this thinking can stand in the way of making serious progress in our health goals and life goals in general. Moderation can be a good thing, but it can also undermine us. 

 There are two reasons I think this quote, too broadly applied, can get us into trouble. First, I think a great many of us (myself included) can easily play games with ourselves.  We tend to under exaggerate how much of a certain something we have imbibed in, whether it is a particular food or reality T.V.  It’s easy to say, “well at least I don’t go through the McDonald’s drive-thru EVERY day”  (full discloser-I used to LOVE McDonald’s fries). Then we leave it at that. There you go-moderation. But this is the reason dietitians love those food journals.  The “once in awhile” in our minds can actually turn out to be 27 times a month, the “small handful” of M&M’s in reality is 3/4′s of a small bag if we are honest and keep track of these things.

The second reason this thinking can lead us astray?  We tend to use it as an excuse to avoid deciding what we think moderation actually is.  Sure, there are millions of guidelines and “rules” available to tell you how much of this you should eat, that you should avoid and calories you should ingest. There are diet theories that believe you should never ingest a certain food (or whole food group) for optimum health and weight loss. And in some cases this complete abstinence can be a successful strategy. Giving up all fast food or Krispy Kreme donuts can be a successful strategy. But I think the bigger question is “where are you at and what are you willing to do to be healthier, to feel healthier, to avoid disease?”  It can be giving up something entirely or deciding to eat less of it. It can be deciding to eat or do more of something.

I think we can all make small or big choices to get us on the path to health, and preventing disease. Those small or big choices have to be something you can live with. They must be specific. You have to be willing to hold yourself accountable. Every healthy choice is a step in the right direction. Are you eating fast food for lunch 5 times a week? What if you only ate it 3 times a week? Then,  3 months later that small change was no big deal. You’re ready to pack a lunch every day. Then months later you can’t believe you ate fast food every day, and you decide you should only drink one can of soda a day. Or, maybe you find yourself eating fast food again every Friday, but you’re still much better off health-wise than you were eating it daily. And it doesn’t have to be abstaining from something. We can have huge health gains by adding something. Exercise is an obvious one, but what about a healthy food? If you decide to add cruciferous vegetables to your diet 3 times a week, you are not only getting the huge health benefits of that particular food, but are also likely to be eating less of something crappy. My point is, you can make small changes and they all add up. Once the change becomes habit you don’t even need to think about it anymore and you can move on to another healthful behavior change.

Some people can make huge changes. Often when you hear their story, a major health problem prompted them. Some people are ONLY successful if they make major changes. But I think many people can have huge health gains by making the decision to do something, anything, in the right direction. I don’t mean to say any behavior change is easy. Quite the opposite. It can be really difficult.  That’s why I am a health coach. I just want people to consider the possibilities! 

For a great article on abstaining and moderation read this post from Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.