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A new report released by the non-profit environmental research organization Environmental Working Group (EWG) has found that up to 420 chemicals known or likely to cause cancer have been measured in people (detected in urine, blood, hair, etc). Exposure to these carcinogens is not just from on-the-job contact with industrial chemicals, but from ordinary everyday exposure such as consumer products, food, water, air, and pesticides used in the home and lawns.

EWG compiled this inventory of known or likely carcinogens that have been measured in people by reviewing scientific literature and publicly available biomonitoring studies. Biomonitoring is the laboratory analysis of blood, urine, serum, saliva, and other body fluids to identify the amount and number of certain chemicals (such as pesticides, fire retardants, BPA, etc) present in the human body.  Thus it measures the extent to which chemical pollution is absorbed by our bodies. The CDC has a National Biomoniitoring Program. From Environmental Working Group (EWG):

Hundreds Of Cancer-Causing Chemicals Pollute Americans’ Bodies

Hundreds of cancer-causing chemicals are building up in the bodies of Americans, according to the first comprehensive inventory of the carcinogens that have been measured in people. EWG released the inventory today. EWG spent almost a year reviewing more than 1,000 biomonitoring studies and other research by leading government agencies and independent scientists in the U.S. and around the world. The nonprofit research group found that up to 420 chemicals known or likely to cause cancer have been detected in blood, urine, hair and other human samples.

Studies of the causes of cancer often focus on tobacco, alcohol and over-exposure to the sun. But the World Health Organization and many other scientists believe nearly 1 in 5 cancers are caused by chemicals and other environmental exposures––not only in the workplaces, but in consumer products, food, water and air.

EWG’s review bolsters the findings and ongoing research of the Halifax Project, a collaboration of more than 300 scientists from around the world who are investigating new ways in which combinations of toxic chemicals in our environment may cause cancer. While most cancer research focuses on treatment, the Halifax Project and EWG’s Rethinking Cancer initiative are looking at prevention by reducing people’s contact with cancer-causing chemicals.

“The presence of a toxic chemical in our bodies does not necessarily mean it will cause harm, but this report details the astounding number of carcinogens we are exposed to in almost every part of life that are building up in our systems,” said Curt DellaValle, author of the report and a senior scientist at EWG. “At any given time some people may harbor dozens or hundreds of cancer-causing chemicals. This troubling truth underscores the need for greater awareness of our everyday exposure to chemicals and how to avoid them.”

EWG estimated that a small subset of the chemicals inventoried in the report were measured at levels high enough to pose significant cancer risks in most Americans ––risks that generally exceed Environmental Protection Agency safety standards. But those estimates are only for individual chemicals and do not account for a question scientists and doctors are increasingly concerned about––how combined exposures to multiple chemicals may increase risk?

EWG’s inventory comes at an auspicious moment for the issue of cancer and chemicals. Last week Congress passed the first reform in 40 years of the nation’s woefully weak toxic chemical regulations, which President Obama is expected to sign soon....“Many of the carcinogens this study documents in people find their way into our bodies through food, air, water and consumer products every day. Dozens of them show up in human umbilical cord blood—which means Americans are exposed to carcinogens before they’ve left the womb,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “We should focus on preventing cancer by preventing human exposure to these chemicals.”

    Artificial trans fats in foods are bad for health in so many ways: linked to increased risk of coronary heart disease, atherosclerosis, inflammation, and risk of early death. And even though the FDA is finally phasing out partially hydrogenated oils (because they have high levels of artificial trans fats) within the next 3 years, trans fats will still be found in foods (processed foods). How can this be? Well, trans fats are still allowed to be in foods that are labeled as 0 trans fats if it is less than .5 grams trans fats per serving (a loophole allows them to round downward to zero ). And according to research by Environmental Working Group (EWG), trans fats are being used by the food industry in undisclosed ways in amounts low enough to exploit the trans fat loophole. Besides partially hydrogenated oils, they are found in other types of refined oils, monoglycerides, diglycerides and other emulsifiers, and even in flavors and colors. So when you see ZERO trans fats on the label, it doesn't actually mean that it is zero trans fats. The problem is that over the course of a day, eating a number of foods and servings that have under .5 grams of trans fats adds up to levels that research now says has negative health effects!

Artificial trans fats are found in a lot of processed foods. A EWG analysis found that harmful artificial trans fatty acids lurk in more than 27 percent of more than 84,000 processed foods common in American supermarkets.  Another 10 percent contain ingredients likely to contain trans fat. Foods most likely to have hidden trans fats are: breakfast bars, granola and trail mix bars, pretzels, peanut butter, crackers, breads, kids fruit snacks, kids cereal, graham crackers, whipped topping, non-dairy creamers, pudding mixes, cupcakes, and ice cream cones.

So what can you do? Read ingredient lists on labels and try to avoid foods with the above mentioned ingredients: partially hydrogenated oils, emulsifiers, monoglycerides, diglycerides and other emulsifiers, artificial flavors, artificial flavors, and colors. Try to cut back or avoid foods that have ingredients that are not real foods - tough to do, but it can be done.

And the amazing part, saturated fats (such as butter) are NOT linked to early death and heart disease, but trans fat in foods is. Latest research, from Science Daily:

Trans fats, but not saturated fats like butter, linked to greater risk of early death and heart disease

A study led by researchers at McMaster University has found that that trans fats are associated with greater risk of death and coronary heart disease, but saturated fats are not associated with an increased risk of death, heart disease, stroke, or Type 2 diabetes. The findings were published today by the British Medical Journal (BMJ)...."For years everyone has been advised to cut out fats. Trans fats have no health benefits and pose a significant risk for heart disease, but the case for saturated fat is less clear," said de Souza.

Saturated fats come mainly from animal products, such as butter, cows' milk, meat, salmon and egg yolks, and some plant products such as chocolate and palm oils. Trans unsaturated fats (trans fats) are mainly produced industrially from plant oils (a process known as hydrogenation) for use in margarine, snack foods and packaged baked goods.

Contrary to prevailing dietary advice, a recent evidence review found no excess cardiovascular risk associated with intake of saturated fat. In contrast, research suggests that industrial trans fats may increase the risk of coronary heart disease.

To help clarify these controversies, de Souza and colleagues analysed the results of 50 observational studies assessing the association between saturated and/or trans fats and health outcomes in adults....The team found no clear association between higher intake of saturated fats and death for any reason, coronary heart disease (CHD), cardiovascular disease (CVD), ischemic stroke or type 2 diabetes. However, consumption of industrial trans fats was associated with a 34 per cent increase in death for any reason, a 28 per cent increased risk of CHD mortality, and a 21 per cent increase in the risk of CHD.

Inconsistencies in the studies analysed meant that the researchers could not confirm an association between trans fats and type 2 diabetes. And, they found no clear association between trans fats and ischemic stroke. The researchers stress that their results are based on observational studies, so no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect.