…aka “International Women’s Day”

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Since the early 1900’s, March 8th has been a day reserved for supporting progress for women. While equality and basic rights are fundamentally awesome advancements to spotlight and rally around, do we really need a reason to celebrate women? Shouldn’t everyday be a day worth acknowledging and promoting the fairer sex? Sorry boys…sort of.

Recognizing the myriad reasons women rock, we’ve chosen to focus on just one today – perhaps the most important one. We create life. And what we know and are daily discovering about epigenetics, immunology, inflammation and disease prevention, the quality of that life is largely in our control. How empowering!

I know it’s cliché but I’ll say it again; knowledge is power. In our rapidly developing world it’s our job to access and filter immense volumes of information to make the most of this life we’re living, and to understand important issues impacting our health and wellness. Armed with hardcore facts, and also burdened with the harsh reality of declining human health, together we can spread awareness and resources to save the planet, or at the very least ourselves.

These days, women are battling many types of cancer with serious vengeance.

With an alarming 232,340 new cases of breast cancer reported in 2013, it’s encouraging to know that death rates have dropped 34% since 1990. However, according to 2010 Center for Disease Control (CDC) data, each year about 12,000 women develop cervical cancer, about 20,000 develop ovarian cancer, 45,000 develop uterine cancer, and 5,000 develop vulvar and vaginal cancers. These numbers are staggering and only reflect female-centric cancers, which don’t include other common cancers such as lung, skin, and colon cancers, for example.

Despite all of the incredible research occurring around the world, and taking into account what we already know about virus interplay (e.g., HPV), immune functioning, and genetics, facts about causation remain foggy at best. What specifically causes breast cancer and reproductive cancers in women is still not entirely clear. Meanwhile, the American Cancer Society has projected about 810,320 new cases of female cancers this year alone.

Let’s also not forget that breast cancer (the most common cancer among women) is found in men too, which means this trend is not gender specific. What we do know about this take-no-prisoners disease called cancer is that it’s caused to no small extent by what we’re all exposed to in our environment, food, water – and daily use products (e.g., deodorant, shampoo, household cleaners, fragrances, etc.) This is our call to action!

The spectrum beyond cancer.

Not only do women have ourselves to fend for, we’re also endowed with superhuman powers of reproduction. For those of us enjoying childbearing age, the calculation and elimination of health-risk factors both before and during pregnancy is paramount – not only for our own health but for that of our future or developing children. Largely, we hold the keys to preventing, halting, and reversing the growing rates of devastating illnesses like cancer, autism, Alzheimer’s, allergies, etc.

Feeling overwhelmed yet? Don’t! Women can do anything we put our minds and our passions into.

After all, no one ever messed with a mama bear’s cub and lived to see another day…

Our medical advisor, Dr. Debby Hamilton, MD, MSPH, helps us harness that protective instinct in her new book “Preventing Autism & ADHD: Controlling Risk Factors Before, During and After Pregnancy.” Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite (ah, there will be blood; as an ‘autism mom’ myself I can see it now…)

While the direct causes of autism and ADHD remain more elusive than cancer, incident rates are skyrocketing. In 1982 a reported 1 out of 2,222 children were affected. By 2013, that number hit 1 in 50, with rates for boys at 1 in 32. You read that right. Go ahead, freak out now.

Dr. Debby warns that “there are more cases of [autism] than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined.” As with cancer, researchers have identified numerous risk factors for autism and ADHD including family history (e.g., genetics), allergies, autoimmune diseases (e.g., thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease), hormone disruption, and in utero toxic exposure (e.g., epigenetics).

Allergies and autoimmune diseases indicate that the immune system is malfunctioning and unable to fight infection properly. “Both allergies and autoimmune disease are associated with an abnormal immune system reaction and inflammation” confirms Dr. Debby. In the case of autoimmune disease, the immune system mistakes healthy cells and tissues for dangerous intruders, attacking them rather than fighting true infection elsewhere.

More recently, research attention has shifted toward the emerging field of “epigenetics,” which suggests a strong interplay between a person’s genes and their environmental exposures. Dr. Debby identifies a mix of both environmental and genetic prenatal risk factors linked to autism and ADHD:

  • Advanced maternal and/or paternal age
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Maternal asthma
  • Stress during pregnancy
  • Urban location during pregnancy
  • Maternal obesity
  • Maternal smoking (ADHD specifically)
  • Pesticide exposure (No surprise here, right?)
  • Heavy metal exposure such as lead and/or mercury (Ah, but of course…)

Let’s work with what we know: prevention trumps treatment, hands down, any day of the week.

One thing we know without a doubt is that when toxic chemicals in the environment interact with our genetic material (e.g., DNA responsible for running our entire physiology and immune / defense responses), our cells can be altered, damaged and put out of commission, sometimes permanently and for generations that follow. Depending on our individual genetics and the extent of damage done, we may or may not be able to heal completely – but many effects can be stalled and/or reversed.

Focus on what’s doable. Luckily, that’s a lot.

Women are beautiful and complicated creatures, and each one of us unique in our complexities and makeup. We generally have more fat on our bodies where toxins can hide for years. We also tend to metabolize things more slowly than men, meaning we keep toxins in our bodies longer and as we age and our metabolism naturally slows down, toxic loads can outweigh our metabolic capacity. Knowing this, why wait to intervene when strides can be taken to effectively prevent or reduce toxin-related diseases?

Integrative, biomedical and traditional medical professionals alike are encouraging a shift from treatment-centered care to a focus on prevention. While our genetic history can’t necessarily be changed, environmental risk factors that impact genetic expression and disease development are modifiable. Truly, we can alter, lower, and prevent health risk by removing harmful toxins from our lives and our homes, starting today.

Let’s go get ’em ladies!

Yours Truly.

~ XOXO, Liz

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This post is based on the following sources:

  • Preventing Autism & ADHD by Dr. Debby Hamilton, MD, MSPH. Hedwin Press, LLC, Louisville, Colorado. 2013.
  • “What Causes Cancer? Genetics & Environment: The Perfect Storm” by Dr. Nalini Chilkov on The Huffington Post www.huffingtonpost.com on July 20, 2011.
  • “What is Autism?” by Autism Speaks on www.autismspeaks.com in 2014.
  • “Cancer Among Women” by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on www.cdc.gov on October 24, 2013.
  • “Estimated New Cancer Cases by Sex and Age (Years) 2014” by the American Cancer Society on www.cancer.org in 2014.
  • SEER Stat Fact Sheets: All Cancers by Area by the National Cancer Institute on www.seer.cancer.gov estimates for year 2013 based on 2003-2010 data.
  • “Gynecologic Cancers” on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on www.cdc.gov on May 30, 2012.
  • “Report: Breast Cancer Death Rates Down 34% Since 1990” by The American Cancer Society on www.cancer.org on October 1, 2013.