“Since 1940 the number of cancers has increased in all industrialized counties in the United States. This trend, which has picked up speed since 1975, is particularly striking in the young. In the United States, between 1975 and 1994, the cancer rate in women under forty-five has risen by 1.6% a year and even more so in men (by 1.8%). In some European countries, such as France, the cancer rate has increased by 60% over the last twenty years.“, writes Dr. Servan-Schreiber. It is often argued that this increase in cancer rates is due to three factors: A) We’re living longer than we were in 1940, meaning that there is more opportunity for cancer to strike in our older age B) Women are having babies at a later age, which increases the chances of breast cancer C) There are improved screening methods, meaning that we are simply noticing cancer more, not that it is more frequent. While the above arguments are true, they are more than often used to reassure people. There are certain statistics that these three factors do not cover. For instance, the fact that we are living longer, does not justify the increase in paediatric cancer among the youth. The fact that women are having babies at a later age might have an influence on the number of breast cancer cases, but it does not explain the 200% increase in the US of prostate cancer cases between 1978 and 2000, nor the 258% increase in several European countries during that same period. Finally, the improved screening methods do justify that more cases are caught early on, but does not justify the increase in cancers that are not routinely screened for (such as pancreas, lung, brain, testicle, and lymphoma). It is arguable that the increase in cancer incidents around the world is a result of a changing environment. This is not meant in the way of global warming, but in the sense that human habits are changing. The general director of the World Health Organization once concluded: “Up to 80% of the cancers may be influenced by external factors, such as lifestyle and environment.” So what has changed since 1940? Dr. Servan-Schreiber mentions three major points:
- The addition of large quantities of highly refined sugar to our diet – The exponential increase in the amount of sugar we consume is remarkable. “Whereas our genes developed in an environment where one person consumed at most 2kg (4lb) of honey a year, human sugar consumption rose to 5kg (11lb) a year in 1830, and a shocking 70kg (150lb) a year by the end of the twentieth century.”
- Changes in methods of farming and raising animals and, as a result, in our food – From the 1950s onward, farmers changed the way they fed their livestock. Shifting from the traditional pastures to the easier battery farming. This change in the livestock’s diet and living environment ultimately affected the balance of omega-3 and omega-6 in the food they produced (meat, milk, butter, eggs, etc.), resulting in an imbalance in the foods consumed by humans.
- Exposure to a large number of chemical products that didn’t exist prior to 1940 – The annual production of synthetic chemicals has risen from one million tons in 1930 to 200 millions tons today.
So what can we do about it?
We can’t expect politicians or industrialists to make hard choices in our stead. On the other hand, we all have the power to take our own precautions. We can choose what we want to consume. When organic or farm-raised products are not available at our local supermarket, it’s often only a matter of asking before they are stocked. And when enough of us ask, prices will drop, as has already happened in a number of markets in the United States where organic prices are close to those of conventional goods. Aside from trying to change food production, you can also start protecting yourself, through what you eat. The following table is suggested.
|Foods with high glycemic index (sugar, white flour, etc.)||Fruit, flour and starches with a low glycemic index|
|Hydrogenated or partially-hydrogentaed oils||Sunflower, soy and corn oil, olive oil, flaxseed oil|
|Conventional dairy products (too rich in omega-6)||Organic grass-fed dairy products (balanced in omega-6/omega 3, free of rBGH), or soy milk, soy yogurts|
|Fried food, chips, fried appetizers||Humus, olives, cherry tomatoes|
|Non-organic red meat, poultry skin||Vegetables, legumes (peas, beans, lentils), tofu. Organic poultry and eggs. Organic grass-fed red meat (maximum 200g (7 ounces) a week). Fish (mackerel, sardines, salmon, even farmed)|
|Skins of non-organic fruits and vegetables (pesticides cling to their skin)||Fruits and vegetables peeled or washed, or else labeled ‘organic’|
|Tap water in areas of intensive farming because of the presence of nitrates and pesticides. (A report on water content in nitrates, pesticides and other contaminants can be obtained from local authorities.)||Filtered tap water through carbon filters or reverse osmosis. Mineral or spring water in plastic bottles, provided the bottles haven’t warmed up in the sun and the water doesn’t smell of plastic, which would reveal the presence of PVCs|