We Can Offset Some Contaminants by Putting Our System Back in Balance
April 6th, 2010 - by: David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D.
Do we have to follow every anticancer recommendation perfectly? What if I eat fish that contains heavy metals and other contaminants? What if there are pesticides in the fields around me, or on my vegetables? Does that cancel out all the efforts I'm making in other ways? -- It's easy to feel lost with all the health advice that's out there. And it's probably impossible to always get everything right.
Many people who attend my lectures, wherever they take place, come up to me afterwards, worried. They wonder if eating too much fish that might be polluted -- with PCBs, mercury, dioxin and so on -- might cancel out the benefits of their omega-3 content, or other benefits they've acquired through health behaviors. Or maybe the fact that they may drink more than two glasses of red wine a day (for men -- only one for women) could be costing them the advantages they've generated from physical activity, or regular practice of meditation, or cardiac coherence.
When I'm trying to define the best way to act, the point of view I find most useful is the following: All chronic illnesses -- including cancer -- are a bit like climate change. There isn't one single cause. They result from a whole range of phenomena, acting together, that end up throwing the system as a whole out of balance.
The best way to understand cancer is to imagine it as the consequence of an excess of factors that promote cancer, and a lack of factors that inhibit it. Too many omega-6 fatty acids and not enough omega-3s. Too much grilled red meat, and not enough vegetables. Too much sugar, and not enough physical exercise. And so on. A new study, published in the Archives of Toxicology, has very reassuringly demonstrated the importance of this type of balance . Let me explain.
When humans are regularly exposed to Aflatoxin (a toxin that is produced by molds that grow on peanuts kept in a damp environment, as is often the case in Africa) they almost invariably develop liver damage, and very often liver cancer. This is why liver cancer -- which is rare in rich countries -- is still very common in developing nations. The same phenomenon occurs when rats are exposed to this toxin in the lab.
But in this new study, rats who had previously benefited from the regular consumption of turmeric developed many fewer lesions of the liver, and very few cancers. And their blood analysis even showed that the metabolic functions of the liver were protected by turmeric's antioxidant and anti-tumor effects.
Other studies have suggested that turmeric may actively fight the toxic effects of heavy metals (such as mercury); certain pesticides (especially those that simulate the effect of estrogens); and several other chemical toxins present in our modern environment.
I like this idea of balance. I'm convinced that although we're inevitably subject to various kinds of pollution, we can build into our lives counter-attack mechanisms, to offset them.
CAUTION: Some brands of turmeric powder and supplements have been found to be contaminated with heavy metals themselves. If you decide to add turmeric to your diet (which I would encourage you to do by all means), make sure to obtain a high quality brand.
Bibliography 1. El-Agamy, D.S., Comparative effects of curcumin and resveratrol on aflatoxin B(1)-induced liver injury in rats Archives of Toxicology, 2010.