In 1976, when I was 10-year-old, my father died of cancer at age 49 after struggling for two years with the illness. It was a slow and painful process and yet one that was completely preventable. He was a heavy smoker. Even back then the dangers of smoking were well documented. What was not widely known or understood at that time was that there is another major source of carcinogens concentrated in the animal fats that factor heavily in the American diet. Today numerous studies are pointing to a fundamentally important discovery: cancer thrives in the fat tissue of animals and humans. The chemical pesticides, some of which have been banned for decades, are associated with increased cancer risk as well as a host of other health concerns, such as hormone disruption.
Some are quick to dismiss such findings with the words “oh, everything causes cancer! You can’t avoid it.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. Like smoking, we are dealing with again an easily preventable source of cancer. One thing most all researchers can agree on today is that many cancers are largely preventable “diseases of affluency” that are also conspicuously absent in populations that still observe their traditional, predominantly plant-based diets.
According to a recent statement by The World Health Organization, [The western diet rich in meat, dairy and eggs] “…is associated with a multitude of disease conditions, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arterial hypertension and cancer. Malignancies typical for affluent societies are cancers of the breast, colon/rectum, uterus (endometrial carcinoma), gallbladder, kidney and adenocarcinoma of the oesophagus.”
As developing countries rise to greater affluency, they have a tendency to eat higher on the food chain, adopting a western diet rich in dairy, eggs and meat as well as a more sedentary lifestyle, smoking, recreational drugs and alcohol, etc. A prime example of this was documented in The China Study which showed a marked increase in cancer among more affluent, cosmopolitan Chinese who had adopted a western-style diet as compared to those Chinese that remained on a traditional diet who had little or no incidence of cancer.
In April of last year The Scientific American published a fairly comprehensive analysis of what pesticides are in our food and what foods have the highest concentrations. “Thirty-eight years after it was banned, Americans still consume traces of DDT and its metabolites every day, along with more than 20 other banned chemicals. Residues of these legacy contaminants are ubiquitous in U.S. food, particularly dairy products, meat and fish.”
These POPs (“persistent organic pollutants”) find refuge for many years in the fat cells of animals and humans. An ongoing study of POPs published by The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences found the highest contamination levels in whole milk yogurt, catfish and salmon. Farmed fish are even more contaminated due largely to the concentration of contaminants in the fish feed. A 2004 study directed by Dr. David Carpenter found that farmed salmon contained 10 times higher levels of POPs than wild salmon.1 This is significant since by some estimates most of the wild caught fish we consume today will be extinct in 30 to 40 years if more sustainable forms of fishing are not globally adopted. In the meantime, the fish farm industry is booming.
The same problem applies to meat and dairy products, said Carpenter. A 2003 report, published by National Academies Press, noted that feed containing animal fat was a major source of people’s continued exposure to dioxins, which are carcinogenic. Carpenter attributes this phenomenon to the fact that we are “recycling” animal wastes back into the food supply by feeding animal by-products to new generations of livestock and poultry.
Carpenter’s conclusion? We need to get these chemicals out of our food supply by eating less animal fat.
1Dr. David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Environmental Health at the University of Albany,New York