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Sausage, shampoo, mobile phone: 12 carcinogen myths you cannot believe in

Healthy eating is not a panacea, but sausage is not a definite harm, notes Lifehacker.

Photo: Shutterstock

The word "carcinogen" comes from the Latin cancer - "cancer". This term refers to everything that can cause the formation of malignant tumors.

The concept has long been widely known. Therefore, it is often used as horrible, often attributing carcinogenic properties to those substances or phenomena that are in no way associated with cancer. Or, on the contrary, considering safe those that actually threaten health. Understanding the most popular carcinogen myths.

1. Carcinogens are only food

Not at all. Carcinogens are a broad concept that unites objects that you can touch with your hands or eat, as well as natural phenomena or other factors. They have only one thing in common: all of them are capable of leading to the development of oncological processes.

Triggers for cancer, in addition to food, can be:

  • bad habits - smoking, alcoholism;
  • natural factors - ultraviolet radiation, radon gas, pathogens of some infectious diseases (hepatitis C and Epstein-Barr viruses, human papillomas);
  • medical factors - various types of exposure, taking certain medications;
  • work in hazardous work when a person breathes toxic substances or touches them;
  • contact with environmental pollutants - for example, exhaust gases and chemical emissions;
  • genetic features.

2. All carcinogens are dangerous and necessarily cause cancer.

The list of carcinogens includes thousands of substances and phenomena. However, scientists still cannot say for sure that one product or phenomenon will cause cancer, and the other will not. In order for a malignant neoplasm to begin to develop in the body, many conditions must coincide.

Some carcinogens become dangerous only with a certain type of contact: for example, it is not enough to touch them - they must be inhaled or swallowed. Also important are the dose, the time of exposure, the genetics of the person who is exposed to this effect, and other factors in which scientists have not fully figured out.

The result is a paradoxical situation. Someone discovers throat or lung cancer after a couple of years of daily smoking. And the other smokes for decades without any malignant consequences.

To predict which of the carcinogens is dangerous in your case, and which one you can wave your hand at, will fail. Too much depends on a coincidence.

The only thing that each of us can do is try to minimize the effect of most carcinogens on the body. However, this also does not guarantee absolute protection against cancer.

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3. If you avoid any chemistry and lead a healthy lifestyle, you will not get cancer

“Earlier, people ate normal food, breathed clean air, did not wash themselves with any chemistry - and they did not have cancer!” Surely you heard something like that. Many people associate carcinogenicity with synthetic, artificially created substances or phenomena. But in reality there is no such connection.

Quite natural factors lead to DNA mutations that trigger the development of malignant cells: monotonous nutrition, fungi living on some types of nuts and grains, and individual infections.

Moreover, scientists at Johns Hopkins University found that two-thirds of the mutations that lead to cancer are due to random errors in natural DNA copying. And only the rest is under the influence of carcinogens.

“Cancer occurs no matter how healthy your environment is,” says Bert Vogelstein, professor of oncology.

That is why cancer often affects even those who lead a healthy lifestyle: do not drink, do not smoke, live in an ecologically clean area, eat natural products, play sports and monitor weight.

4. There are no carcinogens in fruits, vegetables and nuts.

It is often thought so because plant foods are rich in antioxidants. So called substances that protect the body from free radicals that can provoke DNA mutations.

The fact that plants contain potentially useful substances does not make them uniquely safe.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC; a division of WHO) has compiled a list of carcinogens. In the constantly updated list you can also find vegetable items. For example, coconut oil and aloe are potentially carcinogenic.

One of the most powerful carcinogens is aflatoxins. These dangerous compounds are produced by mold, which settles on long-stored grains and nuts, in peanut butter.

As for vegetables and fruits, any of them, even grown without fertilizers, contains nitrates - salts of nitric acid, necessary for development and growth. These are natural substances that plants get from the soil. Once in the human body, nitrates are converted into toxic nitrites, and those into carcinogens nitrosamines.

The nitrate content in quality vegetables and fruits is low and therefore does not pose a serious danger. But in plant foods that were grown using nitrogen fertilizers, the concentration of these salts can be increased.

Another risk factor is pesticides. These weed control chemicals are carcinogens and are associated with the development of, in particular, leukemia, brain cancer, prostate, kidney.

5. If you drink a lot of coffee, cancer can develop.

Indeed, coffee is on the IARC list of carcinogens. But here we must better look at what this list is.

All substances and influences studied by IARC are assigned a special digital code that displays the degree of their danger.

  • 1 - carcinogenic to humans.
  • 2A and 2B are potentially carcinogenic to humans. Category A (“with high probability causes cancer”) has a higher risk than B (“possibly causes cancer”). In both cases, the conclusions are based on a limited number of studies, and therefore are not considered final.
  • 3 - not classified as carcinogenic to humans. This means that there is no evidence of a connection between substances and cancer in humans, but in studies involving animals, it is sometimes traced.
  • 4 - non-carcinogenic to humans.

Coffee belongs to category 3: it is not carcinogenic to humans.

6. If you eat meat and sausage, be sure to get cancer

But this application has a more solid foundation. Red meat (pork, beef) in the IARC classification is included in category 2A. And the meat code - sausages, sausages, smoked meats - is completely assigned a code 1. In the same group are such well-known carcinogens as cigarette smoke, solar and x-ray radiation, exhaust gases and, for example, plutonium.

But is sunshine and ham or beef jerky just as harmful as x-rays and plutonium?

Of course not. As WHO clarifies, if substances or exposures fall into the same category, this does not mean that they are equally dangerous. The IARC classification reflects only the degree of convincing scientific evidence that a particular factor is the cause of cancer. But it does not evaluate the risks, that is, the frequency and speed of DNA mutations.

So, the connection of meat with the onset of cancer (specifically colorectal) has been established. But meat products do not lead to oncological processes quickly and by no means always: a lot depends on how many steaks or sausages you eat.

According to WHO, daily consumption of 50 or more grams of meat products increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18% compared with those who eat less. However, the same WHO calls not to refuse red and processed meat at all, but only to reduce its amount in the diet, rightly indicating that animal protein is important for health.

To reduce risks, it is enough to eat no more than 50–70 g of meat or sausages per day.

And, as mentioned above, food is by no means a major factor in the development of cancer.

On the subject: Worse than Russian counterparts: 3 products that US immigrants do not like

7. The main carcinogens are stress and resentment

The myth of the psychosomatic nature of cancer is very common. Someone believes that oncology is caused by accumulated and unspoken grievances. Others call cancer "a program of self-destruction of those who could not learn to love themselves."

However, there is no scientific evidence that resentment, stress, any other negative (and positive) emotions could lead to DNA mutations, does not exist.

Another question is that people experiencing constant stress often acquire bad habits - they start smoking, drinking, overeating, and limit physical activity. Such a lifestyle really increases the risk of developing cancer processes. This is directly indicated by WHO, which calls the following as the most common “behavioral” causes of cancer death:

  • high body mass index;
  • low consumption of fruits and vegetables;
  • lack of physical activity;
  • smoking and addiction to alcohol.

Conclusion: we must fear not so much stress and resentment as an unhealthy lifestyle in general.

8. If you fry food in a Teflon pan (especially scratched), the dish will become carcinogenic

This myth has some basis. Materials containing perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a probable carcinogen (group 2A in the IARC classification), are sometimes used to produce a Teflon non-stick coating. When heated, this substance can theoretically be released into the air.

In practice, it was not possible to confirm the danger of such a coating. For example, Robert Walk, professor of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh and author of the book “What Einstein told his cook,” recalls: the production of non-stick cookware is a long process, which includes heating to high temperatures. So all the perfluorooctanoic acid leaves the coating before the pan goes to the store.

“There is no PFOA in the finished Teflon product, so there is no risk of the cookware causing cancer in those who use it,” said Robert Walk, a chemistry professor, in a comment for WebMD.

In a study published in the journal Food Additives and Contaminants, scientists tested 26 non-stick pans and pans. They heated them to 250 ° C for 30 minutes and also did not find harmful substances - neither in the surrounding air, nor in cooked dishes.

The only negative effect is the possible appearance of flu-like symptoms if you breathe in vapors of a very overheated coating. According to the American Cancer Society, there are no other proven health risks when using Teflon cookware.

9. Microwaves add carcinogens to food

A microwave oven warms food, but does not change its chemical or molecular structure. Moreover, microwave radiation does not change the DNA in your cells - at least for the simple reason that it is inside the oven, and you are outside.

Some people are afraid to stand next to a working microwave. But WHO does not get tired of repeating: serviceable furnaces are safe, and their radiation outside the closed door tends to zero. If you still worry, just move away half a meter from the switched on device: at such a distance the level of even the minimum radiation that can theoretically be fixed near the door will decrease by a hundred times.

10. Radiation from mobile phones causes cancer

So far, there is no research that would link the use of cell phones and the development of tumors.

But scientists are reinsured. Therefore, IARC classified the entire spectrum of radio frequency emissions, of which mobile signals are a part, as “possibly carcinogenic” (category 2B). For comparison: the use of pickled vegetables and the use of talcum powder belong to the same group.

11. Conventional shampoos contain carcinogens, so you need to switch to organic

The ability to cause cancer is most often attributed to sodium lauryl and laureth sulfate - surface-active substances (surfactants), which are part of many shampoos, shower gels, foam for washing, dishwashing detergents and other detergents. And this is a blatant error.

Neither sodium lauryl nor sodium laureth sulfate is included in the IARC list of carcinogens and in a similar list compiled by the US Environmental Protection Agency. So, switching to a more expensive (and not always effective) organic cosmetics solely out of fear of making cancer makes no sense.

12. There are ways to avoid carcinogens at all.

It is unlikely. Even sunlight, tea, or drinking water has a carcinogenic effect.

“In the fourth category of the IARC list, the category of proven non-carcinogens, there is one single substance, caprolactam, which is what women's tights are made of. All other substances in the world to one degree or another are classified by this agency as carcinogens, ”explained Alexey Vodovozov, a therapist of the highest category, in an interview with the NaukaPRO YouTube channel.

Therefore, contact with carcinogens cannot be completely avoided. No matter how hard you try.

But there is good news. We encounter many carcinogens in metered amounts and are not under their influence for a long time. So, the risk that they can harm is not so great.

The best thing to do is to stop thinking about how many carcinogens are in toast or, say, hair dye, and focus on things that have a stronger and longer effect on our lives:

  • Quit Smoking
  • Take care of good nutrition
  • Increase physical activity and normalize weight.
  • Monitor your health - regularly undergo preventive medical examinations

This is really important.

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