Is it too late to protect my health?

Chasing the Cancer Answer, a CBC Marketplace special, sparked shock and dismay, but also a wave of interest in finding less toxic products. The Guide to Less Toxic Products was a featured link on the show’s website. After the show, thousands of people visited The letter below was received shortly after the Marketplace show aired.

Hi Barbara,

Thank you for getting back to me.
My husband gave me an article to read talking about the rise in Cancer and where they think it will be headed in the next few years. I read the article and then started to do some research online and found a link to your site. The more I read, the more depressed and scared I got.
I was wondering how you got involved in this and if you have totally changed your life regarding what comes into your home.

Is it too late to start using natural things (like you mention in your website) - I am 40. Are there too many toxins in my body now from all the years of eating and applying lotions and makeup etc.

I was wondering if 'detoxing" by drinking various 'detox drinks' (e.g. apple mixed with dandelion put through a juicer) which claim to detox the blood (as indicated by Naturopath Doctors) is a good practice to get into? Do you have any knowledge of this?
Is there any way we can change the world ? Is there a way we can stop companies from producing these 'bad for you’ things? Is there a way we can promote those companies that manufacture the products that you have listed as being 'safe' ?

It scares me to no end to think that the Cancer Society has predicted that in the next 20 years 1 in 2 people will have cancer. That is so scary. Isn't this enough information for the manufactures who are making these products to switch to a healthy kind?
Isn't it safe to say that if things go on this way that they are in effect killing their own children/ childrens’ children?

I am very overwhelmed by all this. I have been using [Brand X] (I sell it) and other products all my life, always TRUSTING it has to be good for you if they sell it at the local drug store. Now I don't know that I can sell [Brand X] in good conscience after reading that they are not on the good group.

Anyway, I am sorry to take up your time, but I wanted to talk to someone who might have some answers and who can give me direction.

Thank you.

Hi Marley,

The questions you raise are really big ones, and there are no easy answers.
I got involved because I became very chemically sensitive and could no longer work or spend time in public places. I HAD to change the products I used, because "normal" ones made me sick. So that's how I began.

As I got a little less sick, I started to learn more about the things which made me sick, and found that many of the chemicals that cause immediate problems for me contribute to more subtle but equally harmful problems for others, like cancers and asthma. That's how the Guide to Less Toxic Products developed, from a group of people, EHANS, who had similar problems (that's the short version).

I think its never too late to make positive changes in your life. Any of us might get cancer or other illnesses, or we may not, but using healthier products is good for us, and for the world we live in, because it decreases our exposure to harmful substances, decreases toxic substances in our environment, creates consumer pressure on companies to make better products, and contributes to a healthier world now and in the future.

I'm not very knowledgeable about detox drinks, but looking at ways to decrease toxins in the body makes sense. If you think this is something you want to pursue, you will need to research various methods and try to separate out those which have some substance to them from "miracle cures" which may have no real evidence behind them, or are just trying to get your money. Obviously, reducing new exposures is one of the best way to decrease the toxic impact on your body.

I do believe that we need to try to change the world, whether we will succeed or not. If we don't try, then for sure we won't succeed. There are many groups working to do this, and you may want to find one in your area. Working with others for the changes you want to see is probably the best way not to feel powerless. The Breast Cancer Network's "Think Before You Pink" campaign is a good example of what can be done when people like you and I get together to work for change.

As to why corporations do harmful things, and why governments allow them to do so, that is a huge question. There is a lot written about this, including a wonderful video called The Corporation ( which provides some of the answers.
Try not to get overwhelmed and depressed by this information (although it is both overwhelming AND depressing.) If you become one of the people who contributes in her own way to learning about these problems and helping to make others aware, then you become part of the solution, which is the best you can do. None of us can change this alone.Cosmetics and personal care products are not the only products which contain harmful ingredients. The food we eat, the building materials and furniture we use can all contribute to health problems, not to mention bigger issues like poverty and war.

What each of us has done in the past is done. We can't change the products we used, or blame ourselves for not knowing that some things were harmful. But it's never too late to become an informed consumer, and its never too late to become a person who makes positive changes in her own life and educates friends and others about these issues. I believe that is how positive changes happen.

Hang in there. All the best,
Barb Harris

Barb Harris is co-author of the Guide to Less Toxic Products, and editor of UPdate. She is a member of the managing board of EHANS.