The hidden costs of that “perfect” lawn

In the early 1980s, two British epidemiologists published a technical book on the causes of cancer. They concluded cancer was primarily due to factors that we, as individuals, can each control—such as tobacco, diet, body weight, physical activity, and sun exposure. They considered the contribution of “environmental” factors such as pesticides, pollution, food additives, etc., to be very small by comparison.

This was 10 years into the U.S.’s own flailing “war on cancer,” and the National Cancer Institute and the rest of the government largely went down this road mapped out by the British.

Unfortunately, it has turned out to be mostly a dead end.

Despite the general public’s collective efforts to quit smoking, improve their diets, lose weight, and slather themselves with sunblock, most cancer and chronic disease rates have continued to increase.

As I’ve written before, the government’s focus on smoking did not turn out to be the final solution for oral cancer, or even for lung cancer, for that matter. When it comes to dietary factors—saturated fats, eggs, meat, and other favorite government culprits—the evidence has been evaporating. Even being “overweight” isn’t the chronic disease and death sentence the “experts” have made it out to be (except when it comes to morbid obesity, which has now been declared the new disease of the month). And, of course, the crusade against sun exposure has actually contributed to a national and global epidemic of vitamin D deficiency which is now being seen to have wide-ranging negative health effects.

Meantime, evidence has been mounting that pesticides are strongly associated with increased cancer risk.

Pesticides fuel tumor growth

Some pesticides, such as lindane, propoxur, and endosulfan can mimic estrogen activity in the body. And they are prime suspects for increasing tumor incidence.

In fact, a new study in the journal Anticancer Research revealed how these pesticides can increase tumor growth (that all-important “mechanism of action” I keep mentioning).1 As I explain in this issue’s lead article (and in my special report The one word battle plan to crushing cancer), the only way cancer cells can grow into tumors is by hijacking the body’s blood supply—a process called “angiogenesis.”

“Anti-angiogenesis” is well on its way to becoming the new watchword for targeted, non-toxic interventions against cancer. But it is important to remember that there is a “flip side” to this coin. Indeed, some chemicals cause angiogenesis. And, in turn, fuel cancer growth.

This new insight won’t just help us find effective ways to prevent and treat cancers. It will also help us identify what specific substances are really causing cancer in the first place.

And researchers have found that the particular pesticides I mentioned above do not damage DNA (thus they are not like “mutagens” that cause cancer “initiation”). So their cancer-causing effect is due to their ability to promote subsequent tumor growth, for example, through angiogenesis.

18 holes with a deadly “handicap”

We worry a lot about pesticides in our foods. And we should, since large crops are treated with a couple rounds of pesticides each cycle. But I have become more concerned about a source much closer to home. That is, all the chemicals that are poured onto lawns to keep them artificially green and weed-and “pest”-free. This is especially a problem on golf courses.

These large turfs require constant maintenance. Barely a day does goes by, all year round, when workers aren’t spraying an herbicide, fungicide, insecticide or other “cide” onto these vast acreages—which then drain into our water supply.

Many of the chemicals used on golf courses have long been recognized as environmental carcinogens (causing cancer initiation). Now we are seeing others can act as cancer promoters (including through angiogenesis).

So it’s no surprise that studies around the world have been finding significantly higher rates of all types of cancers among golf course workers.

No one is really studying it yet, but I think the next problem we will find is increased cancer rates in avid golfers themselves—people who are on the golf courses for long periods almost every day, or several times  per week. Not to mention all the people living on and around the high-end real estate that was built right on golf courses.

I, for one, wouldn’t recommend spending too much time hanging around on artificially green lawns or golf courses, waiting for the results to come in. There are a lot of other ways to get your exercise and your sun.

1. “Role of pesticides in the induction of tumor angiogenesis,” Anticancer Research 2013; 33(1): 231-240