Heavy Metal Lurking in Healthy Foods Linked to Breast Cancer

farmer's market produceFile this under "oh, what the hell": A carcinogen lurking out in our food supply, including healthy picks like grains and veggies, is likely linked to the breast cancer. Greeeat. A new study published in the journal Cancer Research has found out a link between diets containing higher levels of the heavy metal cadmium and developing breast cancer. 

Researchers found that among 55,987 post-menopausal women, the one-third with the highest cadmium intakes were 21 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than the one-third with the lowest intakes. What's really scary is that the carcinogen seems hard to avoid.


It leaches into crops from fertilizers and when rainfall and sewage sludge deposit it onto farmland. Lovely. And whole grains, potatoes, other vegetables, and shellfish are key dietary sources of cadmium, which also becomes airborne as a pollutant when fossil fuels are burned, and is likely inhaled as well as ingested. What's more, research has shown that toys and costume jewelry manufactured in China and sold here in the U.S. contain high levels of cadmium. Ugh!

And speaking of fuel, this study just adds more of it to the already raging fire of environmental chemicals that are raising women's risk of certain cancers (like endometrial, ovarian, breast, etc.). It's bad enough that we have to worry about BPA and phalates. As far as cadmium is concerned, animal and lab tests have shown it exerts estrogen-effects even more powerfully than other environmental pollutants. Well, that's just awesome, huh.

After reading this study, you've got to wonder if there are real ways we can minimize our exposure -- without cutting out the healthy foods that might contain cadmium. And although it may seem counterintuitive, it turns out that women who did have a diet richer in whole grains and veggies had a lower risk of breast cancer compared to those who were exposed to cadmium through other foods. Probably thanks to antioxidants.

So, the answer here isn't exactly clear. Maybe we should go easy on the shellfish? Go organic as much as possible? Limit exposure to other environmental toxins? It's hard to say, but at least we have more info now. When it comes to fighting breast cancer, the more info we have as ammunition, the better.

What do you make of this study?


Image via k lachshand/Flickr

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