Saturday, March 28, 2009

Health articles: Radon, Incense, Cancer, Palm Kernel Oil

For too many reasons, cancer and other issues of health have been on my mind recently. Below are a few articles I came across recently that I'd like to share here. More to come...

Radon is the Second Leading Cause of Lung Cancer in the US
Radon is a radioactive gas released from the normal decay of uranium in rocks and soil.
Radioactive particles from radon can damage cells that line the lungs and lead to lung cancer.
Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and is associated with 15,000 to 22,000 lung cancer deaths each year.
Studies showing a link between radon and lung cancer in humans include studies of underground uranium miners and of the general population exposed to radon in their homes.
Testing is the only way to know if your home has elevated radon levels. Health authorities recommend radon testing and encourage corrective action when necessary.

***I've been experiencing a slight addiction to pretzels covered in a sweet yogurt coating that I can buy in bulk at the local food coop. One of the ingredients is fractionated palm oil, so I decided to look into it... What I discovered has turned me off from my little tasty snacks.***

I've noticed an influx of "health" foods containing fractionated palm oil. How is this different from regular palm oil and from palm kernel oil? Is it healthier?

A Answer (Published 10/18/2002)
Updated on 3/30/2005

You've asked a good question about a rather confusing subject. The African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) or its American hybrid variety (Elaeis oleifra) is widely cultivated in tropical areas and produces a fleshy fruit from which two oils are extracted: (1) palm oil from the fruit and (2) palm kernel oil from the pit. Both contain a lot of saturated fat, but of the two, palm oil is the healthier, both because it has less saturated fat and because it has high antioxidant activity from a significant content of natural vitamin E (including both tocopherols and tocotrienols). It can also be extracted gently by pressing the pulpy fruit.

Rees Moerman, product engineer at Spectrum Naturals, a California company, which sells high quality expeller-pressed oils, tells me that unlike palm oil, palm kernel oil can't be obtained organically. Instead, the oil must be extracted from the pit with a gasoline-like hydrocarbon solvent. In short, palm kernel oil is a cheap, unhealthy fat, and I recommend avoiding food products containing it.

Fractionation is a further phase of palm oil processing, designed to extract and concentrate specific fatty acid fractions. Fractionated palm oil, as found in food products, has a higher concentration of saturated fat than regular palm oil and is used for the convenience of manufacturers who like its stability and melting characteristics. The healthful aspects of natural palm oil are largely lost in the process. I've noticed that fractionated palm oil is a common ingredient in many power bars sold in health-food stores.

The bottom line is that of all these oils, organic, minimally processed palm oil is the healthiest, followed by conventionally processed palm oil. Palm kernel oil is less healthy still, and fractionated palm oil is the least desirable.

***Andrew Weil, M.D. answers a question I've often wondered about: incense and lung health***
Is it true that incense can cause cancer? I was told that it is very bad for your lungs.

Answer (Published 10/17/2008)

New research suggests that long-term exposure to burning incense does present a danger to the respiratory tract including increased risks of nasal/sinus cancers and malignancies of the tongue, mouth and throat. While this new study, from Denmark, didn't find any increased risk of lung cancer, the American Lung Association (ALA) has decided to list incense as a risk factor for all respiratory disorders. A spokesman for the ALA said that burning incense isn't as big a risk to the lungs as smoking, but is still hazardous, because incense smoke contains known carcinogens such as polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), carbonyls, and benzene.

For this study the Danish researchers interviewed more than 61,000 Singapore Chinese between the years of 1993 and 1998. All of the participants were 45 to 74 years old at the time and none had cancer when they were first interviewed. The research team then followed the participants through 2005 and found that 325 of them developed respiratory tract cancers associated with incense use. The risks increased both in smokers and in individuals who never smoked indicating that smoke from burning incense has an independent effect on the respiratory tract. The study was published in the October 1, 2008 issue of Cancer.

Earlier research from Taiwan showed that burning incense in a badly ventilated temple produced PAH concentrations 19 times higher than they were outside and slightly higher than they were at a local traffic intersection. Levels of the PAH benzopyrene, thought to cause lung cancer in smokers, were as much as 45 times higher in the temple than they were in homes where residents smoked tobacco. Concentrations increased dramatically during major ceremonies when more visitors than normal were present and hundreds - even a thousand or more - sticks of incense were burned simultaneously.

Whether or not you burn incense at home, you should be aware that any smoke can be a significant source of indoor air pollution, including combustion products from candles, which can emit varying amounts of soot and pollutants. If you must use candles, keep wicks trimmed to 1/2 inch, make sure there is no debris in the wax and don't burn candles in a draft.

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