Recently, my husband noticed that Costco was carrying a sunscreen with an amazingly high SPF: 100+.  This seems on the surface to be a great idea.  More protection is better, right?  Unfortunately, sunscreen isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  I definitely want you to protect yourself from the sun!  But don’t slather on some SPF 100+ sunscreen and then blithely rotisserie yourself in our Colorado sunshine.  What can you do to protect your family?

1. Don’t count on just the sunscreen.  Use other sensible measures, such as staying out of the sun between 10am and 2pm, wearing clothes that provide shade, and wearing sunglasses.  Here are Skin Deep’s Top Tips.

2. Buy safe sunscreen.  Many sunscreens contain numerous questionable ingredients.  Sprays seem easy, but aerosolized chemicals can get into the lungs or eyes.  Here are Skin Deep’s Best and Worstsunscreens for 2012.

3. Be informed.  Remember that manufacturers are out there to make money, not to help you!  Skin Deep’s Surprising Truths About Sunscreen.

So what do I do for my family?  We spend a lot of time in the shade or wear long sleeves and hats, we use one of the products off of Skin Deep’s Top Sunscreens list, and we do regular skin checks to watch for concerning spots.

Medical Prevention: More Natural Than You Thought

As many of you know, I am a huge proponent of lifestyle as the first “treatment” we all need.  Science agrees.  Here’s what the National Institute of Health has to say on the matter:

Only 5–10% of all cancer cases can be attributed to genetic defects, whereas the remaining 90–95% have their roots in the environment and lifestyle. The lifestyle factors include cigarette smoking, diet (fried foods, red meat), alcohol, sun exposure, environmental pollutants, infections, stress, obesity, and physical inactivity. The evidence indicates that of all cancer-related deaths, almost 25–30% are due to tobacco, as many as 30–35% are linked to diet, about 15–20% are due to infections, and the remaining percentage are due to other factors like radiation, stress, physical activity, environmental pollutants etc.

And the Harvard School of Public Health states that a whopping 82% of heart attacks are preventable through lifestyle.  According to the National Stroke Association, up to 80% of strokes are preventable, though they don’t quantify how much of the prevention is with lifestyle and how much is medication.

This is not to blame anyone who has had something terrible happen.  I never condone guilt, self-blame, etc.  More about my own experiences causing my own major medical emergency another time, but today I just want to say that for any of us, knowledge is power.  Once we know what we can do to prevent bad things from happening, we can act on that knowledge.  That said, I have known many people who “did everything right” and still had something bad happen…what gives?  Well, there are the genetic factors.  There are all the bad things we can’t avoid.  There are flukes.  We’ve all got to go sometime.

So what can we all do to increase our chances of enjoying a long active life free of cancer, heart disease, and stroke?

  • Quit smoking.  This is the single best thing you can do for your health.
  • Exercise.  There is so much to do here in Colorado with our beautiful weather.
  • Eat well.  You don’t need to buy a book or sign up for a specific plan.  We all know what we need to be doing…more fruits and vegetables, fish or grass fed beef in place of Big Macs.
  • Avoid environmental pollutants.  For many of us, that includes avoiding pesticides and hormones in our food whenever possible.  If you can’t buy everything organic, at least avoid the Dirty Dozen.
  • Limit sexual partners.  One in six cancers is caused by infection.  Three of those infections, HPV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C, are commonly spread sexually.  Condoms are better than “unprotected sex” but they are not completely effective at preventing infection.  They are about 85% effective at preventing pregnancy and hepatitis, 50% effective at preventing gonorrhea and chlamydia, and even less effective at preventing HPV.  Monogamy is the safest sex.  Not just “serial monogamy” (you can still acquire and share infections), lifetime monogamy (or as close as you can get).
  • Don’t share needles.  While you’re at it, don’t do drugs.
How will you incorporate these changes into your life?  Everyone will choose differently.  I’ve known people who gave up smoking by taking up knitting.  Counseling can help clarify why we are holding on to bad habits…whether those are food, sex, or a sedentary lifestyle.
Me, I like to garden for the mental benefits, the exercise, and the good food.  I know there are no nasty chemicals in the food I grow myself.  If you want the good food without the gardening, or can’t fit cattle or pigs in your backyard, check out Denver Urban Homesteading.  At DUH, you can be certain there are no pesticides or extra hormones added to your food.  Another way to increase your exercise while improving the world is to bike or walk instead of driving.
I always stress BABY STEPS to people.  You can’t change everything you do overnight.  Make small easy changes and they will accumulate over time.