Pollution And Soaring Lung Cancer Rates

In early 1900 lung cancer was unheard of. This was before the cigarette industry started to mass-produce and market cigarettes.

However, ever since the arrival of the industrial revolution air quality has suffered. In China poor air quality has now reached such enormous values that the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has labeled poor air quality as one of the causes of lung cancer.

When you rank countries by average air pollution measurements, one sees that Europe, the US and South America overall have good ratings, whereas the Middle Eastern countries, China and India have poorer ratings.

However, when the pollution index of cities where the population is much denser than in the countries at large, are tabulated a much different picture emerges: Cities in Iran, India and Pakistan stand out as particularly bad followed by cities in China, Eastern Europe, Paris, London, Berlin, cities in California (the populous State), Chicago and New York.

Pollution does not stay local, but travels through the stratosphere around the globe. The result is that now 10 to 15% of lung cancer in the US occurs in patients who never smoked. This translates into 16,000 to 24,000 deaths annually of never-smokers in the US.

In certain cities such as Beijing the lung cancer rates have doubled in 9 years between 2002 and 2011. As this article shows lung cancer in never smokers can be caused from exposure to radon, to second-hand tobacco smoke, and other indoor air pollutants can also cause such cancers. But the outdoor air quality has been a problem ever since the industrial revolution, which started around Europe in the 1800’s and first part of the1900’s. In the latter half of the 1900’s much of the industrial wave has migrated to the Middle East, to India and China. But the air quality of the whole world has suffered as the jet stream and other air currents carry pollution in the stratosphere all around the globe.

Pollution And Soaring Lung Cancer Rates

Pollution And Soaring Lung Cancer Rates

History of pollution in various regions

1. In Germany’s  Ruhr district (“Ruhrgebiet”) in North Rhine-Westphalia, a highly populated industrial area, pollution reached a peak in the late 1950’s. From 1963 onward many of the coal mines, iron ore mines and other mineral mines closed down. 50 years ago the German Chancellor, Willy Brand was concerned about the environment and promised that blue skies would return to the Ruhr district again.  A special task force was initiated and maximally allowable limits were established for industries’ pollution emissions and enforced by the German government. Government and industry were co-operating in developing anti-pollution measures, which have cleared up a lot of the pollution since. With regard to car emissions lead free gasoline was introduced and carburetors ensured more complete burning of exhaust gases. This is now common and accepted anywhere except for diesel fume exhaust, which nobody wants to address despite proven carcinogenicity.

Now Germany is one of the leaders in green technology, which is also important for tourism.

2. England has its own legacy of pollution in soil and air from the industrial revolution. The soil of moorland, which soaked up acid rain for decades, is more acidy than lemon juice and it will take a long time despite industrial complexes having closed long time ago, before the soil quality will be returned to normal.

3. Hamilton in Ontario/Canada has had a longstanding pollution problem, which I witnessed from 1976 until my departure in 1978. It is well known that Stelco, the local steel plant downtown Hamilton is sending polluting emissions into the air. In 1976 a vising professor from Australia gave an interesting talk about a study that was done at that time regarding the risk of developing bronchogenic carcinoma (a synonym for lung cancer) in the immediate surroundings of the Stelco plant. He said that this was one of the first studies to show that the distance of people’s houses from the source of pollution mattered as that determined how concentrated the air pollution was (the closer the more polluted the air). This  affected cancer rates: they were much higher in the immediate surrounding of Stelco when compared to the average rate in the rest of Hamilton. This difference was very significant within a radius of 1 kilometer (= 0.62 miles) from the Stelco plant.

Just in May of 2013 the local cancer agency of Hamilton announced that the lung cancer rate in Hamilton was higher than elsewhere in Ontario because of a combination of poor air quality and of a higher percentage of people smoking. Then in August 2013 the city of Hamilton announced a new air pollution bylaw for stricter pollution measures to improve the air quality in the downtown area. It is just a pity that Hamiltonians had to wait until 2013 before the city approved an anti-pollution bylaw that could have been passed 50 years earlier like in Germany’s Ruhr district!

4. In 2008 Pittsburg, a former steel manufacturer town like Hamilton, Ont. outdid Los Angeles with regard to small particle air pollution.

Lung cancer prevention by the authorities

As mentioned before up o15% of lung cancer is caused by environmental exposure. So, we ourselves can only prevent 85% of lung cancer by not smoking and not exposing ourselves to industrial emissions or to smoke from incense. However, in many cities around the world you will get exposed to air pollutants that are well above the safe limits, so the risk of getting lung cancer from just breathing the air there can be much higher than in rural areas where there is no industry.

Technologies to control air pollution are widely available. We need to exert pressure on politicians to show leadership around the world. Government regulations to lower emission rates need to be put into place and inspectors need to ensure the rules and regulations are adhered to. Without reducing emissions of cancer producing gases and chemicals right at the source (open burning of cuttings in orchards or burning cut trees), cutting emissions of cars, planes, ships, diesel cars, locomotives, electric generator plants etc. the air quality will not improve. Despite some costs involved industry, governments and individuals have to work together to make clean air happen.

The residents of those countries that have low pollution values will not benefit, if pollution continues to occur in other parts of the world as it just travels in the stratosphere around the globe until it arrives right here at home! We need an international pollution police. Satellites can be used to monitor where pollution occurs and this can be followed up through the local regulatory bodies with penalties and remedial actions.

What can I do personally to prevent lung cancer?

1.The most obvious step is to quit smoking and ask smokers who come to your place to smoke outside (not in your home).

2.Consider moving away from the city, if the air quality is unacceptable to a place where there is low air pollution.

3.Vitamin D3 has been shown to prevent colorectal cancer, but as there are vitamin D receptors found on the surface of various cells in tissue around the body including the lungs, many researchers feel that this vitamin in higher doses (2000 IU to 5000 IU) has probably a wider applicability in preventing cancers, even lung cancer.

4.Cutting out sugar and adopting a Mediterranean type diet is a prudent thing to do; also cutting down your calories to the maintenance you need (mildly ketogenic diet). If you bought body composition scales, it would display what your daily calorie consumption is and you should not exceed this, or else you’ll gain weight. An aging man who is overweight will experience hormone changes as fat is being metabolized and the enzyme aromatase contained in fatty tissue will turn male hormones (testosterone, DHT, androstenedione) into estrogen. Estrogen (particularly estradiol) is a known carcinogen that has been proven to cause breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men. However lung cancer is also being promoted in women by estrogen as discussed in this link. In men one needs to remember that lung cells have estrogen receptors and there is concern in aging men with higher estradiol levels that this can promote cell divisions in existing lung cancer. So, it is important to maintain a normal body mass index between 21 and 24 (well below 25.0 and well above 18.5, which are the official accepted limits). This way there is no problem with insulin resistance (too high an insulin level), and other metabolic substances (cytokines, growth hormone like factors and tumor necrosis factor-alpha from body fat) that are cancer promoting.

5. If testosterone deficiency is present, which is common in older men, testosterone will have to be replaced with bioidentical hormones. It is a myth that testosterone would cause prostate cancer. Testosterone in males is necessary to maintain a normal metabolism including the immune system, which then can fight lung cancer and any other cancers.

6. Exercise and reducing beef consumption are also often mentioned in terms of preventing lung cancer.

7. Here are several recommendations from the LifeExtension Foundation that I found very useful in terms of lung cancer prevention. This link shows that antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C, alpha tocopherol, the minerals selenium and zinc are also helping to reduce the lung cancer rate. Drinking green tea has also been shown to be effective in a dose-response curve manner (more tea protecting more from lung cancer). Vitamin B12 and folate have been shown to reduce abnormal bronchial cell growth in smokers as shown by repeat bronchoscopy studies.

8. Those who have been smokers in the past and those who have been around heavy smokers for more than 10 years in the past should consider having a preventative bronchoscopy done by a lung specialist (also called respirologist or pulmonologists). This way any suspicious areas with precancerous lesions can be biopsied during the procedure and attended to.

Hopeful research for new lung cancer treatments

Lung cancer is a disease that is best prevented. Once a person gets lung cancer, the prognosis is still very poor. However, cancer researchers are getting close to newer treatments involving genetically modified T-cells (killer cells) as was recently achieved for leukemia. Similar research is going on regarding ovarian cancer, melanoma, lung cancer and pancreatic cancer.

More information about lung cancer:


It is not acceptable to let pollution take its course , the way politicians around the globe have handled this in the past 6 decades with a few notable exceptions mentioned. We all suffer a higher risk of getting lung cancer, even if we have been life-long non-smokers. Right now up to 15% of lung cancer in most populations are of this type. However, in Beijing this number is already much higher. The technology is available; Germany has led the way in the Ruhr district in the 1960’s and beyond. In my opinion the G8 meetings should have this high on their agendas and send technological aid to all the regions that have higher than the average world pollution index under the mandate of a special UN commission. This should be supported by the major industrial players with the knowledge that they will prevent the death of millions of potential consumers down the road, which will on the long-term pay off the relatively minor investment of installing pollution controls, before lung cancer levels rise even more.

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014


Being SAD in Fall (Seasonal Affective Disorders)

Any general practitioner knows that fall and winter are the time when patients come in with a variety of complaints like a lack of energy, problems sleeping, inability to cope with stress, but often there may be non-specific pains like muscle spasm in the back, the shoulders, or indigestion. These symptoms can all be part of seasonal affective disorders (SAD) like depression, the winter blues, often coupled with anxiety.

Emotional health does not fit easily into our health care model. The receptionist will warn the doctor that this is going to be a “difficult” patient. If the doctor has only time for a 5 or 10-minute visit, where only one or two problems can be dealt with, then this does not fit when a patient with SAD has a problem concentrating, falling asleep, and presents with a long list of other complaints. Even 20 minutes or 30 minutes may not be enough to deal with this patient adequately. It is easier to send the patient for tests and to prescribe an antidepressant and a sleeping pill and reschedule for a follow-up appointment. But this likely will result in normal blood tests and investigations, added health care costs, but no solution to the patient’s problem when he  or she simply states “doctor, I feel so sick”.

I thought it would be interesting to review how our emotions can get out of balance and review an integrative approach to SAD.

Definition of SAD

Seasonal depression (also called seasonal affective disorder) occurs during fall (autumn) and winter, but this alternates with no depressive episodes during spring and summer. A person defined to suffer from SAD would have suffered from two major depressive episodes during the past 2 years with no depressive episodes in the intervening seasons of spring and summer (Ref.1). Alternative names for SAD are winter depression and wintertime blues. Typically SAD lasts about 5 months.

Brain hormone disbalance

Around 2002 it was detected that in mice there was a second light sensitive pathway from ganglion cells in the retina that were responsible for circadian hormone rhythms. This was later confirmed to be true also in humans, where photosensitive retinal ganglion cells buried deep in the retina and containing the pigment melanopsin absorb blue light in the visible light spectrum. The electrical signals are sent along the retinohypothalamic tract, so that light from the retina regulates the hormone circadian rhythm (daily hormone fluctuations including the sleep/wake cycle) in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is one of the major hormone centers in the center of the brain. As this publication shows there are minor genetic sequence changes for the retinal photopigment, melanopsin in patients with SAD. This affects about 1 to 2% of the American population. Many more have probably partial defects in the function of this pigment.

Being SAD in Fall (Seasonal Affective Disorders)

Being SAD in Fall (Seasonal Affective Disorders)

Many hormones in our brain experience a circadian rhythm.

When the sun goes down, melatonin is produced making us sleepy. In the morning serotonin production goes up and stays up all day, which normally prevents depression. There are other hormones that cycle during the course of the day. Cortisol is highest in the morning and low in the evening and at night. Growth hormone and prolactin are highest during sleep.

There is a lack of serotonin in the brains of patients with SAD and depression.

Symptoms of SAD

A person affected by SAD or any other patient with ordinary depression will present with symptoms of lack of energy, with tearfulness, negative thought patterns, sleep disturbances, lack of appetite and weight loss and possible suicidal thoughts. On the other hand symptoms may be more atypical presenting with irritability and overindulging in food with weight gain. Some patients somaticize as already mentioned in the beginning of this review experiencing a multitude of functional symptoms without any demonstrable underlying disease. It is estimated that up to 30 to 40% of patients attending a general practitioner’s office have some form of depression and in the fall and winter season a large percentage of them are due to SAD.

Treatment approaches to SAD

There are several natural approaches to SAD. However, before deciding to go this route, a psychiatrist should assess the patient to determine the risk for suicide. When a patient is not suicidal, light therapy can be utilized.

1. Light therapy: According to Ref. 2 a light box from Sun Box or Northern Light Technologies should be used for 30 minutes every morning during the fall and winter months. The box should emit at least 10,000 lux. Improvement can occur within 2 to 4 days of starting light therapy, but often takes up to 4 weeks to reach its full benefit (Ref.2).

2. Exercise reduces the amount of depression. The more exercise is done the less depression remains. A regular gym workout, dancing, walking, aerobics and involvement in sports are all useful.

3. Folate and vitamin B12: Up to 1/3 of depressed people have folate deficiency. Supplementation with 400 mcg to 1 mg of folic acid is recommended. Vitamin B12 should also be taken to not mask a B12 deficiency (Ref.3). Folate and vitamin B12 are methyl donors for several brain neuropeptides.

4. Vitamin D3 supplementation: A large Dutch study showed that a high percentage of depressed patients above the age of 65 were deficient for vitamin D3. Supplementation with vitamin D3 is recommended. (Ref.3). Take 3000 to 4000 IU per day, particularly during the winter time.

5. St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) has been found useful for minor to moderate depression. It is superior in terms of having fewer side effects than standard antidepressant therapy (Ref.3).

6. Standard antidepressants (bupropion, fluoxetine, sertraline and paroxetine) are the treatment of choice by psychiatrists and treating physicians when a faster onset of the antidepressant effect is needed (Ref.3).

7. Electro acupuncture has been shown in many studies to be effective in ameliorating the symptoms of depression and seems to work through the release of neurotransmitters in the brain (Ref.4).

8. A balanced nutrition (Mediterranean type diet) including multiple vitamins and supplements (particularly the vitamin B group and omega-3 fatty acids) also stabilize a person’s mood (Ref.3). Pay particular attention to hidden sugar intake, as sugar consumption is responsible for a lot of depression found in the general population.

9. Restore sleep deprivation by adding melatonin 3 to 6 mg at bedtime. This helps also to restore the circadian hormone rhythm.


Seasonal affective disorder is triggered by a lack of light exposure in a sensitive subpopulation. An integrative approach as described can reduce the amount of antidepressants that would have been used in the past in treating this condition. This will reduce the amount of side effects. The use of a light box can reduce the symptoms of this type of depression within a few days. But the addition of electro acupuncture and St. John’s Wort may be all that is required for treatment of many SAD cases. Regular exercise and a balanced nutrition (with no sugar) and including vitamin supplements complete this treatment. If the depression gets worse, seek the advice of a psychiatrist and make sure your doctor has ordered thyroid tests and hormone tests to rule out other causes where depression is merely a secondary symptom.

More information on depression:


  1. Ferri: Ferri’s Clinical Advisor 2014, 1st ed. © 2013 Mosby.
  2. Cleveland Clinic: Current Clinical Medicine, 2nd ed. © 2010 Saunders.
  3. Rakel: Integrative Medicine, 3rd ed. © 2012 Saunders.
  4. George A. Ulett, M.D., Ph.D. and SongPing Han, B.M., Ph.D.: “The Biology of Acupuncture”, copyright 2002, Warren H. Green Inc., Saint Louis, Missouri, 63132 USA

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014


Vitamin B-6, Vitamin B-12, Folic Acid To Control Hardening Of Arteries

The May 2003 issue of the medical journal “Clinical Practice” contains an article by the dietician Andrea Miller (pages 46 to 49) about supplementation with these vitamins in relation to hardening of the arteries from too much of the amino acid homocysteine.

Homocysteine is an amino acid that contains sulfur, which is formed from the metabolism of methionine, an essential amino acid that we depend on in our food for maintaining a normal metabolism. There are complex metabolic pathways that involve several enzymes to function normally, which involve the three vitamins B-6, B-12 and folic acid (folate) to balance everything.

If one of these vitamins or any of the enzymes involved malfunction, a surplus of homocysteine results with an accelerated hardening of the arteries throughout the body. A certain percentage of the population does not have the full concentration of one or more of the metabolic enzymes in their system. If the food we eat is also relatively deficient in the above named vitamins, the body runs out of alternative metabolic options and produces dangerous levels of homocysteine. A normal blood level of homocysteine is between about 5 and 10 micro-mol per liter. This is not routinely measured by screening tests unless the doctor suspects a genetic trait in the family where family members tend to get heart attacks at an early age (mid 30’s to early 40’s). When the level of homocysteine is elevated to 12 micro-mols per liter, a supplement with folic acid of 1 mg per day would reduce this by 25% to safe levels of 9 micro-mols per liter. This results in a 15% decrease of the death rate from heart attacks.

Vitamin B-6, Vitamin B-12, Folic Acid To Control Hardening Of Arteries

Vitamin B-6, Vitamin B-12, Folic Acid To Control Hardening Of Arteries

Vitamin B-12 is found in animal products such as meat, poultry and dairy products. Vegetarians may not get enough Vit. B-12 and should supplement as should persons above the age of 50. A lack of B-12 vitamin leads to pernicious anemia.

Vitamin B-6 is found widely distributed in meat, fortified grains and poultry and usually is in our food supply to a satisfactory degree.

Folate (folic acid) is contained in orange fruits, beans, lentils and green vegetables. However, not everybody eats well banced meals and the food supply could be marginally deficient in folate.

Recommendation: The take home message is that a good multivitamin tablet containing about 400 to 600 micrograms (=0.4 to 0.6 mg) of folate (folic acid), 5 mg of vitamin B-6 and 20 micrograms of vitamin B-12 would be providing an adequate amount of these vitamins and reduce homocysteine levels in most people to safe levels. It is not recommended to take single vitamin supplements of these vitamins as this could lead to toxicity. Also, there is no point in taking higher doses of the vitamins as this also would lead to toxic reactions.

Link to information about balanced nutrition:

Last edited December 9, 2012