We’ve all been there before. It’s October and you’re in the store, perusing something as innocent as shampoo. As you stroll down the aisle amid the usual cool refreshing blue hues, a bright pink container now stands out among them. It catches your eye, and you realize that the bottle proclaims “Support the fight against breast cancer!” With marketing like that, the chance of us consumers reaching for the pink bottle goes way up. We feel good about our purchase, patting ourselves on the back and thinking, “I’m helping the fight against breast cancer! I’m saving lives!”
Little do we know that our decision and the decisions of these companies might be doing nothing but pouring money into the pockets of these companies instead of making a difference against cancer. Worse, we might be contributing to the threat of cancer itself.
This happens in all sorts of ways, but in the shampoo instance, for example, there is a direct link. Most store brands contain an ingredient called Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, known as SLS. Skin irritation, hormone disruption, eye irritation, and eye deformities are all known results of SLS toxicity. If that’s not enough, it’s even possibly carcinogenic when paired with some of the other typical ingredients in shampoo. Yes, that’s right. Carcinogenic. The very thing that these companies are purporting to fight against.
The Pink Elephant in the Room: Pinkwashing
The hypocrisy of this marketing is known as “pinkwashing,” and it’s a topic picked up by movements like the Pink Ribbon Inc documentary and Think Before You Pink. Think Before You Pink writes on their site, “Today, 3 million women in the U.S. are living with breast cancer. Up to one-third of all breast cancers will metastasize, even when found in the early stages. Black women are still 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women. And each year, 40,000 women die of breast cancer despite all the awareness and pink ribbons.”
It’s a sobering thought, and yet Think Before You Pink’s six cutting points get straight to the point on the issue of “pinkwashing”:
1. Pink ribbon products spread empty awareness. “Awareness” has failed to address and end the breast cancer epidemic. Who isn’t aware of breast cancer these days? Pink ribbon trinkets on store shelves that promote “awareness” ultimately change nothing.
2. Pink ribbon promotions spread misinformation. Whether by over-inflating women’s risk of developing breast cancer, spreading the myth that “early detection is your best protection,” focusing on a five-year cure rate for a disease that remains a risk throughout a woman’s life, or other ways of cheerfully fudging the statistics, many pink ribbon promotions fail to tell the whole truth. These inaccuracies allow pink ribbon marketers to manipulate consumers’ emotions through fear-mongering and false promises—in order to sell more products.
3. Corporations exploit concern about breast cancer for profit. Each October, marketers take advantage of people’s sincere concern about breast cancer to make money and generate good publicity. Companies sell products, make profits, and seek customer goodwill by claiming to care about breast cancer. Yet, most of these promotions ultimately benefit corporations far more than they help women living with and at risk of breast cancer. By tapping into our generosity and genuine desire to help, these companies avoid transparency about where the pink ribbon money goes and too often leave consumers unable to accurately evaluate the promises made in product advertising.
**4. Some pink ribbon products are linked to causing breast cancer. ** Years ago, Breast Cancer Action came up with a term for this, pinkwashing: the outrageous corporate practice of selling products linked to an increased risk of breast cancer while claiming to care about (and profiting from) breast cancer. It is outrageous and deeply hypocritical for companies to make money and gain customer goodwill from products that increase the risk of the very disease they claim to care about!
Companies that claim to care about breast cancer should make sure their own products and services don’t increase women’s risk of breast cancer.
5. Pink ribbon promotions often degrade women by objectifying and sexualizing women’s breasts and bodies. From “save the boobies” to “save the ta-tas” to “save second base,” campaigns like these demean and insult women—and distract from the true focus of saving women’s lives.
**6. Pink ribbon culture obscures the harsh reality of breast cancer ** by creating a single story of triumphant survivorship based on positive thinking, beauty tips, and sanitized, carefully chosen images of women. Breast cancer is not pretty and pink, and many women who “fight hard,” “fight like a girl,” and try to “beat breast cancer” develop metastatic cancer and still die from the disease. Breast cancer is only profitable when it’s palatable, and the pink ribbon covers up the devastating, harsh reality that so many women and their loved ones are dealing with.
These six points really hit home; when we stop cruising on autopilot down the store aisles and really stop to think, how can we look at pink Breast Cancer Awareness products the same way again?
What to Do?
You can certainly donate to foundations that you trust and research well yourself (check to make sure that they do not receive funding from the pharmaceutical industry, which can make their motives questionably messy, or from any corporations profiting from or contributing to cancer). On top of this, you can help stop the epidemic by taking care of yourself and your loved ones. Keep an eye on sources of toxins, such as household products, cleaning supplies, and even clothes. Get regular check-ups and check yourself on a schedule.
However, there’s another venue that you can pursue that’s preventative. Research continues to pile up that diet can make a huge difference in the fight against cancer. “The easiest, least-expensive way to reduce your risk for cancer is just by eating a healthy diet,” says Rachael Stolzenberg-Solomon, PhD, MPH, RD, a researcher at the National Cancer Institute.
Experts agree that plant-based foods should be dominating your plate. “If you have two-thirds of plant food on your plate, that seems to be enough to avoid excessive amounts of food high in saturated fat,” says Karen Collins, RD, nutritional advisor for the American Institute for Cancer Research. These 8 foods have a number of powerful, ranging properties that help lower your risk for cancer:
All berries are packed with cancer-fighting phytonutrients. But raspberries, in particular, contain very high concentrations of phytochemicals called anthocyanins, which slow down the growth of premalignant cells and keep new blood vessels from forming (and potentially feeding a cancerous tumor), according to Gary D. Stoner, PhD, a professor of internal medicine at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. Berries are currently believed to help fight against colon, esophageal, oral, and skin cancers if a half-cup serving a day is eaten.
Grapefruits can come in a range of colors, from pink to yellow, but it’s the red and pink varieties that you should reach for. These are particularly rich in the powerful antioxidants beta-carotene and lycopene. Studies also show that the phytonutrients in grapefruit called limonoids may inhibit tumor formation, and the pulp in grapefruit contains compounds that may help prevent breast cancer.
3. Cruciferous Vegetables
You know cruciferous vegetables well: broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower and company. They may be particularly helpful in protecting you from cancer. Researchers have found that components in these veggies can protect you from the free radicals that can damage your cells’ DNA. They may also shield you from cancer-causing chemicals, help slow the growth of tumors, and encourage cancer cells to die. Plus, once you figure out a niche dish, they’re pretty darn tasty (why do you think kale is all the rage? It’s delicious!).
“Hey, you said these were pink foods!” Well, not all cruciferous vegetables are dark, leafy greens. Red cabbages and radishes are both root vegetables, but like their cruciferous relatives broccoli, cabbage, and kale, they have cancer-fighting properties. They also contain impressive amounts of vitamin C, potassium, folate, and fiber. Radishes have a mild to spicy flavor, and they are delicious sautéed in extra-virgin olive oil with minced garlic and other vegetables.
You’ve probably been told to “eat the rainbow” before; namely, target colorful foods, flagging them as awe-inspiring superfoods. Beets are no different! The powerful phytonutrients that give beets their deep crimson color may help to ward off cancer. Research has shown that beetroot extract reduced multi-organ tumor formations in various animal models when administered in drinking water, for instance, while beetroot extract is also being studied for use in treating human pancreatic, breast, and prostate cancers. In recent lab studies on human tumor cells, betanin pigments from beets have been shown to lessen tumor cell growth through a number of mechanisms, including inhibition of pro-inflammatory enzymes (specifically, cyclooxygenase enzymes). The tumor cell types tested in these studies include tumor cells from colon, stomach, nerve, lung, breast, prostate and testicular tissue. While lab studies by themselves are not proof of beets’ anti-cancer benefits, the results of these studies are encouraging researchers to look more closely than ever at the value of betanins and other betalains in beets for both prevention and treatment of certain cancer types.
Tomatoes just might help men protect themselves from prostate cancer. Everyone’s favorite fruit-mistaken-for-a-vegetable can help guard the DNA in your cells from damage that can lead to cancer, thanks to a particularly high concentration of an effective antioxidant called lycopene.
If you’ve ever heard that red wine prevents cancer, take a look at why that saying has been passed around like the bottle itself. The skin of red grapes is a particularly rich source of an antioxidant called resveratrol. Grape juice and red wine also contain this antioxidant. According to the National Cancer Institute, resveratrol may be useful in keeping cancer from beginning or spreading. Lab studies have found that it limits the growth of many kinds of cancer cells; in men, moderate amounts of red wine have been linked to a lower risk of prostate cancer.
The humble peach is quickly moving up the ranks in the world of superfoods. Recent studies have shown that the antioxidants in the skin and flesh of peaches are comparable to those found in another superfruit: blueberries. The chlorogenic acid found in peaches may help protect against breast cancer, one study found.
Ellagic acid — the latest phytonutrient to enter the scene (although it’s been quietly hanging out in berries, nuts, and pomegranates for millennia) are pomegranates’ secret weapon. In laboratory and animal studies, ellagic acid has been shown to inhibit cancer cell growth and deactivate cancer-causing compounds. Some research suggests that drinking pomegranate juice may slow the progression of prostate cancer. For example, in a study of men with recurrent prostate cancer and rising prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels, researchers found that taking pomegranate juice extract significantly slowed the rate at which PSA was rising (PSA doubling time). A longer PSA doubling time can indicate that the cancer may be progressing less rapidly. However, it should be noted that this study did not use a control or placebo group. Nor did it measure overall survival.