Good lifestyle choices – exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, not smoking, and drinking in moderation – obviously make a big difference in staying healthy. Research in the last few decades has shown, however, that environmental exposures may also contribute to major diseases and health problems that disproportionately affect men – including heart disease, prostate cancer, infertility, and skin cancer.
These exposures involve a number of toxic substances that turn up in food, food packaging, drinking water, and personal care products. Fortunately, there are simple steps men can take to significantly lower their risks, which the Environmental Working Group (where I am employed as a research analyst) has highlighted in its new guide, Men's Health: What You Don't Know Might Hurt You.
Risk factors for heart disease have been linked to mercury from certain seafoods, Teflon chemicals in non-stick cookware, bisphenol-A (BPA) in hard plastic containers and canned foods, as well as the arsenic and lead in much of the nation's drinking water.
Similarly, prostate cell damage has been traced to the plastics chemical BPA and the heavy metal cadmium. Increased prostate cancer risk has been associated with certain agricultural pesticides common on some fruits and vegetables and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that build up in meat and dairy products.
And while many people mistakenly think of infertility as primarily a woman's problem, the fact is that in about 40 percent of infertile couples, it's the male who is either the sole or a contributing source of the problem. Several studies have tied sperm deficiency to a variety of environmental factors, including exposures to lead, chemicals in personal care products, and pesticides.
Skin cancer is also an especially important issue for men, who are at a higher risk than women of developing and dying from melanoma, the deadliest form.
There's not much a man can do about his genetics, but there are lots of ways to reduce potentially harmful environmental exposures. Here are six steps you can take immediately:
Filter Your Water
Invest in the right in-home water filter system to reduce your exposure to lead, arsenic, and other drinking water contaminants.
Spot and Avoid Products With BPA
Avoid canned foods and plastic containers with the recycling code #7 to dramatically lower your exposure to BPA.
At the supermarket, choose the conventionally grown fruits and vegetables that have the fewest pesticide residues and buy organic versions of those on EWG's Dirty Dozen list of produce that consistently has the most.
Know the Grooming Ingredients
When buying deodorant, soap, lotions and shampoos, consult EWG's Skin Deep database of nearly 80,000 personal care products to find those that are free of toxic chemicals.
Protect Your Skin
Learn more about skin cancer and melanoma, use proper sun protection by consulting EWG's annual Sunscreen Guide, and get regular skin checks with a dermatologist.
For more, go to EWG's guide to environmental toxins for men.
Paul Pestano is a research analyst with the Environmental Working Group.