Creating a Healing Environment

Key Points

  • Some exposures are beneficial to overall health and wellness, such as nature, clean air and water, and light at appropriate times.
  • Some exposures can be harmful to general health and wellness. These may include many chemical pollutants, chemicals in consumer products, radiation, noise, mold and bacteria.
  • This page describes some steps you can take to increase beneficial exposures and minimize those that may be harmful.


Nancy Hepp, MS, BCCT Project Manager

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Laura PoleReviewer

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS, BCCT Senior Researcher

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Last updated August 26, 2021.

Some exposures are beneficial to health and wellness. These include nature, clean air and water, bright light in the morning and darkness at night.

Classifying Exposures

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) lists hundreds of exposures in several categories based on research showing connections to cancer:1

  • Group 1: Carcinogenic to humans
  • Group 2A: Probably carcinogenic to humans
  • Group 2B: Possibly carcinogenic to humans
  • Group 3: Not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans
  • Group 4: Probably not carcinogenic to humans

However, a wide range of chemical and physical agents—both natural and human-generated—may damage our DNA and impact our health in many ways. As BCCT founder and author Michael Lerner has stated, it’s hard to be healthy on a sick planet. These exposures include air pollution, many chemicals, and several forms of radiation.

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Highlighted Videos

BCCT Senior Researcher Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS, offers tips on how to create a healing environment.

Integrative oncologist and BCCT advisor Donald Abrams, MD, explains why all cancer patients should eat organic food.

Healing Exposures


Exposure to or immersion in nature is associated with significantly higher likelihood of good health or high well-being,2 calmness, improved mood, and more positive social behavior.3

  • Less anxiety, pain, and agitation among critically ill adults with nature-base sounds in a review of RCTs4
  • Lower anxiety after time in a forest (whether following the forest bathing model or not), compared to time in urban settings or indoors, in a review of small to mid-sized controlled trials5
  • Benefits to anxiety with forest bathing in a systematic review of systematic reviews and meta-analyses rated with moderate and low confidence6
  • Lower anxiety levels among adults suffering from pre-hypertension or hypertension in a review of intervention studies7
  • Lower anxiety scores among young adults, and especially among overweight people and women, in a review of two small RCTs8

The Japanese practice of "forest bathing" involves mindful immersion in a forested setting to take in all the sensory stimuli.

Nature and Your Body Terrain

Reviews, meta-analyses and other studies have found that forests and other natural environments have the following beneficial effects on human health:9

  • Increase the likelihood of reporting good health or high well-being
  • Increase immune function (human natural killer, or NK, activity, the number of NK cells) and the intracellular levels of anticancer proteins
  • Reduce blood pressure, heart rate and stress hormones
  • Increase the activity of parasympathetic nerves and reduce the activity of sympathetic nerves
  • Increase the levels of serum adiponectin which regulate glucose levels and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, important in sex hormone production
  • Lower scores on the Profile of Mood States (POMS) test for anxiety, depression, anger, fatigue and confusion, and higher scores for vigor10

All these outcomes improve your body terrain, making it less hospitable to the growth and spread of cancer. Preliminary research shows that the benefit may be due in part to exposure to microbes.11

Addressing only the symptoms of a problem is unlikely to produce real wellness if the underlying causes are left in place.

Some ways to increase your exposure to nature:

  • To regular outings for shopping or other errands, add a half-hour stop for a walk in a park, at a beach, in a wooded area, on a prairie or in whatever natural areas are near you. Engaging in physical activity in nature is likely to increase the health benefits.

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Ecologic Models of Health

Looking at situations of health and illness through ecologic models can help discern relationships and leverage points for change. Read more on our Ecologic Models of Health page.

Clean Food, Water and Air

Consuming food, water and air uncontaminated with the chemicals listed below—or with lead, arsenic, mercury or other metals—is important for giving your body the materials it needs to fight infection and heal.

Some ways to increase your exposure to clean food, water and air:

  • Purchase organically grown food when you can. Not only will you be consuming fewer pesticide residues, but you’ll be helping to keep runoff chemicals from our water supplies.

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Light in the correct color spectrum and at the right time of day is beneficial to health and healing.


Light in the correct color spectrum and at the right time of day is beneficial to health and healing. Our natural rhythms of hormones promote healthy cycles of wakefulness and sleep throughout the day, and light influences these hormone and sleep cycles. Preliminary research shows that bright light therapy in the morning can improve sleep in people with cancer.13

Bright daytime light may also lead to better mood: Women with mild to moderate depressive symptoms reported significantly better scores in all five measures of depression in a small randomized trial. An intervention combining a brisk 20-minute outdoor walk, increased light exposure throughout the day and  a vitamin regimen had high adherence for eight weeks. The goal of the walk was to increase target heart rate of 60% of maximum, and the supplements included vitamins B1, B6, B2, B9, D, and selenium.14

However, the wrong type of light or at the wrong time of day might be a problem.

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Chemical Exposures

Anticancer Lifestyle Program

Using expert videos, animation, text and interactives, the Environment Module of the Anticancer Lifestyle Program gives you tools to make informed and wise purchasing decisions to reduce your exposure to toxics common in daily living.

Anticancer Lifestyle Program link

This course is offered on a “pay-what-you-can” basis for 90-day access to all course modules.

Air Pollution

Indoor air in many buildings is likely to contain toxics in harmful concentrations.

Outdoor air pollution comes to mind when many people think of air pollution, and without a doubt the volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and other air toxicants from vehicles, industry, burning and mining create an unhealthy environment. However, indoor air in many buildings is also likely to contain toxics in harmful concentrations.

Air Pollution and Cancer

Some evidence suggests that exposure to air pollution may play a role in some types of cancer. Some examples:

  • A 2019 study found that increases in ultrafine particle (UFP) pollution was directly associated with an increased risk of brain tumors in an urban area.17  
  • A 2019 study found that low concentrations of ambient nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a marker for traffic-related air pollution, increases the risk of premenopausal breast cancer, but not postmenopausal breast cancer.18
  • Lung cancer mortality is related to several types of air pollution and may interact with weather conditions.19
  • A large 2017 study concluded that kidney, bladder and colorectal cancer deaths were associated with higher levels of some air pollutants.20  
  • A separate 2017 study found that survival of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) was reduced with increasing exposure to fine particulates in air.21

What you can do to reduce exposures:

  • Reduce the use of products that off-gas toxic chemicals into your home:
    • Air fresheners
    • Dryer sheets
    • Plastic items, especially vinyl products
    • Cleaning products containing chlorine, ammonia or solvents

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Endocrine-disrupting Chemicals

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) can alter the hormonal signals that control and guide many of our body’s functions. EDCs are a particular concern with cancers that respond to hormone signals. Many of the chemicals and chemical types listed on this page are EDCs:

  • BPA
  • Metals
  • Pesticides
  • Solvents

Bisphenol A (BPA)

BPA has been removed in recent years from many baby products due to safety concerns—concerns that also relate to hormone-affected cancers. BPA—and replacement chemicals that unfortunately may not be any better—is still added to many plastic products and other everyday items. Some examples:

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What you can do to reduce exposures:

  • Avoid food and beverages packed in containers containing BPA, including many plastic bottles and steel cans. BPA-free plastic products made with BPA replacements may have similar health effects as BPA.
  • Use metal or glass food and beverage storage containers.
  • Avoid heating polycarbonate plastic (#7), or indeed any plastic, in a microwave oven, as heating can increase the rate of leaching or degrade the plastic over time. Washing plastic in hot water, such as in a dishwasher, also degrades it.
  • Avoid handling cash register receipts.

Flame Retardants

Flame-retardant chemicals are added to fabrics and upholstery, polyurethane foam cushions and mattresses, and many appliances and electronics. Over time, these chemicals leach from products into dust and into the air, from which they can be inhaled. Chemicals may also adhere to hands and are transferred to food.

What you can do to reduce exposures:

  • Keep dust levels down by dusting with a damp rag, wet mopping and vacuuming with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to help remove contaminants from your home.

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Highlighted Video: Organic Food

Integrative oncologist and BCCT advisor Donald Abrams, MD, explains why all cancer patients should eat organic food.

Pesticides include all products meant to kill, repel or control living organisms: herbicides, insecticides, rodenticides, nematacides, fungicides, and so on. Hundreds of pesticides, in many classes, each have their own toxicological effects. Exposures to certain pesticides are associated with several types of cancers. Besides agricultural use, pesticides are used in huge quantities in many other places:

  • Parks and playgrounds
  • Golf courses and lawns
  • Home gardens
  • Inside homes and other buildings
  • On our bodies in the form of insect repellents, lice treatments, preservatives in cosmetics and other products

A large prospective study in France found that higher frequency of organic food consumption was associated with a reduced risk of cancer.23

What you can do to reduce exposures:

  • Make pests unwelcome in your home or office: remove entry points and sources of food and water.

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Plastic is so endemic in our world that we use it in all aspects of our lives: clothing, furniture and appliances, building materials, transportation, entertainment, dishes and cookware, and packaging—including food packaging. Unfortunately, many types of plastic are associated with cancer and cancer processes such as hormone disruption and immune-system depression.24

What you can do to reduce exposures:

  • Take an inventory of all the plastic items in your home and workplace and determine what you might find alternatives for. Focus on those items which involve food or that are exposed to heat, which may promote off-gassing. Some examples of alternatives:
    • Ceramic, glass, wood or metal dishes, cookware and storage products
    • Fabric shower curtains or glass shower doors
    • Wool, cotton, bamboo and hemp clothing and fabrics instead of polyester or nylon. Rayon is better than plastic fibers but not ideal.25
  • Do not heat food in plastic containers, using glass or ceramics instead. Washing plastic in hot water, such as in a dishwasher, also degrades it and increases the movement of toxic chemicals into food.
  • Reduce the amount of needless plastic you bring into your home, such as plastic grocery bags and superfluous packaging.

Solvents and Alcohol

Highlighted Video

BCCT advisor Brian Bouch, MD, explains the importance of toxicity and genes in integrative cancer care, plus a functional medicine approach to diagnosis and care.

Hair Products and Breast Cancer Risk

Chemicals in hair products may play a role in breast carcinogenesis, according to a 2019 analysis. Nonprofessional use of these products was associated with an increased risk of breast cancer:26

  • Permanent dye
  • Personal straightener
  • Application of semipermanent dye and straighteners to others

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Solvents are used mainly in cleaning products and processes, although ethanol—consumed in wine, beer and liquor—is also a solvent. Common sources of exposure:

  • Dry-cleaned fabrics
  • Paints and furniture finishes, plus products used to clean or remove these
  • Cosmetics, especially nail polishes and nail polish removers
  • Cleaning products, especially de-greasers, vehicle cleaners, glass cleaners and stain removers

What you can do to reduce exposures:

  • Check cleaning product and cosmetic labels for ingredients that have solvent endings of -ol, -one, -ene or -ane and find alternatives if possible. Some examples of solvents in cleaners:

Expand list

  • If you must use solvent-based cleaners, store products in tightly-closed containers away from your living space if possible. When using these products, open a window or use an exhaust fan.
  • Look for cosmetics and personal care products that do not contain solvents.
  • Reduce your consumption of alcoholic beverages.

Radiation Exposures

Ionizing radiation

Ionizing radiation is a well-established cause of cancer. By 2006, almost half of the typical American exposure to ionizing radiation had come from medical devices such as x-rays and especially from computed tomography (CT) scans.28 Other sources of ionizing radiation exposures:

  • Radon seeping into buildings from the ground and becoming concentrated in indoor spaces
  • Cosmic rays, which increase at high elevations (such as when flying)
  • Airport security backscatter x-ray machines

What you can do to reduce exposures:

  • Check your house radon levels and if needed reduce them through improved ventilation or by addressing cracks and gaps that allow seepage into your home.

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Electromagnetic Energy/Non-Ionizing Radiation

Electromagnetic Fields and Sleep

Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) may interfere with sleep-activity cycles—your circadian rhythms. The idea is considered controversial, but some evidence shows that EMFs may affect melatonin metabolism and circadian rhythms.

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Electromagnetic (EM) energy, specifically non-ionizing radiation, comes from both wired and wireless devices. Cell phones and their towers emit radiofrequency radiation (RF) while power lines and appliances emit extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF-EMF). Other sources of non-ionizing radiation:

  • Ultraviolet radiation from sunshine, tanning beds and to a lesser degree artificial lights (mercury vapor, halogen, fluorescent, and incandescent lights)
  • Microwave devices

What you can do to reduce exposures:

  • Protect your skin from excess sunshine and limit exposures from 10am to 3pm.

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Other Exposures

Some Sources of Exposures Related to Cancer

The 2008-2009 report from the President’s Cancer Panel noted these sources of exposures tied to cancer:32

  • Air pollution: especially diesel particulates
  • Asbestos
  • Disinfection by-products
  • Fertilizers
  • Machining oils and metalworking fluids
  • Metals, including arsenic
  • Pesticides (active and inactive or inert ingredients)
  • Pharmaceuticals in water sources
  • Radiation, including sun exposure, tanning beds, medical imaging, nuclear testing, radon and possibly low frequency electromagnetic energy fields (LF-EMF)
  • Solvents
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Veterinary drugs

Particulates in air, loud sound and noise, mold, and bacterial or viral pathogens can also affect your health and well-being.

What you can do to reduce exposures:

  • Reduce sources of particulates in your home, car and other environments
    • Inefficient wood stoves and fireplaces
    • Cigarettes, cigars and candles
    • Inadequately vented gas stoves, furnaces and space heaters

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Integrative Programs, Protocols and Medical Systems

For more information about programs and protocols, see our Integrative Programs and Protocols page.

Written by Nancy Hepp, MS, and reviewed by Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS; most recent update on November 9, 2020.

View All References

More Information

Environmental exposures and cancer



Air pollution

Water pollution and water filters

BPA and endocrine-disrupting chemicals

Flame retardants







Purchasing guides

Ecological Models of Health

More from Our Resources Database

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