Cabin Crew and the BIG "C" Word, 3 ways you can mitigate your cancer risk as a Flight Attendant
It may come to no surprise to you the cancer rates have been on the rise, and I feel as if there is almost no one I come across who doesn’t know someone who has been affected by the “C” word. However, as I dove deeper into research I realized one work group had higher exposures of cancer rates, and that work group is in-flight crew. According to the American Cancer Society,
“Our findings of higher rates of several cancers among flight attendants is striking given the low rates of overweight and smoking in our study population, which highlights the question of what can be done to minimize the adverse exposures and cancers common among cabin crew," said Irina Mordukhovich, PhD, MSPH.”
So, it is pertinent that I highlight this as a topic of wellness because there are several ways to “minimize the adverse exposures and cancers common among cabin crew”.
There are 3 things that happen when you are cruising at 35,000 feet at prolonged periods of time, and on a consistent basis. This is one thing I want to make a point of as well, for cabin crew this exposure level may seem minimum, but you need to account for the repetitive nature of your job and the effect over time. So, these are all exposures that you should be mindful of so that you can be an advocate of sustainability for yourself.
What are the adverse exposures caused by your career in the sky?
First, Cosmic Ionizing Radiation. The higher you get into the atmosphere, the closer you are to Space and prolonged exposure can cause more free radicals and damage of cells which lead to skin cancer.
The CDC states, “The National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements reported that aircrew have the largest average annual effective dose (3.07 mSv) of all US radiation-exposed workers.”
Skin cancer is one of the most prevalent cancers among in-flight crew, and there are a few things you can do to be more equipped for combating this type of radiation.
The CDC article on Cosmic Radiation explains what flight crew can do,
“Reduce your time working on very long flights, flights at high latitudes, or flights which fly over the poles. These are flight conditions or locations that tend to increase the amount of cosmic radiation the crew members are exposed to.”
This sounds SMALL, I get it. However, living a sustainable fitness lifestyle means thinking about long term affects on your quality of life over time. One of those things that affects your quality of life is your career. If your career is in the airline industry and you are a cabin crew member or even a frequent flyer cosmic radiation is a big deal as it compounds over time. Cosmic radiation has also been linked to miscarriage in pregnant flight attendants as radiation levels are higher, which is life threatening for a developing fetus.
The second thing that affects inflight crew at cruising altitude is the crossing of multiple timezones. For some cabin crew this is not always the case, but most will cross a time-zone multiple times in a month. This, coupled with crew schedules being inherently terrible for allotting enough time for rest and leisure, can be a nightmare for cabin crew. Your body does not adjust automatically to time zone changes and circadian swap trips, even if you feel that is the case. Your body desires to stay on a routine sleep pattern because that’s how your hormones are also regulated. Without sleep, there is a cascade of events that happen to lead you down the rabbit hole towards the risky business called Breast Cancer.
Recently I just finished a book by Dr. Jolene Brighton, called “Beyond the Pill” where Dr. Brighton relates a myriad of ways to take care of your cycle, clean up your hormones, and thrive. I was surprised to find a significant study she found on flight attendants and the trend in breast cancer to that work group.
Brighton states, “A meta-analysis of flight attendants revealed a 44 percent increased risk of developing breast cancer versus the general population, which is not surprising when you consider that many flight attendants work at night and cross time zones, potentially disturbing their circadian rhythms.”
It is surprising and then it isn’t. I have related to all of you awesome readers before, in my recent Monday Moveleter titled “Adrenal Fatigue plagues Airline Workers with variable sleep schedules" ,I talked about how cortisol is part of our adrenals and is labeled a hormone. Cortisol activates based on times of the day, usually trending upward in the morning, and gradually descends during the day and is at it’s lowest around midnight. However, cortisol can be affected by stress and by sleep patterns.
Circadian swaps are both stress inducing on the body, and sleep depriving because your body can not acclimate in an instant. So, the effect it has on your hormones is huge. If you are a consistent trans-con flight attendant or pick up international trips fairly frequently, you’re at more of a risk for hormonal imbalances, which left unchecked can lead to thyroid issues, gut imbalances, immune deficiencies, and cancer.
An article by CNN titled, “Flight attendants get more uterine, thyroid and other cancers, study finds.” States that, “Disruptions in circadian rhythm -- a person's daily sleep-wake cycle -- are linked to an increased cancer risk, studies have shown.”
Since the compounding of cosmic ionizing radiation and circadian rhythm disruption happen together, it is hard to know exactly which causes what cancer but we can be sure both are harmful to your body and tend to excite free radicals in your body. Free radicals are what feed cancer growth.
The third cabin crew cancer caution is beware of workplace carcinogens. Inflight you are in a pressurized tube with circulating oxygen, that recirculates and can carry some harsh chemicals throughout the cabin. Due to your career, and consistent duration in the cabin it should be something that is on your radar. Not only do you face the outside jetfuel, engine debri, and constant changes in environment, there is also pesticides, allergens, toxic fumes, and the ozone that all circulate into that cabin. Carcinogens are known cancer causing chemicals and they break down our cells essentially turning them into free radicals that damage DNA and mitochondria, which is linked to cancer. It is almost impossible to know how clean your cabin air is, and therefore there are not immediate ways to combat what you are breathing in, besides wearing a barrier, like mask. However, there are ways to ward off free radicals in your body. This can help in every aspect from the cosmic ionization, to the circadian rhythm disruption and the carcinogens circulating in the cabin, since all of these raise oxidative stress in your body.
Here are a few ways to help lower oxidative stress (or heightened free radicals) in your body.
1. Mindset: There are many ways you can go about working on your mindset. One of the ways that has given me the ability to feel less anxious and more in control is my morning routine. I have a few mindset rituals I use as a way to decompress, and start my day off with a fortified mindset. These are natural and proven ways to combat oxidative stress and they include journaling, meditation, reading, and affirmations.
How can mindset be an effective way to battle cancer. Well it’s all about preventative care, this is where a daily ritual of mindset practices like the ones I stated above can help ward off stress and therefore that will not be a contributing factor to a potential risk of cancer.
A blogpost by Very Well titled, “Benefits of Positive Thinking for Wellness & Mind” states,
According to positive psychology researcher Suzanne Segerstrom, "Setbacks are inherent to almost every worthwhile human activity, and a number of studies show that optimists are in general both psychologically and physiologically healthier."
Optimists or “positive thinkers” tend to look on the bright side of a situation that may not be ideal. This is how they can ward off stress. Try practicing mindset techniques, because even if you may not feel stressed chances are this will still give you some serious positive energy.
2. Movement: Although exercise can cause stress on the body, it’s actually good stress for your body to have (just don’t over do it) As cabin crew it can be hard to find the time to get a workout in. Especially with the change in time zones we previously spoke about. However, I’ve formulated a 12 week training program that only takes 30 minutes a day for you to see results as well as ward off those free radicals we are so worried about. You can check out a free week of my signature program HERE
3. Mealprep: Well, if you have been following me for awhile you know I’m a big fan of mealprep, and again for good reason. Fueling your body with foods that it can fight off oxidative stress with is important.
If you’re main source of food comes from the airplane chances are it is contributing to oxidative stress in your body. Processed food, commonly found on airplanes, is filled with free radicals. Although the airlines are doing better with nutrition, fresh is best. I am a transformational nutrition coach, a true champion in staying healthy on-the-go and I’ve formulated my own Milehigh Mealprep E-book to help Inflight Crew maintain vitality in the skies. I emphasize more of a plantbased approach which is linked to staving off cancer causing free radicals.
In a article by the Huff Post titled, “A Vegan Diet (Hugely) Helpful Against Cancer” they reiterate,
"A new study just out of Loma Linda University funded by the National Cancer Institute reported that vegans have lower rates of cancer than both meat-eaters and vegetarians. Vegan women, for example, had 34 percent lower rates of female-specific cancers such as breast, cervical, and ovarian cancer. And this was compared to a group of healthy omnivores who ate substantially less meat than the general population (two servings a week or more), as well as after controlling for non-dietary factors such as smoking, alcohol, and a family history of cancer.”
My e-book is both vegetarian and vegan one of the principle reasons I share this type of nutrition based protocols based off a plantbased approach is because of the reduction of disease, that studies have proven. Think of your nutrition as part of a preventative maintenance protocol towards cancer.
These are the 3 pillars my Ready Set Resistance 12 Week Signature Program is built on and they directly combat oxidative stress which is linked to cancer. The big “C” word for cabin crew doesn’t have to be so scary when you equip yourself with the right tools and know how to combat it. With my signature program along with the professional advice I listed, you can sure as heck build a strong foundation against cancer.
Stay Fit to Fly,
The Fit Aviatrix