Monthly Archives: April 2014

For GM food and vaccinations, the panic virus is a deadly disease

23 September 2013, 12.51pm AEST

For GM food and vaccinations, the panic virus is a deadly disease

Most readers are aware of the benefits of using vaccines to boost the immune system and prevent infectious disease. Many readers will not be aware of a very different disease prevention tool: supplementing vitamins in crops through genetic modification (GM). Anti-science opposition to both is rife;…

In places like Indonesia, where white rice is a staple food, vitamin deficiency is a serious problem – especially for children. Shreyans Bhansali

Most readers are aware of the benefits of using vaccines to boost the immune system and prevent infectious disease. Many readers will not be aware of a very different disease prevention tool: supplementing vitamins in crops through genetic modification (GM).

Anti-science opposition to both is rife; to save lives, that opposition has to stop.

The disease-prevention benefits of supplemental vitamin A were accidentally discovered in 1986 by public health scientists. They were working to improve nutrition in the villages of Aceh, Indonesia, where families are heavily dependent on rice as their main source of nutrition.

These scientists discovered that simple supplementation of infant diets with capsules containing beta-carotene (a natural source of vitamin A) reduced childhood death rates by 24%.

White rice is a very poor source of vitamin A, so the people of Aceh (like millions of poorer people in large regions of the world) suffered from vitamin A deficiency. This impaired proper development of their biological defences against infection.

We now better understand vitamin A deficiency as a disease of poverty and poor diet, responsible for near two million preventable deaths annually. It is mostly children under the age of five and women who are affected.

Many other studies carried out in several Asian, African and Latin American countries reveal the health benefits of beta-carotene supplementation in the diets of people subsisting on vitamin A-deficient staple foods.

Global map showing regions with vitamin A deficiency. Wikimedia Commons
Click to enlarge

Rejecting science

Small wonder then that scientists internationally were outraged at the recent wanton sabotage of field trials to evaluate new varieties of rice called Golden Rice. This rice is genetically modified to contain nutritionally beneficial levels of beta-carotene.

In an editorial in the journal Science last week, prominent scientific leaders, including three Nobel prize winners, expressed their dismay and outrage at unethical anti-scientific efforts to prevent introduction of Golden Rice to smallholder farmers in the Philippines:

If ever there was a clear-cut cause for outrage, it is the concerted campaign by Greenpeace and other non-governmental organisations, as well as by individuals, against Golden Rice.

Trenchant opposition to vaccines, and opposition to genetically modified crops, are examples of the disturbing and strong anti-scientific sentiment in many modern countries. They share some common features.

Both movements flourish among those who reject mainstream science. They rest on misuse and misinterpretation of badly designed experiments, such as those taken to falsely indicate that mercury preservatives in vaccines cause autism.

They include false detection of proteins from GM plants in tissues of pregnant women using invalid protein measurements.

They flourish in news media, which report ill-founded comments. Examples include British medical researcher Andrew Wakefield’s disastrous 1998 press conference about the measles vaccine, and the anti-GM Safe Food Foundation’s press releases about CSIRO’s genetically modified wheat.

These would not pass muster in the professional scientific literature.

Golden rice can save lives. IRRI Images

Selective ‘evidence’

Conspiracy theory abounds in both movements. Anti-GM extremists think support for GM crops results from money by Monsanto. Anti-vaccine true believers say support for vaccines among public health professionals is fuelled by money from manufacturer Merck.

In that sense, both the anti-vaccine and anti-GM extremists are anti-science. Where they part company is in the willingness of anti-GM extremists to actively sabotage and destroy legal scientific experiments designed to address exactly the questions to which activists demand answers.

Even anti-GM activists who profess to respect the scientific method pick and choose which scientific-sounding claims to accept, depending on whether they are compatible with their own personal cultural beliefs and social affiliations.

The hundreds of studies unpinning GM crop safety are ignored. The few studies raising questions about GM crops, almost invariably of questionable quality, are the sole focus of activist attention.

Jessa Latona, the young woman convicted of sabotaging the CSIRO GM wheat trials said that she is

a huge fan of what the CSIRO does in many areas, and particularly on climate change and … yes … but I believe that not all science is equal.

This cultural bias about which science is acceptable is at the root of now considerable harm being caused by unscientific rejection of GM crops and vaccines. Nutrient fortified crops and vaccines can save lives if they are given a fair opportunity.

Some clinics, such as this one in Haiti, provide vitamin A capsules to children, but they can’t cater to the whole developing world. Bread for the World
Click to enlarge

Long-term effects

Anti-scientific opposition to vaccines is promoting the re-emergence of diseases such as measles and whooping cough in developed countries such as the USA and United Kingdom, but anti-scientific opposition to GM crops is largely hurting developing countries.

It is denying them much needed opportunities for improvements in health and human welfare, including by reducing risky pesticide use.

Some may say that the movements cause little harm, and that a precautionary approach is needed to prevent harm.

But the history of the anti-vaccine movement, spelt out marvellously in several books by paediatrician Paul Offit and journalist Seth Mnookin, underlies the fallacy of this attitude.

As Paul Offit says in relation to people against vaccination:

doing nothing is doing something.

Doing nothing about vitamin and micronutrient-fortified staple foods in the face of widespread deficiencies in the staple diets of many developing countries is condemning many people to disease-impoverished and tragically shortened lives.

Can I fall Pregnant in menopause?

Maturitas. 2013 Aug 7. pii: S0378-5122(13)00227-2. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2013.07.009. [Epub ahead of print]

Contraception during the perimenopause.


Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR, United States. Electronic address:


Although the absolute risk of pregnancy is lower during the perimenopause due to decreased fertility and decreased coital frequency, unintended pregnancy occurs at ratios similar to those observed in young women, and pregnancies that do occur are at high risk for maternal complications and poor outcomes such as miscarriage or chromosomal abnormalities. Therefore all premenopausal women should receive counselling that includes discussion of sexual habits and contraception during routine health care encounters. The majority of US women in this age group use permanent contraception, but other methods can be safe and effective and can have non-contraceptive benefits. No contraceptive method is contraindicated based on age alone. However, estrogen-containing methods should be reserved for women without cardiovascular or thrombotic risk factors. The levonorgestrel intrauterine system (LNG-IUS, Mirena®) has particular benefits during perimenopause and is safe for use in nearly all women. The LNG-IUS is approved for treatment of heavy menstrual bleeding, a common concern during the perimenopause. A substantial literature supports the use of the LNG-IUS for endometrial protection during transition from contraception to hormone therapy, although this is off-label in the United States. Reliable contraception should be used until menopause is confirmed either by cessation of menses for 2 years prior to age 50, for 1 year after age 50, or by two elevated follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) values ≥20-30IU/l while off hormonal methods for at least 2 weeks. Sterility cannot be assumed until at least age 60 because spontaneous pregnancies have been reported in women up to age 59.

Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.

Hysterectomy and Weight Gain

Hysterectomy and Weight Gain

DateTuesday, December 11, 2012 at 6:51AM | CommentPost a Comment | Share ArticleShare Article

Women who had their ovaries removed at the time of a hysterectomy gained more weight in the following years

Every year, some 600,000 women in the United States have hysterectomies (removal of the uterus), usually for benign conditions such as uterine fibroids. Often, the ovaries as well as the uterus are removed during the surgery as a means of preventing ovarian cancer. A study of post-operative patients has found that women who have their ovaries removed at the time of hysterectomy gain more weight over time, an average of 2/3 of a pound per year more in the succeeding years than women who have had no surgery and reach menopause naturally, or than those who had hysterectomies but retained their ovaries. The researchers tracked nearly 2,000 women for up to 10 years, beginning when the women were in their 40s or early 50s, and ending when the women reached menopause. They concluded that the accelerated weight gain seen in the women whose ovaries were removed could put them at risk for obesity-related chronic diseases. The study was published online September 25, 2012 by the International Journal of Obesity.

Are Breasts a health hazard?

This documentary appeared on SBS on the 2nd April. I missed it as I was only made aware of it yesterday. The questions it poses are very interesting and food for thought.
4 April 2014, 5.02pm AEST

Documentary suggests breasts are becoming a health hazard

Most people would be aware of Angelina Jolie’s preventative double mastectomy after she found she was carrying a mutation to the BRCA 1 gene which confers an extremely high risk of breast cancer. But according…

The documentary explores why 99% of women with breast cancer have no family history of the disease. SBS

Most people would be aware of Angelina Jolie’s preventative double mastectomy after she found she was carrying a mutation to the BRCA 1 gene which confers an extremely high risk of breast cancer.

But according to a new documentary airing at 8:30pm Sunday April 6 on SBS ONE, The Secret Life of Breasts, it’s less well known that the majority of women with breast cancer have no family history of the disease. (Although it should be noted that most authorities attribute between 5% and 27% of breast cancer cases to family history or known mutations).

We are a culture obsessed with breasts – but how much do we really know about them? The Secret Life of Breasts seeks to find out.

The documentary is based on the work of US environmental journalist Florence Williams’ 2012 book, Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History, whose main thesis is that while we eroticise breasts, they may actually be a hidden toxic waste ground.

Williams proposes that our breasts, with their fat deposits and oestrogen receptors, are a “sentinel organ”. Like canaries in a coalmine, they’re dying ahead of the miners who seem not to be heeding the warning.

Following in her footsteps, documentary makers interview Williams and follow people who are engaged with their breast health in some way, due to early puberty, breastfeeding, cancer risk or disfigurement.

This includes a young man in Brisbane undergoing breast reduction surgery, a group of ten young mothers in Sydney who decide to have their breast milk tested for contaminants and a woman in northern New South Wales who has a preventative double mastectomy and donates her breast tissue for chemical analysis.

The results from both the tests are disturbing; our bodies are apparently burdened by pesticides and other toxins, despite some of them having been banned decades ago. Interestingly, this sort of test was the start of Williams’ work, who decided to have her own breast milk tested after she read a news story about toxins in breast milk.

In line with Williams’ work, the documentary highlights the tendency of fatty tissue to attract surplus oestrogen. Because the human breast contains billions of oestrogen receptors as well as fatty tissue, it’s a magnet for not only the hormone itself but for oestrogen-like impostors, or “endocrine disruptors”, contained in food and industrial chemicals, particularly during developmental stages. These are absorbed into our bodies throughout our lives – from furnishings, packaging, detergents, and numerous other commodities.

The Secret Life of Breasts highlights how manufacturing and agriculture are not required to test the safety of the chemicals they use. According to the director of the US National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, Linda Birnbaum, chemicals are only subject to testing when ill-effects are suspected.

According to the documentary, the alarm being sounded by breasts include steadily rising breast cancer rates, early puberty (from as young as age seven), bigger female breasts with bra size double D being the new normal, and gynaecomastia (man boobs), among other things.

Williams is particularly concerned about the possible risks passed on to babies through contaminated breast milk. While it’s still generally accepted that breast milk beats formula for safety and benefits, it’s nevertheless a disturbing idea that a mother’s burden of chemicals will be present in her child’s nourishment.

But is the documentary overstating the harms posed to babies by toxins in breast milk? US researchers who measured levels of volatile organic compounds in the breast milk of three mothers found the levels of the same compounds were higher in the air in their homes. This was a pioneering study but it was quite small – only three mothers from the same area were involved – so it’s difficult to know which to give greater credence.

And this is not the first time the idea of babies being exposed to toxins through breast milk has been raised either. Biologist Sandra Steingraber’s 2001 book Having Faith: An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood asked – if “breast is best”, how can we help our environment ensure the purity of its milk?

This documentary provides plenty of food for thought about mammary glands, and while it raises as many questions as it tries to answer, it’s worth deciding for yourself whether you need to be worried about the secret life of breasts.

Can Vitamin intake harm me?

New York Times.


Published: June 8, 2013

PHILADELPHIA — LAST month, Katy Perry shared her secret to good health with her 37 million followers on Twitter. “I’m all about that supplement & vitamin LYFE!” the pop star wrote, posting a snapshot of herself holding up three large bags of pills. There is one disturbing fact about vitamins, however, that Katy didn’t mention.

Derived from “vita,” meaning life in Latin, vitamins are necessary to convert food into energy. When people don’t get enough vitamins, they suffer diseases like scurvy and rickets. The question isn’t whether people need vitamins. They do. The questions are how much do they need, and do they get enough in foods?

Nutrition experts argue that people need only the recommended daily allowance — the amount of vitamins found in a routine diet. Vitamin manufacturers argue that a regular diet doesn’t contain enough vitamins, and that more is better. Most people assume that, at the very least, excess vitamins can’t do any harm. It turns out, however, that scientists have known for years that large quantities of supplemental vitamins can be quite harmful indeed.

In a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1994, 29,000 Finnish men, all smokers, had been given daily vitamin E, beta carotene, both or a placebo. The study found that those who had taken beta carotene for five to eight years were more likely to die from lung cancer or heart disease.

Two years later the same journal published another study on vitamin supplements. In it, 18,000 people who were at an increased risk of lung cancer because of asbestos exposure or smoking received a combination of vitamin A and beta carotene, or a placebo. Investigators stopped the study when they found that the risk of death from lung cancer for those who took the vitamins was 46 percent higher.

Then, in 2004, a review of 14 randomized trials for the Cochrane Database found that the supplemental vitamins A, C, E and beta carotene, and a mineral, selenium, taken to prevent intestinal cancers, actually increased mortality.

Another review, published in 2005 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that in 19 trials of nearly 136,000 people, supplemental vitamin E increased mortality. Also that year, a study of people with vascular disease or diabetes found that vitamin E increased the risk of heart failure. And in 2011, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association tied vitamin E supplements to an increased risk of prostate cancer.

Finally, last year, a Cochrane review found that “beta carotene and vitamin E seem to increase mortality, and so may higher doses of vitamin A.”

What explains this connection between supplemental vitamins and increased rates of cancer and mortality? The key word is antioxidants.

Antioxidation vs. oxidation has been billed as a contest between good and evil. It takes place in cellular organelles called mitochondria, where the body converts food to energy — a process that requires oxygen (oxidation). One consequence of oxidation is the generation of atomic scavengers called free radicals (evil). Free radicals can damage DNA, cell membranes and the lining of arteries; not surprisingly, they’ve been linked to aging, cancer and heart disease.

To neutralize free radicals, the body makes antioxidants (good). Antioxidants can also be found in fruits and vegetables, specifically in selenium, beta carotene and vitamins A, C and E. Some studies have shown that people who eat more fruits and vegetables have a lower incidence of cancer and heart disease and live longer. The logic is obvious. If fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, and people who eat fruits and vegetables are healthier, then people who take supplemental antioxidants should also be healthier. It hasn’t worked out that way.

The likely explanation is that free radicals aren’t as evil as advertised. (In fact, people need them to kill bacteria and eliminate new cancer cells.) And when people take large doses of antioxidants in the form of supplemental vitamins, the balance between free radical production and destruction might tip too much in one direction, causing an unnatural state where the immune system is less able to kill harmful invaders. Researchers call this the antioxidant paradox.

Because studies of large doses of supplemental antioxidants haven’t clearly supported their use, respected organizations responsible for the public’s health do not recommend them for otherwise healthy people.

So why don’t we know about this? Why haven’t Food and Drug Administration officials made sure we are aware of the dangers? The answer is, they can’t.

In December 1972, concerned that people were consuming larger and larger quantities of vitamins, the F.D.A. announced a plan to regulate vitamin supplements containing more than 150 percent of the recommended daily allowance. Vitamin makers would now have to prove that these “megavitamins” were safe before selling them. Not surprisingly, the vitamin industry saw this as a threat, and set out to destroy the bill. In the end, it did far more than that.

Industry executives recruited William Proxmire, a Democratic senator from Wisconsin, to introduce a bill preventing the F.D.A. from regulating megavitamins. On Aug. 14, 1974, the hearing began.

Speaking in support of F.D.A. regulation was Marsha Cohen, a lawyer with the Consumers Union. Setting eight cantaloupes in front of her, she said, “You would need to eat eight cantaloupes — a good source of vitamin C — to take in barely 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C. But just these two little pills, easy to swallow, contain the same amount.” She warned that if the legislation passed, “one tablet would contain as much vitamin C as all of these cantaloupes, or even twice, thrice or 20 times that amount. And there would be no protective satiety level.” Ms. Cohen was pointing out the industry’s Achilles’ heel: ingesting large quantities of vitamins is unnatural, the opposite of what manufacturers were promoting.

A little more than a month later, Mr. Proxmire’s bill passed by a vote of 81 to 10. In 1976, it became law. Decades later, Peter Barton Hutt, chief counsel to the F.D.A., wrote that “it was the most humiliating defeat” in the agency’s history.

As a result, consumers don’t know that taking megavitamins could increase their risk of cancer and heart disease and shorten their lives; they don’t know that they have been suffering too much of a good thing for too long.

Paul A. Offit is the chief of the infectious diseases division of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the author of the forthcoming book “Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine.”


This Mineral is Essential for Healthy Aging

Brazil nuts are a great source of selenium

According to Bruce Ames, Ph.D., of the University of California, Berkeley, when certain vital micronutrients are in short supply, the body undergoes slow, insidious changes that undermine health and increase the risk of chronic disease.

One such crucial micronutrient is selenium. Dr. Ames and his fellow researchers recently analyzed 25 studies to judge the activity of immune-system components called selenoproteins – which, as the name suggests, contain selenium as an essential component. His conclusion? Even “modest” selenium deficiency appears to be associated with age-related diseases and conditions such as cancer, heart disease and immune dysfunction.

Excellent dietary sources of selenium include Brazil nuts (in fact, these should be eaten only occasionally, as their unusually high levels of this vital mineral could lead to an overdose, according to the National Institutes of Health). Good dietary sources include brewer’s yeast, wheat germ, garlic, grains, sunflower seeds, walnuts, raisins, shellfish, and both fresh and saltwater fish. In supplement form, I recommend an organic form such as yeast-bound selenium or selenomethionine. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults is 80-200 micrograms

Lifelong Health- The Daily Apple

Lifelong Health Starts Here

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I’m going to ask a question, and I want your gut response. Answer fast.

What do you feed a lion?


Meat is the obviously correct answer. You would feed the lion raw meat. I think even the most ardent vegan would admit that lions are supposed to eat meat.

But why are they “supposed” to eat meat? How do we determine what a living thing is supposed to eat?

Obviously, lions are predators. They hunt and eat prey animals in the wild. But that’s not the whole story.

Lions hunt and eat animals, and they and their feline ancestors have been doing so for hundreds of thousands of years. Millions, even. That’s the key.

The hunting, killing, and raw meat-eating informed the evolution of the lion over many millions of years. The lion’s genetic makeup was shaped by meat-eating. Its teeth and claws are made for killing, its digestive tract is meant to process protein and fat. You might even say the lion’s genes expect the ancestral lion diet of raw meat and function best on such a diet. Conversely, a diet that diverges dramatically from the ancestral lion diet will probably be harmful, with the harm incurred proportional to the degree of divergence. A vegetarian diet will make your lion sick, weak, and probably overweight; a vegan diet will probably kill your lion.

No one would argue against feeding lions raw meat, and anyone who understands natural selection (and as a subscriber to this newsletter I’m sure you do) would agree that lions function best on a raw meat diet because they evolved on one.

This works with other animals, too. Cows eat grass, not meat. Cats, those little house lions, eat meat, not grain and vegetable.

And humans? Humans eat chicken nuggets, soda, and white bread. Wait. (Record scratch.) That’s not right.

Humans are animals, too. We may be relative newcomers to this planet, but we’ve been around for a good 200,000 years, and our ancestors have been around for millions of years. And for a good 190,000 years of that, we were hunter-gatherers, living off the land, big game hunters who feasted on plant and animal alike.

Then we developed agriculture, and for the next 9,900 years, grains ruled the human diet.

100 years ago, food production industrialized, giving us vegetable oil, manmade trans fats, cheap white flour, and inexpensive refined sugar.

Now, we may not know exactly what our Paleolithic ancestors ate, day in and day out. We don’t have menus or food logs. But we do know what they did not eat.

Our ancestors did not eat grains, legumes, refined sugar, or processed vegetable oils.

The thing about people is that we are smart enough to exploit everything offered by the natural world. We don’t just stick to one source of food, like lions and their meat or cows and their grass. We branch out. We pick edible vegetation, we hunt large and small animals, we fish, we dig up edible roots, and we pluck berries from bushes. The wide variety available makes it difficult to pin down the specific evolutionary diet for humans… but that doesn’t prevent us from knowing what wasn’t available.

Here’s what we know:

Grains, beans, and legumes were not readily available until we developed agriculture roughly 10,000 years ago. Fossil records suggest that human health took a hit with the advent of agriculture, as much as you can tell from bones. Agriculturalists were shorter than and had more cavities, smaller brains, and weaker bones than hunter-gatherers. Life expectancy also dropped.

High-fructose corn syrup and vegetable oils were only made available in the last 100 years, with HFCS coming just 30 odd years ago. Today, people are fatter, more diabetic, and get more cancer and heart disease than people living 100 years ago, even if you account for differences in lifespan. Most, if not all of those illnesses are directly attributed to our poor modern lifestyles and diets.

If you accept that the biology of animals, like lions, functions best on ancestral, evolutionary diets, wouldn’t the same likely be true for humans?

That maybe we should take a closer, slightly skeptical look at the foods that have only been available to humans for the last 10,000, 1,000, and 100 years? That maybe the meat, fish, fowl, nuts, seedsfruits, roots and tubers that were available to hunter-gatherers for millions of years are actually good for us?

That’s what I call “Grok logic“. Grok, my fun name for the archetypal hunter-gatherer ancestor, is us.

We are Grok. Well, our bodies want to be, anyway. Our genes certainly think we’re still hunting and gathering because they’ve hardly changed in the last 10,000 years. Our genes expect certain things, certain foods, activity levels, and amounts of sleep. They function best when exposed to the same or similar conditions as under which they evolved.

And here’s the thing about genes. Genes can be turned on and off. They can be expressed. Just because you “have” a gene for, say, breast cancer or type 2 diabetes, it doesn’t mean you are destined to get breast cancer or type 2 diabetes. It simply means that if triggered by something in your environment, that gene will switch on (or off) and you will have a higher (or lower) chance of getting the disease.

This is called gene expression.

The things we eat, the amount of sleep we get, our stress levels, how we exercise, whether or not we get sunlight exposure – all of these environmental factors can trigger gene expression – for good or bad. And while just about everything we do can trigger gene expression, the list of things we really need to pay attention is quite short. In fact, it can be summarized in 10 simple laws. (Read more about the 10 Primal Blueprint Laws here.)

This is why I like Grok logic as a starting point when thinking about human health. It comes down to a pretty simple observation. When humans began diverting from their ancestral hunter-gatherer lifestyle, health suffered. When industrially processed food began crowding out natural, whole food, health suffered even more.

Today, people obtain most of their calories from refined grains, sugar, and vegetable oils. They endure chronic stress, lead sedentary lives, work jobs they hate, and live indoors. Today, people have more diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and obesity than ever before.

Correlation? Certainly.

Coincidence? I doubt it.

Causation? I think it’s worth investigating.


marksissonsig 1

I pink about Breast Cancer

8 November 2012, 6.46am AEST

Girlie or girl power? Breast cancer and the cult(ure) of pink

Breast cancer pink has become the signifier of a new feminism more concerned with awareness than protest. GaiaRae Veliz/Flickr

Pinktober, when hundreds of products turn pink for breast cancer, is a curious month – more carnival than commemoration; more rose-coloured glasses than true blue conscious raising.

Concerns have been raised about “pinkwashing” and the commodification of breast cancer in the United States, particularly how the meanings ascribed to pink – girlhood, girl-power and happiness – have effectively turned breast cancer into a consumer product. But in Australia, few questions are asked about this unusual cultural practice.

Like most years, this past October was full of efforts across the country – RMIT pinked-up for the global illumination project, hundreds of pink breakfasts were held around the country, and domestic cleaning giants, Ansell and Vileda, created a special range of pink cleaning products.

Pinktober’s carnival-like atmosphere, cheerful get-togethers and domestic embellishments could make you forget that breast cancer is a killer disease.

Historically, pink has not always been coded female. Philippa Willitts

In the words of US sociologist Barbara Ehrenreich, breast cancer has been “bright-sided” – turned into something positive – where victims (a word discouraged in breast cancer parlance) advocate cheerfulness, affirmation or rites of passage. While the culture covers a wide variety of upbeat products and projects, pink is the unifying linchpin.

First a history lesson – pink has not always been coded female. Despite its well-documented connection with western femininity, pink has only been a feminine colour since the 1940s following the ingression of modernist French influences. Before this, blue had generally been associated with girls because of its correlation with the Virgin Mary; pink was connected with boys because it was a lighter shade of “masculine red”.

Clearly, the meanings attached to colours change. Yellow, for example, means cowardice, as in Kenny Rogers’ Coward of the County, or caution, as in traffic lights, or trippy as in Donovan’s Mellow Yellow. Blue has been both a hot and cold colour, a signifier of divinity and the working class.

Pink, like other colours, means something. According to Barbara Nemitz, artist and expert on pink, “What is unique about pink is that it is assertive in whatever context it appears.” Nancy Brinker, founder of the Komen Foundation, writes in a Huffington Post blog, “People tend to think of pink as a soft and delicate color, but not our pink … we know that pink is strong, pink is fierce, pink is brave, and pink is mighty. Just talk to any one of the nation’s 2.5 million breast cancer survivors and you’ll know the power and courage of pink.”

‘Breast cancer pink’ is said to be strong and feisty. Tony Delgrosso

So, for Brinker, regular pink is sweet and nice, like Barbies and princesses, but “breast cancer pink” is strong and feisty. Recontextualising pink apparently shifts its meaning from girlie to girl power – from passive to active. The only problem is that in this context, girl power resembles buying power and active is really a passive form of protest.

“Show your support for breast cancer research by going shopping!” suggests one organisation. “Fight like a girl” urges a popular slogan accompanied by a pair of pink boxing gloves. For convenience, this slogan is available on tee shirts, lip balm, bags, key chains and bracelets – products completely disconnected from the actual experience of women with breast cancer. Indeed, these products suggest youth culture and girls – a demographic unlikely to develop breast cancer.

It’s no wonder that Breast Cancer Action – the group that popularised the phrase “Think before you Pink” is having a pink fit!

If breast cancer pink truly represents power, how come it resembles a carnival with youthful celebrities in the pink of health? How come it adorns tee shirts with sexist slogans such as “save second base”? How come it’s on buckets of KFC when obesity is a known risk factor for breast cancer? How come it implies awareness more than cause or cure?

Pink-branded activities encourage a carnival-like atmosphere and cheerful get-togethers. Tim Lucas

Colour theorist, Karl Schawalka, has shown that pink is the colour of camouflage. He reveals, for example, that 18th century French aristocratic society appeared pink and feminine on the outside, but masked a society in which children were raised away from their mothers. Similarly, the Gruen Transfer’s Todd Sampson notes, “In some cases, it can be seen that everything is okay with breast cancer because so many pink things are taking care of it.”

Breast cancer pink is clearly less about power than pink dollars and rose-coloured glasses. More problematically, it has become the signifier of a new feminism more concerned with awareness than protest. Says Ehrenreich, “Welcome to the Women’s Movement 2.0: Instead of the proud female symbol … we have a droopy ribbon. Instead of embracing the full spectrum of human colors … we stick to princess pink. While we used to march in protest … now we race or walk ‘for the cure.’ And while we once sought full ‘consciousness’ … now we’re content to achieve ‘awareness’.”

It’s surely time to “rethink pink”. While it adorns carnivals, celebrities and gendered consumer products, breast cancer pink will continue to be a symbol of princesses, happiness and camouflage – not power, action and advocacy.