Air pollution and chemicals found in common household and personal care goods are major sources of exposure that can lead to an accumulation of toxins in your body.
Forbes Magazine1 recently listed the 20 most polluted cities in the US. Topping the list is Fresno, California, where inhabitants are exposed to both groundwater pollution from agriculture and the worst year-round air particle pollution in the nation.
Number two and three on the list are Bakersfield, CA, the oil capital of the US, and Philadelphia, PA, known for its foul-smelling refineries and chemical plants.
The best advice I could give you should you happen to live in a heavily polluted area is to move, but I realize that isn’t always a practical option.
It’s tough to address environmental issues that you don’t have control over. It’s better to focus most of your attention on your immediate environment, which you have more, if not full, control over. After all, what you put on, in, and keep around your body on a daily basis is going to have the greatest impact on your health.
Landmark Study Links Common Household Chemicals to Human Disease
A typical American comes in regular contact with some 6,000 chemicals and an untold number of potentially toxic substances on a less frequent basis. There are about 75,000 chemicals regularly manufactured and imported by U.S. industries, so you could be exposed to any number of them. Disturbingly, many of them have never been fully tested for safety.
Some of the most pervasive chemicals are used in plastic products, and are known as endocrine disrupters. These chemicals are similar in structure to natural sex hormones, thereby interfering with their normal functions.
On February 19, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced2 a new report co-produced with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), titled: State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals.
The report suggests aban of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) may be needed to protect the health of future generations. The joint study is touted as the most comprehensive report on EDCs to date, highlighting a wide variety of health problems associated with exposure, including:
Non-descended testes in young males Breast cancer in women Prostate cancer in men Developmental effects on the nervous system in children Attention deficit hyperactivity in children Thyroid cancer
According to the report:
“The diverse systems affected by endocrine-disrupting chemicals likely include all hormonal systems and range from those controlling development and function of reproductive organs to the tissues and organs regulating metabolism and satiety. Effects on these systems can lead to obesity, infertility or reduced fertility, learning and memory difficulties, adult-onset diabetes or cardiovascular disease, as well as a variety of other diseases.”
The High Price of ‘Convenience’ Products…
The joint study flags several of the most common culprits, including Bisphenol-A (BPA), PCB’s, phthalates and agricultural pesticides. According to the report, animal studies have demonstrated that there’s “very strong evidence” BPA can interfere with thyroid hormones. Brain damage, decreased intelligence, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism were also found to be potential side effects. BPA is one of the world’s highest production-volume chemicals and is widely used in the production of:
Plastic water bottles Tooth sealants Plastic gallon milk bottles Canned foods and soda cans (most have plastic lining in the cans) Plastic microwavable plates, ovenware, and utensils Baby toys, bottles, pacifiers, and sippy cups
Beware that many manufacturers have simply replaced BPA with bisphenol-S (BPS), an equally toxic chemical.3 Studies now show BPS is showing up in human urine concentrations at levels similar to those of BPA–an indication that manufacturers are simply switching one for the other, while still being able to advertise their products as “BPA-free.” A 2012 study4 found 81 percent of those tested from the United States and seven Asian countries had BPS in their urine.
An even more recent study5 has raised the alarm on BPS, showing the chemical estrogenic activity comparable to estradiol, the most potent human estrogen. It was also found to be capable of enhancing estradiol-mediated cell signaling, making it a particularly potent endocrine disruptor. Furthermore, the study showed BPS can induce apoptosis (cell death) and interfere with cellular secretion of prolactin (PRL)—a hormone that regulates hundreds of biological functions, including metabolism, reproduction and lactation.
Another chemical used in the manufacturing of plastics is phthalates, which make plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) more flexible and resilient. They’re also one of the most pervasive endocrine disrupters so far discovered. These chemicals have increasingly become associated with changes in the development of the male brain as well as with genital defects, metabolic abnormalities and reduced testosterone in babies and adults. Phthalates are found in, among other things:
Processed food packaging Lubricant and adhesives Hoses Detergents Raincoats Beauty products like nail polish, hair spray, shampoo, deodorants, and fragrances Shower curtains Cosmetics Vinyl flooring and wall coverings Toys
Three More Common Chemicals to Avoid…
“Research has made great strides in the last ten years showing endocrine disruption to be far more extensive and complicated than realized a decade ago. As science continues to advance, it is time for both management of endocrine disrupting chemicals and further research on exposure and effects of these chemicals in wildlife and humans.” said Åke Bergman, Chief Editor of the report.
If you’ve been a longtime reader of this newsletter, the findings of this UN report come as no surprise. Rather it’s a “better late than never” type confirmation that the evidence truly has stacked up to the point of being undeniable. Those of you who took action when these fears were initially raised are now years ahead of your friends and family. In addition to BPAs and phthalates, the following three are among the most widely used chemicals around that should be avoided as much as possible:
- PFOA: Non-stick cookware is the primary source of dangerous perfluorinated chemicals (PFOAs). Non-stick pans quickly reach temperatures that cause the coating to begin breaking down, releasing toxins that have been linked to cancer, birth defects and thyroid disease into the air in your kitchen. I highly recommend you throw away this type of cookware immediately and replace it with either ceramic or glass. My personal choice is ceramic cookware, because it’s very durable and easy to clean, and there’s virtually no risk of exposure to harmful chemicals.
- Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde, most commonly known as embalming fluid, serves a number of purposes in manufactured products. It is actually frequently used in fabrics to give them a variety of “easy care properties” as well as being a common component of pressed-wood products. Formaldehyde has been shown to cause cancer in animals, and may cause cancer in humans. Other common adverse health effects include fatigue, skin rashes, and allergic reactions. Choosing all natural materials for your clothing and furniture can help cut down on your exposure.
It would be also be wise to avoid all aspartame, as well as bottled or canned fruit juices as they have methanol which your body converts to formaldehyde. This is even more dangerous than the formaldehyde in products, as your body carries the methanol like a Trojan horse to sensitive tissues like your brain where an enzyme converts it to formaldehyde.
- PBDEs: These flame-retardant chemicals have been linked to altered thyroid levels, decreased fertility and numerous problems with development when exposure occurs in utero. PBDEs are commonly found in household items like upholstery and television and computer housings. Fortunately, several states now ban the use of PBDEs, so there is some progress toward reducing exposure.
Another common source of PBDEs is your mattress, and since you can spend up to a third of your life in bed, this is a significant health concern. Mattress manufacturers are not required to label or disclose which chemicals their mattresses contain. Look for 100 percent wool, toxin-free mattresses. Another viable option is to look for a mattress that uses a Kevlar, bullet-proof type of material in lieu of chemicals for fire-proofing. Stearns and Foster uses this process for their mattresses, which is sufficient to pass fire safety standards.
What Can You do to Reduce Unnecessary Chemical Exposure to Your Family?
Rather than compile an endless list of what you should avoid, it’s far easier to focus on what you should do to lead a healthy lifestyle with as minimal a chemical exposure as possible:
- As much as possible, buy and eat organic produce and free-range, organic foods to reduce your exposure to pesticides and fertilizers.
- Rather than eating conventional or farm-raised fish, which are often heavily contaminated with PCBs and mercury, supplement with a high-quality purified krill oil, or eat fish that is wild-caught and lab tested for purity.
- Eat mostly raw, fresh foods, steering clear of processed, prepackaged foods of all kinds. This way you automatically avoid artificial food additives, including dangerous artificial sweeteners, food coloring and MSG.
- Store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic, and avoid using plastic wrap and canned foods (which are often lined with BPA-containing liners).
- Have your tap water tested and, if contaminants are found, install an appropriate water filter on all your faucets (even those in your shower or bath).
- Only use natural cleaning products in your home.
- Switch over to natural brands of toiletries such as shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants and cosmetics. The Environmental Working Group has a great database6 to help you find personal care products that are free of phthalates and other potentially dangerous chemicals. I also offer one of the highest quality organic skin care lines, shampoo and conditioner, and body butter that are completely natural and safe.
- Avoid using artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners or other synthetic fragrances.
- Replace your non-stick pots and pans with ceramic or glass cookware.
- When redoing your home, look for “green,” toxin-free alternatives in lieu of regular paint and vinyl floor coverings.
- Replace your vinyl shower curtain with one made of fabric, or install a glass shower door. Most all flexible plastics, like shower curtains, contain dangerous plasticizers like phthalates.
- Limit your use of drugs (prescription and over-the-counter) as much as possible. Drugs are chemicals too, and they will leave residues and accumulate in your body over time.
- Avoid spraying pesticides around your home or insect repellants that contain DEET on your body. There are safe, effective and natural alternatives out there.
Limiting Chemical Exposure is Important for Optimal Health
It is important to make these positive and gradual steps toward decreasing your chemical risk through healthy lifestyle choices. While you make the switch to remove and reduce chemicals around your home, remember that one of the ways to significantly reduce your toxic load is to pay careful attention to what you eat.
Organically-grown, biodynamic whole foods are really the key to success here, and, as an added bonus, when you eat right, you’re also optimizing your body’s natural detoxification system, which can help eliminate toxins your body encounters from other sources.
Environmental pollution is a massive problem, but for most there aren’t many immediate solutions to address it. Your time is better spent focusing on your immediate environment; your home, and all the products you use or come in contact with on a daily basis. Cleaning that up can go a long way to reduce your toxic load, and hence decrease your risk of chemical-induced health problems. The costs of inaction and not regulating and removing these pernicious toxins from our lives will have tremendous long lasting deleterious, health, environmental and economic costs. For more detailed reports you can review two comprehensive PDFs on the topic.