Every day we are bombarded with a cocktail of chemicals: the fragrances in the shower gel we lather over our bodies; the pesticides used to grow our perfectly shaped apple; the phthalates in the fabric softener we wash our clothes in; the BPA-lining of our can of tuna; the flame-retardant in the comfortable couch we sink into after a busy day. Scarily, the synergistic and cumulative effects of most of these compounds is unknown. Recent research links increases in toxic exposure to decreased fertility, low sperm count, and learning and behavioural difficulties in children. In their 2014 review on the effects of environmental toxins on growing brains, Grandjean & Landrigan concluded with the terrifying statement that “children worldwide are being exposed to unrecognised toxic chemicals that are silently eroding intelligence, disrupting behaviours, truncating future achievements, and damaging societies”.
The ubiquitous nature of toxic chemicals in modern life means they are almost impossible to avoid – but small changes can make a big difference in reducing our daily exposure.
1. Simplify your beauty regime
Companies can hide a multitude of (chemical) sins behind the simple word “fragrance” so read labels carefully, and avoid anything containing fragrance, sodium laurel sulphate, parabens, and words you can’t pronounce! The internet is swarming with recipes for homemade beauty products with simple ingredients – try making your own deodorant, body wash or even toothpaste. There are loads of great companies making safer products – visit your local health food store or go online to see the huge range. The Environmental Working Group has a great resource for checking the safety of cosmetics and personal care products, including sun creams and baby products – check it out here: http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/
2. Ditch the plastic
Especially when storing food and drink – plasticiser chemicals such as phthalates and BPA can leach into foods and liquids and interfere with hormone processes in the body. Instead, use glass or ceramics for storing and heating food; glass water bottles and coffee cups are now widely available. Using cling film to cover food in the microwave can create hot-spots that cause the plastic to break down and leach into the food – use paper towels instead, or wax wraps to cover food in the fridge.
3. Go without artificial fragrances and perfumes
Air fresheners, perfumes, scented candles and fabric softeners contain synthetic fragrances that interfere with the way hormones operate in the body. Freshen your home with essential oils or fresh flowers instead. If you absolutely can’t face the world without perfume, use sparingly and spray on your clothes instead of your skin.
4. Buy the best food you can afford
Eating organic significantly reduces exposure to pesticides and fertilisers – an Australian study showed a massive 90% reduction in urinary pesticides after just one week of a mostly-organic diet. The Environmental Working Group publishes an annual list of the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” – fruit and vegetables that are most and least likely to have pesticide contamination after washing. If you don’t want to go fully organic, shopping for the Dirty Dozen from the organic aisle will significantly reduce your pesticide exposure. Choose a good source for your meat and animal products as they can contain high levels of hormone-disrupting persistent pollutants which accumulate and magnify in the animal’s fat cells. Eat low-mercury fish such as flathead, sardines, John Dory, Blue Mackerel, ocean trout, anchovy, herring, whiting and Atlantic salmon – and avoid the fish that are likely to have high levels of mercury – swordfish, marlin, shark/flake, catfish and deep sea perch.
5. Buy second hand
That new-car smell is actually a toxic soup of hormone-disrupting chemicals; your beautiful new couch is soaked in flame retardant; and your new bookcase could contain formaldehyde, perchloroethylene, and volatile organic compounds! Buy second-hand furniture and furnishings whenever possible; brand-new purchases should be exposed to the sun before being brought inside, to allow for some of the chemicals to dissipate.
For a thorough analysis of how environmental toxins might be contributing to your health and wellbeing, please book an appointment with Naturopath Kath at firstname.lastname@example.org