The Body Burden of Toxic Chemicals
For decades scientists have studied how land, air and water pollution impact human health. Now they’re documenting the toxic effects of industrial chemicals that accumulate in everybody, from grandparents to babies still in the womb.
A study published May 4 of this year, sponsored by EWG (Environmental Working Group) in conjunction with the nationwide organization of women environmental leaders Rachel’s Network, showed that traces of up to 48 chemical contaminants were present in the blood of women tested. Subjects had been educated to avoid direct contact with these chemicals in flame-retardants, synthetic fragrances and some plastics. The chemicals identified in their bloodstreams were mostly from unregulated household goods, plastics, beauty products, food and water.
If you’re like me, you love to slather, spritz or powder yourself with yummy beauty care products. But everyone should remember that in reality skin, our largest organ, is a porous protector. Here’s something scary: it has been estimated that over a lifetime a woman absorbs four pounds of lipstick, most of which contains toxins. And lipstick is just one of many products absorbed by the skin.
Some current (yes—current) cosmetic ingredients include formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, and 1,4-dioxane, a by-product of cosmetics manufacturing and a known eye and respiratory tract irritant suspected of causing damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidneys. It may contaminate deodorants, shampoos, toothpastes and mouthwashes. These products are unregulated and often pass through our skin with toxins that can disrupt development and the endocrine system.
We are also exposed daily to another class of chemicals called phthalates, components in a huge range of products including pill coatings, glues and adhesives, building materials, personal care products, cosmetics, detergents, paints, plastics and on and on. Diet is believed to be the main source. The effects of phthalates have been researched heavily in the past decade. The use of phthalates to make plastics, including food containers and baby bottles, is being phased out and phthalates are on the cusp of regulation. However, many phthalates exist in our environment and some have been linked to hormone disruptions, especially when heated.
Eating organic is something we all need to consider. The pesticides and herbicides used on most non-organic crops can be hormone disruptors or otherwise harmful and should be avoided. The continued use of hormones and antibiotics in industrial meat production, along with the pesticides and herbicides used on animal feed, all pass on to us when consumed.
So what can you actually do about all this?
- Use cast iron pans instead of nonstick.
- Avoid excessive chemicals, artificial colorings and toxins by going easy on the processed foods (basically most of what comes in a box). Try to eat more whole foods and fewer that come out of containers, especially cans and plastic.
- Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. My favorite advice: eat foods from the land and sea, organic foods that walk around, and plenty of nuts and seeds
- Go organic when possible, especially with dairy, meat and poultry. Eat low-mercury fish such as tilapia and pollock.
- Wash veggies and fruits well.
- Do NOT microwave food in plastic.
- Try to drink more filtered water and avoid plastic water bottles.
- Seal outdoor furniture to avoid the possibility of leaching arsenic.
- Leave your shoes at the door.
- Buy products with natural fibers such as cotton and wool that are naturally fire resistant to help reduce your exposure to flame-retardants.
- Switch to natural and environmentally friendly cleaning products including dishwashing and laundry detergents as well as bathroom and counter cleaners. For fresh smelling air use a ventilator fan and/or open a window. Avoid using plug-in chemical air fresheners.
- Avoid perfume, cologne and products with added fragrance.
- Consider using lotions, creams, shampoos and other personal care products that are organic and do not contain toxins that absorb quickly through your skin.
Nisha Jackson, PhD, MS, WHCNP, HHP