When we think about living a healthy lifestyle, we often consider how to improve our diet, and get more exercise. What gets less attention though, are the products we use every day, which research has indicated could be detrimental to our health.
The good news is, there are plenty of ways to reduce these toxins. This blog will focus on those little things you can change to drastically reduce your daily exposure to toxins.
Before we get into talking about environmental toxicity and how to reduce it, I want to tell you a little about my story. When I was 24 I developed a neurological condition which led to my developing multiple chemical sensitivity. This sensitivity makes people very intolerant to any smells and chemicals, to the point it can make you feel physically sick and dizzy .
Studies have suggested that some individuals can’t detoxify these toxic substances very well and unfortunately I was one of them. Therefore, I had no choice but to clear my environment from chemicals and toxins.
The rise of environmental toxicity
The number of chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis is increasing every year. Since the industrial revolution, there have been around 80,000 chemicals introduced, but only around 1% have been tested for their impact on human health (Loki, 2015)
Recent research has been produced showing the harmful effects of environmental toxins. Chemicals that have been linked to poor health include phthalates, parabens, triclosan, laureth sulphate and BPA. These chemicals are worryingly added to a lot of products we use on a day to day basis! (Sholl, 2011)
It can be hard to imagine that cleaning products can have an effect on our bodies. But, it is believed that chemicals in our environment can be absorbed into our bodies just as much as chemicals from food.
Unfortunately, lots of cleaning products have chemicals in them that are suggested to be bad for our health. The reason companies are using these is because they are cheap and easy to mass produce.
However, it can actually be cheaper to use natural alternatives!
Simple changes you can make to your cleaning cupboard:
Washing Powder Alternatives
Instead of using washing powder you can use something called an eco-egg. It’s an egg shaped container that has mineral containing balls, that help to clean your clothes. There are also soap nuts and brown little balls from a natural plant. All of which will clean your clothes without chemicals.
We all love the feeling of soft clothes but there are much more natural and cheap ways to do the same thing. To soften your clothes, use ¼ cup of baking soda in the powder section of your washing machine.
To get the clothes softener smell you can use aromatherapy oils! You can either add it into the softener section of your washing machine or you can put 15-20 drops of essential oils on a tea towel in with your dryer. However, be careful if you have cats because many aromatherapy oils may be toxic to cats!
NOTE – Check your choice of essential oil is all natural and doesn’t use perfumes!
Floor, Toilet and Surface cleaners
A simple mix of vinegar and tea tree oil can be used to clean lots of things in your home! Vinegar is a great natural cleaning product – if you don’t like the smell of vinegar you can also use lemons.
However, there are some great natural cleaning brands you can use, if you don’t want to make your own cleaning products. A great place to look for these is in health food stores. Just make sure you check the labels for parabens and other chemicals.
Another option is to invest in is a steam cleaner – this breaks down dirt without having to use any chemicals at all!
Mould is unfortunately really common in the UK due to a lot of older houses and colder weather. Yet, studies suggest that some mould is extremely toxic in our bodies. The spores mould releases, contain toxic chemicals called mycotoxins which have detrimental effects on health. (Bush, 2006). Consequently, it is really important to minimise our exposure to mould due to its negative effect on health.
You can breathe in mould spores when there is a build-up of mould in your home, which has been suggested to damage your immune system and potentially become carcinogenic (Edmonson, 2009). Mould can be removed using vinegar, or you can use baking soda mixed with essential oils to create a paste that will remove it.
Household dust can fall into the same category as mould because mould spores can get into dust which we then breathe in (Bush, 2006). Therefore, it is important to regularly dust your surfaces. To do this you can use the solution of vinegar and tea tree oil mentioned earlier!
Don’t be too clean
This may sound like a strange tip but it is very important. Society has got more and more obsessed with removing germs and using anti-bacterial products constantly!
Recent studies have indicated it is important to allow your body to be exposed to some bacteria to build up the immune system.
Ironically, the over use of chemicals to try to remove germs could be making you feel poorly, as you breathe in more chemicals which can damage your immune system.
Additionally, research suggests that antibacterial products can damage the skin by removing the natural layer of bacteria we have on our skin as an immune barrier. This allows toxins to pass through that skin barrier into our bloodstreams. It can also age us by altering the natural state of our skin!
Make up is something many women wear daily so it is important to choose products that have natural and safe ingredients. Examples of harmful substances that have been scientifically tested to be present in makeup include lead, which is often used to give red lipstick its bright colour (Brown, 2013). When you think about how often some women reapply lipstick and swallow it – it is scary to think there is lead in it!
Another example is mascara, containing chemicals such as aluminium and formaldehyde (Medical Daily, 2013). With these chemicals so close to your eyes there is a danger of it affecting your eyesight over time.
A great makeup brand to look at is Jennifer Young who created all natural makeup for cancer patients. These pure products were created as patients who undergo chemotherapy become very sensitive to chemicals – however, anyone can buy these products and support a great brand!
When choosing your makeup products always read the labels and do your own research on the ingredients. Some makeup brands may look healthier because they say they are vegan or vegetarian or even be marketed as natural but may still use a lot of harmful chemicals.
Just as important as makeup is skin care. You are rubbing these creams into your skin, which can be absorbed into the body, so it is important to make sure you are not rubbing a load of chemicals in!
There are some great all natural brands for skin care including Nourish and Weleda. Coconut oil is also a great alternative for skin care. It can be used as a moisturiser, or to take off your makeup at the end of the day by simply rubbing it into your face and then removing with a cloth.
The next thing to consider is your use of deodorants. Many deodorants are full of harmful chemicals that we spray or roll directly onto our skin. If you do want to keep buying shop bought deodorants then make sure it is definitely a deodorant you are buying and not an antiperspirant.
Antiperspirants do exact what they say in the name – they stop you perspiring!
Your body needs to sweat to control its temperature.
It is important to make your shampoos, conditioners and hair dyes as chemical free as possible. Again, make sure you do your research and read labels. If you get your hair dyed professionally then ask your hairdresser about more natural alternatives. Henna is one option. Yaoh make a great natural shampoo and conditioner made from hemp oil.
You may have heard time and time again that you need to pick a toothpaste with fluoride in.
One effect of fluoride is that is competes in the body with thyroxin so it can disrupt the thyroid gland (if you have thyroid issues it is important to be aware of this!) (Kheradpisheh, 2018)
It has also been suggested that fluoride can make teeth more brittle due to the way it reacts in the mouth. (American Dental Association, 2007) Alternative toothpastes include brands like Jason’s and Kingfisher. You can also make your own. Many holistic dentists now recognise the importance of fluoride free dentistry so research around your area and think about making the switch!
Next we are going to talk about other items within your household that may be toxic!
Recently you may have heard a lot about BPA and their harmful effects. BPA is found in a lot of plastics and has been found to act as an endocrine disrupter that disrupts the hormones in our body. Some reports state that BPA has been found to mimic oestrogen in the body and cause oestrogen dominance. The dominance of oestrogen in the body has been implicated in a lot of conditions e.g. oestrogen dominant cancers. (Komen, 2017)
Due to these findings there has been a lot of hype around BPA free products (plastic items that do not contain BPA). However, in a lot of these products BPA has been replaced with another chemical called BPS. BPS has actually been shown to be more harmful than BPA! (Service, 2018)
Examples of plastic items to be aware of:
Be careful not to be fooled by clever marketing in the BPA free movement. Plastic absorbs into the food we eat (particularly soft plastic). This is also true for any personal care items we have that are kept into soft plastic – it can leech into the product which we then place on our skin. Therefore, try to make the switch to glass containers rather than plastic! Just make sure your glass containers don’t have a plastic lid – you can use mason jars for pretty much everything!
Another thing to watch out for is hot drinks while we are out and about. The little cardboard looking cups you get hot drinks in actually have a plastic lid that is full of BPA. The lining of these cups is often also made out of plastic which has BPA in it. The steam from the hot drinks can release the BPA (the unwanted chemicals) into your drink. Make a swap to a stainless steel cup and carry it with you when you want a hot drink. Some places even do a discount for those that bring their own cups so it is a win-win situation!
Also, be aware of tinned foods which are lined with BPA. Of course, it may be difficult to cut tinned foods out completely especially if you are eating on a budget. The key message here is just to be aware,and do your best to avoid plastics – it isn’t about being perfect!
Some cookware has also been suggested to be unsafe for our health, for example, non-stick cookware. The chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is used to make some non-stick cookware. When PFOA is heated up, these emit harmful gases that you inhale each time you use your non-stick pot or pan! These items are likely to scratch or chip at some point which can go into your food and increase your risk of poison. (Reinagel, 2018)
An alternative to non-stick cookware is to use stainless steel or cast iron pans. If you choose a stainless steel pan, make sure it doesn’t have other harmful metals added into it.
Be aware of ceramic cookware as many ceramics contain lead in the glaze! Again, do your research before you buy.
A really simple thing to change is your household scents. If you like your home to smell amazing, then you can use essential oils which smell great and have lots of health benefits too! You can swap your air purifiers which have chemicals in them for an essential oil diffuser.
It is also important to use natural candles. Candle wax and scents added to them are synthetic and the wicks in them may use heavy metals. (Thomas, 2013) A healthier alternative to candles are pure beeswax candles that use a cotton wick.
The next thing to be aware of is the furniture we choose. I am not for one minute suggesting you go out and buy all new furniture – but it is important to be aware that chemicals can be found everywhere! All furniture comes with a fire retardant as it is illegal to sell furniture without it. However, some research names fire retardants as immune and endocrine disrupters (Hood, 2006). It is difficult to say a solution for this as they are on all furniture but it may be worth researching some more natural brands for your furniture fabric!
It has been suggested that our bathroom is actually one of the most toxic places. Not only do we tend to use our strongest chemicals in the bathroom, but there are chemicals found in the water.
Shower water has chlorine in it – taking a shower in unfiltered water has been suggested to be the same as drinking 7 glasses of chlorinated water! (Smith, 2008). A simple solution for this is to get a shower filter. Some shower curtains can also be made of materials that have harmful chemicals in them that are released by the steam of the shower. Again, do your research and find a more natural brand!
Electromagnetic fields have been found to disrupt the balance of our body (Duhaini, 2016), yet they are everywhere. They are in our phones and computers that we as a society have become so dependent on. We need our technology in this day and age for many things so I can’t suggest to cut it out of your life – but you can do some damage limitation.
Don’t spend more time on technology than you need to. Not only will this help to reduce your exposure, it will also improve your mental health! You can also turn off your Wi-Fi at night, use an Ethernet cable to your computer, keep your phone off at night and avoid carrying your phone on your person or get an EMF protector for it!
Anything “smart” is not so smart for our health. If you are offered a smart meter, have a look at the research around health risks because of the frequencies they emit (Wycherley, 2017). If you have had one installed, you can get covers to try and minimise the damage.
Also, try to limit your use of microwaves which have been suggested to have harmful effects. Instead, heat your food up in your stainless steel or cast iron pan!
Where to start?!
So, after reading all of this you may be in complete panic. We have all been there when this information is revealed to us. Don’t worry about changing overnight, it is all about little changes that we can make over time that will mount up!
Choose one thing a month to sort out for example:
Month one – sort out your personal care
Month two – swap your chemical cleaning products for natural alternatives
And so on!
I hope you have found this post useful! Comment below the first thing you are going to change!