It's becoming easier and easier to identify toxins in your home and avoid them. I became more aware of toxins that might be present in my home environment and foods when pregnant with my first child. The childbirth classes I took emphasized avoiding toxins to increase your chances of a healthy birth.
During my pregnancy with my second child, I became especially aware as we were remodeling our home and had many decisions to make regarding carpeting, wood finishing, paints, and wood floor refinishing, While there were some resources, there definitely weren't as many as there are now!
Then, when I was trying to help my son heal from the heavy duty antibiotics he'd been on following a bone infection, the protocol that ended up helping, stressed removal of anything with artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, or fragrances. It was much harder than I thought, as even natural and organic foods, body care products, and cleaners contain these chemicals. It was especially hard because, he was school aged and exposed to whatever was used to clean classrooms.
I again faced frustration when our family was traveling for a time several years ago. I wrote an article how I was moved to tears when my laundry smelled so strongly of fragrance here. Looking back, I find it kind of funny that we travelled through South America with our container of fragrance free laundry detergent. And one Airbnb apartment we stayed at in France had so many air fresheners plugged into walls, or hiding here and there, that I was constantly gathering them and stashing them where we couldn't smell them. I had write an apologetic note to the host telling her where I had hidden them.
It might sound crazy to you, but once your remove artificial fragrances from your life, for better or worse you become much more sensitive to them. The benefits to your health, though, is worth it!
Many of the chemicals in personal care products and household cleaners are deemed safe by the US Food and Drug Association, but safe doesn't mean non-toxic. While at best chemicals may be tested on their own, the truth is that the bits of chemicals here and there are more dangerous when combined. And the effects of the combination isn't tested at all.
You may not even be aware of the sheer number of toxic chemicals you're exposed to in daily life. You could be touching, eating, or breathing them every day. But don't worry! There are healthy alternatives to nearly every chemical out there, you just need to know where to look!
Toxins Found In Personal Care Products
Our skin can absorb toxins from skin care products. It's also the largest organ involved in the elimination of toxins and waste. So what's happening with toxins within our bodies can show up in the form of skin conditions and toxic skin care products can make it worse.
A good rule of thumb is not to put anything on your skin that you wouldn't eat.
Many artificial colors, fragrances, and preservatives used in skin care products are petroleum distillates, which means they're derived from crude oil. Many also contain xenoestrogens, which interfere with normal hormone and endocrine function. The endocrine system regulates metabolism, reproduction, immunity, digestion and more. So, if the endocrine signaling is disrupted by chemicals, there's potential for widespread effects in the body, including the gut microbiome.
The five most common ingredients to avoid in personal care products:
1. Parabens are a type of preservative found in about half of cosmetics in the United States. They're also found in shampoos, hair dyes, tanning sprays, sunscreen, and deodorants. Parabens are readily absorbed by the skin. There is growing evidence that they act as xenohormones, meaning they mimic estrogen and can potentially contribute to obesity. Reference
Being exposed to a variety of parabens, even in small amounts may combine to result in synergistic health effects. Parabens may even disrupt gut flora and increase the level of food sensitivities by altering the immune system components along the digestive tract. Reference
2. Phthalates are plastic byproducts found in cosmetics, perfumes, soap, hair spray, nail polish, shampoo, conditioner, detergents and household items such as shower curtains and toilet paper than can give off gasses. Phthalates can be inhaled or absorbed by the skin.
Di-ethyl-phthalate in particular, may impact the gut microbiome, which may be why it's linked to obesity.
3. Synthetic Fragrances are mainly derived from petroleum. Common fragrance ingredients include toluene and benzene derivatives which are know to be carcinogenic. They're found in perfume, body scent products, detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, soaps, shampoo, conditioner, air fresheners and scented candles.
The action of the gut microbiome on benzene derivatives can be protective or may make the chemicals more toxic depending on the particular derivative and the particular microbiome. Reference
4. Triclosan began as an anti-bacterial agent used only in hospitals. It then became common in household products, as well. It has recently been found to be no more effective than bacteria neutral counterparts such as good old soap and water.
It was found to potentially do harm over time by contributing to antibiotic resistance, so as of 2017, triclosan and other antibacterial agents were banned from cleansing agents. Reference
5. Sodium Lauryl Sulfates are used as emulsifiers and foaming agents. They're commonly found in shampoos, liquid soaps and toothpastes. They're derived from coconuts, but are so highly processed that by the time they make it into the bottle they don't resemble anything natural. They commonly cause inflammation and skin irritation.
The skin care industry is unregulated and according to the Environmental Working Group, 89% of the ingredients used in skin care products haven't been assessed for safety. Also, unless the USDA organic label is on a skin care product, you might not be getting a natural or organic product as those terms aren't regulated either. So be sure to check your label, or visit the Environmental Working Groups website and grab their Skin Deep Guide to personal care products.
Four Common Toxic Chemicals Found in Cleaning Products
Many cleaning products contain chemicals that emit volatile organic compounds, otherwise known as VOC's. When inhaled they can negatively impact respiratory function, asthma, and allergies. There may even be a link between VOC's and gut dysbiosis. They can have an effect on the body similar to air pollution. Reference
1. Ammonia is common in cleaning products, especially in glass, window, and toilet bowl cleaners. It's shown to worsen asthma for some people.
2. Bleach is connected to an increase in flu and respiratory issues. Reference Bleach also contributes to the overuse of antibacterials which takes a toll on our gut bacteria which plays a role in the effectiveness of our immune system.
3. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen found in dishwasher soap, all-purpose cleaners, fabric softeners, carpet cleaners, and some paper and plastic products.
4. Sodium Hydroxide is found in liquid drain cleaners. If it's ingested it can cause vomiting and diarrhea.
Three Other Places You Might Find Toxins In Your Home
1. Off-Gasing From Furniture and Household Items Furniture and household items, such as rugs and mattresses, are made with chemicals and also may contain flame retardants that release gasses into the air. This indoor air pollution can decrease the diversity of your gut microbiome. The microbiome can turn pollutants int estrogenic compounds that are endocrine disruptors. They can also increase gut permeability, potentially leading to leaky gut and inflammation. Reference.
How can you avoid toxins from off-gassing? For mattresses, avoid foam (look for "certified-PUR-us" label, which means it's made of healthier materials. If a new product has a chemical smell, allow it to sit outside, or ventilate the area. Do the same for dry cleaning. Also, completely avoid artificially scented air fresheners.
Another important way to treat your air is to grow house plants. Many plants are especially good at removing air pollutants from your indoor air!
2. Mold Mold can especially be a problem in damp environments or climates. Susceptibility depends on the building materials of your home, but anywhere it stays damp, mold can grow.
Mold can release VOC's and inhaling them has a similar effect as eating moldy foods. Mold can crowd out beneficial bacteria and contribute to gastro-intestinal issues just like any microbe.
How can you avoid toxins from mold? First off, do your best to keep all areas in your home dry. Air out any areas that might collect moisture, like bathrooms and dish drainers. To limit dust and help improve air flow, change any filters often. This includes vacuum filters and central heating and/or air conditioning filters.
In extreme cases, you may even need to purchase a dehumidifier. I lived in a little place for a few years that for some reason would get completely moldy without a dehumidifier. It would pull gallons of water out of the air each day during the winter. Also, if you can't get rid of mold yourself, you may need to hire a company that specializes in mold removal.
3. Plastics When food or beverages come into contact with plastics, the chemicals in the plastics can potentially leach into them. Recently bisphenol A or BPA has gotten a lot of press as a proven endocrine disruptor. As an estrogenic, compound, plastic can disrupt fat tissues and glucose metabolism. Reference
As discussed earlier, any of these toxins can disrupt the environment of microbes in your gut, as well as how your microbes metabolize these chemicals. It's important to note that even BPA free plastic can leach into your foods and beverages and enter your digestive tract.
Ways to avoid plastics. Plastics can be replaced with glass or stainless steel for eating or storing foods and beverages. When buying canned foods, look for the BPA free designation on the label. Cans generally are lined with a plasticizer. At the same time, realize that the plasticizers used as a replacement for BPA may also end up being proven harmful. Acid containing foods such as tomatoes, are best bought in glass if at all possible.
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