Here’s Why and What to Do About Toxic Chemicals
How is your home affecting your health? Cigarette smoke is an obvious toxin in the air. Assuming you don’t smoke, you may feel fairly confident that your home is not toxic. If you clean your home regularly, you might even be slightly offended by the suggestion that your home may be toxic! However, indoor air pollutants are much more common than most people realize. The sources of many pollutants are everyday objects and products that we don’t consider harmful.
What is an Environmental Toxin?
Toxins are chemicals that are harmful to human beings. Environmental toxins are those that are found in the environment around us, our food, water, air, and surfaces that we are in contact with.
We read and hear about outdoor air pollution regularly and it’s also a valid health concern. However, indoor air pollution is worth worrying about too. We need to pay attention to it because we spend about 90 percent of our time inside. According to emerging research, including a landmark United Nations study, many commonly used chemicals within our homes act as endocrine disruptors when we’re exposed to them.
What’s An Endocrine Disruptor?
Simply put, your endocrine system controls various functions in your body. It does so by releasing hormones. These chemicals control most of what your body does. Your hormone-producing system regulates how much of each hormone is released through intricate feedback loops. This means that when a hormone drops low, your brain delivers a stimulatory message to your endocrine system to tell it to make more. When a hormone is too high, your brain lowers the stimulatory messages to your endocrine system and so it creates less of that hormone. Certain environmental pollutants have been found to disrupt this process.
The result? Signs and symptoms of hormonal imbalances. When taken to the extreme, these imbalances can put us on the road to diseases such as breast, thyroid and prostate cancer, endometriosis, PCOS, infertility and developmental conditions like ADHD.
Common Environmental Pollutants In Your Home
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to recognize an environmental pollutant. In fact, some products we identify as “healthy” can actually be harmful.
Take a look at this list of common environmental toxins in your home:
Keeping a clean home has long been recognized as an important step in maintaining good health. However, many common cleaning products contain carcinogens such as methylene chloride. This chemical is linked to increased breast cancer rates.
One thing to keep in mind with cleaning products is that these compounds linger in the air long after the smell has disappeared. For example, molecules in aerosol sprays get absorbed by dust. Breathing in this dust then leads to respiratory irritation.
In addition, these chemicals react with other compounds in the air, such as ozone. This chemical reaction creates “secondary emissions” that are even more harmful.
The same chemicals that make nonstick cookware so convenient also harm your health. Man-made compounds like polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) are found in materials such as Teflon. It prevents food from sticking to the pan. Unfortunately, this toxin also contributes to certain cancers and even high cholesterol.
A quick spray of air freshener makes our homes smell fresh and clean. However, the effects on our bodies undermine the pretty scents. When it comes to scented products, it’s often difficult to obtain a complete list of all of the chemicals they contain. But, many air fresheners do contain phthalates, which have been linked to hormonal problems, particularly in males. In addition, often the compounds that produce the smell contain benzene and phenolic rings. These are known carcinogens.
Toxins in antibacterial products
Using antibacterial products might seem like a good step towards a healthier home.
But, studies show that many commonly used substances in antibacterial products, such as triclosan, impact our reproductive hormones. As well, overuse has been linked to an increase in allergies in children.
In addition, overuse of antibacterial products is leading to an increase in drug-resistant bacteria. For the most part, these chemicals are unnecessary. They are only mildly effective and it does your immune system good to be exposed to germs in small amounts. It helps to train your immune system, which in turn leaves it stronger.
Government regulations are supposed to keep our drinking water safe from contaminants. However, growing evidence shows that our water supplies contain small amounts of hormones, particularly estrogen. These hormones are the result of birth control and HRT use. Even these small amounts of estrogen disrupt our natural hormonal balance over long periods.
Plastic containers and water bottles might make life more convenient, but in the long run, they’re not the best choices. Many containers and cans contain a chemical called BPA, or other chemicals that act like estrogen. In fact, even those items marked as “BPA free” contain toxic compounds which may be just as harmful.
Xenoestrogens are endocrine disruptors which specifically mimic the effects of estrogen. Overexposure leads to weight gain, mood swings, and other symptoms of estrogen excess or estrogen dominance.
Scented bathing and personal care products.
Did you know that the chemicals that give scented products their distinct smells aren’t regulated? And that 95 percent of those scents originate from petroleum byproducts?
Symptoms of Toxins in Your Home
What signs or symptoms might you have that you are exposed to environmental toxins or that your body doesn’t detoxify well? Here are some common signs of chemical toxicity:
- Vague symptoms like headache, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, congestion, itching, sneezing, sore throat, chest pain, breathing problems, muscle pain or stiffness, skin rash, diarrhea, bloating, gas, confusion, trouble concentrating, memory problems, and mood changes.
- Cancers. Several toxins are known carcinogens. These are chemicals that are linked to cancer. A few that you may commonly encounter in the home include acetaldehyde in alcohol, asbestos, talc, ethanol in alcohol, cigarette smoke and benzene used to make glues, plastics, resins, syntheticfibers, rubber lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs, varnish and pesticides.
- Endometriosis. An environmental chemical known as PCBs has been linked to the development of endometriosis. PCB production and use is now banned, but this chemical lingers in the environment for a long time. Xenoestrogens like BPA from plastic also contribute to this condition by over-stimulating estrogen receptors.
- PCOS and diabetes. Exposure to environmental toxins and their subsequent contribution to the development of PCOS is supported by extensive data from diverse scientific studies.
You may need to take action if you are experiencing any of these toxic exposure symptoms or toxic build-up symptoms.
Environmental Toxins List
Some common toxins found in household cleaning products include:
- Phthalates. These are often found in cosmetics and anything that has a fragrance including soaps, scented detergents and other cleaners. They are known endocrine disruptors and negatively impact fertility.
- PERC or Perchloroethylene. This is common in dry cleaning solutions and carpet and upholstery cleaners. PERC is a neurotoxin and possible endocrine disruptor.
- Triclosan. Found in antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers. Triclosan is a probable carcinogen and possible endocrine disruptor.
- QUATS or Quaternary Ammonium Compounds. These are in fabric softeners and antibacterial cleaners. These irritate the skin and respiratory tract. Along with triclosan, they may contribute to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
- 2-Butoxyethanol. This is found in window and kitchen cleaners and may not be listed on the label. Inhaling it as you are cleaning can irritate your throat. High doses harm your lungs, liver and kidneys.
- Ammonia. Found in glass cleaner and metal polishes. It is a powerful irritant of the respiratory tract and chronic exposure is linked to asthma. Mixing this with bleach will create a poisonous gas.
- Chlorine. Chlorine is found in bleach, and many household cleaners and mold/mildew removers. It is also a powerful irritant of the respiratory tract. It may cause thyroid problems as it can displace iodine that is essential for normal thyroid function.
- Sodium hydroxide. This is in oven cleaners and clogged drain cleaners. Inhaling it is very irritating to the respiratory tract. Contact with skin or eyes causes severe burns.
It’s easy to feel a bit concerned when you read a list like the one above! After all, we want a clean home and to use the most convenient products possible. Fortunately, we have 6 healthy home tips to get rid of chemicals in your home.
How To Make Your Home Healthier
How can we have a clean environment without risking the health of ourselves or our children? Here’s how to reduce your chemical exposure and make your home more environmentally friendly:
1. Don’t try to “mask” unpleasant scents.
Instead of spraying air freshener, try removing the source of the bad odor – wash the dirty clothes (without scented fabric softener, of course), change the kitty litter, take the garbage out etc. If you need extra ammunition against odors, baking soda is a natural air freshener. Open your windows and let some fresh air in. A HEPA air filter also cleans air odors right at the source.
For a lovely, safe, natural scent, try boiling cinnamon sticks or vanilla pods on your stovetop or grow some lavender indoors. Or do some baking.
2. Choose cleaning products carefully.
Be aware of “greenwashing” which is the practice of making products appear more eco-friendly than they actually are. The Environmental Working Group has a searchable database of more than 2,500 products.
As well, vinegar, baking soda, elbow grease and plain hot water can be surprisingly effective cleaners. Doing a bit of research on the best natural cleaners that are both less expensive, and safer really pays off.
3. Avoid aerosols.
Using natural air fresheners like essential oils, or even simmering some lemon slices and a few cloves in a pan, will do the trick just as well and without the nasty side effects.
4. Think about the long-term effects of your purchases.
A plastic container might be the cheapest option to store your leftovers, but pause and take a minute to consider the possible impact on your health and the environment, for that matter. Sometimes investing a bit more money is the best choice in the long run. Plus, a stainless steel water bottle, or a glass or ceramic food container should last you much longer. I have glass casserole dishes that I’ve had for 30 years. No harm to me, no harm to the environment, inert and safe to put in the microwave, oven and dishwasher.
5. Be careful with plastics.
If you have to use a plastic container, don’t heat it in the microwave. The heat causes more xenoestrogens to be released into your food. Storing acidic foods like tomato sauce in plastic may also cause leaching of chemicals into your food.
6. Consider your water source.
If you want to avoid tap water, consider using a filtration system. It’s best to avoid bottled water, which is often no better than tap water and has the added risk of contamination from plastic bottles. Not to mention that plastic water bottles are a nightmare for our planet. However, the water industry is filled with false claims, and prices can be steep. We can review your options in the office to make sure you make the best choices for your needs.
Of course, everyone is different and we all have unique health concerns and personal goals. If you’d like to learn more about environmental toxins, and how to reduce toxins in your body give our office a call. Additionally, if you are suffering from health issues you can’t seem to figure out the cause of, it could be related to toxins.
Authored by Dr Pamela Frank, Bsc(Hons), ND