Can I avoid environmental toxins? NO, not entirely - but you can reduce your exposure quite a bit. Those of us living in urban environments are literally engulfed by toxins: out on the street or in the office, at home, and on our plates. While individual chemicals used in our environment have been tested by the regulatory agencies, there are no tests to find the cumulative effect of the hundreds of pollutants we are exposed to. The body is amazing at clearing toxins and will normally do so efficiently – up to a point. Over a certain threshold the onslaught will overwhelm the system and health problems will start manifesting. Some naturopaths or functional physicians offer tests that measure the body’s detoxification capacity. Regardless, the prudent thing to do is to reduce exposure as much as possible. Here are a few ideas on how to do that:
- eat organic - this is the obvious one. Organic food is generally free from toxic chemicals like pesticides, including glyphosate, and is therefore better for you. Yes, it is more expensive, but do consider that the percentage of income spent on food has been steadily decreasing.
- choose simple cleaning products - any product that claims to have ‘better results’, ‘longer action’ or ‘our best ever’, is probably more laden with toxins than a cheaper, simpler product. The problem for most of us is under-exposure to bacteria, not over-exposure, and soapy water or diluted vinegar are often sufficient.
- read labels on cosmetic products - triclosans, parabens, phthalates and bisphenols are some of the substances to avoid; again, try to go for simpler, ‘low performance’ products. I often choose baby products.
- be careful with sunscreens - the chemicals in the sunscreens are easily absorbed into the body. Try to avoid standard sunscreens which are based on chemical absorption of the light – they will contain oxybenzone or octinoxate. Instead, use sunscreens based on the ‘barrier method’, i.e. reflecting the light back; of these, non-nano zinc oxide is the least harmful. The downside is that these are often sticky and messy – Babo Botanicals is one of the best.
- consider dropping fluoride toothpastes - while there is a debate about the safety of low-level exposure in adults, there’s little debate about the negative effect on embryos and young children, so there’s no doubt that there is some toxicity. Sure, it’s good for your teeth, but do you really want a recognised neurotoxin in your system?
- be aware of fabrics and foam - they’re often treated with fire-retardants. Try to avoid cheap foam cushions, as these are the most heavily treated, being so flammable. For carpets, wool has the best fire-resistance so is treated the least. Try to avoid stain repellents.
- filter your water - everything that floats around in our environment ends in the water we drink: pharmaceutical drugs including hormones, heavy metals, bleach and others. Brita will filter most of the pollutants, but not all. Home filtering systems for drinking water, such as a combination of charcoal and reverse osmosis, are not cheap, but do a considerably better job.
- avoid Teflon and other cheap non-stick cookware - use stainless steel, enamel, ceramics or cast iron. The challenge is to get a healthy option that is also a good non-stick surface. I found Gastrolux, a Danish brand, to be fantastic (though you do have to hand wash the pots!).