Reducing Toxin Exposure
We Can't Be Perfect, But We Can Do Better
Unfortunately, as individuals, we can’t always control or eliminate all of our toxic exposures. So our goal is not to be 100% toxic-free (which is impossible) nor is to fall into an obsessive mindset. However, what we CAN do is do our best to change what we can control, so we worry less about what we can’t. And who knows, maybe you become passionate enough to advocate for major regulatory and industry policy changes in Washington!
We can’t rely on the assumption that “the Dose Makes the Poison” because there is a false assumption that toxins and toxicants follow a linear dose/response relationship. Meaning, the higher the dose, the higher the impact. So we need to be as adamant as we can in reducing our exposure.
Toxin exposure can come about in 4 main modes: ingestion (pesticides, inorganic meats and dairy, plastics, tap water, breastfeeding), absorption (cosmetics, body care products, cleaning products), inhalation (indoor air quality, fragrances, pollution), and intravenous (fetuses).
Here are 6 simple steps that we can do RIGHT NOW to reduce our own environmental toxin exposure and thus improve our body burdens. We'll touch on them here and then go into each in detail in later modules.
1. Eat Organic
You may have heard of the hype about organic food and people picketing and lobbying government to make changes around Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s). Whether you believe it or not the scientific studies do not lie. Study after study has proven the connection between GMO crops sprayed with glysophate (which is a herbicide used to kill weeds and is a known endocrine disrupter) and male and female fertility. For some women simply removing GMO foods and foods sprayed with glysophate allowed them to get pregnant and carry to term even after repeat miscarriages.9
While the cost of organic foods are higher than conventional, the potential benefits of health as well as leading to a healthy pregnancy is priceless. If eating ALL organic is too expensive, at least make sure your meats and dairy products are organic, as these are repositories for environmental contaminants. Just like we store toxins in our fatty deposits, so do animals.
Fish is another one you’ll want to look out for as they are high on the food chain and bioaccumulate Mercury. Mercury in the environment breaks down into methylmercury. Methylmercury is far more toxic than elemental mercury. It is very efficiently absorbed into the body and easily crosses the blood brain barrier and placental barrier. All sources of tuna (including ‘chunk light’ tuna) tend to be highest in Mercury. Instead, choose crab, redfish, salmon, anchovy, herring, sardine, and cod liver oil. A hard and fast rule is to choose DOMESTIC over imported and WILD CAUGHT vs farm raised. If you suspect you have Mercury poisoning, please refer to Dr. Hyman's Website.
Also make sure that you avoid or eat only organic picks from the “Dirty Dozen,” the most contaminated foods as determined by the EWG. These include: Apples, Celery, Strawberries, Peaches, Spinach, Nectarines (imported), Grapes (imported), Sweet Bell Peppers, Potatoes, Lettuce, Blueberries, and Kale.
A famous study on kids in Washington state showed that even after just a few days on an organic diet, the levels of toxic chemicals in kids’ blood dropped dramatically in FIVE days, while there was no change in kids who were kept on a similar, but not organic diet.8 Similarly, adults who switched to an 80% organic diet can decrease their pesticide levels by 89% in just SEVEN days!29 Just one example of our own body’s innate ability to detoxify and keep us safe!
2. Use Clean Household Cleaning Products
What we clean our homes with leaves residues on our counters, bedding, in our air, and just about everywhere – and we ingest, breathe, and absorb these chemicals. Today, eco-friendly household cleaning products are just as cost-effective as the ones you are using in your home today so we can no longer use cost as an excuse.
You can also make your own – it’s actually not that difficult. Even large supermarket chains are carrying eco-friendly cleaning products by companies like Ecover, Branch Basics, and Seventh Generation. The EWG also has a great resource for environmentally friendly cleaning here.
We will get into the specifics of what products to swap and what brands I recommend in later modules. For now, just know that changes are on the horizon. Making changes can be overwhelming, but replace the things you run out of first and gradually over time, all of your products will be replaced.
3. Use Clean Cosmetics & Body Products
Some people say that the skin is like a sponge - that is not exactly true. Skin moisture, molecular weight of chemicals, and penetration enhancers all determine how much, if anything, is absorbed into the skin. Phthalates are one of the most widely used chemicals in commerce. In personal care products, they act as a fixative for color and fragrance. Phthalates are not usually listed on products labels; instead you’ll see ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ - you’ll want to avoid these as well. Read our post on fragrances here.
Learn to read labels and avoid those ingredients known to be especially harmful. For more information and resources, including companies with clean ingredients and eco-friendly policies – and those to avoid – visit here.
I personally order all of my bath and body care products from the company Honest because you can automate your online orders every month. Be aware that brands like Mrs. Meyers and Method found at Target that are touted to be ‘green’ actually pop up ‘dirty’ on the EWG Think Dirty website. Furthermore, I order all of my cosmetics from Beautycounter. For those of you who don't know, Beautycounter is more than just a company providing cleaner and safer products, they are also educating and advocating for us in Washington! No other company is doing that right now, so let’s vote with our dollars and invest in this movement (while also getting some pretty amazing products on the side). I am an advocator for Beautycounter, so be sure that I am selected as your consultant when you checkout! Again, we will get into the specifics of what products I recommend in a later module.
4. Replace Plastic with Glass
Most plastic bottles leach endocrine-disrupting chemicals into your water and other beverages. Switch to a glass bottle that you carry around with you. I love Life Factory and Hydro FLask for cute-looking, durable water bottles and carry them wherever I go.
You’ll also want to switch out all of your tupperware containers with glass. Ever had a plastic tupperware that was stained red from holding pasta sauce? That’s because the temperature and acidity of the tomato sauce eroded and embedded into the plastic. Likewise, the plastic has shed molecules into your food. Ick! I love Pyryx brand because you can buy a set of 12 containers at Costco for around $30. That’s crazy cheap for the health savings you get in return. You can also buy any variations of sets on Amazon.
Look for cans that are lined with non-toxic enamel based lining rather than conventional BPA-lined cans. Brands like Eden Organics and Native Forest are examples.
For the kitchen appliances that are plastic that you don’t want to get rid of (like mixing bowl, vitamixes, etc.), just treat them differently. Don’t put them in the dishwasher, microwave, or scrub them with abrasive sponges, etc.
5. Check your Tap Water
Water quality is a subject that's been big news lately. Residents of Flint, Michigan are suffering from toxic levels of lead in their water due to incompetent governance. Unfortunately, water quality issues are not a recent development. Industrial dumping, pesticide runoff, leaky storage tanks, and government mandates have created big problems.
Let’s take a look at some of the nastiest water contaminants that may be pouring out of your faucet.
- Fluoride - Adding fluoride to drinking water is a process that began back in the 1940’s to help reduce tooth decay. Unfortunately, fluoride is a neurotoxin and an endocrine disruptor. It can harm the thyroid gland and calcify the pineal gland. It's so toxic that several countries have banned water fluoridation. Even some U.S. cities have caught on and started rejecting the process of fluoridation.12
- Chlorine - has disinfectant properties that make it useful for cleaning products and swimming pools. It’s even used to sanitize sewage and industrial waste. Chlorine is added to drinking water as a purification technique, despite not being completely safe.13 Chlorine is a reactive chemical that bonds with water, including the water in your gut, to produce poisonous hydrochloric acid. Chlorine exposure can cause respiratory problems and damage cells. Long term effects include memory loss and impaired balance.14, 15
Keep informed of water quality issues in your area by going to EWG’s Tap Water Database and typing in your zip code. If poor-quality tap water is a problem for you, I recommend investing in a quality reverse osmosis water filter, charcoal water filter, or glass-bottled distilled water.
6. Improve Indoor Air Quality
The level of indoor pollutants may be 2-5 times and occasionally 100 times higher than outdoor pollutant levels. The most effective ways to improve your indoor air are to reduce or remove the sources of pollutants and to ventilate with clean outdoor air. Also avoid air fresheners, scented candles, incense, and perfumes. Makes sure that any new furniture, carpeting, and flooring is safer and less volatile.
In addition, research shows that filtration can be an effective supplement to source control and ventilation. Using a portable air cleaner and/or upgrading the air filter in your furnace or central heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system can help to improve indoor air quality. Portable air cleaners, also known as air purifiers or air sanitizers, are designed to filter the air in a single room or area. Central furnace or HVAC filters are designed to filter air throughout a home. Portable air cleaners and HVAC filters can reduce indoor air pollution; however, they cannot remove all pollutants from the air.
The following publication provide information on portable air cleaners and on HVAC and furnace filters commonly used in homes.