(By Brian Yang, LAc and Grace Rollins, LAc) When seeking to recover from complex health issues, it's often worth looking at multiple ways to optimize the way the body is interacting with its environment. Sleep, physical activity, and nutrition are among the obvious ways to optimize and are always major priorities. Common chemical exposures is another, but as important as it is, this one doesn't always land on the radar. All the same, chemical exposures create a physiologic wild card, and many chemicals that are permitted to enter personal care products, foods and household goods have documented impacts on our health, even down to the expression of our DNA.
If the idea of this makes you want to throw up your hands at this toxic modern era, don't despair. There are many ways we can avoid unnecessary chemical exposures, once we are empowered with the knowledge of what, why and how. Here are three major ones found in consumer goods that you can place under consideration: Bisphenol-A, artificial "fragrance," and glyphosate. Clean out the not-so-friendly B.F.G., and you'll have drastically reduced your body's ongoing chemical burden.
Bisphenol-A, also known as BPA, is a chemical found in many plastics and resins. Consumers are mainly exposed to it in products like disposable plastic bottles, and in nearly all canned foods and beverages (BPA is usually in the epoxy resin lining of these cans). It was previously commonly found in baby bottles and various other baby products; however, the major producers of these products have largely eliminated it, due to the detrimental impact on the health of the infants.
Research has shown that BPA affects our hormones, brain, and heart, and possibly increases the risk of cancer, including breast cancer. Thankfully, there are many ways to reduce exposure to BPA. For example, when shopping for different products, actively search for products that are labeled "BPA-free," something that is growing more commonplace as consumers demand this. Additionally, when buying groceries, try to pick fresh food and make your food from scratch, rather than buying pre-processed food encased in plastic or cans. Lastly, another effective way to avoid BPA is to use a non-plastic or a BPA-free refillable bottle, instead of purchasing plastic bottled water. Or, instead of canned or plastic-bottled beverages, buy beverages in glass bottles.
The term "fragrance" can be somewhat misleading since it's both just a synonym in English for "scent" or "odor," but it's also a technical term for a common category of potent chemical additives. "Fragrance" in the chemical sense is commonly found in products like cologne and perfume, cleaning products, air fresheners and deodorizers, skin care products and makeup. Some individuals know themselves to be particularly sensitive to artificial fragrance and already avoid it. However, there are good reasons to avoid artificial fragrance for anyone interested in health optimization.
Currently, manufacturers in the US are not required to disclose the ingredients of "fragrance" as it appears on a consumer label. It is often a complex mixture of several dozen to several hundred different synthetic compounds. Studies have found that volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) that have been labeled as toxic or hazardous are commonly among these compounds. These VOCs can also combine with reactive molecules in the environment (like ozone) to produce even more dangerous carcinogens like formaldehyde and acetylaldehyde. Products containing fragrance are one of the most common sources of indoor air pollutants and the chemicals emitted are linked to migraine headache, contact dermatitis, asthma attacks and other respiratory difficulties, neurological problems and other health risks.
Pthalates are plasticizers commonly added to fragrance to create an extremely long-lasting effect. (If you ever notice a perfume that just won't come off, this might be the reason). Fragrance bound to pthalates are so prone to absorbing into the fatty structure of cells that it can be instantly absorbed by the skin as well as the nerves of your olfactory system, brain and the lining of your nose and mouth. From there, it can enter the bloodstream. Pthalate is a known endocrine (hormonal) disruptor. It can block hormones related to male sexual development, block or mimic estrogens, and can contribute to a variety of hormonal imbalances. (Anecdotally, some fertility clinic physicians have been said to refuse to treat patients who use fragranced products.)
Thankfully, for every product out there that is full of chemical fragrance, there are many other non-fragrance options available. Seek natural scents like essential oils, opt for fragrance-free detergents and cleaning products, and keep other unnecessary chemicals out of your home, car and workspaces. (Though we're fond of the moxa smell here at Bridge, we are careful to only stay fragrance-free when it comes to our laundry and cleaning supplies!)
The final chemical in the B.F.G. to discuss is glyphosate. Although the name is difficult to recognize, the harmful impact is thoroughly researched, and many will be familiar with the brand-name herbicide that is the source of it: Round-Up. Hence, glyphosate is often used by homeowners and landscapers for lawn and garden care, as well as in commercial agriculture to control weeds around food crops.
Research shows that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen, and it is already in the process of being phased out in the European Union. It may also have a harmful effect on our gut microbiome, while interfering with our endocrine system, our liver and kidneys. To limit exposure, buy organic foods as much as possible, even meat and dairy. Also, cooking at home allows you to see exactly what goes into the food you make.
Your exposure to glyphosate can be increased based on proximity to farm herbicide drift, your use of products like Round-Up at home, or through consumption of conventionally grown (non-organic) food products such as produce, grains, non-organic meat, dairy and even farmed seafood. "GMO" (genetically modified) corn, wheat and soy are also well-known for being saturated by glyphosate as a common practice, since they have been genetically modified to withstand the effects of this herbicide. This can be a reason to reach for a product labeled "non-GMO," but being GMO-free does not guarantee freedom from herbicide exposure-- only the organic label means freedom from chemicals.
Local food producers also often refrain from glyphosate usage even though they may not have organic certification. Visit your farmer's market and strike up a conversation with your farmers about it-- they'll be happy to share information about their best practices.
Many garden centers and landscape companies nowadays can offer chemical-free weed management solutions. A chemical-free yard and garden is not only safer for people, kids and pets, it's also a breath of fresh air for insects and wildlife.
In conclusion, while it's worth paying attention to our chemical exposures, try not to get too overwhelmed. When in doubt, just seek simplicity-- natural ingredients that you can recognize. It's amazing how quickly this little step can cut out the worst of it. Now that you know about the B.F.G. we hope you'll take a brain break and go read some Roald Dahl!
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