Environmental Solutions: Part 2
When comparing our modern-day lives with those of our grandparents, it is clear that our environment has changed greatly. Not just the natural world, but in our day-to-day lives as well. We are exposed to far more chemicals, toxins, and different forms of radiation than generations past. At the same time chronic disease rates are soaring. ‘Environmental exposures’ are the sum total of the things we’re exposed to on any given day – this includes eating, drinking, breathing, cosmetic use and the tons of products we use. You can take control of your health by paying attention to your environmental exposures!
Below is part two of a three-part series on environmental exposures and their solutions. The solutions are based on the questions posed in our Environmental quiz – please take the quiz today!
- Artificial food colouring
A 2010 report by the Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) explored the dangers of many FDA-approved food dyes, and highlighted an increased risk of allergic reactions, carcinogenicity and nerve damage.5 Other studies show an increased risk of ADHD and attentional deficiencies in children.6 Appropriate long-term and in-utero exposure studies simply have not been done. CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson, co-author of the report said, “These synthetic chemicals do absolutely nothing to improve the nutritional quality or safety of foods, but trigger behaviour problems in children and, possibly, cancer in anybody”.
- Canned goods (eg. soup or beans from a can)
Most food cans are lined with a plastic coat containing BPA, unless otherwise specified. As discussed in the previous environmental solutions article, BPA is a known endocrine disruptor that is linked negative birth outcomes, infertility, thyroid dysfunction, increased risk of cancer, obesity and insulin resistance.4, 7, 9 Even if you’re avoiding all plastics you may still be exposed to BPA through canned foods. The best way to reduce exposure is to limit your consumption of canned foods, particularly if you are pregnant. Look for canned food that is labeled as BPA-free or buy food packed in glass jars or waxed cardboard cartons. A few companies sell cans lined with non-BPA alternatives, such as Eden Organics.
- Cosmetic products with Phthalates or Parabens
These are two more chemical families that are hazardous endocrine disruptors. Pthalates and parabens are found in most cosmetic products and in many shampoos, moisturizers and fragrances, even though they may not be listed. While they are not banned in cosmetics in Canada, the European Union has restrictions on the amount of parabens permitted in cosmetics, based on evidence that they interfere with hormone function. Parabens can mimic estrogen, the primary female sex hormone. They have been detected in human breast cancer tissues, suggesting a possible association between parabens in cosmetics and cancer.1 Further studies indicate that a specific paraben applied on the skin from moisturizers can react with UVB leading to increased skin aging and DNA damage.3 Pthalates, on the other hand, have been linked with asthma, ADHD, breast cancer, autism spectrum disorders, obesity and type 2 diabetes, altered reproductive development and male infertility.10 Lower your exposure by using only natural phthalate and paraben-free personal care products such as Tarte Cosmetics, Lush, Aveda, and Mineral Fusion. Dr. Mason-wood also makes soap which is available at the clinic.
4. Perfume and fragrances
It has been said that perfume is the new second-hand smoke. This is another common exposure to dangerous phthalate compounds that can affect hormone levels and raise risk of several diseases. Although you may be diligent about reading ingredients list, phthalates are often not listed. The word “Fragrance” or “Parfum”, however, near the end of the ingredient list is your clue that the product contains phthalates. Anything with artificial fragrance is a potential risk to your endocrine system. It’s best to stick to natural essential oils and natural deodorants.
- Genetically Modified Foods (e.g. corn, soy, canola, cottonseed and beet sugar)
Despite much controversy over the safety of GMO foods, the truth is that we don’t have enough research to deem them safe for human consumption. In popular news, there have been ten scientific studies that famously presented troubling information about the potential effects of GMO foods, citing toxins found in blood, causation of gluten-intolerance disorders, damage to the digestive tract, increased carcinogenicity, birth defects and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.8 These studies, however, have been criticized for accuracy and validity, leaving the public at the mercy of the economics that drive the general food supply. Without studies proving one way or another, restrictions and regulations are not seen unless an entire country bans their cultivation altogether, which over 30 countries worldwide have done. This is an important topic to discuss with your naturopathic doctor and your family to decide how you can protect yourself. One step you can take is to limit the consumption of the most commonly modified foods: corn, soy, canola, cotton and beets.
- Non-organic food: Pesticides and other food sprays
Agriculture is an industry that uses thousands of chemicals to help speed up the growth of food for sale. Food that is grown with the use of synthetic insecticides or other chemicals are considered non-organic, or conventional. Organic food is grown with no or naturally-derived insecticides.
Some of the most-used synthetic pesticides, such as organophosphates and glycol ethers, have been identified as endocrine disruptors – similar to BPA, phthalates and parabens. Many pesticides contain ingredients known to increase risk of cancer, reproductive difficulties and neurological disease. Children are the most vulnerable to the negative effects of non-organic food.
Not only are they harmful for your health, pesticides are damaging to the environment where they are used; dangerous concentrations in the soil can result in killing local ecosystem life. Limiting your exposure to pesticides is an important consideration. Start with the “Dirty Dozen” foods: the 12 foods most heavily sprayed with pesticides – buy these organic and you will decrease your family’s exposure to pesticides. If you can’t buy these organic, stick with the “Clean Fifteen” foods: the least sprayed produce.
The Dirty Dozen (in order of least contamination)
Strawberries, Spinach, Nectarines, Apples, Peaches, Pears, Cherries, Grapes, Celery, Tomatoes, Sweet Bell Peppers, Potatoes
The Clean 15 (in order of least contamination)
Sweet Corn*, Avocado, Pineapples, Cabbage, Onions, Sweet peas (frozen), Papaya*, Asparagus, Mangoes, Eggplant, Honeydew melon, Kiwi, Cantaloupe, Cauliflower, Grapefruit
* A small amount of sweet corn, papaya and summer squash sold in the United States is produced from genetically modified seeds. Buy organic varieties of these crops if you want to avoid genetically modified produce.
- Manufactured orange juice
Most store-bought orange juice is so heavily processed that it is barely orange juice anymore. Despite marketing to make it seem ‘pure’ and ‘natural’, and claims that it is ‘made from 100% orange juice’, the juice is far from what comes out of an orange. Once oranges are pressed, the juice can be stored for months or even up to a year. Because it is stored so long, the oxygen is removed from the storage tanks to keep the juice from going bad. The flavour is also lost in this process, however, and is later added back in synthetic compounds that are manufactured to make the juice taste like oranges again when it’s time to be sold. In addition, one glass (250mL) of Tropicana juice contains 25g of sugar, which is 75% of the sugar in a can or regular coke! In the end, what is marketed as 100% pure is often a sugary, chemical modification of a once-natural product. Your best option for natural vitamin C is to juice your own oranges. Add carrot and other fruits to boost the vitamins and nutrients. Keep the pulp for the added benefit of fibre!
- Hand sanitizer, antibacterial soap, toothpastes with Triclosan
Triclosan is a chemical common used in disinfectants, soaps and some brands of toothpaste. It is known to interfere with a natural detoxification process in the liver that helps flush toxins from the body, leaving toxins to accumulate in our cells. Studies have shown increased liver tumours, hormone disruption and muscle function impairment in animals. The FDA has recognized that antibacterial products work no better than regular soap and water and may harmfully contributing to antibiotic resistance.2 The best option for limiting exposure to triclosan is to avoid antibacterial sanitizer and soaps. Read your toothpaste labels and ensure they don’t contain any triclosan. Try to avoid artificial sweeteners as well.
All photos from creative commons license attribution – no derivatives
- Darbre, P. D., & Harvey, P. W. (2008). Paraben esters: review of recent studies of endocrine toxicity, absorption, esterase and human exposure, and discussion of potential human health risks. Journal of applied toxicology, 28(5), 561-578.
- Gannon, Megan. (2014). Triclosan, found in antibacterial soap and other products, causes cancer in mice. Washington Post. Nov 24 2014.https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/triclosan-found-in-antibacterial-soap-and-other-products-causes-cancer-in-mice/2014/11/24/096b8ca4-70cc-11e4-ad12-3734c461eab6_story.html
- Handa, O., Kokura, S., Adachi, S., Takagi, T., Naito, Y., Tanigawa, T., … & Yoshikawa, T. (2006). Methylparaben potentiates UV-induced damage of skin keratinocytes. Toxicology, 227(1), 62-72.
- Harvard Healthhttps://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/magazine/winter10plastics/
- Kobylewski, S., & Jacobson, M. F. (2010). Food dyes: A rainbow of risks. Center for Science in the Public Interest.
- Potera, C. (2010). Diet and nutrition: the artificial food dye blues. Environmental health perspectives, 118(10), A428.
- Soto, A. M., & Sonnenschein, C. (2010). Environmental causes of cancer: endocrine disruptors as carcinogens. Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 6(7), 363-370.
- Walia, Arjun. (2014). 10 Scientific studies proving GMOs can be harmful to human health. Collective Evolution. April 8 2015.http://www.collective-evolution.com/2014/04/08/10-scientific-studies-proving-gmos-can-be-harmful-to-human-health/
- Wang, T., Li, M., Chen, B., Xu, M., Xu, Y., Huang, Y., … & Liu, Y. (2011). Urinary bisphenol A (BPA) concentration associates with obesity and insulin resistance. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 97(2), E223-E227.
- Westervelt, Amy. (2015). Phthalates are everywhere, and the health risks are worrying. How bad are they really?. The Guardian Health & Wellbeing Feb 10 2015.https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/feb/10/phthalates-plastics-chemicals-research-analysis