It’s easy to notice pollutants that are obvious to spot — the plume of smoke billowing from factories or the fumes choking out from the vehicle in front of you. Easy, right? But, what about the chemical pollutants that you can’t see?
Like the ones that are hiding in plain sight in your home. Unfortunately, many products that we bring into our homes contain chemicals that are hazardous to our health. According to the EPA, indoor air pollutants can be 2 to 5 times (even 100 times) greater than outdoor pollutant levels. Consequently, poor indoor air quality is a recognized public health issue.
In my new book, The Gene Therapy Plan, I discuss how refined, processed food affects health at the level of our DNA. Through nutritional epigenetics, we learn how food — for better or for worse — can impact gene expression to promote health or prevent disease. Diet, however, is one of many ways in which environmental factors impinge on health. There are various chemicals lurking in the environment, and they can be found in many of the products in our homes. Learn what some of these products are and what you can do to reduce your exposure to them.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is an endocrine-disrupting chemical that is frequently used in plastic and metal products like water bottles, baby bottles, credit cards, canned goods, and water supply pipes. BPA also leaches into the contents of metal and plastic containers and is found in paper products. A study showed that even cash-register receipts contain BPA that is absorbed through our skin. Exposure to BPA has been associated with infertility problems, cardiovascular disease, and behavioral disturbances in children. Interestingly, some products that are labeled as BPA-free don’t contain alternatives that fare any better. In an animal study, researchers found that a BPA substitute called bisphenol S (BPS) caused irregular heartbeats in rats. In another study, BPS was shown to activate human breast cancer cells.
Genechanging tips: Buy fresh, organic produce to minimize exposure to packaged food. And if you have leftovers from dinner, store them in ceramic or glass containers. Minimize your exposure in other ways by selecting no receipt at locations like the ATM or gas station.
2. Nonstick cookware
The ingredients you use to cook your meals are just as important as what you use to cook your meals in. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is a chemical that is used in nonstick pots and pans and has been linked to myriad health conditions like cancer, thyroid disease, and infertility.
Genechanging tips: Replace any cookware that has scratches. Buy safer alternatives like stainless steel and cast iron cookware.
3. Antibacterial soap
These soaps contain a chemical called triclosan that leads to hormonal imbalances and thyroid disorders. Studies show that the growing use of antibacterial soaps and chemicals is increasing the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.
Genechanging tips: Nothing beats soap and warm water when it comes to minimizing the spread of germs from person to person. So lather up and rinse well. There are times when you’re on-the-go and don’t have access to soap and water. It’s okay to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. But those only get rid of about 60 percent of germs.
From your favorite perfume or cologne to the wake-inducing aroma of coffee, scents are everywhere in our home. Fragrances are one of the most ubiquitous chemicals we’re exposed to and can be found in myriad products like shampoos, laundry detergent, disinfectants, air fresheners, soaps, lotions, and hair sprays. Fragrances in household and personal care products can include hundreds of toxins that are carcinogenic substances or endocrine disruptors.
Genechanging tips: Opt for unscented soaps and detergents. Avoid sprays like air fresheners because they don’t “freshen up” the air; rather, they release toxic chemicals in the air. To improve ventilation throughout your home, open up your windows.
A fresh coat of paint can do wonders for any room. But harmful chemicals in a bucket of paint can give you more than you bargained for. To enhance the durability and spreadability of paints, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are added. From irritating the eyes and lungs to causing cancer, VOCs can affect health in myriad ways. Paint can also contain lead, which isn’t much of a problem in newer homes. Lead poisoning in children can result in learning impairments, stunted growth, and behavioral problems.
Genechanging tips: Give your home a “paint-lift” without compromising your health by using no- or low-VOC paint. Just because paint lacks a strong odor doesn’t mean that it’s low in toxins. So make sure to also read the label. When painting, open the windows to keep the room ventilated. And if you live in an old home, keep kids away from chipped paint. Call an expert to get information on the safe removal of lead in your home.
6. Cleaning products
Chlorine-based cleaning products contain powerful carcinogens and toxins that damage the respiratory system. Ammonia is also an ingredient found in cleaning products that can irritate the lungs and elicit asthma attacks. Cleaning products are highly toxic and are very dangerous to small children. A study in Pediatrics found that an estimated 267,269 children who were five years old or younger were treated in US emergency departments for injuries related to household cleaning products.
Genechanging tips: Read the labels. If the ingredients in cleaning products sound like you’re back in your chemistry class, leave it on the store shelf. Opt for non-toxic, natural cleaning products. A simple, inexpensive DIY cleaning product is vinegar and water, which destroys about 90 percent of microbes on surfaces.
7. Shower curtains
Have you ever opened up a new pack of shower curtains and been met with a nausea-inducing odor? Well, that odorous smell is due to the phthalates contained in the vinyl plastic. Hundreds of VOCs like toluene and xylene have been found in shower curtains, and these chemicals have been identified as pollutants that destroy your indoor air quality and cause health problems like hormonal imbalances and growth and developmental problems.
Genechanging tips: Buy vinyl-free shower curtains. Also, consider purchasing natural curtains that are made from material like hemp that can be machine-washed and are resistant to the development of mold and mildew.
When choosing the type of flooring you want in your home, consider that cancer-causing toxins like formaldehyde are in the material used to manufacture it. In a 60 Minutes investigation, it was revealed that laminate flooring that was made in China and sold by Lumber Liquidators contained high formaldehyde levels in the glue that is used to bind the plank’s wood particles together. Vinyl flooring contains polyvinyl chloride (PVC), an odorless, chlorine-packed plastic. And the pliability and softness of vinyl floors are due to the addition of phthalates to PVCs. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors that are released into the home.
Genechanging tips: Before you purchase any new flooring, consider products like natural linoleum, which doesn’t contain toxic chemicals that are found in sheet vinyl and is formaldehyde-free and biodegradable. Actually, linseed oil, a tree resin, is used to make natural linoleum. Also, ceramic tiles are another option to consider because they don’t harbor harmful chemicals that can seep into the air in your home.
9. Cell phones
The cell phone debuted in 1973 when Martin Cooper, a Motorola inventor and “father of the cell phone,” made the first mobile call. A decade later the first mobile phone sold for a mindboggling $4,000 (an early trailblazer for über-expensive devices and gadgets to come). Fast-forward to today’s competitive digital world — 90 percent of American adults own a cell phone. And while cell phones have gotten “smarter” and sleeker over the past 40-plus years since its bulkier, talk-only predecessor, research shows that the low levels of radiation emitted from mobile phones over time may be associated with the development of cancer. In fact, the International Agency on Research on Cancer (IARC) at the World Health Organization concluded that exposure to the radiation from wireless phones is “possibly” a human carcinogen.
Genechanging tips: Limit your cell phone use. Put calls on speaker whenever possible and send text messages. If possible, use a landline when you’re in the office and at home. Don’t keep your cell phone on your nightstand or place it under your pillow while you sleep. Because we’re still figuring out exactly how cell phones impact our health, reduce your child’s use since it isn’t clear how the radiation exposure may affect your child’s health.