Detoxing Your Life
by Vicki Wolf, November 2005
Evidence for the connection between exposure to environmental toxins and health is growing. Breast cancer, asthma, heart disease, respiratory diseases, even neurological and reproductive development all have been linked to living in a toxic world. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) studied nine people, who do not work with chemicals, to find out just what kind of toxic burden people are carrying and found that the load is heavy. This group’s total body burden was 167 synthetic chemicals. Of the 167 chemicals found, 76 cause cancer in humans or animals, 94 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 79 cause birth defects or abnormal development (http://www.ewg.org/reports/bodyburden/es.php).
While it seems almost impossible to escape adding more toxins to your body burden, some of the simple things you can do to reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals may surprise you.
Reducing your exposure to toxins can begin at home. Exposure to cigarette smoking is one of the most important ones to avoid. If the food you eat is not organic, you may be getting a dose of pesticides with your fruit salad. You can expect mercury and other toxins in much of the fish available, as well as hormones and antibiotics in beef, chicken and dairy products. Processed, packaged food may absorb toxins from the packaging or may contain chemical additives that are harmful to your health. Also, most tap water contains chlorine and other potentially harmful chemicals and heavy metals, and water contained in plastic may be contaminated with polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
Another reason to be concerned about the chemicals you use, especially cosmetics and anything that contains synthetic fragrance, is that most of the chemicals in these products have not been tested for safety. A report from EWG reveals that only 11 percent of 10,500 ingredients used in personal care products have been screened for safety. According to Jane Houlihan, vice president for Science with EWG, “An average adult is exposed to over 100 unique chemicals in personal care everyday – these exposures add up.”
Your home may harbor dust, pollen, mold, mildew, animal dander and bacteria. Carpeting can emit toxic fumes into the air. Household cleaning products, laundry detergent, fabric softener, cosmetics, shampoos, soaps and hair conditioners may contain toxic chemicals. Chemicals used to keep fabrics crisp and wrinkle-free are toxic and can be absorbed into your skin.
In the lawn and garden, toxic chemicals may be in pesticides, fertilizers, weed killers, house paint, and deck and playground sealants.
Eat fresh, organic food
To begin to detox your life, start with what you put in your mouth. Eat fresh, organic fruits and vegetables when available. Try growing your own vegetables – without pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers, of course – and check out the farmer’s markets and organic food coops in your area. Also, look for organic meats and dairy products. For information about what types of fish are safe to eat, go to (www.mercuryaction.org/fish). Use pottery or glass for food storage. Use non-polycarbonate baby feeding bottles and avoid plastic toys and pacifiers.
Use spring water in glass containers or get a home water filtering system. Avoid storing water in plastic.
Use natural personal care products
Now take an inventory of personal products and read the labels. “If you can’t put it in your mouth, don’t put it on your skin,” advises Sue McDonald, co-owner of AMAC Water Products and lecturer on ways to avoid environmental illness.
Your skin is the largest organ of the body and part of your immune system. It can absorb toxic chemicals from soaps, lotions, shampoos and other personal care products and take those toxins right into your blood stream. To find out more about the safety of personal care products, and get safety ratings for more than 14,000 products, go to www.ewg.org/reports/skindeep/. Use natural, organic soaps, toothpaste, lotions, shampoos and cosmetics. Avoid permanent hair dyes.
Keep your house clean
Minimize dust-collecting objects and regularly wipe surfaces with a damp cloth or mop. Keep the humidity low to reduce dust mites and mold. Replace or clean air filters at least once a month. Make sure there is adequate ventilation and air flow.
If you need to get rid of pests, such as roaches or ants, choose from the following list of least toxic pesticides:
- Boric acid and disodium octobrate tetrahydrate
- Silica gels
- Diatomaceous earth
- Non volatile insect and rodent bates and tamper resistent containers
- Microbe-based pesticides
- Pesticides made with essential oils (not including synthetic pyrethroids) without toxic synergists
- Materials for which the inert ingredients are non toxic and disclosed
For more information, go to Texans for Alternatives to Pesticides website.
Avoid fragrances and fabric softeners
When you examine cleaning products – such as laundry detergents, household cleaners and deodorizers – look for natural, plant-based ingredients and avoid petrochemical ingredients. McDonald says don’t use fabric softeners and avoid all fragrances, which may contain hormone-disrupting chemicals. Soda, vinegar and Bon Ami are safe to use for cleaning.
Avoid synthetic fabrics and dry-cleaning
For clothing and home decorating, avoid synthetic fabrics and look for organic cotton, linen, silk, wool or flax. Buy washable clothes – most dry-cleaning involves the use of toxic chemicals.
Avoid carpeting and vinyl tile
Wood and ceramic tile floor coverings are safest. Carpeting made from natural fiber is less toxic than synthetic carpeting and carpet padding. Most carpeting outgases and collects dust and mold. Vinyl tile also gives off toxic fumes. Read labels on home improvement products, and look for products that are certified “green” and safe for the environment and your health.
Garden with, not against nature
Use the organic method of gardening to enhance the ecosystem’s natural process for controlling pests rather than using toxic pesticides. Use natural fertilizers, such as compost, for a broader range of nutrients that stay in the soil longer than chemical fertilizers. An organic garden or landscape is safer, more sustainable and saves water.
Most of the world’s insects, birds and butterflies are beneficial to your garden and landscape. To attract them:
- Stop using poisons- fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides
- Stop polluting the air with dust, especially from noisy leaf blowers
- Provide a variety of native and flowering plants for sheltering and food, especially in the parsley and daisy-sunflower families
- Leave some "bad bugs" for them to eat
- Allow leaf litter to accumulate under trees to enrich the soil and shelter small insects and microbes
- Provide moisture: closely space plants, use drip irrigation, add bird baths and consider building a pond
For more information, go to
Take action for a safer, healthier world
Reduce your body burden of toxic chemicals and protect your family by making these changes and by looking for ways to detox your workplace and your community.
Speak out for improved products that don’t pollute or add toxins to your daily life. Let your local, state and national representatives know you want to be protected from harmful products.