I recently had a flood at my home. My 3 year-old turned on the tap to wash her hands at the bathroom basin. For some reason, she also decided it would be a good idea to put the plug in the sink. With the water running out of the tap at high speed, she was unable to get the tap turned off. The water quickly flowed up and over the sides of the basin, across the benchtop and cascaded onto the floor. Having a waterfall in the bathroom was a new experience for her (and me!). She did what any 3-year-old would do in such a situation – she screamed! Next she threw the hand towel onto the floor to clean up the water. What she didn’t do was turn the tap off.
One of her siblings came running when they heard the scream, and quickly turned the tap off, but not before a significant amount of damage was done to both the cabinetry and to her sister’s hair curlers, straighteners and dryers that were in the cupboard below the sink. These had been placed in a plastic tub to keep them contained in the cupboard. What it also did was contain the water that had flowed into the cupboard, and now covered the appliances. We now don’t keep any appliances in that cupboard 😉
This story came to my mind recently when I was thinking about detoxification. We hear about ‘detox programs’, juice fasts and specific nutritional products designed to detoxify the body, but I liken these products to throwing a handtowel onto an already flooded bathroom floor when the tap is still running. What we need to do first is stop the flow, then focus on cleaning up.
Turning off the tap
You might be thinking that we aren’t exposed to many toxicants in our environment. The Government wouldn’t allow that, right? Unfortunately, many of the toxicants we are exposed to are actually approved for use. Some, in and of themselves seem reasonably innocuous. The problem has more to do with the extent and the cumulative effect we are experiencing now, which is greater than at any time in the past.
Consider the following types of products that are in our foods, our homes and our environment:
- – Food colourings and preservatives
- – Pesticides such as glysophate (round-up) used in modern farming practices
- – Off gassing of chemicals used to make furniture, clothing, paint, toys and cleaning products
- – Fumes at petrol stations and car exhaust
- – Air pollution from industry
- – Second hand cigarette smoke
- – Alcohol
- – Prescription and over the counter medications such as Panadol and ibuprofen
- – Fluoride, chlorine, pesticide residues and heavy metals in our water
- – BPA and other chemicals in plastics
- – Phthalates in fragrances
- – Endocrine disrupting chemicals in our body care product
- – Electromagnetic fields and electromagnetic radiation
There is a lot we can do
To turn off the tap to lower our exposure to these types of chemicals we need to:
- – Clean up the food we eat
- – Clean up the water we drink and bathe in
- – Clean up the air we breathe
- – Clean up the kitchen we prepare our food in
- – Clean up our personal care products
We are never going to be able to completely avoid all sources of toxicants. What we can do is reduce our exposure to as many sources as possible, without becoming ‘over the top’ obsessed about it, because that is stressful, and stress can negatively impact our health too. I think the best approach is to change the things that can be controlled, so you can worry less about the things you can’t control. Let me give you some practical recommendations.
Clean up the food we eat
Remove processed foods from the diet. These foods often contain colours and flavourings along with other chemicals that can disrupt normal body functions. Eat organic foods where possible, as this minimises our exposure to pesticides and other chemicals used in growing and preparing foods for consumption. Organic food is often more expensive than conventionally grown food, so be wise. The Environmental Working Group in the USA have prepared a list of the 12 most likely contaminated fruits and vegetables, and the 15 that are least likely to be contaminated. I’m not sure whether these lists apply here in Australia, as we have different growing conditions, and therefore different requirements for pesticides, but it gives an idea of the types of fruits and vegetables that are best to buy from the organic section.
Clean up our water
Filtering water for both drinking and showering can reduce exposure to chlorine and chlorine disinfection by-products, pesticide residues, prescription medication residues, and other types of pollution that can be present in drinking water.
Clean up our air
Air pollution can contribute to the toxic burden in the body. Air purifiers are an option, but certain house plants can also be supportive in purifying the air in our homes. NASA carried out research back in 1989 which looked at indoor air quality, and which plants can help remove air pollutants such as benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethane. It seems the benefits of plants come from their ability to balance humidity levels, reduce chemical emissions, reduce airborne moulds and bacteria (as long as they aren’t overwatered) and their ability to absorb carbon dioxide and to release oxygen. Recommended plants include the Peace lily (Spathiphyllum sp.), Mother in Law’s Tongue, and Dracaena ‘Janet Craig’.
The use of natural cleaning and laundry products can also help keep indoor air quality cleaner in our homes. Its best to read labels and avoid products that contain phthalates, triclosan, 2-butoxyethanol, ammonia, chlorine, sodium hydroxide, sodium laureth sulfate, phosphates, optical brighteners, quaternary ammonium compounds, and petroleum distillates. There is a great app called Chemical Maze that can help educate about chemicals found in household products, and grades them based on their health effects. There are plenty of DIY recipes available online to make safer products for your home, or the ABODE range of home cleaning products have been developed here in Australia by a Building Biologist to ensure they are the safest on the market. Many health food stores carry this range.
Clean up our kitchens
Commonly used non-stick cookware and plastic utensils can also contribute to our toxin exposure. Using glass, stainless steel, cast iron or enamel are much better choices for cookware. Using wooden or metal utensils are also better options than plastic. Replace plastic containers with glass such as the new Pyrex glass storage containers, or recycle glass jars.
Clean up our personal care products
Many personal care products contain endocrine disrupting chemicals and heavy metals. Chemical maze is a great app available through the Apple store or Android store that helps decipher which chemicals can be an issue. Nourished Life and Biome both stock great safe products, as do many health food stores.
Once we have turned the tap off and stopped the inflow of toxins, we can start preparing to clean up the mess which we do through getting our nutrition right, and then gently prodding the body to do its own internal clean-up through supporting proper liver function.