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General Health

5 Ways to Protect Yourself Against Indoor Toxins

One benefit of working from home is that you have much more control over the chemicals in your environment.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Have you ever been taken aback by the lingering scent of a perfume when you entered an empty elevator? Or grimaced at the smell of industrial emissions from a factory? Along with being unpleasant, these odors share another unwelcome characteristic: they’re toxic. Many food and other everyday products in your home also contain toxins, and they disrupt hormones and contribute to a whole host of maladies.

According to the Endocrine Society, a nonprofit organization of physicians and scientists, our environment contains about 1,000 chemicals that are endocrine disruptors, altering the way our hormones function. Harmful effects can include weight gain, a reduced ability to handle stress, harmful behavioral changes, higher odds of diabetes, thyroid malfunction, a weakened immune system, and higher risk of cancer.

While this can seem overwhelming, effective action boils down to recognizing and avoiding the top sources of indoor toxins. It’s a realistic approach that can make a big difference to your health.

Beware of “Fragrance”

Photo: Adobe Stock

It may sound benign, but “fragrance” contains phthalates, chemicals that are known endocrine disruptors. It’s found in so many products—from skin creams and lotions to household cleaning products, air fresheners, and scented candles—that simply avoiding this one ingredient can make a big difference in the quantity of toxins you ingest through your skin and lungs.

To the FDA, ingredients in fragrance are trade secrets that don’t need to be disclosed. And it can be tricky to recognize because even “unscented” products can contain fragrance to mask unpleasant odors without imparting a recognizable scent.

So check ingredient lists carefully. And if you like scents, opt for products that use natural essential oils from plants.

Eat Organic Food

Eating mostly organic food, even for a few days, can dramatically reduce levels of pesticides in your body. One study by the University of California at San Francisco compared blood levels of 13 pesticides after eating conventional foods and organic foods, each for 5–6 days. After the organic diet, levels of some pesticides dropped by 90–95 percent.

Studies of more than 60,000 people in France found that during a 3-year period, those eating a mostly organic diet were about 30 percent less likely to gain weight compared to those eating mostly conventional foods. And during a 5-year period, those eating mostly organic food were about 25 percent less likely to develop cancer.

In Iowa, researchers measured blood levels of glyphosate, a toxic herbicide widely used in conventional agriculture and in Roundup weed killer. Just six days of an organic diet reduced blood levels of glyphosate by more than 70 percent.

In addition, avoid storing food—and especially microwaving it—in plastic containers, as these can contain hazardous chemicals that leach into your food.

Instead, use glass or ceramic containers.

Prepare Fresh Food at Home

Packaging for fast food and microwave popcorn contains PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), and the chemicals leach into food. PFAS are linked to cancer, impaired immunity, weight gain, altered thyroid function, and reproductive issues.

Large U.S. government surveys have found that people who eat more homemade meals have lower blood levels of PFAS. Cruciferous vegetables, green vegetables, and fiber are especially important for keeping your internal detoxification systems humming.

PFAS are also found in water, furnishings, stain- and water-resistant coatings, some paints, some nonstick cookware, and in many industrial processes. You can’t stop all your exposure to PFAS, but because diet is a major source, you can significantly reduce your exposure by skipping fast food and microwave popcorn.

Adopt Toxin-Reducing Habits

A study of more than 700 people by the nonprofit Silent Spring Institute found significantly lower levels of four common toxins among people who habitually avoided products that contain:

  • Parabens, a preservative in skincare products.
  • Triclosan, an antibacterial ingredient is some toothpastes and soaps.
  • Bisphenols, such as bisphenol-A (BPA) in the linings of cans and many plastic containers.
  • Fragrance, in many skincare and household products.

Take Detoxifying Supplements

In addition to eating the right foods, studies have found that these supplements can help with detoxification of toxins in our food, water, and environment:

Chlorophyll: The natural substance that gives plants their green color, chlorophyll is often recommended by naturopaths for healthy detoxification. A study of 180 people in China—in a community where food was known to contain aflatoxins (produced by certain molds)—found that taking 100 mg of a chlorophyll supplement 3 times daily for 4 months reduced levels of aflatoxins by 55 percent.

Indole-3 carbinole (I3C): Found in cruciferous vegetables, I3C has been found in studies to enhances internal detoxification of estrogenic substances that disrupt hormones. An effective dose was 500 mg daily.

Glutathione: The human body’s master internal antioxidant, glutathione plays an essential role in multiple detoxification processes. Exposure to toxins depletes levels of glutathione, contributing to the development of neurological problems.

A common dose is 500 mg daily.

There’s an App for That

To help identify levels of toxins in food and consumer products, download the Healthy Living App from the nonprofit Environmental Working Group. It rates more than 122,000 foods, personal care products, and healthy cleaning products.