"If we are going to live so intimately with these chemicals - eating and drinking them, taking them into the very marrow of our bones - we had better know something about their nature and their power." - Rachel Carson
"Toxins" is a word you hear almost daily. And you know that you don't want toxins anywhere near your home, your body, or your kids.
But you may not know why you should be avoiding toxins, how dangerous they could be for your health, and the best ways to prevent them.
Consider this your essential primer on non-toxic living.
What are Toxins?
Search "what are toxins" and you'll find the following definition:
"an antigenic poison or venom of plant or animal origin, especially one produced by or derived from microorganisms and causing disease when present at low concentration in the body."
By their very definition, toxins are substances that cause disease when present, even at low concentrations, in the body.
Where Are Toxins Found?
"In our world, these microorganisms and the endless list of toxic chemicals consistently assault our immune system. Coupled with the daily assaults on the daily stresses of life and their disastrous effects upon us." - David Wolf
Your body experiences toxic exposure every day. Even in your home, which should be a refuge of safety, your body is regularly subjected to a toxin onslaught.
Toxins in the Air
Environmental toxins are present in the air you breathe, both inside and outside your home.
Outside: toxins can enter your lungs from:
- Rice fields burning
- Pesticides spraying
- Smog/car emissions
- Woodfire burns
Inside: levels of toxins known as VOCs can be up to 10x higher inside your home than out, from products like:
- Cleaning products
- Home furnishings
- Mattresses and bedding
- Aerosol sprays
- and more
Toxins in the Water
The vast majority of the nation's drinking water supplies get a passing grade from federal and state regulatory agencies. But many of the 278 contaminants detected by local utilities' tests are found at levels well above levels authoritative scientific studies have found to pose health risks.
The Environmental Working Group collects data from nearly 50,000 local utilities in 50 states to pull back the veil on your community's drinking water.
The disturbing truth shown by the data is this:
When most Americans drink a glass of tap water, they're also getting a dose of industrial or agricultural contaminants linked to cancer, harm to the brain and nervous system, changes in a fetus's growth and development, fertility problems, and hormone disruption.
Toxins in Your Food
Eating food that's certified organic or organically-grown from local farmers can help protect you from food toxins.
To be certified organic, organic crops must be grown without synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMOs), petroleum-based fertilizers, and sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Livestock can't eat non-organic feed or receive antibiotics, growth hormones, or animal by-products.
Organic foods account for less than 5% of food sales in the U.S. That means 95% of the U.S. food supply is "conventional," or non-organic food. And those foods are typically grown, raised, or made with synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, preservatives, and GMOs, to name a few.
Your food isn't the only way you could be ingesting toxins into your body, either.
Hundreds of everyday products are made with highly toxic fluorinated chemicals called PFAS. They build up in our bodies and never break down in the environment.
Minimal doses of PFAS have been linked to cancer, reproductive and immune system harm, and other diseases.
PFAS are incredibly persistent in the environment and can build up in people and animals. They migrate out of consumer products into household dust and air, are released by industries, and contaminate drinking water and food. Once they are in our bodies, they stick around. These "forever chemicals" have a half-life of up to 8 years.
Toxins Absorbed Through Your Skin
Your skin is your largest organ, and you should be as diligent about what you put on your skin as you are about what you eat and drink.
The personal care product you use daily can be absorbed through your skin and into your bloodstream.
And the shocking truth is this:
Brands aren't required to disclose all of the ingredients in their products to you, the consumer.
And there's little to no government oversight to ensure those ingredients are non-toxic and safe. Some personal care products can contain MORE chemicals than household cleaning products.
Find a brand you know and trust and stick to their umbrella of products and goods. (We like to look for "B corp" brands, which indicates transparency, and that they treat their suppliers and employees well, too.)
Your body can also absorb toxic chemicals in another way: from the clothes you wear all day or from the bedding you sleep on at night.
- Dry cleaning chemicals can stick around and transfer from your blouse to your skin (and then in)
- Flame retardant treatment on children's nightclothes can be highly toxic
- Memory foam mattresses can break down and release chemicals as you toss and turn
- Non-organic cotton can contain bleach and other chemicals
Controlling Your Toxin Exposure
If you want to reduce your exposure to toxins, it's time to become an informed consumer.
Get familiar with the EWG. The Environmental Working Group works tirelessly to create databases that help consumers understand what's in the products they buy and use. Their work includes:
- Tapwater database
- Skindeep cosmetics database
- Guide to pesticides in produce (aka the Dirty Dozen list)
- Healthy home guide
- Guide to healthy cleaning
You can also help your body's natural detox mechanisms by:
- Getting plenty of sleep
- Reducing or building resilience to stress
- Eating plenty of fresh (organic) fruits and vegetables
- Getting daily exercise
Check out our post, 5 Simple Ways to Reduce Toxins in Your Body, for more great ideas!
You may not be able to avoid toxins in all their forms. But, with some knowledge in hand, you can build a strong defense that reduces the number of toxins that your body has to battle every day.