10 steps to reduce your risk
Simple steps to detox your home and body can provide many health benefits. Check out our "his and hers" detox guide.
Think you don’t need to detox? Think again. Every day we’re in contact with poisons in our products, our air, and our food. More and more studies associate them with serious health problems. While these toxins may be in tiny quantities, their effects on our bodies may be adding up.
“We’re exposed to a lot of different things that we’re not even aware of,” says Dr. Karen McDonald, director of public health at Concordia University College in Edmonton. “Chronically, we’re not helping ourselves to be exposed to them.” While some contaminants are difficult to avoid, others can easily be dumped from our daily routines. “If there are alternatives,” adds McDonald, “why would we not choose those?”
1. Clear out household cleaners
Many detergents and disinfectants used in the home contain ingredients known to be harmful such as formaldehyde, ammonia, and chlorine. Not only can these be inhaled while you’re cleaning, but they can linger in your home after you’ve used them, and are eventually released into the environment.
If your household has kids, cleaners also pose a risk of poison. “We’re talking about chemicals that, in the lab, we would treat very carefully. Yet at home, we just put them on the shelf,” says McDonald.
Put nontoxic cleaning products on your shopping list. Or spend less money and make your own all-purpose cleaners using safer ingredients such as lemon juice, vinegar, baking soda, and borax.
2. Open the windows
“We keep our buildings sealed. We expect to have an extremely tight level of comfort,” says Dr. Miriam Diamond, an environmental scientist with the University of Toronto. Since Canadians also spend an average of 90 percent of our time indoors, we could be inhaling household toxins almost all day long.
Exhaust fans in kitchens and bathrooms can help to exchange air with the outdoors. So can opening a few windows. “I reduce my exposure by keeping our house leakier,” says Diamond. “We’re not wasting energy, but we experience a greater temperature range.”
3. Wear less dangerous duds
Clothing may contain chemicals and compounds known to be a health hazard. These come from sources including pesticides, dyes, plasticizers, and fire retardants. Consider that your skin is the single largest organ of your body. Why not be more guarded about your garb?
Choose clothes made from organic, untreated natural fibres including cotton, hemp, and bamboo. Take steps to reduce the chemical residue left on your clothing by laundry detergents. Buy biodegradable, nontoxic laundry detergent, or make your own by mixing a cup of pure soap flakes with a quarter-cup of washing soda (sodium carbonate).
4. Eat organic
The use of insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides on fruits and vegetables can leave a toxic residue that’s probably not so welcome in your garden salad. Choose food products that are certified as organic (read the label). That means that at least 95 percent of the product’s content has been grown without pesticides.
If you don’t have the option to buy organic, you can significantly reduce the residue on your fruits and veggies by washing them for at least 30 seconds. You can also purchase a vegetable wash that's been specifically designed to remove unwanted residues.
5. Take mercury off the menu
Many of us try to include fish in our diet for their omega-3 fatty acids. But far from giving your health a boost, some fish dishes, such as white tuna, can burden your body with mercury, a known poison. Even low amounts can cause health problems.
To lower your risk, restrict your white (albacore) tuna intake to no more than one meal a week. Reach instead for fish known to have more modest mercury levels including shrimp, salmon, pollock, and catfish.
6. Apply some traffic control
Traffic fumes contain a mix of carbon monoxide and harmful chemicals such as benzene. To reduce your exposure, don’t sit in an idling car, and try to avoid driving in heavy traffic.
Better yet, walk to work and school. Try to take routes through less polluted areas, such as parks or cemeteries. Even being a short distance away from traffic makes a big difference in the air you breathe.
If you have an attached garage or a room over your garage, never leave the car running while the garage door is closed. A Health Canada study found that the indoor air of houses with attached garages tested positive for car emissions, while houses with no attached garages had almost no detectable levels.
7. Stop snacking on processed foods
Evidence suggests that many food additives, such as sodium nitrate, artificial colours, and the preservatives BHA/BHT, are associated with cancer when eaten in large amounts.
Although processed foods contain only small quantities of these suspect compounds, why not cut your risk completely by clearing your pantry? Go back to the basics by making dishes from scratch and seasoning your own meals. Your grocery costs will go down, too.
8. Rip up your carpets
The wall-to-wall carpeting in your home—and the glue used to install it—may be stealthily releasing chemicals including formaldehyde and fungicides. Carpets also collect and trap bacteria, allergens, and chemical pollutants. Do you really want your baby learning to crawl on a carpet that’s crawling with contaminants?
Use a washable area rug made of natural fibres. And follow expert advice for removing the carpeting so you don’t spread debris.
9. Avoid plastic food containers
Bisphenol A (BPA) was recently added to Environment Canada’s List of Toxic Substances for its suspected adverse health effects. This popular plastic compound is used in many food containers such as cans, water bottles, and storage containers.
So are other suspect plastics, so your best bet is to store leftovers in nonplastic containers, and drink from reusable metal water bottles.
10. Light the right candles
Why worsen your indoor air by using candles and air deodorizers? Even unscented, colourless candles have been found to release harmful substances including alkanes, alkenes, and toluene into the air.
Scents and air fresheners also contain risky chemicals that can be deeply inhaled. If you love the ambience of a few lighted candles, opt for those made from beeswax or a vegetable base such as soybean.
Check out these quick tips for avoiding more toxins.
A clean shave
Fix your morning shave by giving conventional shaving creme the brush-off. If growing a beard isn’t your style, try using nonaerosol, natural alternatives such as aloe vera gel. Some folks swear by almond oil, shea butter, and even peanut butter!
No more shoe blues
Forget off-the-shelf, chemical shoe polish. Want shiny shoes? Use a few drops of a natural oil such as olive, and buff to a fine-looking finish with a soft cloth. Lemon juice works wonders for leather, and cold black coffee can bring new life to black suede shoes.
Go off the grill
If you’re king of the barbecue, be warned. Eating grilled meats can raise your absorption of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), a class of toxins associated with heart disease and other health risks. Bottom line: give up the grill more often, and go for steamed, boiled, or stewed meats.
Stop the stuff
Men are notorious for wanting to upgrade their toys. But each time you replace an obsolete gadget, you’ve got new stuff that’s off-gassing. Plus the high turnover contributes to environmental waste. Try to prolong the life of your laptop until you really need a new one. Or buy your electronics refurbished or second-hand.
A makeover for your cosmetics
Some brands of makeup contain chemicals that, in large amounts, are known to cause cancer and other health problems. Choose products that are marketed as nontoxic or containing all-natural ingredients.
Good hair days
Hairspray ingredients can include known poisons and plasticizers and are not meant to be inhaled. But it’s too easy to breathe in the stuff when you’re spritzing your style. Opt for a pump or even a gel instead of an aerosol spray, and look for natural ingredients. Or make your own solution with lemon boiled in water.
Baby on board
If you’re pregnant, what you eat and drink isn’t the only thing that matters for the health of your baby: you should also be careful about what you breathe. Second-hand smoke and other air pollutants are associated with problems such as low birth weight and premature delivery.
Spend time in clean outdoor air, away from industrial areas and high-traffic roads, and never allow anyone to smoke around you or in your home.
Detox your digits
When you cover your fingernails with acrylic ones, you’re cutting off the air circulation your nails need to stay healthy and fungus free. Plus the glues used to apply artificial fingernails, and the solvents used to remove them, are toxic. The alternative: look after your natural nails.