In just a few centuries, our world has irrevocably changed. Along with the conveniences of modern life come a host of new chemicals with potentially devastating effects on our bodies. It’s no wonder that rates of hormone disorders, birth defects, and cancers have risen dramatically since the Industrial Revolution. Everything from the pesticides sprayed on our crops to the cosmetics we put on our skin gets into our system.
Unfortunately, even if you eat healthy food, buy organic, and avoid synthetic chemicals, it’s difficult to undo years of exposure. The good news is that it’s never too late to adopt a green lifestyle. It may just save your life.
What’s in Your Food?
We live in an era with unprecedented access to food. We can enjoy a wide variety of produce from around the world, as well as ancient grains, high-protein meats, and vegan alternatives.
The problem is that these foods not only have a high carbon footprint but also carry the marks of unsustainable practices. For example, U.S. soil’s nutrients have been depleted by monocropping (primarily of corn due to government subsidies), which means even organic produce contains just a fraction of the vitamins and minerals it did 100 years ago.
Also, to meet demand, farmers use synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides to accelerate crops’ growth and boost their profitability. Then, they artificially ripen them. This means your produce is further stripped of nutrients and carries trace contaminants to boot.
So, your leafy greens now have significantly less iron and calcium — and they’re packing traces of glyphosate (Roundup) and even dioxin (Agent Orange), which was used in the U.S. as recently as the 1970s. What are these chemicals doing to your body?
The jury is still out on glyphosate’s effects on humans. Meta studies have pointed to a possible link between regular exposure to glyphosate-based products and an increased risk of lymphoma and myeloma. The International Agency for Research on Cancer declared it “probably carcinogenic” back in 2015. Since then, it’s been difficult to find comprehensive reviews or conclusive studies that were not in some way funded or sourced by Monsanto, which relies on glyphosate for its products. Better safe than sorry: buying organic minimizes your exposure to herbicides that may enter your system.
Also known as imazalil, this anti-fungal compound is classified as a moderately hazardous carcinogen by the World Health Organization. It also disrupts hormone signals, potentially leading to breast and reproductive cancers. Unfortunately, a study by the Environmental Working Group found enilconozole in more than 90 percent of citrus produce. It’s often used to prevent mold and other fungal growth on fruits with a hard rind. While the European Union has all but banned this substance, the FDA has been slow to follow, noting that the chemical is limited to the rind, which is inedible. However, anyone who’s ever zested an orange for cooking knows that’s not true.
Short for Chlorthal-dimethyl, this substance is another common ingredient in both herbicides and pesticides. It is classified as having low toxicity, however it often appears alongside dioxin and Hexachlorobenzene (HCB), both of which cause organ damage. Due to concerns about its ability to linger in soils and accumulate in the body, the European Union banned it in 2009. Long-term animal studies found that DPCA seemed to target the liver and adrenal glands, which could impair the body’s natural detox mechanisms.
What’s In Your Cosmetics?
Cosmetics contain all sorts of ingredients, both natural and synthetic, to nourish your skin and enhance your beauty. However, in a global market, they must be shelf-stable. Unfortunately, this means manufacturers must pack lots of preservatives. Other ingredients include formaldehyde and variations thereof, as well as various PFAS, which are increasingly banned for their carcinogenic and reproductive effects.
Now, your skin is an excellent barrier against contaminants — but if you’re applying products that contain harmful chemicals, your body’s natural defenses can only do so much. Many cosmetics contain everything from parabens to phthalates (both of which appear in flame retardant). Continual exposure has been linked to reproductive issues, endocrine disruption, liver damage, and cancer.
Parabens are synthetic preservatives, derived from plants, that have been used for decades in cosmetic products. While government agencies deem them non-toxic, there is rising concern about their role in hormone disruption — not to mention their environmental impact. Parabens are known to accumulate in both our environments and our bodies. Over time, they may have a greater effect than a single-dose exposure.
Once again, the EU is ahead of the U.S. in banning toxic compounds. They have prohibited the use of phthalates in cosmetics due to these substances’ negative effects on endocrine disruption, reproductive defects, and cancer. Even synthetic fragrance — commonly added to beauty products — is often phthalates in disguise.
Women experience disproportionate exposure to all the toxic chemicals listed above. That’s because women are more often homemakers, gardeners, and caretakers, so they use a wide variety of cleaning agents, herbicides/pesticides, cooking equipment (such as nonstick pans, grease removers, etc.), and flame-resistant products (e.g. pajamas, bedclothes, etc.). And of course, women tend to use more cosmetics than men do.
So, how can you protect yourself and your children?
The Only Way to Detox
Over the past few decades, various detoxing products and fads have come out. All promise to purge your body of toxins and fix your ailments. In truth, your body is already equipped with powerful detox mechanisms. Your livers, kidneys, and even your skin filter out the bad stuff — if you let them! Plus, you have a microbiome throughout your gut that breaks down food and promotes better absorption of nutrients.
That’s why it’s so important to drink lots of water, supplement your gut with probiotics and fiber, and regularly break a sweat. These are all crucial filtration methods to expel harmful substances from your body. Here’s your three-step checklist to detox naturally and protect your body from contaminants.
- Drink lots of water.Hydration does so much. It keeps your cells active, your liver and kidneys healthy, and your natural defenses (namely your skin’s lipid barrier and mucous membrane) in top shape. Water lubricates your entire system. Just be cautious of any issues with your local water as it sometimes contains the very toxins you’re trying to avoid!
- Support your gut health.Probiotic-rich foods (e.g. yogurt, kombucha, kimchi, even pickles!) put good microbes in your gut and keep out the bad ones. Your gut plays a major role in removing toxins.
- Exercise!We’ve developed a sedentary life here in the West, but countless studies show that regular exercise promotes higher metabolism, a better immune response, and a hearty sweat — all of which boost your natural defenses. Your exercise routine doesn’t have to be fancy. Even a daily walk around the neighborhood can help!
- Go natural and organic whenever possible.Opt for natural cleaning products (vinegar works wonders!) and pesticide-free produce. If that’s not available to you, wash your produce well before eating it. Check that your cosmetics are free of phthalates and parabens. And no, you don’t actually need all those nonstick pans, flame-retardant garments and bedclothes, and so on. With proper use and safety practices, you can get by with the basics: cast-iron skillets, wool blankets, etc.
Cancer occurs when the body’s cells undergo too much oxidative stress. Endocrine disorders develop when chemicals disrupt your body’s natural cues. And birth defects happen when mutagenic chemicals disrupt your normal cellular function. The best way to protect yourself is to embrace a green lifestyle as much as possible. Yes, companies and governments are supposedly working to reduce or eliminate these toxins, but let’s be honest: they’re taking too long, or they’re incentivized not to do it at all.
So, take matters into your own hands. You are your own best advocate, and remember… your body’s first instinct is to protect itself. Let it happen with proactive, green living while avoiding the toxins of modern conveniences.
This article is based in part on an interview with Ginny Dent Brant, cancer survivor and author of Unleash Your God-Given Healing: Eight Steps to Prevent and Survive Cancer.