Maybe, perhaps, sort of, with any luck, spring has arrived. With the impending glee of rousing gardens, rising temperatures and longer days, everyone is feeling a little healthier. The warmer days of mid-April sit in sharp contrast to the sleet and snow that cancelled school busses less than ten days ago.
As a naturopathic doctor, spring also coincides with a series of visits and questions related to spring cleanses, detoxification and lifestyle transformation. Cleansing and detoxing can be an intricate and complex process, individualized to the unique exposure history of the patient. It usually involves a change in diet, strategic supplementation and the elimination of physiological stressors found within the home.
For most people, temporary changes in diet and the short-term intake of supplements is the easy part of the program. There is no point in cleansing or detoxing however, if you continue to expose yourself to an onslaught of chemicals and physiological saboteurs.
While the summer months bring frequent concerns regarding outdoor air quality and our health, it is in fact the quality of our indoor air and exposures that present a larger challenge to our bodies. On Earth Day, it seems appropriate to review the most impactful changes we can make as part of our spring cleansing that will service not only our physical health, but our delicate planet at the same time.
Get Drastic with Plastic
BPA (Bis-phenol A) captured headlines last year and we all cheered when the federal government boldly banned its presence in baby bottles. BPA, used in the production of consumer plastics, glossy receipts and the lining of canned foods is a known endocrine (hormonal) disruptors. Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times contributor, Nicholas Kristoff has referenced endocrine disruptors as the tobacco of our time, and I tend to agree.
Endocrine disruptors wreak havoc on our bodies and are implicated in the early onset of puberty, breast cancers, obesity, fertility challenges in humans and gender swapping metamorphoses in our ecosystem's most vulnerable creatures. There is no telling how deep the impact of plastics will go in terms of the effects on human and ecological health. Soft plastics, hard plastics, they are all potentially dangerous. Highly effective changes within your home include the avoidance of cellophane on your food, replacing your plastic containers with something made of glass or metal and never, ever heating your food on a plastic dish or container. While you are at it, buy yourself a re-usable water bottle and give the plastic version the boot, permanently.
Dry cleaning to the garage
There is something so nice about having someone else wash and iron your shirts. What isn't nice, however, is the endocrine disruption resulting from the 'off-gassing' of the dry cleaning agents within your closet. Perchloroethylene is the most notorious of the dry-cleaning chemicals. It is a known endocrine disruptor and a suspected carcinogen. "Green dry-cleaners" often have safer alternatives, but the off-gassing effect has still been shown to create problems for sensitive people. After the plastic from dry-cleaned clothing has been removed, off-gassing chemicals will remain on the clothes and will be released into the surrounding environment. Move your dry cleaning to the garage, basement, or, in the very least, beyond the borders of your bedroom for at least 1 week before it re-enters your closet.
Sack the Scents
Scented products contain a class of chemicals known as phthalates (pronounced thal-ates). Phthalates are used in plastics and scented items among many any other classes of consumer products. With the exception of natural essential oils, industry's capacity to make things smell like St. Lucia in your living room is a frightening proposition. In addition to the phthalates found in air fresheners, non-plant based candles present the added carcinogenic bonus of releasing petrochemicals into the air in your home. Breathing in a tail pipe is in sharp contrasted to the beautiful image you were hoping for as you surround your bubble bath with tea lights and rose petals (the rose petals are totally safe by the way). Beeswax and soy are two excellent options when it comes to candles, provided they are scented, if scented at all, with natural essential oils.
Can the Cleaners
If there is one thing you need to keep handy, in abundance, around your home it is white vinegar. Replace your glass and multi-purpose cleaning solutions with this one-size-fits-all alternative. With the exception of your toilet bowl, there are few surfaces that require a complete anti-microbial over-haul. Our collective obsession with living in microbe-free, lemon-scented kitchens has resulted in sparkling surfaces at the expense of our health. Cleaning products contain a variety of chemicals whose action within the body range from hormonal disruption to known carcinogenic implications. White vinegar is an easy, clean alternative to expensive, dangerous chemicals that end up in our lungs, on our skin and down our drains.
Try these simple alternatives:
Glass cleaner - 1 part white vinegar: 5 parts water.
Multi-purpose surface cleaner - 1 part white vinegar: 5 parts water (1L total): 1mL tea tree oil
Tea tree oil is a broad-spectrum anti microbial. It won't kill everything, but it will decrease the bacterial load on your counters and other surfaces.
Restoring your health, transforming your home or changing the world is not a quick fix; it is a series of events, decisions and commitments to honoring who you are and nurturing your potential as a planetary patron. Making any of the changes outlined above does not mean doing everything at once; it means that for five days in a row you have to make a decision, any decision that will spiral into the next positive step. Replacing your detergent, hanging your dry-cleaning in the garage or moving to your new potential begins with a single action. Take just one, in the right direction.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step - Chinese Proverb