When helping new clients implement lifestyle changes, I typically start with the low-hanging fruit:
Drink more water.
Eat veggies with every meal.
Cut out the soda.
None of these recommendations is controversial and clients are already convinced of the benefits. Even when these changes are incorporated gradually, improvements in body weight, skin health, and energy levels can be seen in just a few days. Subsequent phases of nutrition coaching will obviously involve more targeted goals.
But when a fat loss plateau sets in – or when the conversation shifts to nagging health issues – clients are often surprised to hear me identify the potential contributing factors inside their homes but not necessarily in their fridge or pantry. Not only can these under-the-radar products and behaviors make it harder to lose those last few pounds but they might be increasing your risk of serious illness down the road.
Healthy living requires a multi-pronged attack. Diet and nutrition are only one component. Here are the other strategies my family employs to improve our quality of life and limit the time we spend in doctors offices.
Manufacturers of air purifiers claim their machines “remove 99.97% of all airborne contaminants larger than 0.3 microns, while eliminating over 3000 toxic gases and odors.” Perhaps some of this is hype but according to the National Safety Council (NSC), “indoor air often contains higher concentrations of hazardous pollutants than outdoor air.” The NSC website explains that one downside of more energy efficient homes is that air becomes trapped and stale inside, locking pollutants indoors.
This became a priority for me when I learned I was going to be a dad. What concerned me most was learning that kids breathe in 50 percent more air per pound of body weight than adults do. On average, Americans spend 90 percent of their days indoors, and 65 percent of that time in their homes. In fact, the NSC says that indoor air can be up to 100 times more polluted than the air outside.
One recent study found that babies in the womb are more susceptible to DNA damage from air pollution than are their mothers. A Canadian study reported in the journal Epidemiology last December that babies in areas with moderate air pollution have a higher risk of developing middle-ear infections. In late 2009 researchers at the University of Washington reported that infants exposed to air pollution are at an elevated risk of developing bronchiolitis.
We’re so careful about the food and beverages we consume so why wouldn’t we be just as careful about the air we breathe in? I’ve suffered from seasonal allergies so reducing and eliminating particulates like dust and pollen was one of the primary goals. What about other sources of chemicals? The Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE) Toxicant and Disease Database is a database that summarizes links between chemical contaminants and approximately 180 human diseases or conditions. According to the CHE, more than 80,000 chemicals have been developed, distributed, and discarded into the environment over the past fifty years. Most have not been tested for toxic effects in humans or animals, and some are common in air, water, food, homes, work places, and communities.
You’re probably already familiar with some of these chemicals: formaldehyde, benzene, ammonia, and PBDEs, a group of flame retardants. They’re called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and they’ve been linked to everything from headaches, nausea, and dizziness to leukemia and lymphomas.
We’ve taken steps to avoid the obvious sources of VOCs. For example, we chose low-VOC paint to freshen the walls when we moved into our current home a few years ago. We don’t buy any products made with particleboard and plywood. We recently upgraded a mattress, choosing a wool rather than polyurethane foam. We no longer buy vinyl shower curtains and we stay away from stain-resistant materials. And we haven’t cooked on Teflon in nearly a decade. The use of an air purifier gives us added peace of mind. As a complementary strategy, we also have several air-cleaning plants throughout the house. We chose the species from a list compiled by NASA, one which includes Dracaena and spider plants, peace lilies, and bamboo palm.
Blue wavelengths are helpful during daylight hours, as they boost attention, reaction times, and mood. At night, however, they become disruptive, throwing our biological clock out of whack. Our sleep suffers as a result. Research shows that it may contribute to the development of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
Dozens of studies have linked working the night shift and exposure to light at night to several types of cancer (breast, prostate), diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. We’re not sure how exactly but we do know that exposure to light suppresses the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that influences circadian rhythms and there’s some evidence that lower melatonin levels might explain the association with cancer.
Short of cutting out all evening electronics there are some strategies we’ve implemented to reduce our exposure to blue light. For example, we now use dim red bulbs in our night lights. Red light has the least power to shift circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin. We’ve also installed apps on our phones and programs on our computers to filter the blue/green wavelength at night. Televisions with LED backlighting are another source of blue light, though because they are typically viewed from much farther away than small screens like phones, they may have less of an effect.
When I first learned about the dangers of blue light I bought (half-jokingly) my wife and I each a pair of orange-tinted glasses. Those quickly found their way into the nightstand drawer and haven’t made a reappearance but that would be another option for blocking blue light.
Electromagnetic fields (EMF)
At first I thought this was some cooky, conspiracy theory mumbo-jumbo. But the more I learned, it began to make sense. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that the electric fields are created by differences in voltage and magnetic fields are created when the electric current flows.
According to WHO, electromagnetic fields affect us because the human body has its own electric and biochemical responses: the nervous system, digestion, brain and heart function.
In 2011 the World Health Organisation (WHO) classified radio frequency microwave radiation as emitted by cell phones and the like as a possible Class 2B carcinogen. Thousands of independent studies now link these exposures to a long list of serious diseases including cancer.
Chronic high levels of low frequency EMF exposure can result in:
- Brain fog
- Dizziness and vertigo
- Hormone imbalances
- Cancer or increased in cancer risk
You’re exposed both at home and at work, indoors and out. But we’re not going to give up our computers and cell phones, hair dryers and electric toothbrushes, TVs, refrigerators, and microwaves.
I’ve identified my laptop as the biggest source of my exposure so I decided to focus my efforts there. Laptop computers are a high energy source of both electric and magnetic fields, so I no longer put my MacBook directly on my lap. You can block the thermal effects by using a lap pad, and you can shield against the electric field by adding a reflective material or metal to it, but you cannot block the magnetic field component.
Since charging devices are ungrounded, I only use my laptop and cell phone when they’re running on battery and not when they’re charging. The amount of EMF you’re exposed to from a laptop that is plugged in compared to a laptop that is running on battery is about a hundred times higher! Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable. We bought my wife a blanket that supposedly shields her from the EMF when using her laptop and she used that throughout her entire second pregnancy. Who knows if it actually does anything but it was only $40.
There’s not enough known about the dangers of EMF so I’d rather be proactive than passive. Since cell phone and power line networks are everywhere, it is not possible to completely eliminate EMF exposure. The only way to understand what you’re exposing yourself to is by using a meter like this one. There are ways to reduce exposure and mitigate the effects and some are more complicated and inconvenient than others. Among the more simple approaches recommended by those who study EMF poisoning are:
- Keeping appliances and devices off when not in use.
- Keeping cell phones on airplane mode whenever possible (we always make sure to do this before bed, at the very least).
- Hard wiring internet connections, rather than using WiFi.
- If WiFi use is necessary, only turning it on when in use and turn off the WiFi router at night.
- Keeping electronic devices away from the body. Obviously, use speakerphone or headphones rather than placing the phone near your ear to speak.
- Using protection tools such as Defender Pad under your laptop, and EMF shields for cell phone.
- Filtering out dirty electricity using dirty electricity filters.
- Minimizing use of digital devices when possible.
- Some believe that you can neutralize EMF radiation with the use of a Himalayan salt lamp or a negative ion generator. We have salt lamps in our bedrooms. I’m not sure they do anything but I’m pretty sure they don’t harms us plus they look cool, they’re cheap, and the glow is relaxing.
- It’s possible that a diet rich in antioxidants can protect our cells from the damage caused by EMF exposure.
A Brita pitcher might make your water taste better but it does very little to make your water safer to drink. When we decided to start a family, I began looking into what else might be lurking in our tap water and soon became concerned with other contaminants. Unfortunately, you can’t rely on the government to keep the water clean and bottled water gets pricey and contains toxic phthalates or bisphenol A (BPA). To remove serious toxins, you need the kind of advanced filtration system that you won’t find on Amazon or at Home Depot .
I researched my options for months and found an undercounter system that eliminates radiation, fluoride, pharmaceuticals, viruses, bacteria, heavy metals, VOC’s, disinfection byproducts (THM’s, HAA’s, NDMA), and pesticides/herbicides. Because the skin absorbs substances while showering and bathing, we also use a shower filter. The skin is our largest organ and warm temperatures increase the absorption of chemicals like chlorine. You’ll also breathe in chlorine more easily when the water is warm. There’s research showing that the lifetime risk of cancer is higher from bathing in chlorinated water than from drinking it! No more metallic taste and harsh chlorine to breathe in. As an added bonus, I notice softer water and my skin and nails don’t get nearly as dry.
Cleaning and Personal Care Products
I used to think a natural label on my shower gel or dish soap carried some weight but now I know those terms are meaningless. There are specific compounds you need to look for, with parabens, phthalates, and synthetic fragrances (parfum) being the worst offenders. These synthetic chemicals are known as endocrine disruptors. They mimic the hormone estrogen and increase your risk of breast cancer and reproductive harm. They have also been linked to immune and neurological issues, as well as skin irritation. Research shows that endocrine disruptors may pose the greatest risk during prenatal and early postnatal development when organ and neural systems are forming. There are safer alternatives. You can check the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database for help in “decoding” a product label but we’ve settled on a few brands that we consider honest, transparent, and responsible: Pure Haven Essentials, Mad Hippie, Weleda, Better Life, Aunt Fannie’s, Greenshield, and Nature’s Gate.