Episode 005: 10 Things I've Done to Lessen My Toxic Load
We’re wrapping up this mini-series on environmental toxins with a solo show! In this episode, I’m sharing 10 things that I’ve done to reduce my exposure to toxins.
These are very simple but practical tips that you can do too!
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Over the past two episodes we've talked about the role of environmental toxins and health, and if you haven't listened to Episodes 003 and 004 that I encourage you to go back and listen to them in conjunction with this one because today I'm wrapping up this mini-series on environmental toxins by sharing with you why this topic important to me.
So, it was a little over three years ago when I was working with Dr. Melissa, who I interviewed in Episode 002, and she first brought this issue of environmental toxins to my attention. Prior to this when I heard the words, “environmental toxins” I always thought of things like landfills and recycling. I was completely oblivious to how products in my home that I used every day could mess with my hormones and ultimately my health.
So, you know how there are moments when you remember exact conversations. Well, this was one of those moments. I was expressing my frustrations (to put it mildly) because I thought I was doing “everything,” yet I wasn't seeing improvements in my health and I wasn't feeling better.
Dr. Melissa asked me what kind of cleaners and makeup I was using. I was really confused why she was asking. So being the Questioner that I am I started digging more into this and I learned that many of the products that I was using contained ingredients that can “mimic,” meaning they trick our bodies into thinking that they’re hormones but they’re not. This is what is meant by the term, “endocrine disruptor.” This blew my mind because I thought I was pretty well-versed in health.
I ate a pretty clean diet and trained for marathons, but I lacked in my knowledge and the basic understanding of essential functions of the human body.
As I started to connect the dots and I noticed that I had a physical response every time I used cleaners to clean my bathroom and my kitchen, and when I was exposed to heavy fragrances. I get headaches every time I'd walk by a Bath and Body, Victoria's Secret or the perfume department in large department stores, not to mention stores like Abercrombie and Fitch. All these stores have really strong aromas from fragrances
I’m sure many of us have similar reactions but don't think fully understand and realize what it’s actually doing to our bodily functions because these are products that we use every day. I’ve learned that a large part of these chemicals is not regulated by the government which is unbelievable.
So, since that very first conversation with Dr. Melissa I've been on an ongoing 3-year project to find practical ways to reduce my exposure to these kinds of toxic ingredients by changing the things that I have control over. And we talked about this in depth with Episode 003 with Laura Adler.
Today I’m sharing 10 things that I've done to lessen my exposure to the toxins and make my home a less toxic one. And these are really simple things that you can do too.
First, let me provide a couple of disclaimers to provide context:
1 | I didn't learn everything all at once. I took my time to understand how and why certain things needed to be changed. Then I took my time to really evaluate what the best options were - for me.
I still don't know everything and I don't think anyone does which is why this is an ongoing effort - there are new things that I’m learning every day.
2 | It can be expensive to make so many changes and I want it to be sensible in the changes that I make. So, I swap things out for the safer option when it’s a sensible time. If I run out of a product that I stocked up on, then I’ll use it all before replacing it (unless it’s an “F” rating).
3 | This can be really overwhelming. I get that because it’s overwhelming for me too.
So, as you listen to this, what I don't want you to do is to feel overwhelmed and think gosh I have to make all these changes because you don't.
I JUST WANT YOU TO LISTEN. And if this is the first time that you're hearing about some of these things I just want you to start to become aware and then take small actions in the areas that make sense for you when the timing is right for you.
So, let's dive into this list.
1 | I SWAPPED PLASTIC FOOD STORAGE CONTAINERS IN FAVOR OF GLASS AND STEEL CONTAINERS. I had no shortage of Tupperware and plastic large containers that I used to store my leftovers. And I would pop them into the microwave to heat them up. But now we know there's a lot of off-gassing going on. So, if you're going to use plastic food containers it’s not good to mix them with heat. A better option is to use glass and stainless-steel containers and you can find some really affordable on Amazon.
I also use mason jars which are super affordable.
And in fact, most of the things in my pantry now are stored in mason jars.
2 | I REPLACED TEFLON-COATED COOKWARE WITH STAINLESS STEEL AND CAST-IRON COOKWARE. Like plastics, some chemicals off-gassed from Teflon can be harmful.
A few years ago, I made a switch and bought a few cast iron cookware pieces from Amazon. Cast iron is a great option because it's affordable and is durable meaning, it’s generational and has withstood the test of time.
However, cast iron is heavy which makes it challenging to cook with. It also takes a bit more effort to clean and maintain.
So recently, I found a really good, affordable quality stainless steel cookware set on Amazon that was less than $100 and I jumped on it. Like food storage container is stainless steel is a great option for cookware. and like cast iron, it’s withstood the test of time.
3 | I REPLACED MY PLASTIC CUTTING BOARDS WITH A BAMBOO CUTTING BOARD. When I was in nutrition school, one of the lecturers pointed out that when you're slicing, cutting and chopping food on a plastic cutting board, it’s evitable that little fragments of plastic will be chopped too. And those little nicks which you see in plastic cutting boards. And where do those shavings end up? Usually in your food.
A better option is to use wooden cutting boards.
And while I got a very inexpensive set of three from Amazon, I recently got a nice big one from Ikea and that was only $11. I share these details with you because I want to point out that these switches don't have to be hugely expensive. They can be but they don't have to be. There are safer, affordable options out there.
4 | I STARTED USING DIY AND SAFER CLEANING SUPPLIES. I'm not a DIY person, but I can manage cleaning recipes. Growing up my main chore was cleaning the bathroom. So, I consider myself pretty well-versed on the topic of cleansers because, over the years, I've pretty much used all of them.
And just like the fragrances, some of them gave me headaches and make my eyes water up and burn my skin. But heck, it got the job done. But I was oblivious to the part where it might not be good for my health. I mean, we know they're bad if you ingest them, but we miss the point that ongoing chronic exposures are also harmful.
A few years ago, I started using Dr. Brommer’s soap so which is pretty much great for everything. Then I used Mrs. Meyers and to a degree I still do because I did “Subscribe and Save” on Amazon so have a lot of dish soap in my pantry. But when I looked up the specific in the Environmental Working Group’s database, some of those products didn't have the best ratings. This one of those situations that I am slowly phasing out.
(If you're not familiar with the Environmental Working Group (EWG) they’re a great source and one that I use frequently to see if a product (cleanser, beauty or food) is safe and how they rate it.)
Another cleaning product that I use in the bathroom that has a great EWG rating (it's like a “one” which is the best rating) is “Bon Ami.” It's great because it scours which makes it ideal for cleaning bathroom and kitchen surface areas. I also incorporate essential oils into some of my DIY and I've been really pleased with them.
5 | I REPLACE SCENTED CANDLES AND AIR FRESHENERS WITH AN ESSENTIAL OIL DIFFUSER This is one of those things that was not on my radar as something to be concerned about.
But inhalation is one of three ways that toxins into our body (the other two are absorption and ingestion).
So, if fragrances and perfumes were things to be wary of, then scented candles are too.
I love scented candles, especially a spiced scent in the Fall, but now, what I do instead is diffuse essential oils. Not only does it has a nice aroma but it also cleans the air quality of my home. Lemon grass is my personal favorite.
6 | I OPEN ALL OF MY WINDOWS DAILY Did you know that in some instances the quality of indoor air can be worse than outdoors?
And this is due to cleaning products like oven cleaners, air fresheners, scented candles and even things like dry cleaning because the off gases and fumes they emit.
A free and simple way to improve the air quality inside of your home is to open your windows!
Have you ever walked into a home that didn't have the best ventilation, and it smells dusty and musty, and it might even give you a headache?
So every morning, the first thing that I do is to open my windows and let fresh air in!
7 | I GOT RID OF MY VINYL SHOWER CURTAIN Something else that can contribute to poor air quality is plasticizers with phthalates.
In Episode 003, Laura and I discussed phthalates. They are a class of chemicals that make plastic things soft. These are things like rubber duckies, garden hoses, and your shower curtain.
You may have noticed that when you open a brand, new shower curtain it has a certain smell. I compare it to the smell of a new car. And that smell – that’s phthalates, and phthalates are an endocrine disruptor.
I replaced my vinyl shower current with a polyester. While polyester is porous, it doesn’t emit off gases. It’s also lightweight and can be thrown in the washer for cleaning.
While there are other options out there, like linen or hemp, those can leave your floor a sopping wet mess and that's not something that I want to deal with on a regular basis and you probably don't either.
So, practicality wins out here.
These last three things are specifically because, as of this recording in August of 2017, I tested positive for heavy metals, with lead and mercury being the highest.
So these three things are what I’m working on to detox these metals from my body.
And the best way to do that is through avoidance.
8 | I STOPPED DRINKING TAP WATER A common source of lead is tap water. While the water itself may be okay, the pipes in the plumbing problematic.
The particular community that I live in was built in the 1960s so the quality of the pipes is something that I have to consider.
Now for about 10 years, I strictly drink bottled water. I'd go to Target and get a case of Arrowhead water. The problem with that is that those plastic bottles have BPA and, it's just not environmentally friendly.
So about two years ago I started using a Brita filter. But the problem with Brita filters are that they don't filter heavy metals.
So, you're probably wondering well what kind of filter is best for that. And the answer is, it really depends.
The best kind of filter is going to be the filter that cleans out what's problematic in your water. And that's going to be unique to your local environment.
So, I gone online and downloaded my local Consumer Water Quality Report.
As you can imagine, it’s not written in plain English for the average consumer to understand (ironically), so it's taking me a little bit of time to do dig into it.
But since I have confirmed that I have lead exposure I need to take action. So in the interim, I'm getting reverse osmosis water from my local Whole Foods. It's really easy to do because they have containers there that you can pay a one-time fee for and reuse. To give you an idea on the cost, the containers were less than $20 (depending on the size you get) and the refilles are 49 cents a gallon. And I’ve found that five gallons will last me a little over a week, if not longer.
If you're not familiar with reverse osmosis, it’s a filtration method that removes things like arsenic, bacteria, viruses, fluoride, chlorine, chloramine, pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, sediments and more.
But it is not without its drawbacks. It also strips out the good minerals like calcium, magnesium and zinc. So while it's not perfect, it works for now.
9 | I’M AVOIDING SEAFOOD The other toxin that I tested positive for was mercury and a source for mercury is seafood.
I come from a long line of fishermen. I grew up in Hawaii and ate a lot of fish. And I love it. I ate tons of salmon, crab and love poke bowls. In fact, if all I had to eat for the rest of my life was poke and a hot bowl of rice, I'd be happy.
But even though I always chose wild seafood (versus farmed), I still tested positive for mercury. I think this goes to show that sometimes even with our best intentions we just can't avoid toxins.
It sucks having to take this avoidance approach; I love seafood and I miss it. But hopefully, it won’t be forever.
10 | I REPLACED MY BEAUTY OF PERSONAL PRODUCTS WITH SAFER OPTIONS. Going back to that story I shared earlier when Dr. Melissa asked me about what makeup I used, she told me how name brand cosmetics and personal care products have toxins. These are products from drugstore and department stores that we use every day.
I was really stunned when I heard this and was even more surprised to learn that it is perfectly legal for these products to contain harmful chemicals.
Because in the United States there isn't strong regulation of the beauty industry. The government has so many regulations, but this is one area where it doesn’t.
And this is one of those things that horrified me so much that I took immediate action. After that conversation with Dr. Melissa, I had cases and cases of products that I threw it out. It was hundreds, if not thousands of dollars’ worth of stuff. And the bad thing was, I had no Plan B, no backup solution.
So I asked around for safer solutions, but I was either recommended brands that were cruelty-free, which doesn't mean they're safer for humans. For a while, I used a brand that wasn't as clean as they claimed, but it was better than what I had been using, but the performance was lacking.
I was unhappy and so close to going back to what I was using before.
It wasn’t until a year later that I discovered a brand whose products that I've come to love and completely trust. And that brand is Beautycounter. I get into the details of Beautycounter in a bonus episode, a follow-up to this.
In that bonus episode, I explain what is Beautycounter, why it's important to me and why I work with them. If you are interested in hearing about that you can listen to Bonus Episode 005.5.
Now, remember, these are all things that I've done over the course of three years. So if this is new to you, I hope I raise some awareness for you and give you some ideas of simple but impactful way that you can start to make your home a less toxic one.
I'll leave you with this thought:
Changing your diet and starting a new exercise program can feel daunting. Sometimes it feels like a constant battle and something we have to constantly deal with.
When you make changes to reduce your toxic exposure, for the most part, once you make them, you’re done! You don't have to worry about it anymore – it’s taken care of.
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Naomi Nakamura is a certified Holistic Health Coach who takes a holistic approach through functional nutrition. Through her weekly show, The Live FAB Live Podcast, coaching programs, and safer skincare solutions, she helps people with acne and other chronic skin issues clear up their skin by teaching them where food meets physiology and how food, gut health, stress, and toxins are intricately connected to the health and appearance of our skin. Naomi resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and can often be found romping around the city with her puppy girl, Coco Pop! Connect with Naomi at: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest.