The development of chemicals in the last hundred or so years that would serve to help us be cleaner, live more efficiently and generally ‘improve’ our lives has had a devastating effect upon our immune systems. It is estimated that anyone living in a “Westernised” environment encounters up to 2,100,000 man-made chemical exposures every day. The truth is that we simply don’t know what most of these chemicals do – and they have never been researched in combination. We are sitting on the top of a ticking time-bomb – and only time will really tell us about the true effects of synthetic chemicals.
The potential dangers of these chemical exposures are worrying – to say the least – as they are associated with numerous health issues, including cancers, obesity, hormone disruption, dementias and much more. These toxic chemicals also accelerate ageing and are associated with many of the health concerns that we associate with ageing.
In this article we’ll look at just a few of the harmful chemicals in your kitchen – and ways that you can avoid them – or find substitutes that really work.
Many commercially available ‘antibacterial’ soaps (and toothpastes) on the market boast that they contain the antimicrobial chemical ‘triclosan’. This chemical is believed to disrupt thyroid function and hormone levels in people; and furthermore, when it goes down your drain and eventually mixes with wastewater, it has been shown to cause sex changes in aquatic life.
Even more worrying is that overuse of this and other antibacterial chemicals is promoting the growth of bacteria that are increasingly becoming immune to antibiotics and other anti-bacterial substances.
Better alternative: Good old-fashioned soap and warm water kills just as many germs as the chemical soaps. If you have to use a hand sanitizer, choose and alcohol based product that doesn’t contain triclosan, triclocarban or any other synthetic substances described as anti-bacterial or anti-microbial.
The chemical compounds that we are most often exposed to in our kitchens are fragrances. These surface in in soaps laundry detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, cleaning supplies, disinfectants and outside the kitchen they are founding abundance in air fresheners, deodorisers, shampoos, hair sprays, gels, lotions, sunscreens, perfumes, powders, and scented candles. Fragrances are a group of chemicals that are well worth the time and effort to avoid. The words “fragrance” or “parfum” on product labels can act as an euphemism for hundreds of harmful chemicals that are known to be carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, and reproductive toxicants, even at low levels.
Better alternative: Freshen the air with better ventilation and by setting out a saucer of bicarbonate of soda. You also can place a bowl of white vinegar in a room to dispel a stale smell. I often spritz my environment with a small spray bottle containing water and a few drops of my favourite essential oils.
Harsh Cleaning Products
It is really quite scary that we inadvertently contaminate our air when we use harsh chemicals—some of which are known to cause cancer—to “clean” our homes? Ammonia can trigger asthma attacks, and harsh oven cleaners and drain openers can cause respiratory damage or burn the skin anyone who comes into contact with them – and these chemicals are even more dangerous to children – who have much lower body mass than adults.
Better alternative: Take any synthetic cleaner with an ingredient list that reads like a chemistry textbook to your local recycling centre – they’ll know how to dispose of these chemicals properly – don’t pour them down the drain as they end up in our water supply! (Check those products which boast ‘natural ingredients’ as there are a great many synthetic products out there which try to promote their ‘green’ credentials by adding a few natural products to a synthetic chemical soup – and there’s very little labeling legislation in place to stop this grossly misleading practice.)
Instead try these – they really work:
• Make a general, ridiculously inexpensive and highly effective cleaning solution from one part white vinegar and nine parts water – this will kill 90 percent of bacteria and many spores. Spray it on and let it dry to a nice shine on its own. When you’re finished using a vinegar cleaning solution, dump it down your kitchen sink or toilet for additional odor control.
• When cleaning in the kitchen after preparing meat, use hot, soapy water first and then follow with the vinegar-water solution.
Nonstick Pots and Pans
When you’re cooking with nonstick pots and pans, you’re actually baking on plastic. That smooth nonstick surface is made from a synthetic material known as perfluoroalkyl acid, a group of chemicals that have been linked to high cholesterol, ADHD, and thyroid disease. They’re also potent sperm killers and are suspected of contributing to female infertility.
Better alternative: Opt for safer cookware like glass or stainless steel.
Plastics and Tinned Food
Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a chemical that is linked to hormone disruption – leading to male infertility, diabetes, heart disease, aggressive behavior in children, and other problems. BPA is used in some plastic bottles and most tinned-food containers, and while some manufacturers are phasing the chemical out of their cans, it’s not clear that the replacements are totally safe either. In 2010, scientists found that we also absorb BPA from cash-register receipts through our skin.
Better alternative: Go for fresh or frozen fruits and veggies, and bypass tins as often as possible. Reduce your chemical exposure further by opting for organic food wherever possible. Don’t store food or drinks in plastic containers – unless they state that they are BPA-free. And always say ‘no thanks’ to receipts for minor purchases like petrol and coffee, and at the ATM.