TOXICITY. I didn't even know this was a danger, before Jordan. Yet, when I started studying what causes allergies, this was one of the first things I found. And I'm glad I did because as I've continued researching, I've discovered that toxicity is a major problem and not just with allergies and autism, but with most health problems. However, it is a very significant causative factor with allergies and autism
But, just in case you don't believe me, before I start going through the various areas where we take toxins into our bodies and how we can avoid it, I'll spend a little time on the "Why" behind it - Is this world really toxic? Why is this important?
BABIES & CHILDREN, HIGHER RISK. You might ask, "Jordan was just a 3 week old infant when his problems started, how could he be toxic?" And here is the really depressing news - we live in a VERY toxic world, especially in North America. So, even once we know about toxicity and and take steps to limit it from entering out bodies, the reality is, toxins will still get in. We have to breath, eat, wash, clean, etc. The great news is that we can dramatically decrease the toxic load we put into our bodies! We can also detox! And we must if we are going to be healthy, have healthy kids, and grand kids. Yes, toxicity is generational. Toxins can actually change our cells and DNA. Babies don't start out with a clean slate, they start out with the genetics their parents give them, and if those genetics have been altered by toxicity, guess what, that baby may not get a very good start. You'll notice the trend of our parents getting chronic illnesses in their 60's, our generation (I'm in my 30's) getting sick in their 30's, and our kids getting sick as children.
Babies also start out with the nourishment they get in the womb - including toxins. The EWG (Environmental Working Group) did a study in 2004 where they took the cord blood from 10 newborns and tested it for 413 different toxic chemicals. They found 287 different toxic chemicals, and on average there were 200 toxic chemicals per baby. These chemicals included waste products, consumer products, and industrial chemicals and pesticides. Consumer products includes things like flame retardants, Scotchguard, Teflon, Stainmaster, pesticides, etc. Many of the industrial chemicals and pesticides were banned 30+ years before the study - so if you ever needed a reason to go green, there it is - many toxic chemicals we use do not break down in the environment, but instead continue to exist, accumulate, and contaminate our food, ground water, ourselves, and eventually our babies. All that to say, mama's body nor the placenta filter out these toxins and prevent them from reaching the baby during this absolutely crucial time of formation and development. And the more toxic mom (and dad at the time of conception) is, the more the baby will be exposed to.
Babies are just starting their development and children are still undergoing a great deal of theirs. That makes them particularly susceptible to the exposure of toxins. Their immune and metabolic systems have not developed yet, which means that they cannot detoxify things like an adult can. They either detoxify slower or for some toxins, not at all, because those biochemical processes don't develop until later in life. Their cells are just starting to develop, so exposure to toxins at certain critical times can be devastating to the central nervous system, even in small doses.
HEALTH EFFECTS. What effects can these toxic chemicals have on a person? Here are some of the health effects that have been linked to commonly found toxic chemicals, as listed by the EWG: cellular level changes; birth and developmental effects; brain, nervous system, and reproductive system effects; cancer-causing; thyroid hormone disruption; endocrine disputers; immune system effects - including sensitization and allergy; infertility; mutations; neurotoxins; brain damage; respiratory system effects; and persistent and bio-accumulative.
HOW CHEMICALS ENTER OUR BODIES. Three ways - eating & drinking, breathing, or absorbing them through our skin. The first two seem obvious, but the third one - absorption - was a surprise to me. I always thought of the skin as a protective barrier, when in reality it is another organ of our body and it absorbs things quite readily. Just think of things like nicotine or birth control patches and you get the idea. Now, apply it to things like lotions, make-up, chlorine in showers and swimming pools, soaps, detergents, perfume, flame retardants on kids pajamas, household cleaners (on your hands or baby's hands as they crawl on a freshly cleaned floor), etc and it takes on new ramifications.
MINIMIZING TOXIC EXPOSURE. The home is the main source of toxic chemical exposure. It is also the main place where you can control your toxic exposure. I'll touch on several areas of common toxic intake that can be changed easily with relatively little cost or effort. For nearly everything we use there are readily available non-toxic, and sometimes even beneficially healthy, alternatives. Some cost more, some cost less. You may have to do some homework to find them, or switch forms of what you prefer to use. For example, I've switched from using liquid soap in our bathrooms to using non-toxic bar soap. I used to prefer the liquid, but the non-toxic version was too expensive. Bar soap actually lasts us much longer than the liquid soap, so it's actually cheaper for us than the toxic liquid soap we used to use! I still use liquid soap in my kitchen, a non-toxic version. It's so much more convenient for that area, I spend the extra to have it there. So, it may take some changing and trying to figure out what works best for you for all the various areas, and there are so many options available.
STEP-BY-STEP. DO NOT feel like you have to make all these changes at once. It can be overwhelming. Do it step-by-step. Make one change, and then move on to the next one. Don't feel like you have to follow this order.
WATER. This is one of the most crucial. Your body needs fresh, pure clean water! City water is very polluted with chlorine and other chemicals. Even well water can be very polluted with industrial chemicals, pesticides and pharmaceuticals. Not only does our ground water today have toxic chemicals in it, it has the remains of things like hormones from contraception, vitamins from supplements people take but don't digest, antibiotics and other pharmaceutical drugs. So, this applies to everyone.
The chlorine added to city water evaporates in the air, so even when you clean, wash clothes, or shower you are inhaling and/or absorbing that chlorine. In fact, you can absorb more chlorine in a 10 minute shower than you drink in a quart of water.
Water that particularly needs to be filtered is your drinking/cooking water and your bathing/showering water. So, a whole house filter is ideal, but expensive, so a filter for drinking water, and if using city water, shower filters and a bath chlorine ball will work too.
AIR. Indoor air is actually much more toxic than outdoor air. Up to 70% more toxic. Surprised? I was. Why? Mainly because of ordinary household products - cleaners and personal care products especially. Again, like with water filters, there are many types of air filters you can buy. Whole house filters, room filters, etc. I haven't done this yet. I've chosen to open my windows as often as possible to get fresh air; replace all toxic cleaners, detergents, and anything perfumed; and minimize plastics, particleboard and other out-gassing products. There is still a long way I could go here, but short of throwing out all my kids plastic toys and ripping out our carpet, I've made dramatic steps.
CLEANERS. This includes disinfectants, toilet bowl cleaner, window cleaner, dishwashing detergent, laundry detergent and softener, spot remover and the like. Here is an excerpt from Debra Lynn Dadd in "Let's Stop Poisoning Our Children." She has spent over 20 years studying this and knows her stuff!
"Most of us believe that the government has laws that protect us from harmful products. Yes, there are laws, but they don't protect us very well. Unfortunately, many products are assumed to be safe and are allowed to be sold in the marketplace without adequate testing. Of the 17,000 chemicals that appear in common household products, only 30% have been adequately tested for their negative effects on our health; less than 10% have been tested for their effects on the nervous system; and nothing is known about the combined effects of these chemicals when mixed within our bodies. It is only after the health of many consumers are affected that the government begins to look into possible health effects, and make regulations...two of the most commonly used household products that are of particular danger to children: cleaning products and personal care products. Cleaning products are among the most hazardous substances you will find in your home."
Debra lists several products and the dangers associated with them. I'll include just a few to give you the idea: air freshener - toxic; may cause cancer; irritates nose, throat, and lungs. Bleach - toxic by swallowing; vapors are harmful; causes central nervous system disorders; disinfectant - very toxic; causes skin, throat, and lung burns; causes coma; fabric softener - toxic; may cause cancer; causes central nervous system disorders; causes liver damage. The list goes on, but you get the idea. She also states, "Allowing cleaning products to touch bare skin on your hands...allows the toxic chemicals to go straight into your bloodstream. Even if you don't have immediate symptoms, years later you or your children may suddenly get cancer, heart disease, lung problems, or damage to the liver or immune system, etc."
There are tons of alternatives available. I generally pick up my basic cleaners at my local Kroger in the health food section because it's convenient. Other options can be found at health food stores. A couple of things I order online, like my laundry soap. And there is always good old fashioned white vinegar that works great as an all-purpose cleaner, usually diluted by 50% with water. This works great for washing windows and mirrors too (although it may take using it a few times to get the residues of old cleaners off). It looks streaky at first, but once it dries, it's fine, just give it a minute.
PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS. The news here is even worse than with cleaners. Dadd says, "The law does not require that cosmetics be tested for safety before they are allowed to be sold. The FDA can take action where harm has been done only after a product is on the market, and only after it has received enough consumer complaints and after enough evidence has been collected to prove in court that the product is hazardous. Only then can the FDA halt its production and sale. Meanwhile, other families are using the product and may also be harmed by it." The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health analyzed 2,983 chemicals used in personal care products, after many cosmetologists testified of various symptoms. Here is what the NIOSH found: 884 of the chemicals were toxic, 314 caused biological mutation, 218 caused reproductive complications, 778 caused acute toxicity, 148 caused tumors, 376 caused skin and eye irritations. Yikes! I'll include a few examples from Debra's list here to give you an idea of the types of products and their dangers: shampoo - may cause cancer; irritates eyes, skin, and lungs; deodorant soap - may cause cancer, causes asthma, irritates lungs; perfume/cologne - toxic, may cause cancer, irritates skin and lungs, even just one accidental swallow could kill a child.
It is my personal decision that I try not to put anything on my skin that I wouldn't want to eat - so look at the ingredients of your lotions, soaps, etc. If you want to minimize toxins in your body, it should read like a recipe.
EWG has a website called Skin Deep where you can look up the personal care products you use and can see how toxic it is, what chemicals are in it, and what health effects those chemicals are linked to. I'll include one example here: Johnson's Head-to-Toe Baby Wash, Original. The ingredients in this product are linked to cancer, developmental/reproductive toxicity, allergies/immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity, organ system toxicity, irritation (skin, eyes or lungs), enhanced skin absorption, and contamination concerns. (Yikes! To say the least when I first found this information, I threw out all of our stash from baby showers and bought Burt's Bees and Dr. Bronner's instead!) The website also allows you to find healthier alternatives.
COOKING EQUIPMENT & FOOD STORAGE. The media has done a tremendous job of notifying the public of the dangers of Bisphenol A (BPA) and lead, but there are more dangers than that.
Pots, Pans, & Cookie Sheets. Avoid aluminum (including aluminum foil), it can leach into the food and cause heavy metal toxicity. Avoid non-stick surfaces. Almost always it is Teflon and that has numerous documented severe health dangers. Good alternatives are high quality stainless steel, stone bakeware, cast iron, or glass. To test stainless steel, see if a magnet will stick to it. If it will, great! If not, there's too much nickel in it, and could pose a risk.
Food Storage. Do your best to steer clear of plastic whenever possible, but especially for eating, drinking and food storage. Get glass or stainless steel for food storage instead of plastic containers. They are readily available, although they have plastic lids, many are now BPA free (who knows what else is in those lids, but at least it is a giant leap in the right direction). Drinking - this can be difficult for babies and toddlers, but more alternatives are becoming available. I got 2 stainless steel sports bottles with non-spill sippy lids (and sports lids for when they are older) from Kleen Kanteen. Not only are they non-toxic, they look really cool, and can grow with them too!
The great thing about glass containers is that they can go from storing food, to the refrigerator, to the oven to warm up (if the oven starts off cold), to on the table, no transferring and extra dirty containers necessary!
A word about food preparation - the microwave is a actually changes the molecular make up of food. Avoid it.
Suggestions for safe alternatives for nearly all of the above things can be found on Debra's List. If you want more information about toxins and eliminating them from your life, check out Debra Lynn Dadd's book Home Safe Home.
PESTICIDES & INSECTICIDES. Having your house and lawn sprayed introduces toxic chemicals into your house that do not break down for decades, get in the ground water supply, ground and dirt that your kids will play in and track back through your house. Frankly, if bugs can't live in my house, I don't want to either. There are natural methods to keep most bugs away that will not harm your family. For example, wiping window and door sills with lemon juice, where spiders tend to enter, will deter them or spraying areas with bug-repelling diluted essential oils.
PHARMACEUTICALS. Sometimes pharmaceutical drugs are necessary, but most of the time there are better, non-toxic ways to treat illnesses and disorders. Pharmaceutical and over-the-counter drugs can be very dangerous and have side effects that may not show up for years and in unexpected ways. For example, I recently learned that ibuprofen can cause permeability of the intestinal wall lining (aka leaky gut). Be cautious, make pharmaceuticals or over the counter drugs your last resort instead of your first choice! If you do have to start using pharmaceuticals, look for natural non-toxic ways to treat the problem or heal the body and work toward reducing and eliminating the medication.
Antibiotics bear making special mention. As a general statement, they are way over used! And if it is necessary to take them, make sure you take a probiotic to repopulate the good gut bacteria that the antibiotics also kill off. Taking a probiotic or eating cultured food reguarly would be a good idea, but certainly while taking antibiotics.
VACCINES. This is a hot topic today, and for good reason. Mercury has been removed (aka greatly reduced) from many vaccines (not from the flu vaccine yet). However, there is still a lot of other junk in them such as aluminum, formaldehyde, ether, antifreeze, and arsenic. The sheer number of the vaccines is scary too. In 1983 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended 10 vaccines for kids, now they recommend over 40 before the age of 6.
The aluminum content alone is astounding. Keep in mind that aluminum is a heavy metal and can cause poisoning known as heavy metal toxicity. Dr. William Sears, known as America's Pediatrician, gathered data published by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) on the aluminum content of the vaccines recommended by the CDC. The acknowledged toxic dose of aluminum for a baby is 20 micrograms. The amount found in the Hepatitis B vaccine, given on the day of birth is 250 micrograms. At 2 months of age, this infant is scheduled to receive immunizations containing as much as 1,875 micrograms of aluminum!!! (Info from Mother Warriors by Jenny McCarthy and GenerationRescue.org) The worst travesty of all about this - the risk of a baby being exposed to Hepatitis B is very minimal. How is Hep B spread? Through blood transmission: sharing needles with other users, through a sexual partner that has it, by birth if the mother has it. Is your baby shooting up with illegal drugs or having sex? The only risk factor is if the mother has Hep B, but instead of testing the mothers and only giving the vaccine to babies who are at risk, they are giving it to all babies. Our children are not factory parts on an assembly line. They are individuals!
Personally, I stopped vaccinating Jordan after his 4 month appointment and he hasn't had one since. I sure am glad. At that age, we didn't even know he had developmental problems, I was just trying to eliminate toxins from entering his body. If we hadn't stopped the vaccines, I'm sure his developmental problems would have been much worse.
FOOD. You all know about chemicals and pesticides on our produce. Meats and other animal products (milk, butter, chicken broth) are contaminated with hormones and antibiotics, along with the chemicals from the food the animal ate. So, organic is always best. But, it's expensive, so you'll probably need to prioritize.See my post on Prioritizing the Non-toxic Conversion and To Buy or Not to Buy - Organic That Is???
However, the toxicity of food is more than just chemicals used for growing them. Things like refined white sugar are toxic. Faux sugars such as Nutrasweet and Splenda are even worse than white sugar with severe health effects. Bleached white flour - have you ever thought about the fact that it has been bleached, and the implications of that? We are all eating bleach! Colors and preservatives are just chemicals with different names and are often the source of behavior problems in children. Get used to reading labels. It will be difficult and like a foreign language at first, but soon you'll learn what most of those things are. Think whole foods, food as close to the way God made it as possible. Again, it should read like a recipe. If you imagine a typical grocery store, you can pretty much do a loop around the outer ring of it to find healthy whole foods. Everything else in the middle is dead and chemicalized. This isn't 100% true - beans and rice being exceptions - but it's close. More about food on the nutrition page.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES & LINKS
Debra Lynn Dadd's Website on all things toxic and all things "green." Debra's List for alternative, non-toxic products
Evironmental Working Group and EWG's personal care product safety site Skin Deep
Healthy Child Healthy World
Generation Rescue - Jenny McCarthy's Organization for Autism Recovery and Greening of Vaccines