After watching The Disappearing Male, a short documentary about the health effects of various chemicals in our environment on males, I felt compelled to write something stating clearly what women can do to avoid these chemicals.
All women of childbearing age should, in my opinion, avoid these chemicals. So should all pregnant women, all nursing women, and all children. Men of child bearing age, obviously, should too, but since my blog is written primarily for the single mother, we’re going to focus more on her.
Although the effects of these chemicals are more obvious on boys, it is changing fertility for women as well. They are also very likely contributing to rising rates of breast cancer (among many other types of cancer) and the obesity epidemic. More explained on that below.
Pthalates (pronounced thay-lates or fay-lates) are a class of chemicals used primarily in plastics and fragrances. The most famous pthalate, the one you’ve most likely heard of, is BPA. BPA came under fire recently because of it’s tendency to mimic estrogen in your system, causing all sorts of problems in men and women ranging from fertility issues to cancer. Most plastic products that come into contact with food have since reformulated to make their products BPA free. However, there are hundreds of other kinds of pthalates out there, and they all do similar things.
Health effects that have been attributed to pthalates are:
- Infertility in men and women
- Increased risk of miscarriage
- Birth defects, especially birth defects in male genitalia
- Lowered sperm counts
- Smaller penis size
- Increased risk of prostate and testicular cancer
- Increased risk of breast cancer (in men and women)
- Thyroid disorders
- Weight gain
- Decreased ability to bear a male child
- Increase in sperm abnormality
Pthalates are commonly found in:
- Plastics (thats ALL plastics, even ones labeled BPA free likely have other pthalates in them)
- The linings inside cans of food, to include baby formula
- Any personal care product that has the word “fragrance” in it’s ingredients. Unless it says specifically what the fragrance comes from, for example “fragrance from essential oils” or the label on the bottle says “pthalate free”, you can bet your years income that any fragrances in the product are pthalates.
- Household cleaning products, the worst offenders being dryer sheets, air fresheners, and anything artifically fragranced.
How best to avoid pthalates
- Obviously, you’ll want to start by avoiding products that contain pthalates. Your options here are to either buy organic products free of pthalates (and make sure the label specifies that it is pthalate free, because when it comes to personal care products, there are no regulations for the word organic), which can be more expensive but sometimes worth it, or you can learn how to make your own products. I will be sharing some ways to do that in future blogs.
- Don’t ever microwave anything in plastic! Not plastic dishes, not saran wrap, not plastic or styrofoam to-go packages. Heating up the plastic causes the chemicals to leech into your food more. You might want to even avoid serving hot food in or on plastic. So, serving a cool cup of milk in a plastic sippy or a PB&J on a plastic plate probably are pretty safe, but serving hot coco or hot mac and cheese in the same products pose a higher risk. Hand washing plastic dishes might also be a good idea.
Parabens are generally used as preservatives in personal care items. They can be found in just about every conventional lotion, soap, shampoo, makeup, hair spray, etc. They, like pthalates, are endocrine disrupters, they disrupt the hormonal system in your body (your endocrine system). They carry the same health risks as pthalates do, and it is not uncommon to have an immediate allergic reaction to them. Personally, I can tell when I’ve used something with a paraben in it because I get a headache right away, and I tend to break out within a day.
Parabens are easier to avoid than pthalates. You can read the ingredients on your cosmetic product and see it listed quite plainly, usually with some other word in front of it, such as “methlyparabens”. What’s the big deal if you’re not eating them? Well, your skin is an organ, and it absorbs almost as much of what you put on it as your small intestine absorbs of what you put in it. You might as well be eating the things that sit on your body for a long period of time.
Parabens can come from natual and even organic sources, and are often used in organic products, so you just have to read labels.
Things are usually made antibacterial by adding a pesticide called triclosan. Triclosan is toxic in high doses. It’s a pesticide. It is absorbed into your skin and it does, like all these other chemicals, cross the placental lining and go into your breastmilk. How many pesticides do you feel its safe for your baby to ingest?
There are several other problems with antibacterial products. First, not only do they kill the bad bacteria, they also kill the good bacteria. There are millions of bacteria on and in you that you literally will get sick and die if you don’t have them anymore. The bacteria on your skin, in your digestive tract, and in your vagina being most notable of them. Without them, you will die. Antibacterial products kill them. They reproduce, yes, but chances are if you use antibacterial products, you constantly have less beneficial bacteria than you need to maintain optimal health.
There are hundreds of different kinds in each location, and when they are all healthy and flourishing, no one bacteria ever gets out of hand and causes an infection, which leads us to the next problem with antibacterial products. Imagine you put some anti bacterial gel on your hands, you kill all the little bacteria except for one. That bacteria now has no competition from all the other bacteria, and starts growing out of control. Now you’ve got an over population of one kind of bacteria, your other healthy ones can’t grow back, and you’ve got a skin infection. This is a really common side effect of anti bacterial products.
Of course, when this happens, its only the strongest and the most immune to antibacterial products that survive. They multiply, and then get exposed again, and only the strongest of them survive. Then they multiply, etc. This is how we get antibacterial resistant bacteria. Even the most mainstream of the medical community agree that antibiotic and antibacterial product use is a problem that is causing the rise of more and more super bugs.
You don’t want your child ingesting pesticides, you don’t want your child to be deficient in healthy bacteria, you don’t want your child at risk of infection, you don’t want your child threatened by super bugs, so it follows logically that you should avoid anti bacterial products.
Furthermore, there’s something to be said for exposing your child to germs that will make them sick. There’s a great argument that it makes their immune systems stronger. The healthiest children don’t grow up in a sterile, bacteria free bubble. They grow up exposed to germs on a regular basis, they get sick less often, and when they do get sick, its less severe.
So what do you clean with if you’re not using antibacterial products? Soap and water will remove the vast majority of bacteria and virus from most surfaces. If you feel you need something with a little extra oomph, try these:
- Vinegar – its even used in meat packing plants to kill pathogens. I saw it on Modern Marvels last night.
- Salt – rinse counter tops, your skin, etc with salt water. You can also make a scrubbing agent out of salt.
- Lemon juice – put salt on half a lemon, and scrub your counter. Bleaches and disinfects
- Rubbing alcohol or high proof grain alcohol – I use this on my hands when I’m around other germ-o-phobes and am sick. It dries you out, but it puts them at ease if you sneeze.
- Oregano Oil – this is VERY potent, and shouldn’t be used all the time
- Tea Tree Oil – safe to put on your skin.
To learn more about these chemicals, how to avoid them, and why, check out these websites