Wednesday, December 17, 2008

There's nothing fresh about air 'fresh'eners

It's the holidays and many of us fill our homes with the sweet smells that remind us of the holidays. But what many do not realize, that smell comes at a cost.

What exactly is a fragrance? Well, we don't really know. The truth is most fragrances contain thousands of different chemicals - all combined to create a certain scent - that have been link to many health issues including cancer. So anything that has any form of fragrance or scent should be avoided. Unfortunately there are countless products that contain these toxins including many that we use daily: skin care, shampoo/conditioner, candles (look for non-conventional forms of candle like those made of soy), perfume, laundry detergent, dryer sheets (invest in dryer balls) and even food additives (ie that buttery popcorn smell)!

Got asthma? Get rid of any product you have with a fragrance! Fragrance is increasingly cited as a trigger in health conditions including asthma, allergies and migraine headaches. A US study put fragrances in the same category as second hand smoke as a trigger for asthma in school-age children. Up to 72 percent of asthmatics report their asthma attacks are triggered by fragrance! Those signs you see in a Naturopath's office or doctor's offices that state 'no perfumes allowed' are up because of these reactions.

Just take a look around your home & see just how many products you use every day that contain 'fake'rances. These toxins are being absorbed through your skin and even inhaled into your lungs. Not only that, they are contributing to indoor air pollution and, in cold weather, are trapped in your home. Doing this check can be a bit overwhelming so just try to make one change at a time. As I've said in a previous post, when buying soap or skin care products look for fragrance free, not unscented. 'Unscented' products often use more chemicals to cover up a strong scent.

As usual, we need to get back to the basics. For a room spray, mix pure water with 25-50 drops of orange oil. For a lasting scent, try mixing 2 tsp of baking soda with your favourite essential oil.

Interesting...The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics ( lists the cosmetic companies who have signed their pledge to remove chemicals that are known or strongly suspected to be toxic from their products. (Avon, Estée Lauder, L’Oréal, Revlon, Procter & Gamble and Unilever have all refused to sign)!


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Is it really necessary to buy PVC-free & Phthalate-Free Toys?

Yes. When looking for Christmas gifts for little ones, think safe & toxic free. This year look for safe alternatives to the gifts you buy this year. Chances are you are buying for someone who is very special to you so look for something you can trust in their little hands.

What is PVC (PolyVINYL Chloride)?
Sometimes the toy or item is labeled with a '3' or 'V' in the recycling symbol at the bottom. It has been called the 'Poison Plastic' by many health experts and has recently been discovered through research that this chemical is associated with developmental damage, as well as damage to the liver, central nervous, respiratory and reproductive systems.

What are Phthalates?
Phthalates is a group of chemicals that is often added to plastic to increase its flexibility (ie teethers). They have been shown to mimic hormones - which can potentially lead to serious health conditions in the future.

They are often found in PVC toys. Essentially any toy that has flexible plastic (ie toys) contains Phthalates. Even the flexible plastic-like fabric on toys contain this toxin.

Scary eh? It's horrible to think of how many toxic toys (of all things) are contributing to indoor air pollution & decreased health. Educate yourself - for your family's future and their health.

Oh ya, & for those of you who read my previous post about asthma - or anyone who wants to know about a contributor to this condition - check this finding out about the link between PVC, Pthalates & asthma:

' Children may be exposed to chemicals in many PVC consumer (such as vinyl shower curtains) and building products. For example, PVC is used in many building products such as flooring, siding, and wall coverings. A number of studies have found associations between PVC building products and asthma, a major concern for children.

For example in one study, workers in an office building were diagnosed with adult-onset asthma at a rate approximately 9 times higher than expected. High levels of VOCs were detected. The researchers concluded the most probable cause of this indoor air problem was the degradation of the PVC flooring.

A number of studies have also suggested a correlation between phthalates, PVC, and asthma. Most recently, a study published in 2008 found an association between concentrations of the phthalate DEHP in indoor dust and wheezing among preschool children in Bulgaria. Another study of 10,851 children found the presence of both floor moisture and PVC significantly increased the risk of asthma. PVC wall coverings have also been linked to asthma. A recent study from Finland found that adults working in rooms with plastic wall coverings were more than twice as likely to develop asthma. These researchers poined to other recent studies in children conducted in Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Russia that also found links between PVC, phthalates, and respiratory problems.'

This information comes from a reliable source, Mike Schade from CHEJ (Center for Health, Environment and Justice).


Monday, November 3, 2008

Shop safely this holiday season

I was watching some of my favourite shows tonight and couldn't help but notice that Halloween is barely over with and the holiday season is already getting started. I can't remember seeing two Christmas commercials in a row this early in the year - & I'm certainly not complaining! I absolutely love the holiday season. My daughter & I have already watched a handful of Christmas movies. But getting into this mode also makes me think about how tough it's going to be to shop for her and the other little ones in my life. With all the recalls that have been issued over the past year or so I'm always thinking in the back of my mind, "Is this really safe?".

So, I decided to do some research on what gifts are safe. I live in a community where organic & chemical-free products are not widely available so it makes it a little tougher to be able to find what I'm looking for. I'm not saying they are not available - they are just a little tougher to find in my neighbourhood, especially if you're not sure what you're looking for. So I started looking online for toys and clothing that are more eco-friendly and I realized a few things that I want to share with you, my fellow parents. They include:

~ Shop Local!: Now I understand it isn't always easy to ensure that each gift you buy is 'Made in Canada' however with all the recalls in China (that are still continuing to occur) I recommend steering clear of China-made products whenever possible. Keep in mind that many of the huge companies still produce their toys in China. So this year try to find locally made gifts this year - they will likely be safer (and much more unique!)

~ Buy from Local Independent Retailers: they are much more likely to carry safe products. They are often passionate about what they offer and can be a wealth of knowledge. Many offer organic and/or PVC and phthalate free items and purchase their stock from local sources.

~ Research (& do some shopping) Online: The web offers parents a wealth of information at their fingertips. Do your research (if you're reading this, chances are you already are!) & know what you're looking for.

~ Be prepared to spend a bit more: There's a reason that mass produced products are so cheap. They are often produced under unfair conditions & the quality of material used to create each one are compromised (ie lead based paint is cheaper). So instead of buying a pile of plastic toys that will fill our landfills and potentially disturb our clean air, go with the same budget & buy little less but feel good about what you are giving.

I will write more detailed entries about safe shopping this holiday season but I wanted to give you a few easy ways you can make a difference in the lives of the little ones you care about, simply by changing the way you think through educating yourself.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Trash that Non-Stick Cookware??

I've recently learned that there is a another concern in the kitchen aside from toxic plastics. The non-stick, 'Teflon' surface of most frying pans are now being considered unhealthy as they are used to cook at high temperatures. Apparently the labels state that they are to be used at low to medium temperatures however the label doesn't tell you it can actually be a serious health hazard.

In a 2003 press release Dupont (owner of 'Teflon') wrote that "significant decomposition of the coating will occur only when temperatures exceed about 660 degrees F (340 degrees C). These temperatures alone are well above the normal cooking range." Then, tests conducted shortly after had shown that cookware exceeds these temperatures and turns toxic through the common act of preheating a pan, on a burner set on high. So in June 2008, Dupont announced a 'greener' solution. However, the Environmental Working Group conducted research that has proven otherwise.

What exactly is this toxin?
PFC’s (Perfluorochemical) is also called PFOA, PFOS, C8, PTFE, and Teflon. It is a toxic chemical that gets absorbed into the food that it comes in contact with and is linked to many health conditions including cancer.

Why is PFC so Dangerous?

Tests have shown that a Teflon frying pan heated on a conventional, electric stovetop burner
can release six toxic gases, including two carcinogens, two global pollutants, and MFA, a chemical lethal to humans at low doses - all for the convenience of 'non-stick'.

PFC is present in 98 percent of our blood and 100 percent in newborns!

How can you avoid this toxin?
  • Look for cookware that is void of this family of chemicals known as PFC’s.
  • PFCs are also found in other products that repel including Zonyl, Stainmaster, Staindefender and Scotchgard. It can be found in fast food packaging including pizza boxes and fast food wrappers (to repel grease), waterproof clothing and furniture!

It's insane how these big companies can claim virtually anything and do not have to let us in on a thing they don't want us to know. If you knew the health risks involved with the convenience of 'non-stick' cookware would you take those risks? And even if you were crazy enough to take that chance, isn't it our chance to take? Empower yourself with the knowledge to make your own choices for those who matter the most to you.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Got Asthma?

I do & I hate it. It is the worst feeling in the world to not be able to breathe. Now I don't know anyone who enjoys it. So why aren't we doing more to get rid of it and why is asthma on the rise so dramatically? Well, because we are only shown how to control it. When we go to our doctors for testing they will confirm we have this all too common condition and simply prescribe methods of controlling it when it does flare up, or so that it doesn't flare up as much.

I saw an asthma specialist in a local hospital about a year ago and have never gone back. Why? It wasn't because she wasn't knowledgeable in her field. She was taught to treat this condition with medications. So she told me that I would have to take this specific inhaler twice a day, every day for the rest of my life. Oh, and after inhaling this medication into my lungs, I have to rinse my mouth out so that it doesn't get 'sore'. So this medication was good enough to coat my lungs but should be rinsed out of my mouth. That's crazy. However, my asthma has taken a turn for the worse so I decided that I would only take it when my breathing tightened. So, now I take it only when I feel this happening and continue for 3-4 days. Then stop. If it flares up again, I do the same thing until this cycle is over.

Now I am certainly no doctor. So please don't think I am saying that this is the way everyone should do it. It's just a personal decision I've made for the time being. I am also doing everything I can to make breathing better for myself and my family. I never want my daughter to have any form of asthma and it is my goal to do anything I can to avoid this.

How do you avoid it? Start with getting rid of any and all fragrances (aka 'fakegrances'). I cannot stress enough how important it is to your health to avoid these toxins. Now I touched on this subject in one of my previous posts but what I didn't say is that each scent is composed of dozens if not hundreds of chemicals. Most of the products we use every day are affected including:
~ perfumes (most use phthalates which is a plastic/toxin that makes perfumes stick around longer so it's used everywhere!)
~ laundry soap
~ fabric softener
~ air 'fresheners'
~ microwave popcorn (for that 'buttery' smell)
~ clothes that have been dry cleaned
~ 'unscented' products (which simply means that more chemicals have been used to cover up the smell)
~ most 'naturally scented' products

I found this great article in that references the Environmental Working Group who states that, “Fragrance formulas are considered to be among the top five known allergens and can trigger asthma attacks.”

So, please avoid all fragrances whenever possible. You can't control everything but if you take these steps to rid your home and common environments of these fakegrances, you and your family will breathe a much cleaner air.

I am researching more methods on how I can breathe more clearly and I will pass any information I can find onto you so that you and your family can avoid these toxins (and asthma) in every way you can!


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Trash that plastic vinyl shower curtain!

Why? Well first of all they are made of PVC plastic (#3 plastic). You know, the kind of plastic that is dangerous to human health and the environment throughout its entire life cycle, at the factory, in our homes, and in the trash! And like all 'bad plastics', when heat is exposed to it even more dangerous chemicals - somewhere around 100 different types including Phthalates - are released into the air in which we breathe. So, when you have a hot shower you are filling your lungs with nasty chemicals!

A few years ago I hated cleaning the shower curtains. So, when it would get a build up on it, I would simply replace it with a new vinyl curtain. It was one of the 'bad' things I did. I knew it wasn't the best thing for our environment but noone is perfect (I have since switched to a new way of thinking and feel insanely guilty if I toss even one bottle in the garbage.). However, I had no idea how bad it was & that I would be hurting myself and my (asthmatic) lungs!

So, what do I do now? I simply use a fabric curtain. You can use a fabric curtain made of cotton and/or hemp. They work just as well and 'hang' to dry so there's no worries. When you feel they need to be cleaned, simply toss them in the wash and hang them back up to dry! There are no toxins to worry about so your air is clear, they keep landfills free of more plastic (and are biodegradable!) and last much longer which allows you to save money. I'll never buy a plastic curtain again. What about you?


Monday, September 22, 2008

What you don't know about Aspartame

Aspartame is a synthetic ingredient that my family steers clear from whenever possible. What is it composed of? Aspartic acid and phenylalanine, chemically bound with methanol. So let's start with breaking these 3 compoments down:

~ Aspartic Acid -
normally, aspartate acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. However, as with other excitotoxins, the presence of too much aspartate in the brain can cause the killing of certain brain cells by over-stimulating them. This slow damaging of neurons can lead to Parkinson's disease and memory loss as well as many other neurological problems. It actually reacts very closely to the effects of MSG.

Phenylalanine - is an amino acid normally found in the brain. Human testing has shown phenylalanine levels in the blood are increased significantly in those who chronically use aspartame. Excessive levels of phenylalanine in the brain can cause the levels of serotonin to decrease, which can lead to depression, schizophrenia and make one more susceptible to seizures.

~ Methanol (aka wood alcohol) -
is “considered a cumulative poison due to the low rate of excretion once it is absorbed. In the body, methanol is oxidated to formaldehyde and formic acid; both of these metabolites are toxic.” Formaldehyde? Wow. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogeon (cancer causing ingredient)

So now that we've broke the ingredients down, do you realize the dangers of Aspartame? Many of the big companies call this ingredient safe since some of it's elements already occur
naturally in our system. However, our bodies already create these chemicals and too much of a 'good thing' only creates heath issues. And when mixed with these other chemicals, it's even worse.

It's actually scary that our world deems this (and so many other things) 'safe' for human consumption. There is so much counter evidence out there that states there are dangerous risks to our health by consuming it. So why take the risk?

We are finding more and more products out there are having adverse effects on our health. This is why I am urging you to do your own research. Find sources you trust and learn about what you are consuming and trusting with the people that are most important to you.

My Sources are:

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What's in your skin care products? You should know.

For too long we have trusted the big companies (and our government) with the fact that the products that are on the shelves are 'safe'. It's only once you starting researching and educating yourselves on the products your family consumes that you realize that many of these items are not safe.

For example, I spoke briefly before in one of my posts about parabens (may be called methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, butylparaben or M&P paraben). What I didn't say was why you should avoid this ingredient. After researching it I found out some pretty bad stuff. It is actually a chemical preservative used mainly in skin care products including deodorant, shampoo, lotion , make-up & even whitening toothpaste. Parabens are known to mimic the hormone estrogen and many feel that exposure to this chemical can potentially lead to breast cancer. This toxin has even been found in breast cancer tumours!

After learning all this (from trusted sources) I officially banned this toxin from my home. So when I went to one of the big retailers to buy some shampoo & conditioner, my plan was to ensure that there was no sign of 'parabens' in the ingredient list. I spent almost an hour going through every brand I could find on the enormous space dedicated to these products to see if I could find both a shampoo and a conditioner that was paraben-free. The result? I found only a few products that did not contain this toxin. And being the avid researcher I am, I discovered that all of the products that didn't contain a paraben all contained another harmful ingredient called 'methylchloroisothiazolinone'. I have no idea how to pronounce it but it is another chemical preservative that has some nasty effects on our health.

Now normally I don't have this much trouble in a store. Most of the big retailers are acknowledging our demand for more natural alternatives to conventional products so they will offer at least 1 or 2 brands that take more of a natural approach. However buyer beware - just because the packaging beams 'natural' doesn't mean it is. Always check your ingredients. And start slow. Avoid parabens in any new products you buy. Don't overwhelm yourself with learning everything at once. A good rule to follow is any ingredient that contains so many letters you find it hard to pronounce, chances are it's not good. An even simpler approach? Go to a natural and/or health store and shop there. Supporting local, independent businesses in your community is always a good thing. You will also find that they are quite passionate about their products and can educate you on the knowledge they've gained.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Insect Problems, Natural solution

This year we had a flea problem with our animals and our home. I try to live as chemical free as I can so when it seemed like our only option for getting rid of them (and the eggs) was to use the chemical spray in our home, I decided to call a few Naturopaths and did my own research on the web. Through this I found a solution called 'DE' (Diatomaceous Earth, pronounced 'Dy-a-tom-A-shis'). It is in a powder form and you can rub it all over your pet, give it to them with their food and/or spread it throughout your home for a couple of days, then vacuum it up. It dehydrates eggs and insects and ultimately kills them. It is completely safe for people and animals. The only precaution you should take, is to try not to inhale too much of it as it is a fine texture (as nothing this fine should be inhaled in large amounts). I put it on my pets outside and mixed a small amount in with their food.

Finally I found a chemical free method of ridding fleas! Then, I tried to find it which was a really tough task in my community. I even went to a local health store to see if they could order it in but they weren't able to find it for me. Finally one of the Naturopaths called me back and recommended a health pet store that was about an hour away. So, I packed up my family, got in the car and made a day of it! It was well worth the trip. We found what we were looking for and learned so much.

There are some online, natural pet stores that offer this product for fleas. Just make sure it is the food grade (as it is the safest form). You can purchase it from the store I went to by contacting Mike at 'Healthy Paws' . The DE works for any insects so if you have any bug problems, you can take care of it naturally. Goodbye nasty pesticides!

Healthy Paws (Sarnia, ON)
795 Exmouth Street

Friday, August 29, 2008

BPA - not just in plastics

Many of us who have little ones have heard the dangers of BPA (Bisphenol-A). It is a chemical most often found in (recycling) #7 plastics and sometimes can be identified by the letters 'pc' (for 'polycarbonate') on the bottom of the container. BPA is an estrogen hormone-mimicking chemical that is released into the food/liquid inside the container. Leeching of this toxic chemical increases when heat is added to the mix.

This toxin is commonly used to produce plastic for hard, clear (sometimes tinted): bowls, storage containers, baby bottles, sippy cups, tableware, water/juice/sports bottles, etc. It is also found in other products that seem to be less publicized like the liners inside soda & food cans, liners of popular baby formulas, dental sealant (to prevent cavities), pet carriers, and sports safety equipment.

Why avoid this substance? It takes just a small dose of this chemical for its intake to result in various health issues including:
  • precancerous tumors
  • early onset of puberty in females
  • decline in semen quality in males
  • uro-genital abnormalities in males
There are a few things you can do to avoid this, and other, harmful chemicals:
  • Use glass and stainless steel containers whenever possible - even when storing food
  • NEVER heat in plastic
  • Reduce (or even eliminate) the use of canned foods/beverages
  • Be especially cautious if you are nursing or pregnant as this chemical passes through your bloodstream directly to your baby!


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Going Back to School Enviro-Style

Many of our kids are going back to school (or going for the first time!) and there are a few easy ways to ensure you keep the world they will inherit as clean as we can. Here are a few tips as to how you can ensure you are doing your part - and showing your children that you care:
  • Pack a waste-free lunch: when preparing your kids lunch, take an extra 2 minutes to reduce the waste that fills our landfills. Buy in bulk! It's not only better for the earth, it's also less expensive. Examples include:
    • Instead of buying individually packaged yogurts, buy the big container and simply fill a small, reusable plastic container each day with their favourite kinds.
    • Buy reusable plastic containers for their sandwiches, drinks and sliced fruits & veggies instead of plastic baggies
    • Purchase a reusable lunch box and use reusable forks and spoons
Please note: Make sure the plastic container is a safe plastic: look for recycling #s 1,2 and 5. Some lunch boxes may even be a #4 (which is the next best thing).
  • Choose recycled and/or enviro-friendly school supplies whenever possible: Buy 100% recycled paper when purchasing notebooks, buy solar powered calculators and refillable pens. Opt for recycled dividers, binders and even some pens
  • Reuse anything you can from last years supplies. You don't need to purchase new pencil crayons, highlighters, pens and pencils every year. Buy some new but reuse what you can.
There are many products available this year at large retailers like Staples so it's easier than ever to 'go green'!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Going Green One Step at a Time

A suggestion - take baby steps. Find one minor thing you can change and stick to it. If you're not recycling already, start. Turn lights off when you leave a room and unplug items you aren't using.

If you're doing these things, the next thing I recommend is to start buying fragrance-free products whenever you can. Not 'unscented', but 'fragrance-free'. Insanely enough, unscented often means that fragrances have been used to cover up the scent. Fragrance can be derived from thousands of different toxins. Replace these fragrance sprays with essential oil blends. You can buy essential oils at a local health store (or even in the natural foods section of your grocery store) and dilute it with water for a safe alternative. Unfortunately, these products are sometimes tough to find - so just do what you can.

You can download the 'Safety Guide to Children’s Personal Care Products', on the EWG's website on the website. This is a great guide that tells you what ingredients to avoid when buying skin care products for your family. On top of these ingredients , I recommend that you always avoid anything containing 'parabens' (i.e. methylparabens). Check out a few different bottles when shopping for these products and you'll start to notice new brands made with more natural ingredients that actually say 'paraben-free'.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Making the Change

Welcome! I thought it would be a good idea to talk about something I try to do - living natural in a toxic world. As soon as I became pregnant I immediately had higher standards on life. I researched anything & everything to make sure the environment my child would be living in would be as toxic free as possible. It's funny how we place more importance on things that affect our children. I guess it's because these tiny, little people rely on us completely.

Now I know that there are other parents out there that feel the same way. They want to rid at least some of the toxins from their lives. The toughest part about this, is that many parents don't realize how many they're exposed to every day - which makes it an even more daunting task. However, knowledge is power. When you are buying food for your family (or even personal care products), you should always read the label. I always try to make sure I read the labels & familiarize myself with the ingredients. Even my 2 year old daughter picks things up in the store and pretends she's reading them. If I don't know what something is, I look it up when I get home. A good rule to follow is if the word is long and/or hard to pronounce, chances are it's bad. Try to avoid popular food ingredients like sorbitol (sugar replacement), MSG (monosodium glutamate), yeast extract and torula yeast (last 3 ingredients are additives included in food to enhance taste). You might even find these ingredients in items that claim they are all natural like veggies burgers!

So, where do you start? Well, you can learn from the knowledge I've acquired as I will be publishing my experiences, knowledge and challenges on this blog. For more extensive information, spend a little bit of time sourcing information on the web. I would stick with sources you trust because there is a lot of information out there. If you are concerned about something, don't find information from the company you are concerned about. Look for an unbiased opinion. Need a couple of sources I trust to start with? Try these links: ~ this site is run by Mike Adams who has made it his mission to teach personal and personal and planetary health to the public. His website is packed with information & you can even subscribe to his newsletters. ~ the Environmental Working Group is a fabulous, non-profit organization with an extensive website that covers virtually every topic you can think of. They also created the website which gives you detailed information on the toxic levels for the most popular skin care products out there. ~ a Canadian source of information with useful advice and guides to help you convert your home to a greener one.