EP 41: Environmental Toxins and Your Health with Lara Adler
We talk a lot about toxins and you may think you’ve heard it all before, but hear me out! We are exposed to environmental toxins every single day, by doing normal, everyday activities like eating, showering, using beauty products, and cleaning. Many exposures are unavoidable, but there are many that you can address, especially when it comes to products that come into your home.
You might think that because something is on the shelf at your local store, that means it’s safe. But there are over 84,000 chemicals registered for use in the United States and many of them have never been tested for safety. We’re finding that many of these chemicals are linked to conditions we’re all trying to avoid, such as cancer, diabetes, depression, anxiety, ADHD, thyroid disease, hormonal imbalances, infertility, and more. But when it comes to reducing your exposure, it can be hard to know where to start and easy to get overwhelmed. That’s why today, I’m talking with environmental toxins expert and educator Lara Adler.
Lara Adler is an Environmental toxins expert and educator and a certified holistic health coach who teaches health coaches, nutritionists, and other health professionals how to eliminate the #1 thing holding their clients back from the results they are seeking – the unaddressed link between chemicals and chronic health problems. She trains practitioners to become experts in everyday toxic exposures so they can improve client outcomes without spending hundreds of hours researching on their own.
In this episode, we discuss:
- How the reactive, rather than proactive, mode of regulation and enforcement in the United States make it easy for toxins to end up in products we use every day.
- How industry mobilizes to manufacture positive research and suppress negative outcomes.
- Three simple, free steps you can take today to begin reducing toxin exposure in your home.
- The truth about natural and organic labeling on personal care products, and what label claims you can actually trust.
Listen to the podcast here:
Within the below transcript, the bolded text is Samantha Gilbert and the regular text is Lara Adler.
Environmental Toxins and Your Health with Lara Adler
In this episode, I’m talking about toxins. We are exposed to toxins every single day by doing normal everyday activities like eating, washing our hair, putting on makeup, and cleaning. Many exposures are unavoidable. There are many others that are easily addressed, especially in your own home. That’s why in this episode, I’m talking with environmental toxins expert and educator Lara Adler.
It’s easy to think that if something is available at your local health store, it’s safe but there are over 84,000 chemicals registered for use in the United States. The majority of which have never even been tested for safety. Many of these chemicals are linked to health conditions we are all trying to avoid, such as cancer, diabetes, resistant weight loss, depression, anxiety, ADHD, thyroid disease, hormonal imbalances, infertility, and more.
In this episode, Lara and I talk about easy and low-cost or free ways you can reduce your exposure, as well as the truth about safety, testing, and so much more. Lara Adler is an environmental toxins expert and educator, and certified holistic health coach. She trains practitioners to become experts in everyday toxic exposures so they can improve client outcomes without spending hundreds of hours researching on their own.
Combining environmental health, education, and business consulting, she has helped thousands of health professionals in over 25 countries around the world elevate their skillset, get better results for their clients, and become sought-out leaders in the growing environmental health and detoxification field.
Welcome to the show, Lara. I am honored to have you.
Thank you for inviting me to be here to talk with you and share with your audience a topic that not everybody talks about.
I have been following you for a long time now. I love the way you speak about the tremendous impact that toxins have on our lives. I’m curious. Why were you called to this work? I feel our readers would love to know your backstory.
I came to this work in a meandering way. No kid is fantasizing in high school and middle school, like “One day, I want to teach about toxins.” That’s not what happened. It was meandering. I was always interested in health and wellness but never pursued anything professionally. I worked in a whole other industry for several years. Eventually, I found my way into this space of health coaching.
It was through doing that work that I could turn it into this environmental health space because I had a couple of clients who struggled with losing weight. They did all the things and didn’t see any changes. As a new health coach, I was scratching my head, going, “What am I missing? I got to figure this out.” I started researching these less talked-about issues related to resistant weight loss. That’s where I stepped into this conversation about obesogenic chemicals and other chemicals. It was mind-blowing for me.
The motivation to do this work and have this conversation in my business and focus my business on this conversation is fundamentally rooted in “This is not okay.” I don’t like to tell people, “Let rage mode motivate you.” I was outraged. I still have the original journal where I would take all my notes when I was researching. My sister-in-law was pregnant around the same time that I was stepping into this space. I was frantically looking at researching cribs and crib mattresses. That was the first thing I researched. I was like, “Are you kidding me?”
I remember being, “How do the manufacturers of these products sleep at night knowing that they are using known or even suspected toxic chemicals in the manufacturing of products that a baby puts its face on for eighteen hours a day.” I couldn’t believe it. I spent several years reading everything I could get my hands on.
At the time, I was living in New York City, and we had the New York Academy of Sciences. Downtown, we had the Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center. These organizations were regularly holding conferences, lectures, and symposiums on the topic of environmental health, environmental toxins, and disease.
I was one of the only non-academics in these audiences. I was like, “I’m stretching myself here to understand.” I gave myself this intensive crash course on understanding not only what the research says and what it doesn’t say. How does that relate to the lived experience of people? How do we tie this into normal everyday exposures that people are getting? What’s meaningful and not a big deal? That’s how I came into this space.
I spent several years doing that research before I stepped out and said, “I want this to be what I talk about in my work.” It happened that at the time, I was surrounded by colleagues in the health coaching and nutritionist space, who were all raising their hands and going, “I don’t know anything about this. Nobody taught us anything about it.” That’s ultimately who became my first cohort of students. Over the years, that has grown. It’s now all types of health professionals, licensed and unlicensed, in different industries and fields, which is exciting. It means that the interest in this topic is growing, which is necessary.
Are Environmental Toxins and Chemicals Regulated?
I love your passion for what you do and also the way that you express it. It’s not just, “Go do this and this,” and throw it in your face. You have a certain way of explaining it that’s easy to understand and that’s inclusive rather than exclusive. It’s not a turnoff. It’s like, “Let’s have a dialogue about this.” That’s important. As you know, Lara, many people still think that our regulatory agencies have our back in monitoring all these chemicals used in food production, personal care products, cookware, and textiles. The list is endless, but I’m curious, and to add to what you shared, what is the reality?
It’s a lot more bleak than people think. If you stop the average person on the street and ask them, “Are these products regulated?” You go to Walgreens, CVS and they are like, “Yeah, of course, there are some people that are overseeing this.” Unfortunately, that is not the reality of the situation. There are lots of reasons for that. I explain the history of this regulation because that also helps inform where we are and why we are here. Maybe, I will start there and thumbtack the other point I want to make.
We have to look at the fact that at the turn of the last century, late 1800 and early 1900, there was no regulation. That was the era of the literal snake oil salesmen. That’s where we had patent medicines and people hocking cocaine-infused medications and saying it cures everything. That was the era that the United States was in at that time, where we didn’t have any regulations. It was an innovation. It’s like, “Let’s innovate. Let’s not stay for business and industry.” Post-industrial revolution, you had all of these opportunities for people. The government didn’t want to interfere. They were like, “New people are making money, prosperity.”
What happens is there would be instances where people would get sick. Suddenly, it was like, “Maybe we need to take a look at what is happening here.” There were a couple of things that spurred this on. It was the publication of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. It’s a fact. It’s a rough book to read. I encourage everyone to read it. There was a whole presidential inquiry after this book was published because people were like, “That’s not real.” They were like, “That book was accurate.” That was how it was. This is disgusting. There are diseased animals going into the food chain. That’s what spurred the Food and Drug Administration.
We have these nexus events that were always responding after the fact. There are other instances of women going blind because they had mascara that had mercury in it. There was no regulation of these products. We have patent medicines, where people were being sold these back pantry mixtures that contained heavy metals, cocaine, and mercury.
After all of these situations is when we respond. Unfortunately, despite us now not being in the 18th century or even in the 19th century, we are still in this reactive rather than proactive framework. We wait until there is a problem that presents itself before we react, despite having evidence of problems presenting themselves.We are still in this reactive rather than proactive framework. We wait until a problem presents itself before we react, despite having evidence of problems presenting themselves. Click To Tweet
I can say, “That was at the turn of the last century.” It wasn’t until 1976 that we passed our first public policy, the Toxic Substances Control Act in the United States, which was designed to regulate, not all but most of the chemicals in commerce. I say, “Most, and not all,” because we have other splintered approaches to regulation. If we are talking about pesticides, we look at the Fungicide, Insecticide, and Rodenticide Act. There are different agencies that regulate different subsets of chemicals in the marketplace.
TSCA, or the Toxic Substances Control Act, was passed in 1976. At the time, there were 62,000 already actively in use in commerce. The TSCA gave them a rubber stamp like, “We are good. They are fine. No requirement to confirm that they are safe or anything like that.” The majority of chemicals in commerce got grandfathered in as being okay. There was no safety data on them.
In the years since then, we have added tens of thousands of new chemicals in commerce, and it took almost my whole life for TSCA to get updated. TSCA wasn’t updated until 2016, and other countries around the world, particularly the European Union as a whole, have what they call a No Data, No Market Policy. If you don’t have data to support the fact that this compound that you are producing, importing, or using in your manufacturing is safe, that’s a subjective term safe. How do we define safe? That’s a whole other rabbit hole.
The US still does not do that. In the updated TSCA, we made it a little bit harder but the implementation of the changes has been terrible. When we have different administrations that come through, then they can erode what weak legislation we already have. That’s what happened during the last administration. There are a lot of these Environmental Law rollbacks.
This conversation, even though we are talking about it, isn’t an inherently political conversation. People don’t like to hear that, especially now because everything is charged politically. These are political conversations, even if we are talking about chemicals in our shampoo or things that are in our drinking water. It’s our federal agencies and state agencies that determine what chemicals are allowed, whether or not industries are being prosecuted for chemical dumping, and things like that.
The reality is, going back to your original question, no, there is no agency that makes sure that products are safe before coming to market. On the one hand, federal agencies and state agencies are not looking at products. They are looking at ingredients. Ingredients are tested in isolation. They are studied, for the most part, in isolation. We are going to look at the health effects of phthalates, BPA, methyl mercury, or haloacetic acids in your drinking water but we are not looking at them in the formulation. We are not looking at the comic cleanser or the Pantene shampoo. How we experience these products is in formulation for the most part. In drinking water, there are hundreds of contaminants.
This is where the data pool becomes muddy because people tend to adopt black-and-white thinking. They want us to have a black-and-white answer. When we are looking at a conversation that has many unknowns and variables, it’s hard for us to do that. Some people will go, “Because you can’t do that, it means that these are fine. That’s not what that means.”
Thank you for giving us a history. That was not only informative but helpful. One of my questions was with regard to other countries. I’m glad you have spoken about that. The fact that the ingredients are done in isolation versus looking at the whole is powerful to hear you say. While you were speaking, Lara, I was thinking of a documentary on Netflix.
It was one of those half-hour shows that they do. They had many experts talking about how our tap water is cleaned for us. It has been filtered for us, and it’s safe. We know that’s not true. Changing water alone can be entirely powerful for a new client coming into your practice. I was thinking about that in my mind as you were speaking, and I appreciate you walking us through that.
It’s parallel to the conversation about regulations because the Safe Drinking Water Act only regulates 91 contaminants. There are hundreds present in drinking water. The fact that a chemical is regulated doesn’t mean that it’s not still in your water or at dangerous levels. There are over 77 million Americans who are drinking water, that’s in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.The fact that a chemical is regulated doesn't mean it's not still in your water or at dangerous levels. Click To Tweet
Water science, water filtration, and water contamination are incredibly complicated, nuanced topics. Everyone’s water is different. The reality is that the water infrastructure in the United States was decades past. It has surpassed its useful life. We still have water distribution pipes that date back to the Civil War. We have an old infrastructure.
I am often asked, “Is My Brita going to be okay or is the filter on my refrigerator”?
I don’t get it as much because I created a whole course on water to help people answer this question on their own. First, you have to figure out what’s in your water so that you know what you are trying to take out. The problem is when it comes to things like water filtration products and marketing, whether it’s front-of-package marketing or someone’s website. They might list out like, “This filter takes out these hundreds of contaminants?” It’s like, “Great. What if the contaminant I have is not on that list?”
You can dazzle me with a long list of chemical names that I don’t know what they are and I can’t even pronounce but it doesn’t mean anything if I have radioactive compounds and fluoride in my water that are hard to get out and your filter doesn’t do that. Conversely, you might live in an area where your water is good, and you only need a basic filter like a Brita. That might take out the majority of what you have.
Some people need complicated systems. Other people can get away with something basic. There is no one-size-fits-all. It’s like nutrition and fitness. I don’t know what’s the best diet or exercise for you. We have to do a lot of work to figure that out. I wish it weren’t that way. It’s not okay to put the burden of figuring that out on the consumer. It’s not but that is the reality of it.
Environmental Toxins and Mental Health
That’s important for our readers to read with regard to toxins, especially in moms-to-be and how those are being passed on to their newborn children. We have this rise in autism, ADHD, depression, anxiety, and a lot of mental health disorders in our kids. Can you talk about what the data says in this specific area in terms of our mental health and how we think, feel, and act?
First of all, we don’t test chemicals on humans. We don’t do that. That’s considered unethical. What we do is test chemicals on animals. When we are measuring things like thinking and feeling, that’s harder to do in animals because fish, mice, and rodents can’t tell us, “I’m feeling scattered. I can’t focus.” There is research that can look at markers of behavior, whether it’s weaning behavior, grooming behavior, or mating behavior, we can say, “This is what that is looking like.”
We are testing chemicals on animals. What we are doing is we are looking at epidemiological data in the human population relating to things like levels of chemicals in bodies and saying, “Is there a connection between this population that has high levels of pesticide in their bodies and these conditions.” When we find statistically significant results to that, we can now look at the animal studies and say, “We are seeing the same thing.” In the animals, we can look at mechanisms and that whole piece.
We are taking one body of science and another body of science and making inferences in between. For some people, that’s not enough but what’s the alternative? It is the best that we have. For the most part, it works well to find and ferret out connections that we see. We are not testing chemicals on people but we’re testing them on animals. We are saying, “These things are happening.” When we look at the human population, we can say, “Children that have prenatal exposure to these organophosphate pesticides have increased attention deficit disorders or hyperactivity disorders. They have less eye contact and less verbal processing. They exhibit more masculine play or more feminine play. They have higher rates of depression or outbursts of anger. They have lower cognitive issues.”
I can’t remember the name of the study but it was the children of farm workers in Salinas Valley, California, where there are a lot of pesticide applications. They had children that lived in the valley and lived out of the valley, drawing stick figures, simple. They are all the same age 3 years old or 4 years old, drawing stick figures. The kids who lived out of the valley had way less pesticide exposure like your typical, arms out, legs out, head at the top, stick in the middle. The kids that lived in the valley of the same age, their stick figures were all over the place. It was complete regression or inability to reach. They didn’t have that same brain development. That’s one example.
There is a lot of data showing either prenatal exposure, what mom is exposed to, and in the instances of farm workers and also the dad. Frankly, it is also what your grandparents and great-grandparents were exposed to, what your dad lived through, etc. Transgenerational epigenetic changes of things that your parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents experienced can lead to changes that are passed down.
The preconception period, particularly the early trimester, the first trimester, and the second trimester are the most sensitive when it comes to that brain development and where we have chemicals interfering with this process. To simplify it, if we are trying to build a human being and some percentages of the legos that we are using to build this human being is absent or in the wrong shape because of something, we can’t undo that process later. Those are permanent changes.
For example, with lead exposure in that fetal development stage or even in early childhood, when the brain is still developing, it’s preventing neural development. It’s not that it’s damaging neural development that’s already there. It’s preventing healthy neural development. You are stopping progress before it even starts.
There is some fascinating research. I haven’t looked into this for a couple of years but I went to a lecture when I was living in New York on the research I was talking about. These rodent studies again that were showing that socialization can reverse some of the damage from lead exposure in utero. Having a good social network and a family network rebuilds those neural pathways, maybe someplace else to compensate. That isolation left that damage intact.
In this rodent research, we have to make inferences here. In impoverished communities where we know we have lead exposure, wouldn’t it be fascinating to see if we can do an intervention study to say, “Let’s get some more playgrounds and some group community centers. Let’s make socialization more robust for children living in those spaces and see if that is a cost-effective way of counteracting some of the damage done by this led exposure, which is an enormous nationwide problem that we are not going to solve overnight.” There is no point at which this stuff doesn’t matter. It does matter. There are critical windows.
Environmental Toxins and Deficiencies
That’s one of the reasons why I love working with families and parents-to-be because there is so much we can do with the diet and getting appropriate nutrients onboard. I do a lot of testing in my clinic. I want to see what’s going on with methylation and some of the metals. What’s going on with some of these deficiencies in mom and dad? How can we dial those in and get those balanced? That process happens, and we have more robust and happy families.
We can’t blame the consumer. It’s not the mom’s fault. I also don’t want to blame the doctor because it’s not their fault. The reality is that this conversation is not included in the medical school curriculum. There was a study that was done in 2014. It may have changed by now. I doubt it. It was a survey of different medical school programs.
They found that schools that offer curriculum and environmental health to medical school students, the average number of hours is only seven for programs that offer it. Many programs don’t offer any at all. On the one hand, it’s like, “There are mountains of information that doctors have to take in.” How much is enough? The curriculum is an enormous ocean liner that takes decades to pivot.
Lara, this makes me think of how our industry, structure, and system as a whole are set up this way. It’s not the doctor’s fault. It’s certainly not the patient’s fault that they don’t know about this stuff. It’s not talked about.
We have to look at who is going to be most affected cost-wise when information about the harm caused by chemicals comes out. It’s not the individual. The individual will be harmed. Their costs will be in medical and healthcare costs. That’s on them to shoulder with. When we are looking more upstream, it’s industry. The industry spends billions of dollars each year to get its products out into the marketplace. They are working to suppress anything negative about the findings about their products or the chemicals that are used in their products.
There are hundreds of examples of this over time where we have companies that are actively suppressing research that shows negative health effects. One of the examples that I teach about in one of my courses is the research scientist, a guy named Tyrone Hayes, that was hired by and ultimately became Syngenta to study this pesticide that they produced called atrazine. It said it’s an herbicide. It’s one of the most commonly used herbicides in agricultural production.
He found that extraordinarily low levels of this herbicide in water systems like ponds and drinking water were having a major effect on the sexual differentiation of frogs. Amphibians are incredibly sensitive to endocrine disruption, even temperature changes in the water. It can change the ratio of male to female birth.
His research shows that you could change the gender of frogs from male to female to male, the same actual animal and with viable eggs or viable sperm based on these minute changes in levels. He was hired by this company to do this research and they didn’t like what he found. They launched this giant smear campaign. It’s all documented. New York Times has a great piece on this. They will even go so far as to do Google Adwords. When you searched for this name, the first thing that would come up was that Tyrone Hayes is a fraud. They trace that back specifically to Syngenta and these research companies that were doing that.
Companies work hard to suppress any science that positions them in a negative light. When researchers do an analysis of industry-funded studies versus independently funded studies, they find that industry-funded studies, 95% of the time, position the outcome as favorable. That’s not the case with independent studies. It’s the opposite. They are like, “Here’s all the bad stuff that we found.” The problem is that those industry-funded studies, all the ones that show negative association, meaning a bad association, don’t publish them. They bury them. It never happened.
Reducing Our Exposure to Environmental Toxins
This next question plays off of what we talked about. We have all these exposures. Many of them are unavoidable but at the same time, there are ones that we have the power to avoid during the course of everyday life. I’m curious, can you share with us some easy and low-cost or free ways people can reduce their exposure?
My approach always starts with what’s free and easy. As I alluded to earlier, there are a lot of people that are disproportionately exposed to toxic chemicals. In particular, black and brown communities and people that are living in low-income communities have highly disproportionate exposures for a lot of different reasons. Most of them are classified as systemic environmental racism. There is that whole can of worms to open.
Low-income communities, a lot of times, have the least access to the organic shampoo and hand soap that everybody else on social media is touting. It makes this conversation about lowering your toxic burden inaccessible and privileged. That’s something that I’m frustrated by. I want to see a change in them in as many ways as possible.
Looking at it through that lens, what’s something that everybody, for the most part, can do? The best thing that people can do, first and foremost, to save people money is to stop buying and using air fresheners, scented candles, plug-ins, and sprays. I know this helps create a cozier home environment. There are other ways to achieve that but these are products that emit endocrine-disrupting chemicals, neurotoxins, and VOCs like benzene and toluene.
They don’t disappear. These chemicals get trapped in our homes. Phthalates, which are found in most fragrance products, are common in all of these home fragrances. There was a meta-analysis of house dust studies from around the world, looking at the chemical composition of things in people’s house dust, which is not a sexy topic. They found phthalates in 100% of samples because everybody is using products that contain fragrances. It might also be the kitchen cleaners under your sink, your perfume, shampoo, and personal care products.
All of those are a little bit harder to change. We start with throwing out and then don’t buy scented candles, plug-ins, air fresheners, etc. Ninety-nine percent of them are going to be a no-go. They are polluting your indoor air. First of all, clean doesn’t smell like anything. If you want your house to smell like cinnamon, get some cinnamon sticks and some water and boil them. If somebody has a little bit more disposable income, they might want to look at getting essential oils to diffuse. Don’t go overboard. Lots of reasons for that.
The number two thing which dovetails with that is opening your windows. I moved into a new home and was informed as I was signing my lease for the year, “The only windows that open are the ones in the bedroom.” I was like, “Why?” The living room and the kitchen have these giant picture windows. I want to open the windows. Every morning I wake up, I open the window in the bedroom. I opened the front door and the back door. It gets some cross-breeze in. That’s my solution. The reason for that is that homes were built starting in the 1970s and ‘80s to be energy-efficient. They continue to be built under this energy efficiency standpoint.
It might lower your heating and cooling costs but at a cost. The cost is air quality in our homes. The Environmental Protection Agency has found that the air in our homes is 5 to 10, all the way up to 100 times worse than outdoor air. Outdoor air has federal regulations. There is no federal agency or state agency that can regulate the air inside your home. That’s not how it works. It’s a private residence, and there’s no way they can control that. Oftentimes, the levels of chemicals that we have inside our home exceed what OSHA sets for workplace environments. Getting rid of the scented candles, opening your windows, and taking off your shoes is such a small thing.The Environmental Protection Agency has found that the air in our homes is 5 to 10 times, even up to 100 times worse than outdoor air. Click To Tweet
I was thinking of taking off your shoes. I have always done that. We don’t do that in this country. Other countries do. Why don’t we? To me, that’s common sense. You had a great post on that.
It’s a cultural difference. It’s not the intervention that’s going to be the most impactful but it is a thing that everybody can do. It’s not that we’re tracking in dog poop. We are tracking pesticides and heavy metals, especially if our home has carpeting. The carpet becomes a sink for those. It also means less washing the floors, to be honest. It’s less mess in the house.
Those are simple things people can do. Moving on from there, certainly, we can start systematically phasing out the use of plastics in our kitchen. In particular, when they come in contact with food. Sometimes it’s a behavior change. Instead of microwaving your food in plastic, put it on a plate and microwave it. Put it on a glass dish and microwave it. Even if it’s a microwave meal, pop it out of the microwavable plastic dish and put it on a regular plate to microwave it because the heating of plastics can release some of those hormone-disrupting compounds that we have into our bodies. These chemicals are so ubiquitous.
That’s a process. It certainly takes time. We want to minimize the purchase of any new plastics for lots of different reasons, including environmental, personal health, etc. That also means, eventually, no plastic cups, no plastic plates, and kids don’t need to be eating out of plastic. My favorite dishware is Corelle, which has been around for years. It’s a type of glass cookware.
There are endless roads that we can go down. Looking at your cleaning products and personal care products, we all start moving into these things. It’s going to start costing a little bit more money. People can start replacing their household cleaners that have strong-smelling fragrance-scented stuff that you get at the dollar store with vinegar.
It’s not a solution for everybody. Some people hate the smell of vinegar. For people that have respiratory issues or kids with respiratory issues, it can still be an irritant. We have to wiggle around some of these challenges. There are inexpensive ways for people to minimize their exposure to chemicals that are happening. Another free one that I will mention, which is not something that happens inside the home but outside the home, is don’t take cash register receipts.
They are thermal paper, which is paper that’s printed using heat without inks. It has the coding of bisphenol A, which is one of the most ubiquitous endocrine-disrupting chemicals. It’s in 93% of people tested by the CDC at least. In light of BPA-free plastics, that’s a little bit maybe because a lot of companies are using substitutive chemicals like BPS or BPAF that are molecularly identical. They have the same health effects. In some cases, worse health effects but it’s deceptive marketing on the part of manufacturing companies.
Thermal paper is a fairly significant exposure source if we are handling those. For people that are working in a retail setting, that is working as a cashier, a gas station, or a grocery store, I encourage those people to be wearing a nitrile glove or something like that and not handling those receipts all day because that is occupational exposure. These chemicals are metabolized as BPA and phthalates specifically. They are metabolized quickly.
The spike that goes up and goes down by the end of their shift or a couple of hours after their shift is evidence that these chemicals are being metabolized quickly. There is Dr. Leonardo Trasande, who is a pediatrician in New York, wrote a book called Sicker, Fatter, and Poorer about environmental chemicals because he has been studying this for over a decade. I have been following his work for that long.
In his book, he talks about these chemicals being drive-by chemicals. They are in there for a short time but they are still a problem when they are in there. CDC has found them in 93% of people tested, which tells us that even if they are being metabolized quickly, we are taking them in faster than we can excrete them.
Those are some fantastic tips, Lara. I appreciate the insight there and how simplistic they are, yet how powerful. It’s easy to implement. If you get into a routine of utilizing glass instead of plastic, eventually phasing those out, utilizing them in other areas of the home, taking your shoes off, and the receipts. That is brilliant to get some gloves. Most workplaces these days already have them available for their employees.
What hopefully is helpful for people to know is that the goal here is not zero toxins because it’s not possible. We can certainly drive ourselves to neurosis by talking about brain issues that push us into overwhelm and anxiety around these issues. It’s not helpful. We know stress is toxic in a way that it is harmful to our bodies. There is a balance here.
What we are aiming for is not zero. What we are aiming for is a reduction. I will give you an example of the benefit of reduction, not zero. There was some research that was looking at couples in fertility clinics trying to conceive. I don’t remember specifically if it was phthalates or BPA. I think it was phthalates. They were looking at the women that had the highest levels of phthalates that had a long time to conception to TTC. The women that had the lowest levels had the shortest. It wasn’t the women who had none. It was the women who had the lowest. Lower is what we are aiming for, not none. Just that difference could be enough to have a meaningful impact in that way.
It is not about a zero. It’s about doing what we can. I say this to maybe tamper any anxiety that this conversation brings up because it does. I’m not going to deny that. When it comes to these low levels of exposure that we are getting from our cash register receipt, a scented candle, or drinking out of a plastic cup, there’s no single exposure in those types of scenarios that’s going to matter. It is the cumulative exposure from these things every day, all day, over our lives.
What happens is when people sometimes start to learn about this, they start freaking out like, “I can’t touch that.” I’m like, “No, it’s okay. You can touch it. Don’t touch it that often. Don’t do it that often. Do it less. There is a balance here. It’s helpful if people are maybe starting to navigate this conversation for the first time and making changes because it feels like a lot. It can take years to slowly start phasing things out. It was seven years before I replaced my bed with a non-toxic one because I couldn’t afford the expensive bed that I wanted to get. I had to save up for it. It’s a journey.
As practitioners, we know the impact stress has on everybody’s system. I’m reminded of when I moved from California to North Carolina and how stressful that experience was. It took a toll on my body. I also appreciate you mentioning that. Our readers can be mindful that it’s not about zero. It’s about reduction. We don’t need to stress out about it. Be mindful and slowly incorporate these things into your life. Over time, I find that people notice that they feel better. They are changing other things, diet and so forth but every little thing that we can do, something as simple as a glass bowl versus a plastic bowl, can create change.
The way that I look at this process of addressing these toxic exposures is that we have to practice some behavior changes, take off our shoes, and open our windows. We have to be more selective with the products that we buy so that we are buying less toxic products. Avoidance is key here. The other thing that we do is turn down the volume on our exposure while turning up the volume on our body’s ability to naturally detoxify. That happens through good nutrition, good sleep, and things like sweating regularly, whether you do that in your home sauna, at a gym or out for a run.We can turn down the volume on toxic exposures while increasing our body's ability to naturally detoxify through good nutrition, good sleep, and sweating regularly. Click To Tweet
We want to support these natural processes because our bodies, in many instances, can eliminate these things. It just needs help. We need to provide our body with the nutrients that it needs to do that. This is where when we eat whole foods, nutrient-dense, lots of antioxidants, lots of dark leafy greens, and colorful foods. They’ve got vitamins and minerals that we need but specifically, they have compounds that our liver needs to successfully break things down. We need to be pooping. We need to make sure that we are hydrated. These are basic things. In combination with avoidance behaviors, you are helping flush the system faster than if you were doing avoidance behavior on its own.
Many people want to dive into an intense juice fast for two weeks and not do the lifestyle work of changing their diet, stress reduction, hydration and sleep. They dive into that, and that can create a lot of challenges for the body. I have one last question for you, Lara. This is my favorite question of all time because I have been deceived. We all have when it comes to personal care products and labels.
It’s a quick story. Not long ago, I was at Whole Foods looking for shampoo and conditioner. On a label, it said, “Pure zero.” I was like, “This looks great.” It had this long list of what was not in it. I was like, “Fantastic.” Silly me, I didn’t smell it. I should’ve smelled it. It looked good. I didn’t get the opportunity to smell it until I was in my shower.
Organic and Natural: Are They Free From Environmental Toxins?
It almost knocked me over, and I almost fell out of the shower. It was heavily scented with fragrance. There was no fragrance listed on the label. I could feel that this was very toxic. Can you share with us why we need to be mindful of the terms organic and natural and how the industry uses these terms to trick us?
Organic, as defined by the National Organic Standards Board, which is part of the USDA, is intended to define food crops or other non-food crops like cotton but can be cottonseed oil used in food, which is typically why cotton is considered organic or can be organic. That certification, that USDA organic seal, doesn’t extend to non-food crops.
What that means is the use of the word organic outside of food production or products that contain food-based ingredients in some skincare cannot carry the USDA seal, and be called organic. Another way of saying that is that word is not regulated as it pertains to its use in personal care products and household cleaners unless that product is using certified organic food-based ingredients. If you have a facial mask that has seaweed, honey, or lavender, these are all crops that can be certified organic.
I had taken a picture of these years ago. The company rebranded to something else. It was a Clairol line of shampoo called Organixs. I remember seeing that and being like, “My a**, that is not what you think. Give me a break.” What I always tell people is that the words on the front of a package are there to convince you, not to inform you. It’s marketing.
The language on your product packaging is marketing. It’s trying to tell you something about the product or divert your attention to other parts of the product. We can look at Pantene or these conventional hair products. They are trying to appeal to a more natural market set. They do that by changing the color of the packaging. Maybe it’s green or light green, and it has leaves on it. They will put things like, “It has avocado oil.” You are like, “That’s good for my hair.” It still has all the same garbage ingredients as the rest of its products.
The word natural is not regulated. It doesn’t mean anything as it pertains to personal care products. It’s the same thing with organic. The natural and organic skincare and personal care product sector in the industry is the fastest growing industry that has pretty steady growth year-over-year. What happens is you got the large players in manufacturing. Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, L’Oreal, those big players are like, “We want a piece of that pie because that slice of the pie is getting bigger than our slice of the pie.”
That’s where we get this concept of greenwashing, where you have companies that present themselves as being more natural than they are. That’s a huge problem. Conversely, on the other side of the spectrum, you have companies that maybe do have cleaner ingredients but are also guilty of having these like, “Look at us. Our company has no list. None of these ingredients are in our skincare products.” When you look at that list, you might find half a dozen ingredients that are not permitted to be in skincare in the first place or would never be in skincare in the first place. They are padding their lists out with things that don’t mean anything.
We see this with nail polish. Nail polish started with the three free, which is good. Being manufactured without benzene, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate, which are the three worst chemicals that were used in nail polish. It’s highly toxic. Evidence research shows that even painting them on your nails or being in a salon, results in those chemicals being in your bloodstream within minutes. The company started phasing those out and saying, “We don’t use those three free.”
It became a game of one-upmanship in the industry. It was five free. They took out a couple of other compounds, and then it was 7 free, 9 free, 10 free, 13 free, and 15 free. They are like, “There are no animal ingredients in there.” There never was in nail polish but that allows them to appeal to the vegan consumer market. It’s exhausting.
Unfortunately, being an informed consumer is the only way that we navigate this because there is deception on all sides of this space. It’s not just the big multinational companies. Navigating this minefield is a little bit tricky. There are certifications that I like to look for on products like MADE SAFE. It is a third-party certifier that takes a close look at ingredients that are in products. They sign NDAs with all of their companies which means that they are looking at ingredients that aren’t even on the label because labeling loss doesn’t require every ingredient to be listed there.
MADE SAFE is a great third-party certification to look for with the caveat that a lot of products that are made safe certified or other certifications are less accessible to people that are living in low-income communities. Costco is our largest seller of organic foods, Target, Walmart, CVS, and all of these big box stores, which are lifeline retailers. Walmart, for a lot of communities, sometimes it’s the only grocery store they have. Walmart sells a ton of organic food.
Walmart and Target, (not a lot) but they do carry lines of skincare and personal care products. You can get your Dr. Bronner’s soap there. You can get Acure cleansers and shampoos. There are options that are more accessible to people. It’s not most of them but back to certifications, MADE SAFE is a great certification that I look for. They are a newer company. They don’t have a ton of product categories. It’s mostly skincare but they do have some mattresses and baby-related products, etc.
Thank you so much for that, Lara. Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers now?
This is a topic that can be heavy, overwhelming, and scary. I don’t want it to be. It doesn’t have to be. If people start being open to making small changes like, “Maybe this month, I’m going to do this habit, and all of next month, I will add something new, and maybe next month, I will tackle the plastic spatula in the kitchen and swap them for stainless steel.” Take a slow, systematic approach, take a deep breath, and remind yourself that there is no one single exposure for these types of exposures that are likely to be meaningful on their own. It is what we are exposed to every day, all day, and we want to do our best to minimize that. Anything that you are doing is better than nothing.Anything that you are doing is better than nothing to reduce toxic exposures. Click To Tweet
I appreciate your wisdom, your passion, and all that you do to help people. Bless you, and thank you again for coming on the show.
I’m glad to be here and share all this information.
Thanks for hanging out with us during this episode. I certainly learned a lot, and I’m grateful to Lara for her passion and dedication to helping us understand the role toxins play in our lives. You can find Lara at LaraAdler.com.
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- New Yorker – A Valuable Reputation article
- Sicker, Fatter, Poorer
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