Here’s a site you’ll want to be familiar with: ewg.org. That stands for Environmental Working Group, which is a consumer education and advocacy organization. And importantly, they have invested heavily to create databases for checking on toxicity.
I’m particularly excited about the guide to household cleaners because…well, I’m not a scientist. I had no previous way of knowing whether my goods were what they claimed. And guess what? Some of my “green” labeled products came up with FAILING ratings. What? Yeah. Charlie’s Soap products, which were sitting in my cabinet when I found the database and began searching.
Not all the databases are perfect (being updated often, but not perfect), and of course some of the opinions are subject to your health philosophy (like saturated fat in raw organic cheese being flagged as unhealthful; you probably know I’m a butter-fat advocate, in moderation).
But if you’ve been frustrated by the lack of ingredients on your cleaning products, or the lack of your own knowledge on how to interpret the ingredients which are listed on your personal care products, these sites are for you!
Oh, there are some Apps too…check your app store for EWG. The privately created ThinkDirty app is nifty too…barcode scans your personal care items!
Have you used any of these databases? Have you had ingredient revelations?
I like to think of my toxic load as a bathtub: water (toxins in this analogy) are flowing in at the tap, and flowing out at the drain. If the drain is plugged, the bathtub gets fuller. If the tap is turned up very high, the bathtub may be getting fuller even if the drain is working. In terms of the toxins stored in our “toxic bathtub” the goal would be to turn down the faucet as low as possible, and to make sure the drain is wide open and draining faster than the water coming in. If this is accomplished, eventually the bathtub will empty and only the daily toxins coming in will flow right on through.
Toxins Coming In
We live in a toxic world, and it’s pretty hard to completely escape modern day toxins. Even if we could, our own metabolic processes in our bodies create toxins to be expelled daily. If we weren’t detoxing all. the. time. we would die. Like, within a day.
Nonetheless, it seems prudent to avoid the toxins of:
Heavy metals which may accumulate in tissues/bones
Off-gassing of chemicals from household products
Chemicals and metals in our water supply
Die-off toxins from internal bacteria/fungus/viruses
Stress from emotional baggage
Much of this blog has been dedicated to these topics.
Organ Systems and Cells
The toxins in our bodies are varied, and are stored in differing areas of our bodies. For example, an imbalance of bacteria in gut flora may be creating a significant toxic load in my colon, even without symptoms I connect to that organ of my body. I may have a high level of lead, stored in my bones. I may have petrochemical chemicals stored in my skin, along with parabens, pthalates (fragrance) and sunscreens (which can all act as hormone mimickers) from years of lotion and cosmetics use. I may have formaldehyde stored in my cells, fungal/yeast toxins and mercury in my brain. My fat cells may have antibiotic residues, chemical cleaners, medications, synthetic vitamins, pesticides, rancid/hydrogenated oils, and styrofoam. (Some researchers feel that cellulite may have a larger portion of these kinds of toxins, which the body has put in “cold storage” to protect itself.) Although not the kind of chemical toxins that are stored in the body, electromagnetic fields are toxic to our bodies while we are present in them, and may inhibit our detox pathways for hours after exposure. I recommend the book Zapped by Gittleman for limiting exposure to EMFs.
The organs and glands of the body may all be holding any of the toxins in the list above; often certain toxins have an affinity for specific organ systems.
There are 5 mains paths of detoxification: Colon, kidneys, liver (and thus through colon), skin, and lungs.
Where do we start?
I know, it can be overwhelming. First, congratulations that you’ve made it this far, even without much planned detoxing support! Next, make a plan.
[Remember: I’m not a licensed health care provider, and I can’t diagnose, treat or cure any disease. Nothing you read on my blog is a substitute for advice from your doctor.]
1. Turn down the faucet. Start to remove as many toxic sources as possible. No, you can’t do it all this week, but START. Food always seems to be an obvious one to most people, but don’t forget that everything that touches your skin gets absorbed, without the benefit of stomach acid and your liver as a filter. So think laundry detergent, any lotions or creams put on skin, deodorant. Your lungs absorb so much of what you breathe in; so open your windows each night to air out your house. See, you’ve already made huge progress!
I recommend the book Homes that Heal as a good resource for reducing toxins in your immediate environment.
2. Flush. Drink all your water every day. Even if you can’t buy a really good water purifier this month, get a Brita which takes out some of the bad stuff. Everyone (unless your Dr. has you restricted) should be drinking half their body weight in ounces, every day (that means, if you weigh 150lbs, you are drinking 75oz water). Herbal tea counts as water, but add 8oz water for 8oz coffee or black tea consumed. Juice, milk, etc. don’t count for anything. Don’t drink soda. Just don’t.
3. Begin to cleanse the detox pathways, colon, kidneys, liver, skin, lungs, in roughly that order. I have read a lot of detox books/methods over the years, and done several types of cleanses. I recommend the book Inner Transformations by Deardueff as one book with several suggestions on cleansing each of these pathways, and even further into non-pathway systems. The author recommends some tried and true methods like Master Cleanse, veggie juicing, Candida diet, coffee enemas, Epsom Salt baths, skin brushing, as well as specific products to try.
4. Food. Yes, this is important. Not just to get clean sources (organic, grass-fed, etc.), but to have a broad spectrum of foods in fruit, veggie, proteins, and fats categories (dairy and grains not required for cleansing, and often inhibit cleansing). My experience has been that a Paleo type diet is a great jump start for food cleansing, but I recognize that Vegan diets are good cleanses too (think veggie juicing!). However, I don’t think that long term the Vegan approach supplies enough quality proteins/amino acids for some crucial metabolic detox processes. The book It Starts With Food is a good read if you feel helpless to change your diet.
Some foods that are super cleansers are fermented foods (homemade sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, etc.), dark leafy greens, the whole cabbage/broccoli family, the artichoke family, citrus, berries, and fresh fats/oils like coconut, cod liver oil, flaxseed, and avocado. But really, the fermented ones top the list.
5. Exercise/Sweat. I don’t love to exercise, but I feel more energetic and happier when I do. I use the T-Tapp 15 minute workout because it is very lymphatic; focuses on opening up the lymph channels and pumping lymph fluid (clear fluid in our bodies that does not have a pump like the heart pumps the blood). Any “pressing” type movement such as walking, running, or trampoline moves lymph, and this is very important for daily detox. In addition, when we sweat, we release toxins through the skin; terry-towel off that sweat if you’re not showering immediately.
6. Essential Oils. In the past year I have begun to study therapeutic vs. fragrance use of essential oils, and have begun to introduce them into our family as therapies. We have seen a few mild detox reactions, but I have heard and seen more dramatic reactions from others beginning EO therapy. Many EOs do have the ability to cleanse cells of petrochemicals and even do some chelation of heavy metals. Because EOs are absorbed directly into the cells, and can be within every cell in the body (even brain cells) in about 20 minutes, they carry huge potential for detoxification. Lemon juice squeezed in water has long been a detox standby, but a drop of lemon essential oil is far more potent and powerful than the juice; best to start very slowly before ramping up to one drop per glass of water (glass only, no plastic!).
Because of their ability to penetrate every cell in the body, it is very important to have absolutely pure essential oils, from a distillery which preserves every naturally occurring (balancing) chemical constituent. At this time I only recommend Young Living brand EOs (see my Essential Oils tab above).
Essential oils can also assist with emotional detox by opening up hormone pathways, and stimulating the lymbic area of the brain which stores memories and emotions (and is the area which receives signals from scents). I believe that Jesus is the true answer to the needs of our souls/emotions, and that Scripture which reveals Him is cleansing to our minds. I have found that repeating Scriptures to myself which relate to my emotional needs, within a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, have helped me to heal past hurts, depression, and unload emotional baggage.
Detoxing is good, but too much, too fast can create some uncomfortable detox side effects: rash, itching, headache, sinus drainage, feeling hot, feeling grumpy, restlessness, loose bowel, nausea, tiredness. It’s likely that the longer a person has been pursuing a detox lifestyle (has a less-full bathtub) the less they will experience these reactions. When these symptoms do strike, here are some things I have done to ease them:
Rest/sleep (it takes a lot of internal work to detox!)
Epsom salt baths (pull toxins out through the skin so it doesn’t all have to flow through liver/colon/kidneys)
Coffee enemas (no more than once a week, and only done in a safe way with electrolytes in the enema)
Cease heavy exercise; stretch instead
Go back over the list of toxins to find ways to “turn the faucet down” more
Consider backing off the detox of the moment, then ramp it up again more slowly.
Although we should discuss diet/exercise/detox plans with our doctor anyway, there are some situations which require a doctor’s help for detox. These would include chelation for heavy metal poisoning, heavy industrial chemical poisoning, and advanced cardiovascular disease chelation. A doctor knowledgeable in environmental medicine would be worth enlisting in these cases; it’s likely that he/she will be recommending at least some of the ideas above, so the more educated a person is about home therapies for detox, the faster their progress will be.
Additionally, some people have genetically faulty metabolic processes for detoxification; MTHFR gene defect, inability to methylate B vitamins, insufficient amino acid production, anemia of many types, thyroid and other hormone insufficiency, etc. A knowledgeable integrative doctor will be able to test for these types of disorders and recommend simple solutions to underlying causes. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking the right form of a B vitamin.
Detox for Life
I’m not going to sugar coat this: if you are new to detoxing, it will likely be a year of intentional detoxing before you feel really clean, and then an ebb and flow of maintenance detoxing thereafter. But, the benefit of having more energy and joy, and feeling lighter (if not actually BEING lighter) will make it worth it. You may never know the health crises you’ve dodged by keeping your toxic bathtub empty.
Q: In addition to using the test for fake olive oil, what comments do you have for all of us on buying cold pressed olive oil?
A:Oils and fats (butter, olive oil, coconut oil, etc.) is the category of foods which I prioritize as #1 for switching to organic. (See the Organic Food tab for my list.) So I’m always looking for that Organic seal when buying olive oil. However, if you can’t find an organic olive oil which hardens in the fridge, then the certification has been falsified (every system has cheaters I guess), so I would then look for an oil from a small family farm in the US. My reasoning is that family farms tend to make more conscientious choices, and sometimes have organic practices but can’t afford the certifications.
Also, you already mentioned “cold pressed olive oil” which is a great thing to point out: the processing of the oil does have an effect on the final product. Cold pressing avoids damaging the unsaturated parts of the oil, which would set it up for rancidity before it makes it to your kitchen. “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” is the first press of the olives; the subsequent presses produce a lower grade of olive oil, with fewer of it’s healthy properties…sometimes called “light olive oil” because it has less of the distinctive olive flavor. There is no difference in caloric value. I only buy cold pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Another thought is that glass is an inert material for the oil bottle…a large jug of oil in plastic isn’t a great idea, even if it’s one of the lesser toxic plastics. Most high quality EVOO that I see today is sold in dark green glass bottles, which can make it difficult to see the color/flavor profile, but which protects it from degradation/rancidity caused by light. Light and heat are what you should strive to protect your oil from as it’s stored.
Speaking of flavor profile…this seems to be it’s own art, like wine tasting. My (very!) simplified understanding is that greener means a sharper flavor and golden means a more mellow flavor. What you choose is up to your own palate!
The best way to enjoy olive oil is cold, as in salad dressing. I also like to pour it over steamed vegetables like broccoli, and top with Pecorino (a sheep cheese similar to Parmesan). Enjoy!
Looking for a way to replace the easy “Pam spray” in your baking? This Misto bottle can be filled with your Hugh quality olive oil, then pumps up for 15 seconds of aerosol type spraying. Perfect for greasing pans for baking, or as an easy way to distribute oil on veggies for grilling.
Pam is made with toxic refined oils…and then new olive oil versions still have emulsifiers and propellant chemicals added. This is a way for you to avoid all that, and it’s much more sustainable than a can that goes in the landfill.
Costco is selling two packs of these handy things for about $16. One for yourself, and one to give as a Christmas gift!
Opening our 4 gallon bucket of raw, local apple blossom honey is an event each September. We all stand around the bucket, waiting for the first whiffs of flowery sweetness. It’s creamy. I spoon it into jars to avoid using a pickaxe later after it hardens.
This year we bought 2 four gallon buckets, and we are nearing the end.
I had read about honey being diluted with corn syrup, so I did a little searching. Looks like that’s not the worst of it; much commercial, highly filtered honey may be imported illegally to the US from China or India and carry chemicals and heavy metals.
Read this link to see the importance of leaving the pollen in the honey; it can be tracked as true honey.
Yes, I am aware of ewg.org. It’s a great idea, however, I haven’t found it to be very helpful.
In this instance, the formula reviewed is out of date. You could technically look up all the ingredients in the new formula, but you have to use your best judgement in determining whether they are harmful. For example, SODIUM LAUROYL SARCOSINATE listed in this formula is a foaming agent, similar to the toxic SLS. Both carry “increased absorption” as a reason for danger. So if SLS is toxic, and is mixed with other toxic chemicals, they are going to be absorbed more fully by your stripped skin. If there’s not so much other bad stuff to absorb in the formula, then it’s not as much of a concern in my mind.
Also, I was disappointed at how low the rating was for a potentially toxic aluminum product, the deodorant crystal. You can read my review in my blog post about deodorants.
Unfortunately, this site does not seem to have enough staffing to keep up with a lot of products, or to have a scientist actually consider each product as a whole, and the data gap seems too large on many items. So it’s a place we can get SOME information, but I think we should still realize we’re gonna have to educate ourselves to protect ourselves. ~BD
Not everyone can tolerate dairy products, but for those who can, it is a rich source of minerals, protein, and healthy saturated fats IF sourced from healthy animals. Some people groups in Africa thrive on a diet made up nearly entirely of raw milk from their herds.
Change from conventional milk to organic milk. Skim, 1% and 2% milks have thickeners added to them; opt out by choosing whole milk. Homogenization has been linked to arterial plaque; opt out by choosing unhomogenized. Your choice to skim the cream for your coffee, or shake the whole jug before pouring. Raw milk (unpasteurized) from pastured (grassfed) animals is the BEST milk, as it is richest in minerals, enzymes and probiotics. Dungeness Valley Creamery supplies this delicious cow milk to WA state; if you prefer goat milk, search for a local source.
Change from conventional yogurt, cottage cheese, and kefir, to organic products, or make your own from raw/organic/pastured milk.
Change from conventional butter, sour cream, and cream to organic butter, sour cream, and cream. Conventional butter was listed on a recent “top ten most toxic foods” list, which is not surprising since so many of todays petrochemical toxins settle in the fats of animals. Yet organic butters and cream have been highly revered by healthy indigenous people groups for their health giving properties.
Change from conventional cheese to raw, organic cheese, if you can find it (see notes about raw milk below).
Change from “soy dairy” products (soy milk, soy protein) to almond, hemp, hazelnut, or rice milks (hemp having the best nutrition, and it’s delicious) if cow/goat dairy is not tolerated. Organic coconut oil can be used in place of butter for those with a dairy allergy. See note below on why I avoid soy.
If lactose intolerance is the reason you avoid dairy products, try culturing your own yogurt from organic milk. When you use a 24 hours process to culture the yogurt (or kefir if desired), nearly no lactose is present at the end of the process. Making yogurt and kefir is not difficult; find directions here. The long culturing process yields a very sour “European” flavor, which can be sweetened if you desire with jams, maple syrup, or honey. I have found that fresh goat milk loses its “goaty” aftertaste when cultured this long. The same process for 24 hour yogurt can be done with whipping cream for amazingly delicious Creme Fraiche.
Some people find that they can tolerate goat and sheep milk products if cow products bother them. Others find that raw milk (unpasturized) is tolerated as it has all the enzymes and probiotics intact to aid in digestion. In addition, high heat pasteurization appears to damage the protein molecule in milk. (The stable saturated fats in cream/butter seem to hold up better to heat than the protein in the milk, making pasteurized butter/cream still a great choice.)
Worried about contamination? Studies which purposefully introduced pathogenic bacteria into raw milk (still “living” with enzymes, probiotics, and immune factors) show that the milk protects itself by destroying pathogenic bacteria. Conversely, pasturized (“dead”) milk no longer carries this protection; hundreds are made sick on pasturized milk annually in the US. Once milk is cultured (into cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc.) this risk is lowered by the competing bacteria of the culture. Certified Raw dairies undergo far stricter testing of products than conventional dairies.
Trader Joes has the best prices around (by far) for a full range of organic dairy products. I buy butter, cream, sour cream, and cottage cheese there. They also have a stunning selection of cheeses, most at fabulous prices. I sometimes buy the Grassfed Cheddar (New Zealand), and sometimes the Raw Cheddar. We also love the Cotswold cheese from England (which is neither organic, or raw, but you can taste the richness of the milk which makes me confident the cows are grazing grass). The Shredded Parmesan cheese (in a bag) is a raw cheese (and high in absorbable calcium); and excellent choice.
I make my own kefir from Dungeness Valley raw milk, which we drink on occasion as well, when I’m not making it into pudding, ice cream, etc.
Goat milk is best fresh (for flavor), so I don’t really recommend buying it from Trader Joes, although if that is your only option (say for a toddler who can’t tolerate cow milk) I would certainly recommend it over any “milk substitute”. Best to find a local dairy for raw milk (as I have), or if you are inclined, buy a goat as a pet which actually contributes to the family table!
If you have to use dairy substitutes, hemp milk is cheaper when you buy a case through a co-op; this option may be available at your health food store. You can make your own rice milk really cheap (and pretty easy) using this Rice Milk Recipe.
Conventional dairy products in the US come from “factory farmed” cows, which may or may not ever see a pasture, but most certainly dine on soy and corn based feed laced with pesticides, antibiotics, and by-products from slaughter houses. In some states, farms are allowed to inject the cows with growth hormones with cause them to produce more milk, which wears out the cow and results in fewer productive years (but at heavier production) before going to the slaughterhouse herself. (This is not allowed in OR or WA.) Since the food she receives (grain based) is such a poor diet for her, she is likely to be sick often, and treated with antibiotics. You can bet that all the toxins going into her make their way into her milk, and the butter, cheese, yogurt, and other products made from it.
Conventional soy is one of the most pesticide laden crops in the US, and even organic soy can hardly boast a health claim as soy is an endocrine disruptor (mimics estrogen in the body). There are tons of “studies” done to show the “health benefits” of soy. Guess who pays for these studies, and their publicity? The Soy Industry. Lesser known studies link soy formulas to early puberty in girls, delayed or decreased fertility in boys, and doubling of diabetes risk for all children. I avoid it like the plague (except fermented soy products used in traditionally small amounts, such as Tamari).
Is Organic Certification Necessary?
Although USDA Organic certification brings with it peace of mind for the consumer, there is a cost to the farmer (passed on to the consumer) for this rubber stamp. You may be able to find a local dairy which can demonstrate to you the health and humane treatment of their animals, and quality of their product so that you don’t need the label to feel good about using their products. Especially important is to inquire about the feed of their animals; even a cow fed 100% organic grain but kept in the feedlot will not be as healthy as the cow allowed to graze on green grasses.
Naturally preserved lunch meats/hot dogs (those labeled “uncured” or “no nitrites”) ARE cured (often with celery juice or powder), and DO have nitrites, sometimes in greater amounts than their conventional counterparts. In other words, they are are “safe” from spoilage as the others, but if you thought you were not eating nitrites, think again.
Some people think a nitrite is the same as any other nitrite, but Applegate describes the difference between the synthetic and natural nitrites in this way:
“Synthetic sodium nitrite is created by the absorption of nitrogen oxides (derived from ammonia compounds) in a liquid solution of either sodium carbonate or sodium hydroxide. The resulting slurry is dried and pink dye is added to distinguish it from table salt. According to the Food Chemical Codex (3rd addition, National Academy of Sciences), industrial sodium nitrite is allowed to contain residual heavy metals, arsenic and lead. While some may say, “nitrites are nitrites,” those derived from celery juice and sea salt are clearly different, and the USDA agrees, hence the different labeling requirements for products cured this way.”
TheFDA has to date not allowed the natural meat industry to clarify the actual ingredients/process on their packaging.
For my part, I feel far more comfortable feeding my family what is naturally occurring in celery, than a synthetic version with residual heavy metals of arsenic and lead.