A recent case cited in the daily papers showed that 500 dangerous man-made chemicals were present in a single fat cell of a seemingly healthy 30-year-old female living in Britain today. By comparison, a single cell of an Egyptian mummy contained none. Despite the many scientific breakthroughs over the last five decades, we have seen a steady increase in killer diseases such as cancers, heart disease and diabetes. Could this increase be related to the constant chemical cocktail that have become a routine part of modern life? The number of products used by adults and children that contain potential carcinogens and other dangerous chemicals alike has become alarming. The following article is an outline of research by individuals who are becoming increasingly concerned about the toxic chemical overload in our bodies from foods, household and personal care products.
Organic versus Non-organic FoodsAn article in the December 1999 issue of Positive Health by Dr Joseph Keon is an excellent case in the argument for eating organic foods.1 Taken from his book The Truth About Breast Cancer, he states that every time we choose conventionally farmed foods over organic we are increasing our cumulative exposure to unnecessary chemicals and increasing our risk of disease.2 It is estimated that if you follow a non organic diet, you will consume about 150mcg of pesticides each day.3 Methyl bromide, classed as a Category-1 Acute Toxin, is used to grow strawberries, but it is known to cause severe poisonings that can result in neurological damage and reproductive harm.4In addition, by choosing non organic foods we are supporting the continued poisoning of the earth’s soil, air and water with both legal and illegal pesticides. Some of the most dangerous pesticides that have been banned in the United States are still manufactured there and exported to other countries, only to be imported on produce bound for US markets. Chlordane, a pesticide banned in the US has been detected on fish, rice, mushrooms and beef that are imported into the US.5
Tanyia Maxted-Frost, author of The Organic Baby Book, details how chemical pesticides and fertilisers can be passed on to and have detrimental effects on the developing foetus.6 She also highlights that our daily diet is reported to contain residues of some 30 different artificial chemicals, as well as routine antibiotics, growth hormones, colourants in the case of egg yolks and farmed fish, and of course GM ingredients.
The sheer selection of organic foods available nowadays in supermarkets shows that public demand has increased, as emphasized by Dr Keon. One can reduce toxic chemical intake by switching to organic; however, we have to learn to cook fresh wholesome meals using only organic ingredients, which often involves a complete lifestyle change. Energetic testing of organic food compared to that grown with the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers shows a much higher vibrational frequency. Conventional scientific studies are now confirming that the vitamin and mineral content of organic food is significantly higher than non-organic foods. At Rutgers University researchers compared the mineral quality of organic and non-organically grown foods. It was found that on average organic foods had an 87 percent higher content of magnesium, potassium, manganese, iron and copper. Organic tomatoes were found to have 500% more calcium than conventional tomatoes.7
Deadly toxins in our foodsLeaving aside the organic/non-organic debate, the greater exposure we have to pre-packaged and ready-made meals the more susceptible we are to two particularly dangerous chemicals: monosodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartame, an artificial sweetener. Dr Russell Blaylock, neurosurgeon and author of Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills, warns us of the hazards of these deadly toxins. MSG, famed for ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’ is also a flavour enhancer that is added to crisps, packet soups and other processed foods. The effect of MSG in the body has been linked to a large number of diseases such as lupus, cancer, strokes, chronic hepatitis, nervous system infections and neuro-degenerative diseases.8 Aspartame, an artificial sweetener found in diet drinks and food, soft drinks and sweets has been linked to cancers, headaches, migraines and hyperactivity.
Household toxinsSince World War II that there has been a dramatic increase in the development and manufacture of dangerous chemical toxins, which were initially produced for use in warfare. After the war, domestic uses were found for surplus stocks in the improvement of household cleaning and personal care products, laundry detergents and other everyday items including synthetic drugs. This move ensured the future of this industry and guaranteed huge profits, increasing from £1 billion per year in 1940 to £400 billion in the 1980s.9 It is little known that washing the dishes or polishing furniture using conventional cleaners could jeopardize your health.Dr Samuel Epstein, co-author of The Safe Shoppers Bible says, “Since 1965 more than 4 million distinct chemical compounds have been reported in the scientific literature; of these, 70,000 are in commercial production and have been completely untested or inadequately tested, which raises questions about their safety.”10
If you can’t eat it don’t breathe itMany cleaning materials involve the use of sprays or aerosol cans; this format enables the dangerous substances to be propelled into the atmosphere in the form of microscopic particles, which can be inhaled. Dr Epstein states that concentrations of toxic chemicals may be greater indoors than outdoors as they are less able to be dispersed. According to a 5-year-study carried out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), peak concentrations of 20 toxic compounds, some linked with cancer and birth defects, were 200-500 times higher inside some homes than outdoors.11There are many ways to ingest toxic household chemicals; even if we scrub the bath with the window open we would still inhale some of the fumes, and simply by holding a rag or sponge cloth doused with cleaner ensures absorption through the skin. The innocuous act of eating off plates washed with conventional detergents is potentially harmful due to detergent residues contaminating the food. Similarly, residues from washing detergents can be absorbed through the skin from clothes.Researcher Alfred Zam suggests “If you can’t eat it don’t breathe it.” Many pre-war household cleaning items were made from foodstuffs e.g. vinegar, borax, lemon juice, beeswax.12
Toxic ToiletriesMany people examine the labels on their food, but how many of us are wise enough to check the labels on our personal care products? The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health found that 884 chemicals used in personal care products and cosmetics are known to be toxic.13 In fact, many of the ingredients used in personal care products are the very same harsh chemical toxins used in Industry.Sodium laurel sulphate and similarly, sodium laureth sulphate (SLS) are common detergents that are used in most shampoos, bubble baths, shower gels and other cleansers. SLS is also used to clean garage floors and to degrease engines. Dr K. Green has researched into the use of SLS, and found alarming results: the eyes readily absorb SLS, destroying delicate tissues there. This uptake is also greater in younger mammals.14 In short, it permanently impairs the normal functioning of eyes. Is it any wonder that so many children wear spectacles these days? In addition to these findings, the American Journal of Toxicology has found that SLS irritates skin tissue, corrodes hair follicles, and impairs the ability to grow hair. It also enters and maintains residual levels in the heart, liver, lungs and brain.15 Many sufferers of scalp complaints have eased their conditions simply by using a SLS-free shampoo.Another such chemical is propylene glycol. Its industrial use is as anti-freeze, but it is also included in hair conditioners, deodorants, cosmetics, body lotions, skin creams and toothpaste. Increasingly, it is being added to human and pet foods because it acts as a humectant, helping to retain moisture. When used in skin creams it glides on smoothly, drawing moisture to the outer layers of the skin, giving the appearance of moisturising the skin. Material safety data sheets, which give handling instructions for hazardous chemicals, state that propylene glycol is implicated in contact dermatitis, kidney damage and liver abnormalities; it also causes eye irritation, skin irritation, nausea and headaches. The American Academy of Dermatologists showed that propylene glycol was a primary irritant to the skin even in low concentrations.16These two ingredients I have dealt with in detail because they are in the majority of personal care products. They are even used in ‘hypoallergenic’ products and baby products that are considered to be safe and gentle, yet still contain these harsh toxins.Often so-called natural products contain SLS and propylene glycol. Adding essential oils and natural herbs to these harmful chemicals destroys any therapeutic properties from the natural ingredients.Possibly the most dangerous chemicals to be included in personal care products are the ammonia derivatives which are known to have hormone disrupting effects. This includes diethanolamine (DEA), triethanolamine (TEA) and monoethanolamine (MEA). These chemicals are used to thicken and cleanse and are added to soaps, bubble baths and facial cleansers. They are not carcinogenic in themselves; however, when combined with products containing nitrates, a common preservative, a dangerous chemical reaction takes place leading to the formation of nitrosamines. Most nitrosamines are carcinogenic. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US recognized this threat; in the 1970s it urged the industry to remove these products from its cosmetics, however a FDA report in the late 1980s found that 37 per cent of products tested still contained nitrosamines.17 Dr Epstein recommends we boycott products containing DEA and TEA.Industrial alcohol is a major ingredient in mouthwash. The National Cancer Institute of America has found that mouthwashes with an alcohol content of 25% or higher have been implicated in mouth, tongue and throat cancers. The alcohol acts as a solvent in the mouth, making the skin tissues more vulnerable to carcinogens. Also, men had a 60% higher risk and women a 90% higher risk of these cancers compared to those not using mouthwash.18 Aluminium is a metal that is widely used in antiperspirants, processed foods, soft drink cans, foil and cookware. Dr Daniel Perl, Director of Neuropathology at Mount Sinai Medical Centre in New York recommends we avoid the use of aerosol antiperspirants. He has found that aluminium in aerosol form may be more readily absorbed into the brain through the nasal passages. Studies show that regular use of these products can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s by as much as 3 times.19As stated by Dr Samuel Epstein, the use of these harsh chemicals would not be such a problem if the skin did not readily absorb them. Some chemicals can penetrate the skin in significant amounts, especially when left on the skin. A recent case that made headline news found traces of 350 man-made chemicals, including residues from personal care products, in human breast milk.
Long term effectsThe reality of modern living is that many of us are suffering from the adverse effects of a highly chemicalized lifestyle. Some of these poisons affect delicate organs and glands, whilst others are stored in the fatty tissues of the body. As more poisonous chemicals are absorbed, sensitivities increase in their severity, resulting in often chronic debilitating diseases.Symptoms often include headaches, nausea, fatigue, depressed immune responses and joint pain, to the more severe, such as increases in birth defects and problems, attention deficit disorder (ADD), emphysema, asthma, skin complaints, cancers and multiple sclerosis. As Dr Epstein sums up, the problem is that the process is so gradual that the cause is not established.20
The FutureThis article has been written to increase awareness of what may be compared to the next tobacco scandal, in which the hazards of tobacco smoking were known 20 years prior to being made public. In twenty years time it may be too late for many of us, when celebrities begin advertising products without these harmful chemicals.So what can we do to protect ourselves from this chemical invasion?I do not believe that it is possible to be 100% chemical free and live in the modern world. We can however take responsibility for our health by following the advice of experts and eat as much organic food where possible, preferably freshly cooked. We can also begin to read food and product labels, avoiding those that contain harmful ingredients and instead using safer and ecological alternatives to conventional household and personal care products.
1. Keon Joseph. The Arguments For Eating Organic Foods. Positive Health Issue 47. Dec 1999.
2. Keon Joseph. The Truth About Breast Cancer. Parissound Publishing. CA 1999.
3. Ames Bruce. Ranking possible carcinogenic hazards. Science 236:272. 1957.
4. Funding a Better Ban: Smart Spending on Methyl Bromide Alternatives in Developing Countries. Pesticide Action Network. 1997.
5. Hitchcock DC Lee. Long Life Now. Celestial Arts. Berkeley p222.1997.
6. Maxted-Frost, Tanyia. The Organic Baby Book. Green Books 1999.
7. Journal of Applied Nutrition. 45 1993.
8. Blaylock, Russell. Excitotoxins, The Taste That Kills. Health Press. ISBN 0929173252. 1996.
9. Silver, Nina. Toxic Products and Deceptive Labels. Nexus. Feb-March 2000.
10. Steinman D and Epstein S. The Safe Shoppers Bible. Macmillan. ISBN 002682685. 1995.
11. Ibid page 17.
12. Zamm, Alfred and Gannon, Robert. Why Your House May Endanger Your Health. Simon and Shuster, New York. 1980.
13. Steinman D and Epstein S. The Safe Shoppers Bible. Macmillan ISBN 002682685. 1995.
14. Green, K. Detergent Penetration into Young and Adult Eyes. Dept of Ophthalmology. Medical College of GA.
15. Brant et al. The final report on the safety assessment of TEA, DEA, MEA. Journal of the American College of Toxicology 2(7):183-235.1983.
16. Joseph M et al. Propylene Glycol Dermatitis. Journal Of The American Academy of Dermatology 24:90-95. 1991.
17. FDA, Division of Colours and Cosmetics. Progress Report on the analysis of cosmetic products and raw materials for nitrosamines.1 March 1988. Washington DC.GPO. 1988.
18. Blot WJ et al. Oral Cancer and Mouthwash. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 70. 1983.
19. Graves et al. The Association between aluminium containing products and Alzheimer’s Disease. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 43(1): 35-44. 1990
20. Steinman D and Epstein S. The Safe Shoppers Bible. Macmillan. ISBN 002682685. 1995.