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I’ve been putting off writing about this topic because it can seem like one of the pieces of healing from autoimmune disease that seems way too overwhelming for a lot of folks. I’m writing about it now hopefully in an approachable and informational way, because I do think a lot of these areas are worthy of investigation by anyone suffering from autoimmune disease (and honestly, healthy people too!).
I’m going to start by saying that I in no way advocate trying to “live in a bubble” or freaking out about perfection as far as this area goes. Part of living in the modern world comes with the realization that we are going to encounter toxins in our daily lives… this is a sadly a part of living on this planet in this day and age. The good news is that we have an organ that does the work of detoxifying and eliminating all of these things we unwittingly consume or come into contact with — the liver!
Unfortunately, our toxic loads have increased dramatically over the past century making an over-burdened liver and other detoxification systems of the body the norm. Combined with a decreased awareness of what in our environment is a source of toxins, this can become a real problem for not only people with chronic illness, but the population as a whole.
Below I’ve provided some areas that you can think about and prioritize as you progress through your journey to wellness. It is likely there are some things on this list you are already doing – like using a water filter or natural personal care products. There may be other areas, however, you haven’t really considered, like a mattress free from flame-retardant chemicals or an air purifier. It is my hope that this list helps you learn about some of these areas and tackle some of these changes slowly, without fear. Who knows – you might discover something here that was really impacting your health!
I believe having a clean water source to be the most important of everything on this list. If you can only change one thing mentioned in this article, I highly recommend getting a quality filter to ensure you aren’t getting toxins in your drinking water.
What kind of toxins are found in the water supply? To name a few… chlorine, flouride, heavy metals (like lead and mercury), PCBs, pesticides, insecticides, prescription medication residue, and other chemicals. Often municipal water sources are heavily treated in order to reduce bacterial or parasitic load, and these treatment chemicals are toxic to our bodies (like chlorine).
The brand of water filter I personally use and recommend is Berkey Water Filters, because they are affordable, the filters last a long time, and they are very effective. You can read my review and thoughts in my Berkey Water Filters Review.
If you are eating on the Autoimmune Protocol, chances are you are already doing a great job of avoiding toxins in the food supply by shopping organic and avoiding processed foods (this is one of the reasons why this way of eating is so healing!).
Still, if you aren’t able to afford all organic produce, you can use the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists in order to prioritize your purchases. These are the fruits and vegetables that have the highest and lowest amounts of pesticide load, respectively.
Next, consider your cookware. Many people are still using Teflon-coated and aluminum pans, even though the toxicity of both is well documented. In addition, BPA-containing plastic goods, like storage containers, can be a problem. Make an effort to use stainless steel, cast iron, ceramic, wood, and glass when possible (see our Amazon store for products we use and recommend).
Next it can be helpful to consider the air you breathe at home or work. This might be more of a consideration if you live in a city with a higher level of pollution, or if you live in a new home with “off-gassing” of toxins from furniture and new construction. An air purifier, as well as house plants that help purify the air can be helpful at mitigating some of these effects.
The brand of air purifier I use and recommend is Blue Air, because of its cost, filter replacement schedule, and effectiveness. I use mine in my bedroom only since I live in the country.
#4: Personal Care Products
The skin is our largest organ, and many are surprised to find out that it is a semi-permeable membrane that absorbs some compounds it comes in contact with. Many products we use on our skin, like soaps, shampoos, deodorants, and makeup contain well-known toxic chemicals, in addition to absorption-enhancers, which can make things exponentially worse.
I suggest looking up all of the products you use on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Website, which gives a score for each one based on the known effects of every ingredient.
#5: Household Cleaning Products
These products we use to keep our homes clean, like laundry detergent, dish soap, and bathroom cleaners all have the potential to contain particularly chemicals that are both known toxins to the human body as well as bad for the environment.
There are many brands that make products that are healthier for both us and the environment, using natural compounds, essential oils, and other cleaning elements. In addition, you can use some ingredients like baking soda, borax, and vinegar to make your own non-toxic cleaning solutions. See Christina Feindel’s book, A Clean Space for more information and recipes for natural cleaning products.
#6: Home Goods/Furniture
Many of the products contained in our homes and work spaces are manufactured using chemicals that are known toxins. Now, this is an area where a lot of us can panic, and I’d encourage you not to get too far down the rabbit-hole of thinking that you need an all-green home or furniture.
Here are some areas I think most of us can look into with some balance:
- Mattresses: It is illegal for mattresses made after 2007 to be sold without being sprayed with flame retardants, which are known toxins that cause cancer and endocrine disruption. Fortunately, there are many manufacturers that are now making products with a fabric (non-chemical) solution to comply with the law, and others who will make mattresses without flame retardants with a doctor’s prescription. Since we sleep on our mattresses directly every night, I believe this is the first priority over other furniture (which similarly is sprayed with retardants if upholstery is involved). I have a latex mattress made here in Portland by Mulligan Mattress.
- Plastic shower curtains: Most of these are made of plastic and exposed to a high-heat environment. It is a simple fix to change to a fabric shower curtain here.
- Interior paint: Now, if your paint is not fresh it is likely to have off-gassed long enough to not be causing a problem. But if you decide to repaint any interiors, a low-VOC paint like Colorhouse may be a nice option.
#7: Specific Exposures
Lastly, you may have some specific ongoing toxic exposures in your life that you might not have thought of.
Here are some ideas to consider:
- Workplace related – for instance, hairdressers, construction workers, artists, and housekeepers. Steps to minimize will be specific to the industry involved, and may just mean using/upgrading safety gear (like masks and gloves) to minimize exposure.
- Dental work – especially those who know they have mercury fillings. Some choose to have them removed, or to see a biological dentist to have work done with less toxic exposures.
- Mold – it isn’t common for people to discover they have a mold problem at home or work that is casing them issues.
I hope this article has taught you about some areas of toxic exposures you might be experiencing. Anything ring a bell for you?
I’d be curious to hear about how you avoid toxins in your daily life, and if you have made any changes that you correlate to an uptick in your healing journey!