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The modern world is laden with toxins, with air pollution one of the biggest health and environmental challenges faced today. But did you know your home can be a source of toxins, too?
In support of Clean Air Month, celebrated annually around the world, as well as The Great British Spring Clean, here’s a low-down on some surprising sources of toxins in your home. There’s also a round-up of some hints and tips to ensure your home is not adding to your toxic load.
Firstly, it’s useful to understand what is meant by the word toxin. The term relates to any substance taken into the body which is capable of causing you harm. Your body has developed sophisticated mechanisms to deal with toxins before they can harm you, but if too many toxins make their way into your body, your protective mechanisms can become overloaded.
Your body first tries to prevent toxins from entering with barriers like your skin and your lungs. If toxins do access your body, they’re made safe in your liver and shunted out of your body in your urine or faeces.
Air is dirtier now than in the UK’s industrial past, with air pollution believed to be responsible for as many as 40,000 premature deaths per year. Toxins in the air are associated with breathing and lung problems, and can cause mental health issues, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease, and can adversely your immune system, leading to chronic inflammation.
Airborne pollutants are released by vehicles, the burning of fossil fuels and wood, and emissions from industry. They’re a mixture of extremely tiny solid and liquid particles, easily travelling through your lungs into your bloodstream.
Because homes need to be ventilated, what is outside will make its way inside. But the very products used in homes to make life easier can contribute to even poorer air quality inside your home than outdoors.
Many things inside your home can add to the cocktail of airborne toxins. The ‘new carpet’ or ‘new sofa’ smell is caused by substances called VOCs. This stands for volatile organic compounds, a class of over 400 airborne compounds emitted from furniture, plastics, vinyl, paint, clothing, carpets and mattresses. The process is known as ‘off-gassing’, and the gases are easily inhaled. Household items can give off VOCs for years after the product is manufactured, and the concentration of VOCs can be up to five times higher in indoor than outdoor air.
VOCs have been implicated in headaches, dizziness, memory problems, nausea and breathing issues, as well as long term health problems including nerve and liver damage and even some cancers.
Children can be particularly susceptible to adverse effects because having small bodies means they’re closer to carpets and furnishings, and they tend to pop anything they can into their mouths.
Another source of toxins are the products used to clean your home. Most commercial household cleaning products contain chemicals. If these are inhaled or ingested, they’ll need to be detoxified by your liver. But antibacterial and disinfectant products can affect health in other ways, too.
One study found the gut bacteria of young children living in households frequently using chemical multi-surface antibacterial cleaners were different to those of children living in households where eco-friendly cleaners were used instead. The children living in the households using chemical cleaners had a higher body mass index, too. This suggests antibacterial cleaners can significantly alter a child’s microbiome, and although the researchers didn’t conclude the changes in gut bacteria caused the weight gain, other studies have shown certain bacteria in the gut are associated with a tendency towards obesity.
I can assess whether toxins may be contributing to your health problems while working with you to reduce your exposure where possible and support your detoxification systems with specific foods and nutrients. Take the first step to making your home as healthy as possible for you and your loved ones by contacting us today.
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