Use Safer Products

(Continued from Simplicity of Wellness: Love for the Earth and its Creatures , Grow and Cook Your Own Food , and Eat Local)

tub time

As I sit here writing with raised eyebrows, I wonder what I can say about this.  Many of the people who know me well have already gotten an earful about the dangers of toxins.  So much so that I’m sure they would rather not hear any more.  And I get it, I do.  No one, including me, wants to focus on negative, scary things.  Nobody wants to feel overwhelmed.  Nobody wants to find out that their favorite products might not be so good for them.  I’d rather not have to write this, really.  But I just cannot leave it out, it’s too important.

Anytime we start talking about the avoidance of danger, the difficult subject of the nocebo effect comes up.  A nocebo is the opposite of a placebo.  Just as a placebo can cause a person to feel better, a nocebo can cause an adverse reaction.  For example, if you were told that the glass of orange juice you just drank contained arsenic, and it was then explained to you what arsenic does, there’s a good chance you would start to feel sick even if the juice was perfectly safe.  We certainly can think ourselves ill.

So why focus on toxins and pollution if it can have such a negative psychological effect?  I admit that I feel conflicted about that.  I would rather focus on positivity.  But what if the juice in the above illustration really did contain arsenic, but nobody would tell you?  What if the levels of arsenic were low enough not to kill you quickly, but just enough to make you feel vaguely ill?  What if you unknowingly continued drinking the arsenic laced juice for many years, damaging your body little by little, completely unaware of the reasons for your failing health?  Far from being mere nocebos, like the juice, some things really are toxic, and when people avoid them, they feel better.  I’ve seen it time and again.  The other reason is that many commonly used household products pollute the earth, and that right there is reason enough.

So before considering this admittedly difficult subject, it’s well to remember what wellness is all about.  It’s about love for God, self-love, love for others, and love for earth and all its creatures.  It’s about love, not fear.  So while it is necessary to understand some things about toxins so that we can protect ourselves and our families from undue harm, we must keep in mind that anxiety serves no purpose.  But action based on knowledge does.

serenity prayer

 So here’s the skinny: our world is inundated with toxic chemicals. You already know that, right? But something you may not know is this: the chemicals most likely to harm you are not “out there” somewhere. It’s true that industry pollution is a big problem. But for most of us, our biggest and most damaging exposures tend to be much closer to home. They come from places like the Round-Up container in the garage, the box of dryer sheets in the laundry room, and the myriad self-care products lining our bathroom counters and cabinets.

This is difficult for many people to wrap their heads around.  It certainly was for me at one time.  We’d like to believe that the products we use in and around our homes, and especially those we use on our own bodies, are safe, that government agencies have our collective backs.  They wouldn’t allow these things on store shelves if they were dangerous, right?  Wrong.

If you’d like a detailed explanation, it is in this document by the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production:  Presumption of Safety: Limits of Federal Policies on Toxic Substances in Consumer Products

From the document:

Despite the fact that most consumers believe that everyday products are thoroughly tested for dangerous chemicals and determined to be safe by government authorities, the reality is that existing regulatory systems leave significant gaps in their capacity to adequately protect consumers from chemical hazards in these products.

One of the reasons listed in the article for the failure of government agencies to protect us is the fact that many safety standards are actually voluntary, meaning that companies can opt out if they don’t want the bother of adhering to a higher standard.  For example, the fragrance industry is largely self-regulated.  It’s a case of the fox guarding the henhouse. Another reason is that the capacity of certain government agencies is limited due to budget constraints.  Also, current laws do not actually require companies to test most products for safety hazards.  Weak laws and limited governmental capacity ensure that, inevitably, some unsafe products will  end up on store shelves.

You’ve heard the bad news.  Now here’s the good news.  Great news in fact.  There are more companies making safe, non-toxic products now than ever before.  In the past, we may have had to sacrifice quality and performance in the name of health, but not anymore.  Many of these products work, and work well.  Check out EWG’s Skin Deep Database , and Guide to Healthy Cleaning .

Also, an exciting new trend has emerged: DIY everything.  Because so many people are experimenting with making their own cosmetics and cleaning products, the internet is busting at the seams with well-tested recipes.  Non-toxic is now fun!  One of my favorite sources for great recipes is the Wellness Mama website.

The bottom line is this: when it comes to chemicals, we have to watch our own backs. Government and industry is not going to do it for us.  But we are not powerless.  Education and action can make all the difference.

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity – A Mysterious Malady, Awake! 2000

Hidden Chemicals in Perfume and Cologne

Extreme Chemical Sensitivity Makes Sufferers Allergic to Life, Discover Magazine

Infographic by violet79

Photo by familymwr

What Happens When the Whole World Makes You Sick

 

“We think caged birds sing, when indeed, they cry.” – John Webster

I’m very, very sensitive to chemicals. Not just the ones everybody knows are dangerous, but the ones people use every day on their bodies and in their bathrooms and kitchens and on their sofas and in their yards. And what happens to me when I am exposed to those chemicals is not trivial. The sore throat and headache and heavy chest were uncomfortable, but not enough to stop me from living my life.

What stopped me was when I began to lose my mind. Usually when we say that, what we mean is that the person becomes so emotionally overwrought that they can’t think straight anymore. That’s not what I’m talking about. I literally lose my mind when I’m exposed to chemicals. I mean, I lose IQ points. I become stupid. I also lose my ability to function normally due to exhaustion and pain. That’s not okay with me, and that’s why I avoid triggering chemicals like the plague.

The implications are enormous. It’s not just that I have to be careful about what I use in the shower, or what I use to clean the toilet, although that’s part of it. It means I have to avoid other people who use the things that I can’t use. I can’t go in their homes or be close enough to them to hold a comfortable conversation. Public areas like places of worship and schools are nearly impossible for any length of time.

It’s like being forced into a cage.  At first there is panic. Then I begin to notice that the cage appears to be constructed of other people’s choices to use toxic substances. I see familiar faces on the outside of the cage and I see that those people have a key. At this point the problem seems simple. Just ask to be released. (“Would you consider using non-toxic products instead? No?”)

When this does not work, I become confused. I’m trapped. The people on the other side of the bars have a key to set me free. They seem like nice people. Many of them seem to like me. But they won’t use the key. They say the cage is not there. They don’t see any cage, so why don’t I just walk about like they do?

Pretty soon my insistence that the cage exists causes the people to question my sanity, and at that point they are even less likely to use their key. That’s when I become angry. I begin to rattle the bars on my cage, throw myself against its sides. I’m not strong enough to force the door or bend those bars. I become exhausted and crumple into a pile of sweat and tears on the bottom of the cage. I’m depressed and I’ve lost all hope of ever being released.

After some time passes, I begin to think that, with God’s help, I might be able to make some semblance of a life inside of the cage. I’ve reached the point of acceptance.   My mind and my faith hold the key.

 

“Save me, O God, for the waters threaten my life.  I have sunk down into the deep mud, where there is no solid ground. I have come into deep waters, and the rushing stream has swept me away.

And do not hide your face from your servant.  Answer me quickly, for I am in distress.

Reproach has broken my heart, and the wound is incurable.  I was hoping for sympathy, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none. 

But for food they gave me poison, and for thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

But I am afflicted and in pain.  May your saving power, O God, protect me.

For Jehovah is listening to the poor, and he will not despise his captive people.”

– Excerpts from Psalm 69