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