The secret toxins in your home
Let’s delve into the unexpected types of pollution in our homes, how they affect our longevity and health, and what we can replace them with.
Let’s start at the beginning: what is pollution?
Pollution is defined as being a substance in our environment that has harmful or poisonous effects. This can be in the air we breathe, products we put on our skin, food we eat, materials we clean our homes with, and so on.
The effect of pollutants on our health can range from skin irritations and respiratory infections to heart disease and lung cancer. Although it is hard to avoid pollutants altogether as they are in so many places there are definitely things we can do to avoid them.
The largest cause of air pollution is the burning of fossil fuels which causes widespread pollution and results in 9 million premature deaths yearly. Exposure to toxic air has been linked to an increase in rates of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and pneumonia. Not exactly a situation conducive to a long and healthy life.
Thankfully there are government departments, NGO’s and monitoring agencies dedicated to reducing levels of air pollution. As an individual, there is not much you can do on your own to change these pollutions except to support these organisations and other businesses that promote a clean environment.
A little closer to home
Pollution in the home can also affect your health and well-being. In fact, indoor air pollution can be up to five times worse than outdoor air pollution, according to the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Here are some common and unexpected types of home pollutants and alternatives that can help reduce exposure to them:
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
VOCs are chemicals that are released from a variety of household products, including:
- Gasoline, fuels, and solvents
- Paints, stains, strippers, and finishes
- Personal care products
- Aerosol sprays
- Cleaners and room deodorizers
These chemicals can cause respiratory irritation and other health problems, especially for those with allergies or asthma. To reduce exposure to VOCs, try switching to products that are labeled as low-VOC or no-VOC. Help is at hand though as many companies offer alternatives to many of the home-cleaning products that use more natural ingredients. Natural cleaning products, such as vinegar and baking soda, can also be effective alternatives to traditional cleaners that contain harsh chemicals. Also, we love the smell of freshly cut flowers over artificial air fresheners anyway.
Non-stick Frying Pans
Non-stick frying pans, commonly coated with a substance called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) or Teflon, have raised concerns regarding their potential health risks. While non-stick pans can be convenient for cooking, especially with minimal oil or fat, they can pose certain health hazards under certain conditions.
When non-stick pans are heated to high temperatures, typically above 260°C, the PTFE coating can begin to break down and release toxic fumes. Inhaling these fumes, known as polymer fume fever, can cause symptoms similar to flu-like illness, including headache, fever, and respiratory distress.
Also, If the non-stick coating becomes scratched or damaged, the underlying metal surface may be exposed. This can lead to the release of toxic chemicals, such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), associated with adverse health effects, including reproductive issues and certain types of cancer.
Even though it is a pain, it is best to switch to ceramic-coated, stainless steel or cast iron pans
Plastics and packaging
BPA is a synthetic chemical that is commonly used in the production of certain plastics and epoxy resins, including some food and beverage containers. BPA can leach out of the packaging and into the food or beverages it contains, especially when exposed to heat or acidic conditions. BPA is an endocrine disruptor, meaning it can interfere with the normal functioning of hormones in the body. Some potential health risks associated with BPA exposure include hormonal disruption and early childhood development issues.
Hormonal disruption: BPA can mimic estrogen in the body, leading to hormonal imbalances. It has been linked to reproductive issues, such as decreased fertility, altered sperm quality, and disruptions in menstrual cycles.
Developmental effects: Exposure to BPA during critical periods of development, such as in the womb or during early childhood, may result in long-term health effects. Studies have suggested associations between BPA exposure and an increased risk of developmental problems, behavioural issues, and certain chronic diseases later in life.
Some plastics can release harmful chemicals when heated or when they come into contact with certain substances. These chemicals may include harmful additives or by-products, which can be ingested when consuming food or beverages stored in plastic packaging.
So what can be done about it?
- Choose BPA-free products: Look for products labelled as BPA-free, particularly for food and beverage containers. Many companies have started producing BPA-free alternatives in response to health concerns.
- Opt for glass or stainless steel: When possible, choose glass or stainless steel containers for food and beverage storage. These materials are considered safer alternatives to plastic packaging and are less likely to leach harmful chemicals.
- Limit microwave use with plastic: Avoid heating food or beverages in plastic containers, especially those not specifically labelled as microwave-safe. Heat can accelerate the leaching of chemicals from the plastic into food.
- Reduce overall plastic use: Minimize your use of single-use plastic products, such as plastic bags and disposable food containers. Opt for reusable alternatives made from safer materials like glass, stainless steel, or BPA-free plastics.
Unfortunately, pollution is a part of our world and we need to take big steps to look after our planet. Let’s all start in our own homes first and ensure that you aren’t knowingly bringing in dangerous toxins. As overwhelming as this can seem it is hugely comforting to know that we can at least take steps in our homes to keep our environments as safe and toxic-free as possible.
This is the fourth post in our series on Longevity. Over the coming weeks, we will dive into what living a life with a longer healthspan means to you. We will look at factors in our everyday lives that impact our longevity and small (and big) changes we can incorporate into our lives to lengthen our healthspan. Look out for our emails and blog posts so you can start the journey to a life well lived.
Next up: Health is Wealth