The environment is out to get you, not just you but your children and grandchildren as well! This is not some sort of bad dream or post-Halloween B Movie but the stark reality we live in. The amount of manmade toxins we are exposed to today has reached critical concentrations to say the least.
The average human shows traces of over 400 different environmental chemicals in their bodies. Would it surprise you that women absorb an estimated 5 pounds of toxic byproducts a year from make-up alone? We also have to ask ourselves how a pesticide (atrazine) which turns male frogs into lady frogs is safe for human consumption. When testing umbilical cord blood, over 200 toxins, including methyl mercury and several BPAs, were identified. This might be the most shocking evidence we have to date to show that environmental pollution starts in the womb, before we have even come in contact with planet earth.
Environmental pollutants can affect our health in many different ways but almost all of them can disrupt endocrine and hormonal function. DDT, for example, used during and after WW2 to spray crops and protect troops against vector-borne disease, was responsible for a rapid demise in local bird populations due to eggshell thinning. Fish exposed to DDT showed behavioural disturbances and a loss of balance. Even though birds, fish and humans are separated by more than one evolutionary step, the use of DDT was banned in the 70s due to concerns about safety in humans. Unfortunately, POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants) such as DDT stay in our soils for decades. They travel through air and water supplies to reach all corners of the earth. DDTs half life in an aquatic environment such as water is 150 years! India, China and North Korea still produce and use DDT. Most foods that disrupt hormonal function in humans do so because they are highly contaminated with pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and injected hormones. Avoid the following ten most chemical-laden foods and you are going a long way towards minimising the toxic burden on your system.
1. Non-organic dairy products
Dairy is not considered a health food as such but it can be a good source of protein and fat-soluble vitamins, while butter provides outstanding amounts of vitamins D, A and K. It is common practice to inject conventionally-farmed animals with testosterone, antibiotics and growth hormone. rBGH, an artificial form of bovine growth hormone is excreted by mother cow through mammary glands, only to sit innocently packaged in your fridge in the form of milk, yoghurt or cheese. Use of this hormone has been linked to thyroid disease and hormonal cancers in humans and it is now banned in Japan, New Zealand and most European countries. You are not so lucky if your dairy supply comes from the US where still a third of all milk producing cows are treated with rBGH to maximize milk output.
Health tip: try milk from organically-farmed dairy cows fed on grass – not only is the milk richer in omega-3 fatty acids and many other nutrients but antibiotics are strictly controlled, and pesticides and artificial fertilisers are banned.
2. Non-organic meats
Unfortunately, every toxin that our edible animal friends have come in contact with during their short lives is deposited and stored in their fatty tissue. Feasting on a juicy steak or enjoying the pork crackling on your Sunday roast will create a toxic storm for your insides, potentially disrupting insulin, oestrogen and testosterone metabolism. Unless your meat is organic (or pasture reared) and the supplier states they use minimal antibiotics and hormones, it’s best to trim the fat off your meaty dinner before cooking to reduce chemical exposure. If, however your meat is organic and grassfed, the fat content will be nutritious!
Health tip: find a supplier of organic meat or equivalent. Some quality meat suppliers do not go through organic certification as it increases production costs, but offer cost-effective pasture-reared meat in better-than-free-range conditions and without the use of pesticides, chemical fertilisers or antibiotics. One such supplier is Green Pasture Farms, who deliver direct to you door.
3. Farmed fish
Especially salmon! Most farmed fish is brimming with PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyl) which have not only been shown to have a negative effect on reproductive, immune and endocrine systems in animal studies but are also linked to numerous cancers and non-cancerous disease in humans. Methyl mercury is another commonly occurring contaminant found in fish which has been linked to foetal brain development and can bind to a hormone that regulates ovulation in women. Salmon is particularly vulnerable because of its high fat (omega-3) content which makes it an obvious target for toxic storage. With the best intentions, eating four portions of oily fish a week might even be counterproductive unless it is the wild, Alaskan variety. Instead, take a high quality fish oil on a daily basis that has been assessed for purity.
Health tip: wild fish is ideal but failing that, opt for small, short-lived fish that naturally contain lower levels of heavy metals, PCBs and dioxins. Purified fish oil concentrates specifically have these chemicals removed.
4. Canned tomatoes
As one of our cupboard staples, nothing is as versatile in whipping up a quick meal as a can of chopped tomatoes. Unfortunately, convenience has its price because acidity in tomatoes causes dangerous bisphenol A from the lining of the can to leach into our Italian favourite fruit. Prominent endocrinologists have long been warning us about its detrimental effect on fertility and reproductive organs!
Health tip: to avoid the endocrine-disrupting chemical, BPA, try sourcing ingredients packaged in cardboard cartons – which are also often more cost-effective! Tinned tomatoes and coconut milk are often found in cartons and the Aroy-D brand of coconut milk is widely known to be BPA-free.
5. Anything wrapped in plastic
Phthalates mainly occur in plastic and PVC food wrapping and ready meal/take-away containers. These persistent chemicals have been shown to induce cell death in testicular cells. And if this is not enough of a ‘kick in the b*******’, phthalates also lower sperm count and can lead to birth defects in the male reproductive system! Xenoestrogens also feature heavily in plastic packaging, and can wreak havoc on female hormonal balance; they can also contribute to the onset of gynecomastia (male breast development). Fish and chips wrapped in newspaper, anyone?
Health tip: avoid heating food in plastic containsers and if storing food, try to find BPA-free tupperware – Sistema is one such example and is widely available. Although not always practical if you’re on the go, glass is a better option for storing food.
6. Brassicas, millet and soy
These foods can be perfectly healthy for some, but highly irritating for others. All three contain naturally occurring compounds called goitrogens. These substances have the habit of interfering with thyroid hormone production and should you suffer from thyroid related issues, best to give those a miss!
Health tip: if you don’t have thyroid issues, these foods can be nutritious – especially broccoli, for example. It’s all individual!
This is not technically a food but I am sure we swallow enough of it every day. Not only does our favourite dental hygiene product leave us with minty fresh breath but we are also being graced with an extra helping of fluoride. This mineral has been linked to increased rates of infertility and a drop in sperm quality. Furthermore, it hinders the absorption of iodine which is crucial for adequate thyroid function. In fact, there is very little evidence that fluoride contributes to dental health at all and people consuming high amounts of fluoride do not show less dental decay!
Health tip: whilst not readily available from your local supermarket, fluoride-free toothpaste is found in most health food stores. Although more expensive, UltraDex toothpaste is widely available on the high street.
8. Microwave popcorn
A popular cinema companion, popcorn has made a massive come-back over the last few years, being marketed as a ‘healthy’ snack and a less calorific alternative to crisps. There is nothing better than the smell of warm butter and popped corn fresh out of the microwave. Unfortunately, we can’t smell the tornado of harmful chemicals that has been released at the same time. Chemicals, including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) which is found in the lining of pop-corn bags, has been linked to infertility and liver, testicular and pancreatic cancer in animal models.
Health tip: make popcorn the old-fashioned way: a little coconut oil or butter heated in a pan, naturally dried corn and off you pop!
9. All conventional produce
If there is an argument for buying organic then surely this must be it. Organic fruit and vegetables are exposed to significantly fewer pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers than conventional produce. Irrespective of often discussed nutrient content of organic foods, reducing your toxic load and minimising the chances of hormonal disruption should be worth an extra few pennies. As a word of caution, organic is not always what it used to be. Many organically farmed crops are grown in close proximity to heavily sprayed conventional crops and cross contamination may well occur!
Health tip: buy organic where you can, prioritising those fruit and vegetables with little or no ‘skin’ to remove or peel off – salad items, tomatoes, berries etc.
10. Breast milk
If this comes as a bit of a surprise to you then rightly so. Firstly I should emphasise that exclusive breast feeding for the first six months is absolutely crucial to baby’s health. However, today’s breast milk contains a hormone disrupting chemical named polybrominated diphenyl ethers. This ‘roll of the tongue’ compound is usually found on sofas, rugs and carpets as a fire retardant but its concentrations in human breast milk have been doubling every five years since 1972. Even though some have been phased out, avoiding them is virtually impossible as they have penetrated soils and water supplies around the world.
Health tip: we fully advocate breast-feeding, so it’s all the more important to ensure the mother’s diet is extremely nutritious, as a healthy body will be far more effective at removing toxins from the body. Perhaps ‘pass’ on the protective flame retardant next time you purchase a sofa!