Science

Here’s the Deal with Heavy Metals

… and nope, we aren't talking Metallica, Megadeath or Black Sabbath

While we love a good jam sesh every now and again, over at Because Health when we talk heavy metal, we're getting our periodic tables out, pulling on the lab coats, and talking about elements like arsenic, mercury, lead, and cadmium. Although these are naturally occurring elements, scientists have learned that they can cause some pretty negative health effects.

Side note, not all metals are bad for humans. In fact, there are even some that we need in order to stay healthy, like iron, zinc, and magnesium. So, just because it sounds like a metal it doesn't mean it's dangerous. You just have to be careful about some of them. But have no fear, we lay out the big names to stay away from here.


Arsenic

Arsenic is common in the world. It's kind of just around, but it is also found in water, food, and pressure treated wood. It can get into water sources from naturally being found in soil. It can get into food from both the soil and the water applied to the crops as they grow. It is important to limit how often we come into contact with arsenic because, in large enough concentrations, or small, repeated doses over time, arsenic is poisonous.

One of the most common sources of arsenic for the general public, and especially people with a gluten intolerance and young children, is rice. Often young children and those avoiding gluten eat more rice, or products made with rice, than the average individual. While eating rice even a few times a week isn't something to worry about, eating large amounts of rice (like for multiple meals a day) can lead to higher arsenic levels. Trying a variety of different grains, like quinoa, oats, farro, and amaranth is a great way to limit the amount of arsenic coming from rice in your diet. Apple seeds are also known to have higher levels of arsenic. We recommend you just don't eat those (they don't taste very good anyway), but the rest of the apple is perfectly safe.

In terms of pressure-treated wood, if you have furniture or a deck made of pressure-treated wood, we recommend sealing it on a regular basis to keep the wood from releasing arsenic as you come into contact with it. While arsenic-treated wood for residential use was phased out in 2004, this is still important to think about if you have older outside furniture. Also, never use pressure-treated wood if you are building a fire. If you are touching the wood, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly when you are finished.

Finally, if you get your water from a well, test the water often for arsenic levels, and if needed, use bottled water or a filter that removes arsenic.

Mercury

This is more well known, but mercury can have some pretty serious health effects as a neurotoxin, especially for developing babies and children. There are a few forms of mercury (elemental, organic, and inorganic), all of which can cause problems when they get introduced to human systems. The most common ways people are exposed to mercury are through accidentally being exposed to it in broken products that contain mercury, through dust as coal is burned for energy and heat, and, most commonly, through eating fish and shellfish. The bigger the fish, the more likely it is to have higher levels of mercury because it often starts in small fish and as bigger fish eat the smaller fish the bigger fish collect larger amounts of mercury. This is true for humans, too. As you eat fish that contain mercury, that mercury builds up in your body over time. This is called bioaccumulation, meaning that little amounts add up to bigger amounts in your body over time. The best way to avoid mercury is to check guides for the best fish choices and to carefully dispose of batteries, very old thermometers, and CFL light bulbs, which also may contain mercury.

Lead

There's been some news about this one lately, so you've probably got some idea how ingesting lead can be not so great. Lead can cause reproductive problems, cardiovascular disease, learning disabilities, and diminished kidney function. Because of this, and its well documented dangers for children, the CDC has determined that there is no safe level of lead, meaning you always want to avoid it.

Lead had many common uses like in old paint and pipes, which is why we still have to worry about finding it in homes even though it's not allowed to be used in those products any more. A long time ago it was also added to gasoline for cars, so it has ended up as pollution and settled in the soil across the country. These are only some of the uses. It can also be found in artificial turf, cosmetics, and pottery glaze. We have a whole article on some easy way to avoid it in your home, but the three easiest tips are to always use cold water when cooking or drinking, wash your hands and your kids hands after playing outside in the dirt, and get a doormat to wipe your shoes on as you walk in the house, or better yet, have a no shoes in the house rule. All of these things can dramatically lower the amount of lead you come into contact with on a regular basis, and take little to no effort to change.

Cadmium

Cadmium, like everything else on this list, occurs naturally in the world. People most commonly come in contact with it through the food that we eat, or through cigarette smoke. Although, it is also found in some paint, rechargeable batteries, and in children's jewelry.

Cadmium ends up in food because it is absorbed by plants as they grow. This isn't a large concern for people in the US because cadmium levels are relatively low here, but in other countries, like Japan, this is a bigger concern. The biggest concern in the US is for people who smoke because tobacco plants are very good at absorbing cadmium, and the cadmium is transferred to the smoke as the cigarette burns. Which is just another reason to quit smoking.

There is also some worry for people who work in mines or with paints or soldering equipment. In those cases, the workers have a higher chance of inhaling cadmium, which can lead to kidney problems.

Cadmium has different health effects depending on how a person is exposed and how much cadmium they have in their body. The good news is, if it's only small amounts over long period of time, our bodies can work to remove the cadmium. If it's more cadmium than that, longer term effects can include learning disabilities, kidney problems, lung problems, and cancer.

The best way to limit your contact with cadmium is to quit smoking, and not allow smoking in your home. Additionally, be careful with reusable batteries, especially around kids, and watch out for costume jewelry. Other than that, the risks are relatively low unless your job exposes you to cadmium or you live near a factory that releases cadmium.

Food

Protect Your Body Against Toxic Chemicals With These Seven Food Items

Bonus: You probably already have some of these in your kitchen

Remember when your grandma talked about food being its own form of medicine? Well, we're here to tell you that she was right (yes, grandma is always right). Now, eating these foods isn't going to turn you into a superhero overnight, but it will certainly help your body protect itself from toxic chemicals found in the environment. For some of these items, we recommend buying organic if possible (you don't want to be ingesting more chemicals when you could be avoiding them!).

  • Berries: We're talking strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and even boysenberries. Berries are high in antioxidants which are particularly effective in reversing acrylamide toxicity (1). Acrylamide is a chemical produced during high-temperature cooking (think frying or baking), but can harm your reproductive system and mess up your liver, lymph and bone marrow DNA (1). Studies have shown that mice fed with diets containing berries saw a significant recovery in their sperm counts, activity rate, and an increase in the number of healthy sperm (1).
  • Cauliflower, Broccoli and all the cruciferous vegetables: If roasted brussels sprouts are your favorite veggie, you're in luck! Cruciferous veggies like broccoli sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and brussels sprouts all contain a compound called sulforaphane. Sulforaphane is a phytochemical with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic properties (2). These properties make sulforaphane-containing vegetables an ideal food to eat to prevent cadmium toxicity (2). Sulforaphane helps cells recover from and prevents cell death after exposure to cadmium (2). We really think sulforaphane is spectacular!
  • Olive oil: Olive oil isn't just delicious drizzled over pasta and salads, it's also great for decreasing the effect of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) on the body (3). Even though PCBs were banned in the 1970s, they are slow to degrade and still persist in the environment (4). PCBs are carcinogenic and also harm the nervous and immune system (4). However, studies have shown that a diet containing olive oil decreases inflammation associated with PCB exposure (3).
  • Grapes: Grapes are high in resveratrol, a polyphenol that can reduce toxicity from exposure to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) (3). As an antioxidant, resveratrol helps decrease oxidative stress (basically cell damage) caused by TCDD (3). Delicious when frozen or nibbled on with cheese, the resveratrol in grapes can also decrease PCB toxicity and protect against the development of type 2 diabetes, which is often associated with exposure to PCBs (3). This is also totally a reason to drink more wine, right?
  • Green tea: Green tea drinkers, rejoice! Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is the active component of green tea and can decrease the cardiovascular inflammation and toxicity that comes from arsenic exposure (3). This drink also packs a one-two punch, as it's also protective against PCB toxicity by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation of cells (3).
  • Spinach: Strawberry and spinach salad anyone? Aside from being insanely delicious, spinach can actually increase the excretion of arsenic from the body. One compound found in spinach, folate, is necessary to complete the excretion process of arsenic from the body (5).
  • Orange Juice: If the word glyphosate sounds familiar to you, it's probably because it's one of the most common herbicides used in farming (7). Glyphosate is categorized by the World Health Organization as a likely carcinogen (6). Lucky for you, organic juice can actually be protective against glyphosate toxicity (7). Mice given orange juice after exposure to glyphosate were shown to have decreased liver, kidney and DNA damage compared to mice not given orange juice (7).

Don't forget to stock up on these fruits and vegetables the next time you're at the grocery store! They can be used in so many different recipes or simply eaten by themselves. Who knew protecting your health could be so tasty?!

References

  1. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1750-3841.12815
  2. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11356-018-1228-7
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5503778/
  4. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/toxsubstance.asp?toxid=26
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5503778/
  6. https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/10/4/950
  7. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/306140395_The_protective_effect_of_orange_juice_on_Glyphosate_toxicity_in_adult_male_mice
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Roundups

7 Non-Toxic Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheet Options

To keep those clean clothes fluffy and dry without the unnecessary chemicals

Updated for 2019!

You know when you are doing laundry and everything comes out of the dryer all warm and fluffy and smelling amazing and you just fall asleep in a pile of clean clothes on the couch? Nope, just us? Oh well. While that might not be a common practice, throwing in a dryer sheet or adding a splash of fabric softener is pretty common. But, have you ever wondered how one of those rather small dryer sheets works to get rid of the static for a whole load of laundry? Well, the answer often comes from many added chemicals. Next time you are doing a load of laundry (with some safe laundry detergent), check out one of these option instead. They will keep your clothes looking good without the potentially dangerous chemicals. All of the ones we recommend are widely available, have positive reviews, and have been checked for safety from a third party.


a) Ecover Fabric Softener b) Method Dryer Sheets in Beach Sage c) Kintor Wool Dryer Balls d) Attitude Fabric Softener e) The Honest Company Dryer Cloths f) Attitude Reusable Static Eliminator and Softener g) Seventh Generation Natural Fabric Softener Sheets


We rely on EWG's consumer databases, the Think Dirty App, and GoodGuide in addition to consumer reviews and widespread availability of products to generate these recommendations. Learn more on our methodology page.

*Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.

Life

Is Washing Your Favorite Sweater Contributing to Plastic Pollution?

Machine washing your clothes is an unexpected culprit of microplastic pollution

Each year, around 8 million tons of plastic finds its way into the ocean from coastal countries. That amount of plastic is the equivalent of about 40,000 blue whales (1)! Microplastics (plastic particles smaller than 5mm in length) are a big part of the plastic pollution problem (2). It's estimated that approximately 50 trillion pieces of microplastics are currently polluting the ocean (3). These tiny particles also make up roughly 94% of the Great Pacific Trash vortex, which is the largest collection of floating trash in the world (4). And surprisingly, laundry is a significant contributor to ocean microplastics.

How is washing your clothes polluting the ocean and what can you do to stop it? Keep reading for everything you need to know about microplastics and how doing your laundry may impact the planet.

What Are Microplastics?

Microplastics are either manufactured for primary use as exfoliating beads used in skincare or small machinery parts, or can be a result of the breakdown of other materials like large plastic water bottles or synthetic textiles (2). Microfibers, the microplastics that are in synthetic materials, are a big part of the problem. They make up roughly 35% of the microplastic found in marine ecosystems (5). Machine washing synthetic materials is one of the biggest ways microfibers get into the water supply (6). Washing machines and synthetic materials are a bad combination because friction from the spinning laundry drum causes synthetic materials to shed microfibers into the water, which are eventually drained back into the pipes. Since the fibers are so small, up to 40% pass through sewage treatment plants unfiltered and end up draining into the rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans that are connected to our water supply (7).

Even though synthetic materials are a big problem, they're almost impossible to avoid. Today, about two-thirds of textiles used in clothing are synthetic because it makes clothing cheaper to manufacture. If you check the tag on your shirt right now, you'd probably see a popular synthetic materials like polyester, acrylic, or nylon. A study in the UK found that nearly half a million microfibers are released in just one load of polyester clothing (8).

Environmental Impact of Microplastics

One of the biggest problems with plastic pollution is that it basically never goes away. Rather than chemically degrading, plastic tends to physically break up into smaller and smaller pieces. These microplastics continuously accumulate in the environments all over the world, from the peaks of the Pyrenees to the intestines of fish caught in the Great Lakes (9, 10). These materials are not only extremely harmful to the wildlife and ecosystems they are invading, but have potentially dangerous consequences for human health as well. Microplastics can get into drinking water, and are also often accidentally ingested by fish which pollutes our food supply. When ingested, microplastics can cause inflammation, gut blockages, growth and hormone disruption (11). Additionally, microplastics absorb other toxic chemicals and assist in their distribution.

What You Can Do

The impacts microplastics are having on marine and human health seem to grow by the day. Luckily, there are easy ways to limit microfiber shedding from your laundry!

  1. Adjust your laundry settings - avoiding delicate cycles that use high water volumes and washing with colder water are not only more water and cost efficient but help release fewer microfibers per wash!
  2. Use less detergent, and do not use bleach! The soapy liquid causes more fibers to be leached out.
  3. Fill up your machine and avoid washing things bulky items like shoes with synthetic fabrics - anything that increases friction will increase microfiber release
  4. If you have the option, use a front loading washing machine! They require less water and less vigorous washing for the same cleanliness.
  5. Consider getting a laundry bag. These bags are designed to catch microfibers so they cannot get into the water supply.
  6. Purchase clothing made of natural materials like cotton or linen - these materials don't shed any microfibers and are often softer, more breathable, and last longer!


References

  1. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/habitats/plastic-pollution/
  2. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/microplastics.html
  3. https://www.sas.org.uk/our-work/plastic-pollution/plastic-pollution-facts-figures/
  4. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2018/03/great-pacific-garbage-patch-plastics-environment/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30368178
  6. https://www.plasticoceanproject.org/microfiber-pollution-project.html
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27689236
  8. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-40498292
  9. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jun/20/microfibers-plastic-pollution-oceans-patagonia-synthetic-clothes-microbeads
  10. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2199455-pristine-mountains-are-being-littered-with-microplastics-from-the-air/
  11. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S004896971834049X?via%3Dihub
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31460752
  13. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/acs.est.7b01750
  14. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.6b03045
  15. https://www.surfrider.org/coastal-blog/entry/bills-and-best-practices-for-microfiber-pollution-solutions
popular

Is Your Tea Bag Made with Plastic?

Silky pyramids, plastic sealed bags, and what brands are actually fully compostable

Whether you like to pretend you are British all the time, or just have a cold, chances are you are making that cup of tea with a conveniently packaged tea bag. While tea bags are great (and basically everywhere) there's something you should know about that innocent tea bag. Many of them use plastic to keep them sealed shut. Nope, not just on the wrapper the tea bag actually comes in, but the bag itself. The idea of a plastic soaking in boiling hot water just does not sound cozy to us. But thankfully, there are some easy changes you can make if you feel the same way we do.

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Roundups

8 Non-Toxic Bath Toys

Rub-a-dub-dub, safe toys in the tub

Make bath time extra fun with our non-toxic bath toy roundup! Lots of traditional toys (including that famous yellow rubber ducky) contain BPA, phthalates, or PVC. We knew there were better toy options out there, so we searched high and low to bring you the safest options! We tried to go for toys made from materials like natural rubber or silicone, but a few are made from safer plastic. We also looked for materials that wouldn't mold so these toys can be used again and again! These products also do not contain BPA, phthalates or PVC.



a) Oli and Carol Origami boat b) Marcus and Marcus Squirting Bath Toy c) Ubbi Squeeze and Switch Silicone Bath Toys d) Hevea Kawan Duck e) Green Toys ferry boat f) Plan Toys sailing boat g) Caaoocho whale h) Fat Brains Squigz


*Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.

Family

Keep Your Baby Safe From Chemicals While Teething

What to look for and easy DIY alternatives!

A teething baby can simultaneously be exciting and stressful. Your baby is growing up! But there's lots of drool and crying. Teethers are an essential tool for dealing with new teeth, but not all teethers are created equally.

Problems with Teethers

No matter where you shop, it's hard to avoid seeing plastic teethers. Plastic seems like a good material for teethers because it's flexible and can withstand being chilled in the freezer, but many teethers are made from petroleum-based plastic, vinyl, or latex. We know plastics and vinyl can contain harmful phthalates, parabens, bisphenols, and other endocrine-disrupting compounds. A few studies have found that these chemicals can actually leach out of teethers (1)(2). We definitely don't want our babies chewing on something like that! Even a teether labeled "BPA-free" shouldn't be considered to be safe.

Buying a Safe Alternative

Luckily, there are a lot of safer alternatives on the market. Food-grade silicone is pretty widely available already, and it continues to grow in popularity. Silicone is a super durable material and can withstand lots of chewing and drool! Plus, it's easy to clean and can often be thrown into the dishwasher.

Teethers made from wood are another great option. It's hard to get more natural than wood! It's also naturally antibacterial, so you don't have to worry as much if the teether gets dropped on the floor. Wood teethers can come in all shapes and sizes, from fun animal cut outs to wooden beads you can string together. We prefer wood that hasn't been painted or treated with any weird stains, but make sure the surface is smooth! You can condition the wood with natural ingredients like beeswax, coconut oil, or olive olive.

DIY Teething Hacks



If you're feeling crafty or just want to give your credit card a break, there are awesome DIY teethers you can create without having to leave your home.

  1. Take a damp washcloth, twist it into a rope, and let freeze in the freezer
  2. Freeze or cool a bagel. Make sure your baby can sit upright for this teether
  3. Take a spoon and store in the fridge until cool (don't put this one in the freezer!)
  4. Create your own homemade popsicles! Check out our popsicle ideas for inspiration

References

  1. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.6b04128
  2. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/jat.3159
Roundups

10 Non-Toxic Makeup Removers

Safeguard your skin while removing the toughest waterproof mascara

There is nothing better than taking off your makeup at the end of a long day. Sometimes it's the favorite part of our evening! But lots of makeup removers contain harsh chemicals that aren't great for your skin or your health. That's why we rounded up our top 10 favorite non-toxic makeup removers! We know there are different preferences for makeup removers, which is why we included 5 wipes and 5 liquids. These products have been vetted by us and will remove the toughest of waterproof mascaras!


a) Aromatica Natural coconut Cleansing Oil b)Beauty by Earth Makeup Remover c) NARS makeup removing water d) the body shop waterproof eye makeup remover e) Klorane Floral Water Makeup remover with soothing cornflower f) C'est Moi Gentle Makeup Remover Cleansing Wipes g) RMS Beauty The Ultimate Makeup Remover Wipe h) Beautycounter One-Step Makeup Remover Wipes i) Brandless Facial Wipes j) Honest Beauty Makeup Remover Wipes


We rely on EWG's consumer databases, the Think Dirty App, and GoodGuide in addition to consumer reviews and widespread availability of products to generate these recommendations. Learn more on our methodology page.

*Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.

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