Science

Ask the Expert: Finding Out What Chemicals Are In Your Body

What the heck is biomonitoring?

Maybe you've heard of different organizations doing something called biomonitoring. Maybe you have been biomonitored but aren't sure what it means. Or, maybe you have been worried about your own amount of contact with certain chemicals and Googled how to get it checked. Well, we talked to Dr. Megan Latshaw, Assistant Scientist in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to figure out what it is, how it works, and what the benefits are.


Dr. Megan Latshaw

First off, what is biomonitoring anyway? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), biomonitoring is "determining which environmental chemicals people have been exposed to and how much of those chemicals actually get into their bodies."

This provides valuable understanding into the effects certain chemicals can have on an individual or even a community.

"For an individual, biomonitoring can provide insight into whether they are being exposed to a chemical at a higher level than the general population. Results can help physicians make decisions about treatments or interventions, but it can also lead individuals to take action to reduce exposure. So, an individual might say 'okay, I am going to get my paint tested at my house' or 'I am going to buy water filter'," Dr. Latshaw explains.

The results of biomonitoring are an effective way to help individuals learn more about their own health and what changes they can make to avoid certain chemicals. Biomonitoring can also help determine if communities as a whole are being exposed to certain chemicals, say from a factory in the area or water that isn't being properly treated.

"At the community level, biomonitoring can indicate a problem that needs to be addressed on a larger scale. So, maybe cleaning up hazardous waste or deciding to put in place a way to monitor the population's health," Dr. Latshaw says.

Not only can it confirm that people are being exposed to a variety of chemicals or sources of pollution, but is also can determine if the community does not need to worry.

"Biomonitoring can also be used to calm community concern, in cases where levels are found to be similar to the general population," Dr. Latshaw explains.

Not all encounters with chemicals, dust, or other substances are something to be concerned about. In this day and age, everyone is exposed to some mixture of chemicals all the time, but this doesn't mean we all need to be constantly worried. For some chemicals, our bodies can handle small amounts and not be hurt. Biomonitoring helps gauge how much of a certain substance we have in our system, and toxicologists can tell us if that amount might cause harm.

Understanding what it can do is great, but it is important to understand how it works. Often, it requires a sample being sent to a lab.

"It is typically blood or urine sent to a lab that is able to measure it for whatever the chemical of concern is," Dr. Latshaw shares.

It is also important to understand that it's not looking for just the chemical of concern. It's a complicated process.

"Some chemicals of concern only stick around in the body for very short periods of time. Or, they might be metabolized by the body, so what you are really looking for is not the chemical itself, you are looking for a product of the chemical's breakdown. [It could be that] once your enzyme attacks it, it might change it into something else. So, you really need to talk to an environmental health physician or toxicologist or laboratorian who understands what you are looking for. They will ask: Is there a marker for it, how long does that marker stick around, and how long ago was your exposure of interest?" Dr. Latshaw says.

So, if you are interested in being biomonitored, how can you make that happen?

The first step would be to talk to your doctor. Don't be alarmed if your doctor doesn't know much about it though. It is not something that that doctors are really trained about in school.

"If someone is interested [in biomonitoring] and their doctor doesn't seem to know a lot [about it], then what they can do is … call an environmental health physician. There is actually a group called the American Academy of Environmental Medicine. You can go to their website and find a physician who understands environmental medicine," Dr. Latshaw shares.

If you have a large group in your community that is worried about eating, breathing, or touching a specific health-harming substance, communities can also reach out.

"If a community wants to be biomonitored, they should contact their health department. Many health departments don't have a biomonitoring program, so a community might want to contact ATSDR (the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry) or the Association of Public Health Laboratories, which recently launched the National Biomonitoring Network" Dr. Latshaw suggests.

The last piece is to understand that because this is such a complicated process, and it is not yet widely available, the cost is highly variable.

"Blood lead [testing] is something that is done on a regular basis, so that is much lower cost. But, if you want to look at perfluorinated chemicals, there are very few laboratories that can do that, so that is probably going to be relatively expensive," Dr. Latshaw explains.

Biomonitoring can be a very useful test, but it is not very common as of yet. If you have a true concern about how often you come in contact with a certain chemical or heavy metal, be sure to talk to your doctor and find someone who understands the biomonitoring process who can help figure out the best option for you.

For more information about biomonitoring, visit the CDC page talking about the National Biomonitoring Program.

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.

Keep Reading Show Less
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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