Challenge #47 ~ Chemicals Entering our Body

Read the blog post on the January Theme – GREEN CHEMISTRY

Image by Monfocus from Pixabay

This week’s challenge assesses how certain chemicals from food packaging and personal care products enter our bodies and adversely impact our health. We focus on food packaging and personal care products because of their well established health impacts and because we come in contact with these products multiple times a day. 

We dig a little deeper to uncover how all these issues are connected to climate action to recognize and realize value creation for our personal benefits and wellbeing while reducing our carbon footprint.

We already know from our Food Blog and Challenge #22 that plastics have entered our food chain. We have also learned that chemicals from plastic food packaging and wrappings can leach into our food which we then ingest. But how much toxins do we actually absorb through our skin that adversely impacts our health? 

Our skin is an organ we wear on the outside, unlike internal organs like brains or hearts. It’s considered an organ because it consists of live tissue, a membrane, and has specialized sensitive nerve endings. Skin also happens to be our largest organ, at about 8 pounds (3.6 kilograms) and 22 square feet (2 square meters). Besides holding our bodies together, skin’s primary function is to protect us from the elements and shield us against harm. And, how in turn do we protect our skin to protect us?

In our monthly blog on Green Chemistry we promise to tackle this emerging field from the perspective of value creation – as an economic motivation to climate action and to boost our personal health by phasing out the many unsafe and toxic chemicals found in common food packaging and personal care products.

Both men and women willingly apply an astonishing number of chemicals in the form of personal care products to their skin on a daily basis, perhaps without realizing the possible damage. And while women use a greater number of products, male cosmetics for personal grooming is a booming industry. Men have caught up to an increased risk of exposure from personal care products. 

Beauty and personal care products used by consumers daily or several times a week in the United States as of May 2017, by gender

On average, women use about 12 individual personal care products each day, however many women use upwards of 15 products per day. The number of ingredients in each product increases exposure to questionable chemicals hidden in such personal care and cosmetics products.

Studies have established a clear correlation between the number of products used and elevated levels of toxic chemicals in the body. Some of these chemicals, known as hormone disruptors, can interfere with fertility and can cause cancer. Because of the established connection between daily chemical exposure and growing cancer occurrences, breast cancer awareness month was founded in October 1985 as a partnership between the American Cancer Society and the pharmaceutical division of Imperial Chemical Industries (now part of AstraZeneca, producer of several anti-breast cancer drugs). Since 2004, Movember is an annual event in the month of November to raise awareness on men’s health issues. 

Toxins can build up in the end of the digestive tract, in our intestines, often collectively referred to as the gut or our second brain. Our gut holds trillions of bacteria of over 1000 different species, weighing about 3-4 pounds. The symbiotic relationship of good bacteria in our bodies is critical to our daily health and wellbeing. However, when toxins build up and the gut flora gets out of balance, health problems can occur, starting from inflammation to chronic illness.

Get started with these tips

  • Avoid food packaging and wrapping by buying unpackaged produce and bringing your own reusable cloth bags to the store.
  • Use your purchasing power to express your displeasure with excessive packaging at your local market.
  • Soak your fruits and vegetables (especially EWG’s “dirty dozen”) in a solution of 1:4 vinegar and water for 10 minutes. This helps to wash off pesticide residues, and also increases shelf life.
  • Avoid food treated with pesticides. See EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.
  • Beware of gut and intestinal imbalances. Notice any symptoms and take them seriously. Seek medical advice and do regular screening for colon cancer
  • Do regular screening for breast cancer, men as well as women.
  • Revisit Challenge #41~ Healthy Bathrooms to eliminate toxic chemicals in personal care products and cleaners to avoid exposure and check the priority list of ingredients to avoid.
  • Maintain a healthy gut by eating a healthy fresh diet from fruits and vegetables.

The biggest value and return on investment from learning and knowing about food packaging and personal care products is our personal health and well-being. In addition, we take climate action by no longer contributing to the circulation of toxic chemicals in the environment. Most importantly, as consumers, we provide necessary feedback and hold food and beverage manufacturers accountable to find alternative ways and products to reduce our exposure to unsafe chemicals.

Raising awareness is a process that requires breaking through existing taboos to have ‘uncomfortable’ discussions about breast, colon, and gut health. Emerging research gives us the opportunity to learn how all these issues are connected and act in the best interests of our personal health.

Yes, you, too, can make a difference in the world, one person at a time.