The Top 5 Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Use

Chemicals in our everyday environment produce a toxic burden, which affects every system of our bodies right down to the mitochondria. Mitochondria make the energy our cells need to function properly. When mitochondria are exposed to environmental toxins, energy function fails and cells begin to die.

The high lipid content of mitochondrial membranes pull chemicals into the mitochondria like a magnet. This creates a disproportionate amount of these toxins inside the mitochondria. The higher or more frequent the exposure, the greater the likelihood of toxic effects occurring. The additive exposure to many of these chemicals coming from multiple sources spread out over decades is what’s most alarming. 

Toxic chemicals to watch for:

1.  Plastics and Fragrances (Phthalates)

Phthalates are used to soften plastics and help bind chemicals and scents (fragrances) together. Phthalates affect mitochondrial activities by altering the permeability properties of the inner mitochondrial membrane and inhibiting key enzymatic processes. These chemicals have been implicated in reproductive damage, depressed leukocyte function, and cancer. Phthalates have also been shown to impede blood coagulation, lower testosterone, and alter sexual development in children.

Phthalates are found in almost anything scented (shampoo, shaving lotion, nail polish, air fresheners, laundry detergent) cleaning products, insect repellent, carpeting, vinyl flooring, the coating on wires and cables, shower curtains, raincoats, plastic toys, and your car’s steering wheel, dashboard, and gearshift. Medical devices are also full of phthalates—IV drip bags and tubing are made from phthalates to make them soft and pliable, effectively pumping them directly into the bloodstream of patients.

How to avoid phthalates:

  • Check plastic products: Plastic products with recycling codes 3 and 7 may contain phthalates or BPA. Look for plastic with recycling codes 1, 2, or 5. Whenever possible, avoid using plastic containers!
  • Avoid using plastic in the kitchen: Opt for glass food storage containers, and choose bottles and sippy/snack cups that are made of stainless steel, silicone, or glass. Do not heat food in plastic containers because the heat can accelerate the leaching of chemicals.
  • Shop wisely: Check your cosmetics and household products for the words, “fragrance” or “perfume” on a label which almost always means phthalates. Instead, look for items that say, “no synthetic fragrance” or “scented with only essential oils” or “phthalate-free.”

2.  Pesticides (OPs)

Organophosphates are one of the most toxic groups of substances used throughout the world. They are used in pesticides as well as biochemical weapons/agents. Organophospates target mitochondria and promote oxidative damage triggering cell death.

Organophosphates are also known as endocrine disruptors. They affect complex hormonal processes that regulate growth, metabolism, fertility and the immune system. OPs have also been linked to obesity, asthma, allergies and cancer. Children exposed to organophosphates have more than twice the risk of developing pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), an autism spectrum disorder.

How to avoid organophosphates:

  • EAT ORGANIC FOOD: Avoid exposure to pesticides in your diet, home and garden. Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, nuts, and organic green tea that contain high amounts of antioxidants that can bolster your immune system.
  • Avoid genetically-modified organisms (GMOs): One of the goals of GMOs is to enable the use of more pesticides.
  • Supplement with antioxidants: Antioxidant supplements have been shown to restore mitochondrial dysfunction caused by organophosphates. Key antioxidants are Vitamins C, E, CoQ-10, and alpha-lipoic acid (ALA).
  • Monitor your surroundings: Living near agricultural areas or golf courses that are regularly sprayed with pesticides increases your exposure.
  • Sweat it out: Regular aerobic exercise and sauna treatments can accelerate the elimination of systemic toxins.

3.  Plastics and Canned Foods (BPA)

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a plasticizer found in a wide variety of consumer products, including water bottles (recycle #7), canned foods, and in credit card and cash register receipts. BPA is a strong mitochondrial toxin and has been linked to infertility, breast and reproductive system cancers, obesity, diabetes, and behavior changes. It has even been associated with resistance to chemotherapy treatment.

Manufacturers of baby bottles, sippy cups and sports water bottles switched to other plastics in 2009 upon mounting consumer pressure. Though the FDA banned BPA in baby bottles and children’s cups in 2012, the FDA still allows BPA in food cans. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health determined that volunteers who ate a single serving of canned soup a day for five days had ten times the amount of BPA in their bodies as when they ate fresh soup daily.

How to avoid BPA:

  • Limit your intake of canned foods: Choose fresh or frozen foods.
  • Go for powdered versus liquid baby formula: The packaging of powdered formula contains less BPA. If your baby needs liquid formula, look for brands sold in plastic or glass containers.
  • Check recycling labels: Favor plastic containers with recycling codes 1, 2, or 5..
  • Reheat foods properly: Do not microwave food in plastic containers.
  • Say no to receipts: If you handle a receipt, wash your hands before preparing or eating food. Keep any receipts in an envelope. Do not allow children to hold or play with receipts.

4.  Flame Retardants (PBDEs)

Brominated flame-retardants are used in various products to increase their resistance to fire and/or high temperatures. Often found in televisions, computers, insulation, foam products, including children’s toys and baby pillows, PBDEs have been shown to cause mitochondrial damage by increasing the production of free radicals. Exposure has been associated with neurotoxicity and thyroid conditions.

How to avoid PBDEs:

  • Know your materials: Look for products advertised as “free of flame retardant”.
  • Avoid exposure: The foam in sofas and pillows may contain large amounts of PBDEs. Replace any furniture with exposed foam.
  • Rid your home of dust: Use a high-efficiency HEPA filter vacuum to clean up PBDE particles that have shed in dust around your house.

5.  Antimicorbial Products (Triclosan)

Triclosan is an antimicrobial agent used in personal care products (soap, toothpastes, shampoos, hand and household sanitizers, etc.). It can even be infused into kitchen utensils, toys, and medical devices.

Triclosan is a potent mitochondrial toxin. It interferes with muscle function disrupts hormone regulation and alters immune function. Triclosan’s biggest danger is its possible contribution to the development of antibiotic-resistant germs, leading many companies to begin removing it from their products.

How to avoid triclosan:

  • Don’t go antimicrobial: Avoid using handsoap and other household products labeled as “antibacterial”.
  • Check ingredients: Check labels for triclosan.

While it’s been said you can achieve “better living through chemistry”, scientific research is revealing that many common household products contain chemicals that have toxic effects on our health. However, armed with the above knowledge and a growing number of “environmentally-friendly” products on the market, you can limit your exposure to these toxic chemicals and protect yourself and your family from their health-damaging effects. Start by reducing your exposure to those that are most obvious.

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