When it comes to our health, we hear a lot about what we eat and how to move, but there’s one big area (no pun intended) that tends to get ignored— our homes and air pollution. People spend 80 to 90 percent of their time inside, and indoor environments can be 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor environments, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. At our panel on April 10, 2018, WellBe heard from experts in the field on how indoor air pollution affects chronic disease risk— and how to protect ourselves (hint: start with the small things).
Watch panelists Dr. Taz Bhatia, integrative and functional medicine physician; Sacha Dunn, founder and CEO of natural cleaning products company Common Good; Nneka Leiba, the Environmental Working Group’s director of Healthy Living Science; and Christopher Satch, head of plant science and education at plant company The Sill as they spoke to the audience at ABC Carpet & Home’s Deepak Chopra Homebase:
Here are some highlights from our conversation:
Environmental toxins are an emerging risk.
In Dr. Taz’s practice, she’s seeing blood and lab test results come back with toxins as the root of many health issues. When it comes to research, though, it gets murky between what studies are showing versus what she sees in clinical practice. “There are some things we know for sure, and there are some things we are super suspicious of,” she said.
It’s established that asthma, allergies, chronic lung disease, and a lot of autoimmune diseases are connected to air pollution and mold and mildew are connected to chronic fatigue. “We are highly suspicious that the exploding rate of cancer that we see today is connected to indoor pollution as well,” Dr. Taz said.
In her practice, she sees a toxicity component to mental health (anxiety, depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia) and neurocognitive disorders (dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s), as well.
Indoor air pollution isn’t the sole source of the toxicity, however. The cumulative effect of everything you’re exposed to— including indoor pollution, outdoor pollution, your gut health —adds up. But that doesn’t mean we’re doomed! Skip down to point 6 for good news.
Air fresheners are terrible for your health.
Spraying air freshener releases fine particles that include synthetic fragrances that can hold up to 200 different chemicals, many of which can have hormone-disrupting ingredients, phthalates, and potential carcinogens. “[It’s] probably the worst of all the household cleaning products that you could bring in your home,” Dunn said.
Besides synthetic fragrances, other big no-nos for household cleaning products are those with chlorine or ammonia. Going as simple as soap and water is a great way to clean, Dunn said.
Other products to avoid are plastic shower curtains and dryer balls. That “new plastic” smell is the material releasing volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are chemicals known to have harmful effects including asthma, eye and nose irritation, and cancer. With dryer balls, while they help fluff your clothes and reduce energy use, heating up the plastic releases VOCs. Dunn suggests using felt dryer balls instead.
Plants will help detox your home!
Besides purchasing cleaning products with minimal ingredients, one effective way to lower the chemicals in your home is by adding in plants. “Plants have been selected over time by nature. If you weren’t able to survive the volcanoes’ explosion or the fallout from the explosion, then you didn’t pass on those genes and the ones that did survive contain the air cleaning genes,” Satch said.
Plant types each have different ways of improving air quality, including some that ingest VOCs, absorb them, and then rip them apart at a chemical level, detoxifying them so they aren’t harmful.
Any plant will help, but if you want to put your home on a 24/7 cleaning cycle, a snake plant is a good addition because it absorbs the bad stuff at night— most plants work during the day. Add a Calathea or fern to the mix to cover cleaning during the day.
Opening your windows will also help clear the air in your home, especially when you’re using cleaning products.
Keeping tabs on environmental changes and your health can help get to the root cause.
If you’re noticing your health has changed, start thinking about your home and work environments for potential indoor pollutants, Dr. Taz said. She’s heard patient stories of people who work in a “sick building” where someone in one cubicle had cancer, someone in another had rheumatoid arthritis, and someone in another had Crohn’s disease. When it comes to your home, keep in mind whether the building is new or old— each has its issues. Older homes may struggle with mold, asbestos, poor ventilation, or fluorescent light bulbs. A lot of newer homes are made with prefabricated wood and paints that release VOCs. Dr. Taz suggests her patients walk through their homes and look at the construction, materials, paint, furniture, and plastic.
Toxic mold can lead to inflammatory disease and chronic fatigue. If you’re feeling like something’s off with your health, buy a mold plate online to easily assess if you’ve got mold colonies.
Another resource is Dr. Taz’s Toxic Load Quiz. Grab a pen and paper, total up what your toxicity score is, and read her tips for reducing the toxic load.