Introduction: We’re Living in a Toxic Soup and It’s Compromising Our Immune Systems
Let’s deal with the bad news first. Unless we fancy moving our home to a cave on the top of a high and distant mountain, we can’t avoid exposure to toxic substances that threaten our immune systems. Quite simply, they’re part of the fabric of our lives, not only in our food and drink, but in the very air that we breathe.
As citizens of the 21st century, synthetic toxins are inescapable. Shockingly, it’s estimated that we’re exposed to up to 100,000 chemicals every day, of which only a small percentage have ever been tested for safety. Everything we touch is ultra-processed; designed in a laboratory and manufactured on an industrial scale. A lot of our food is processed and full of synthetic ingredients, as are our clothes, our cosmetics and personal care products, our household cleaners, our garden sprays, our furnishings, our cooking implements, and even the water we drink.
Thank goodness then, that the human body is a remarkably resilient vessel, able to adapt, adjust and eliminate many of the chemical nasties it ingests.
But there are limits. There’s only so much we can take on before our immune systems are compromised and we become sick.
Imagine, if you will, our body as a bucket, slowly filling with toxins. So long as we can contain them, and stop the bucket from tipping over, then we have a chance of staying healthy. It’s when the bucket fills up and the toxins begin to spill over the side, that we’ve got a problem. Once a critical point is reached, beyond the ability of our bodies to deal with, sickness is never far away.
We need then, to stop the bucket tipping over. We can’t avoid toxicity entirely, but we can limit our exposure, keeping the bucket upright, our immune systems healthy, and our wellbeing intact. To do so, we need to think carefully about every aspect of our lives, adopting a holistic approach to our health and taking a series of small steps which, when put together, can help prevent toxic overload.
And right now, with many of us in lockdown for the foreseeable future, there’s no better place to start than in our homes…
10 Ways to Help Make Your Home an Immunity Hub
Our home should be our haven. It should be a place where we can get away from it all, relax, and look after ourselves. It should be a healthy place, a secure place, a toxic-free zone.
It should be… but it isn’t. Instead, without us even knowing it, we’ve turned our homes into toxic warehouses, chock full of the type of processed goods and synthetic chemicals we really should avoid.
Here are 10 simple steps we can all take now, or in the very near future, to detoxify our homes and protect our immune systems.
- Ensure your home is always well ventilated. This is particularly important right now, with so many of us inside for large portions of our day. Good ventilation helps to dissipate the build–up of harmful toxins like VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) that are often found in objects like carpets and furnishings, beddings, interior paints, new plastics and electronics, varnishes, shampoos, insect repellants, etc.1
- Replace artificial air fresheners and scented candles with essential oils and fresh flowers. Air fresheners (and other chemical sprays) contain a host of chemicals like formaldehyde and p-dichlorobenzene, which are linked with weakened immune systems, diseases like cancer, and conditions like lung damage, and asthma.2
High quality essential oils on the other hand, can help protect our immune system. Lemon essential oil, for example, is not only a wonderful mood enhancer, it’s also a great immunity booster, with anti-microbial benefits that make it an effective hand sanitizer. Others, like peppermint, rosemary and eucalyptus, help relieve congestive disorders, whilst also calming emotions and raising energy levels.
- Toss out any chemical cleaning and laundry products and replace them with natural alternatives like baking soda, lemon, vinegar and/or products made with organic or wholly natural ingredients.
- Use toxin-reducing houseplants to absorb potentially harmful gases and help clean the air inside your home.
- Use cast iron or stainless-steel pans for your cooking and throw away your non-stick pans, which are coated in fluoropolymers manufactured from PFOA, a chemical associated with compromised immune systems, tumors and developmental problems in animals and – potentially – in humans 3
- Reduce exposure to pesticides by: a) establishing a no-shoes policy in your home (pesticides are often picked up outside when we walk); b) buying fresh, organic produce when you can, and: c) avoiding the use of chemical-based pest-control products in your home.
- Install an effective water filtration system in your home, such as a reverse osmosis filter or an under counter multi-stage filter. Water we get straight from the tap can contain VOCs like pesticides, heavy metals, and endocrine disruptors (EDCs).
- Reduce exposure to PBDEs (chemical compounds used as a flame retardant and associated with brain and reproductive damage) by choosing wool or cotton fill over polyester and foam products when it comes to purchasing mattresses or furnishings.4
- Spring-Clean your kitchen cupboard. This is a whole article in itself (and one is coming!), but the foods we eat at home can have a real impact on our immune system, for better or worse. If you possibly can, try to avoid high quantities of sugar, processed foods, soft drinks, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, and tobacco. Instead, look to stock your kitchen with plenty of nuts, seeds, fruit, green vegetables, lean meats and herbal teas.
- Re-set your mind, when it comes to household chores. Our immune systems are compromised when we’re stressed and not sleeping well. It’s important therefore, that we approach lockdown, and all those chores that need doing around the home, with a positive mindset. Did you know, for example, that washing the dishes can be good for us? In a 2014 study, researchers at Florida State University separated 51 students into 2 groups and asked them to wash dishes. Fascinatingly, the group asked to read a mindfulness passage prior to the task – which required them to relax and simply be with the various sensations that accompany washing dishes – felt 25% more inspired and 27% less nervous than the group who approached the task as a chore.
And what applies to washing the dishes, can – of course – apply to any work we do around the house, from gardening, to vacuuming, to hanging out the washing. In the end, our experience of home-life is what we make of it. With some small, mindful adjustments to the way we approach activities that are part and parcel of our daily lives (yes, even washing the dishes!), we can turn our homes into truly restorative, healthy places. Our little hubs of immunity, if you will.
1 ‘Volatile Organic Compounds: The Health Dangers of VOCs, Where They Are Hiding & How to Avoid Them; SixWise.com; http://www.sixwise.com/newsletters/05/12/14/volatile-organic-compounds-the-health-dangers-of-vocs-where-they-are-hiding–amp-how-to-avoid-the.htm
2 Sarah C. Corriher; ‘How Air Fresheners are Killing You; The Health Wyze Report; http://healthwyze.org/reports/184-how-air-fresheners-are-killing-you
3 ‘How Chemical Defense Attorney Blew the Lid Off PFOA and Teflon Dangers’; Mercloa.com; http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2016/01/27/pfoa-teflon-cookware-dangers.aspx
4 ‘The Danger of PBDEs’; Environmental News Network; http://www.enn.com/top_stories/article/28141