Detoxify Your Life

The world is full of toxins, but that doesn’t mean you should throw caution to the wind and leave yourself exposed. Protect your body from common contaminants by knowing where they hide, and how to avoid them.

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Antibiotics in Food

Antibiotics in Food

Today’s farming and animal-raising techniques introduce hormones, pesticides, and herbicides into the food supply. While most of these substances can be processed by the liver without any problems, the overuse of antibiotics in livestock feed probably raises your risk of a food-borne illness.

Chickens, for instance, now harbor bacteria, such as salmonella, that are resistant to antibiotics. If you handle raw chicken or eat undercooked chicken contaminated with such resistant bacteria, the resulting illness could be especially hard to treat because standard antibiotics may not work. The situation could be life-threatening, especially to an elderly person, a child, or someone with a weak immune system.

Even if contaminated meat doesn’t make you sick, ordinarily harmless intestinal bacteria that winds up on the meat of antibiotic-fed animals during processing may carry drug-resistant genes. When people ingest these bacteria, there is a risk of so-called “gene transfer” with existing human intestinal bacteria. Simply put, antibiotic-resistant genes can move into the genetic material of normal bacteria in the human gut.

What you can do: If you want antibiotic-free meats, look for labels that say “no added color or artificial ingredients.” Free-range chickens are often (but not always) antibiotic-free.

Barbecued Meats

The blackened surface of grilled or charbroiled meat contains cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines, formed when the amino acids and sugars in meat are exposed to high temperatures. When melting fat hits hot coals, it triggers formation of another group of carcinogens, called polycyclic amines, which are absorbed into food via smoke and flames.

What you can do: Try grilling vegetables instead of meat. Vegetables don’t create any carcinogens when grilled. Fish is also a better choice; since it contains less fat than meat, it produces fewer polycyclic amines.

If you want to grill meat, reduce the time it spends on the barbecue by precooking it in a microwave or on the stove, then placing it over the flames just long enough to get a grilled flavor. Raise the grill as far from the coals as possible. If you’re using a gas grill, simply lower the heat setting. Turn the meat with tongs rather than a fork to avoid releasing more fatty juices.

Scientists from the American Institute for Cancer Research also recommend marinating meat before cooking it. Studies show that it’s the most effective way to cut the creation of carcinogens during grilling. If you use the marinade as a serving sauce, boil it for three minutes first.

Electromagnetic Fields

In 1979, the first study linking electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from power lines with some types of childhood cancer was published. Ever since, there has been some concern that electronic devices that emit electromagnetic radiation-from alarm clocks to computers-may pose a risk to our health. One worry is that exposure to some EMFs might raise the temperature in human tissues, setting the stage for disease or even altering cellular DNA.

What you can do: To learn how strong EMFs are from a power line near your home or workplace, contact the utility that operates the line. If levels are below 2 mG (milligauss, a standard unit of measurement for EMFs), there is little cause for concern. Check the Yellow Pages under Engineers, environmental to find a technician who will do the test for a fee.

If you want to minimize your exposure to EMFs from appliances, keep your alarm clock at least an arm’s length from your head. When possible, use a laptop computer instead of a desktop model. Hold your hairdryer away from your head, and use an old-fashioned razor instead of an electric shaver.

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Plastic Menaces

Plastic Menaces

Most of us take plastic for granted. We use plastic wrap to keep foods fresh. We drink from plastic bottles. And we buy and store all kinds of food in plastic containers. Yet a growing number of reports suggest that certain plastics aren’t entirely safe. The biggest threat occurs when food is reheated in plastic containers that aren’t microwave safe.

This produces chemical by-products that can disrupt normal hormone secretion. In animals, these by-products can cause cancer, birth defects, and immune problems, but they may not in humans.

What you can do:  It’s considered safe to microwave foods in plastic containers designed for microwave use. But plastic take-out containers, as well as plastics meant for use only in the refrigerator or pantry, shouldn’t be put in the microwave. If you must use clear plastic wrap in the microwave, don’t allow it to touch the food. Avoid drinking hot beverages in poly- styrene (Styrofoam) cups; use a mug instead.


Chances are the rubber gloves you slip on your hands before diving into a sink full of dirty dishes contain latex, a processed rubber that causes immune-system reactions in millions of North Americans each year. The number of these allergic reactions has increased dramatically in recent years, spurred by the widespread use of latex gloves to prevent the spread of AIDS and hepatitis B.

Latex can cause two different reactions in latex-sensitive people. The first, a poison ivy-like rash known as contact dermatitis, usually appears 12 to 36 hours after contact with latex and vanishes within a day or so. The second type of reaction can be more serious, causing hives, rashes, a runny nose, watery eyes, and difficulty breathing. In rare cases, there may be life-threatening symptoms-rapidly falling blood pressure, swelling in the throat, or constricted breathing. A handful of people have even died of latex-related allergies in the past 15 years.

What you can do: The less contact you have with latex, the less likely you are to develop an allergy to it. Use synthetic gloves instead of the latex type, and avoid items that contain latex, including some types of chewing gum, rubber bands, balloons, tennis-racquet grips, and clothes made with Lycra. If you are in a monogamous relationship and you and your partner are HIV- and hepatitis B-negative, consider using natural skin or synthetic condoms instead of latex ones.

Volatile Organic Compounds

Thousands of common products, including rug and oven cleaners, paints, paint thinners, lacquers, perfumes, hair sprays, and dry-cleaning fluids, emit volatile organic compounds, or VOCs-chemicals that transform quickly from liquid to vapor. These compounds also emanate from wood finishes, plywood, paneling, fiberboard, particleboard, carpeting, furniture, permanent-press fabric, draperies, and mattress ticking. VOCs that accumulate in airtight buildings contribute to what some people term “sick building syndrome.”

One of the most widespread VOCs is formaldehyde, classified as a “probable human carcinogen.” It causes nasal cancer in laboratory animals. In humans, it irritates the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. Another common VOC, chloroform, is a by-product of the process used to sanitize drinking water in water-treatment plants.


What you can do: Many items that contain VOCs carry labels that explain the risks and give instructions for safe use. When shopping for carpets, look for the Carpet and Rug Institute “Seal of Approval” sticker, designating lower-than average VOC emissions. Have carpets tacked down rather than glued -adhesives often emit VOCs. When you buy new cabinetry or furniture, ask the dealer to allow you goods to “off-gas” by airing them in an empty, well-ventilated room before delivery. And if you’re painting indoors, open the windows, and consider using an environmentally friendly paint that is low in VOCs. When using varnish or solvents, move your project outdoors if possible.

If you live near a landfill, your tap water may contain higher-than-average levels of VOCs. If it does, consider bottled water as a safe alternative.

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