COVER STORY

What ON EARTH ARE WE DOING TO OUR PLANET!

With files and images from  NEWS CANADA

With files and images from NEWS CANADA

By SHAGORIKA EASWAR

I could hear it sloshing around in the can but all my efforts to extract another squirt of the oven cleaner were to no avail.

Frustrated, I set it aside, grumbling about how much toothpaste, face scrub, shampoo or conditioner, etc., we throw away only because we can’t get it out of the darn container or tubes. Which set me off on a tangent. What did people do before all these cleaners and cleansers became available? The ladies – for it had to have been the ladies – must have scrubbed their ovens clean a century or so ago, too. But how? With what?

All-knowing Google revealed that baking soda, liquid castile soap and coarse salt were all-purpose cleaners, used in varying combinations and percentages. Baking soda and salt are readily available in our kitchens, the soap can be sourced easily and none of them contain harmful chemicals and MEA, DEA, TEA. Ammonia, sodium hydroxide and triclosan are some of the culprits found in products ranging from laundry detergents to glass cleaners. These can linger on surfaces and are easily absorbed by our skin, exposing us and our children to hazardous chemicals with unhealthy side effects.

If I needed any persuasion to try earth-friendly alternatives, this release from the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) did the job. According to it, commonly used household cleaners could be making children overweight by altering their gut microbiota.

The study analyzed the gut flora of 757 infants from the general population at age three to four months and weight at ages one and three years, looking at exposure to disinfectants, detergents and eco-friendly products used in the home.

Researchers from across Canada looked at data from the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) birth cohort on microbes in infant fecal matter. They used World Health Organization growth charts for body mass index (BMI) scores.

Associations with altered gut flora in babies three to four months old were strongest for frequent use of household disinfectants such as multisurface cleaners, showing lower levels of Haemophilus and Clostridium bacteria, but higher levels of Lachnospiraceae. The researchers also observed an increase in Lachnospiraceae bacteria with more frequent cleaning with disinfectants. They did not find the same association with detergents or eco-friendly cleaners. 

If you are like me, you will not know your clostridium bacteria from lachnospiraceae, but you will find the following of interest.

“We found that infants living in households with disinfectants being used at least weekly were twice as likely to have higher levels of the gut microbes Lachnospiraceae at age  three to four months,” said Anita Kozyrskyj, a University of Alberta pediatrics professor, and principal investigator on the SyMBIOTA project, an investigation into how alteration of the infant gut microbiome impacts health. “When they were three years old, their body mass index was higher than children not exposed to heavy home use of disinfectants as an infant.”

Simply put, babies living in households that used eco-friendly cleaners had different microbiota and were less likely to be overweight as toddlers.

Kozyrskyj suggests that the use of eco-friendly products may be linked to healthier overall maternal lifestyles and eating habits, contributing in turn to the healthier gut microbiomes and weight of their infants.

“Antibacterial cleaning products have the capacity to change the environmental microbiome and alter risk for child overweight,” write the authors of the study. 

A related commentary supports these findings.

“There is biologic plausibility to the finding that early-life exposure to disinfectants may increase risk of childhood obesity through the alterations in bacteria within the Lachnospiraceae family,” write epidemiologists Dr. Noel Mueller and Moira Differding, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

They call for further studies “to explore the intriguing possibility that use of household disinfectants might contribute to the complex causes of obesity through microbially mediated mechanisms”.

Dr. Kozyrskyj agrees and points to the need for studies that classify cleaning products by their actual ingredients. “The inability to do this was a limitation of our study.”

Anecdotal evidence and media reports suggest that Canadians are already making earth-friendly choices.

More and more of us – 66 per cent by some counts – are opting to buy organic. By choosing organic, they are helping themselves, their community and the environment. Here’s why:

Multiple studies have found lower levels of nitrates and pesticide residues that pollute our soil and water in organic produce than in non-organic varieties. Several studies have also indicated greater levels of vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorus in organic produce. In some cases, foods grown organically also contain higher levels of heart-healthy phyto-chemicals.

There are more than 5,000 organic farms in Canada, covering almost 2.5 million acres of land. Each of them produces fresh home-grown food that’s nutritious, tastes great and is good for our environment and communities. Sourcing locally and eating seasonally supports local farmers, taking us one step further toward knowing where our food comes from and using less of the earth’s resources to acquire it.

Organic foods must be certified, so look for the Canada Organic logo to be sure the foods you’re buying contain at least 95 per cent organic ingredients. The logo is your assurance that products have been grown and handled according to strict procedures and rules and are in compliance with Canada’s Organic Products Regulations.

Shopping sustainably is easy. By simply changing a few of your purchasing habits, you can help reduce your carbon footprint. And with spring finally here, there’s no better time to get outside and explore your options.

Check out farmers’ markets. These local markets support a sustainable food system by offering regionally grown foods, creating less waste, and using certified organic practices. Sustainable farming also creates a mutually beneficial relationship between farmers and consumers. They provide us with fresh, healthy food like vegetables, cheeses, meats and herbs, and we in turn contribute to their success by making sure small family farms stay in business and that their land remains protected from development.

Visit an organic farm. Get your kids involved by encouraging them to pick their own fruits and vegetables so they can learn where their food comes from and the process of farm to table. You can also take a farm tour to better understand the types of sustainable practices that organic farmers follow to enhance biodiversity, maintain good soil health and foster ecological balance. Engaging on this level with the people responsible for producing your food is not something you can do at many grocery stores, so take this opportunity to learn and get to know your local farmers.

Grow your own food. Producing your own food doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Whether you start small by growing a couple of herbs inside or decide to create your own rooftop or backyard garden, growing your own food can be very rewarding. You’re eating locally, wasting less by growing only what you want, and experiencing the taste of fruits and vegetables right off the vine. If none of these are viable options for you, consider taking part in a community garden or joining a co-op.

But with other products you shop for, don’t confuse “natural” with safe.

Claims like “100 per cent natural” or “all-natural ingredients” splashed across a variety of products can sometimes be misleading. Sometimes the word “green” or “organic” may be added as well. But are “green” or “natural” products actually safer to use?

Just because a product is natural, green or organic doesn’t mean it doesn’t have risks. They are still made up of chemicals, just ones produced by nature instead of humans. And nature produces plenty of chemicals that can harm us if we’re exposed to too much of them.

Often, natural ingredients are no different than synthetic ones in how they work or what risks they pose. In fact, a synthetic substance that mimics a natural one can sometimes provide a purer ingredient that can make a product safer for use.

Some tips on how to prevent exposure to chemicals in the home, whether they are natural or not, include:

Read the label and follow all instructions before use.

Lock up your chemicals to keep them out of reach of children and pets.

Dispose of household chemical products the right way. Check with your municipality to learn how and where.

Ventilate your home.

More info at:

www.cmaj.ca/lookup/doi/10.1503/cmaj.170809

Podcast permanent link: https://soundcloud.com/cmajpodcasts/170809-res.

www.canada.ca/healthy-home.

To stock up on supplies or learn more about sustainable practices, visit chfa.ca or your local Canadian Health Food Association member health food store.

 

Your home needs a spring detox, too!

 

From NEWS CANADA

Purging our homes of winter dust and gunk is a refreshing way to welcome the season. Michelle W. Book, in-house holistic nutritionist at the Canadian Health Food Association, says there are three chemical-laden hotspots in your home to look out for. These areas need a detox even more than you do after a winter’s worth of comfort foods and hibernation!

Bathroom. There are a few glaring targets in your bathroom that are easy enough to flag for spring cleaning: toilet, sink, bathtub. But what many people forget to detoxify is their cosmetics cabinet. The average woman wears over 500 chemicals, courtesy of various personal hygiene and cosmetic products, many of which are not only harmful for our environment but can also be hazardous to your health. Be sure to get rid of anything containing BHT (butylated hydroxytulene) and BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), which have hormone disrupting effects and have been linked to carcinogen compounds. Replace them with natural, toxin-free alternatives. Coconut oil is a great way to condition your hair or moisturize your skin and also contains natural microbial and antibacterial agents.

Kitchen. Did you know that nearly 75,000 different chemical ingredients are found in common household cleaners like dish soaps and all-purpose cleaners? These can leave toxic residues on the surfaces you clean, including countertops and dishes, exposing you and your children to many unwanted substances. Start by disposing of products which contain MEA, DEA, TEA and ammonia. The best way to avoid contact with these toxins is to simply opt for greener alternatives. 

Laundry room. When your clothes come out of the laundry, how clean are they really? Laundry detergents remove stains and dirt from our clothes, but your skin absorbs over 60 per cent of what’s put on it, including chemical residues from detergents that end up in the fabric of your clothes. Chemicals commonly found in detergents include chlorine, a skin irritant; phosphates, which promote algal blooms that kill aquatic life; and trisodium nitrilotriacetate, which can re-dissolve heavy metals in our waterways.

Here are some environmentally-friendly recipes for DIY household cleaners you can use on nearly any surface in your home. And they’re just as effective but much safer for you and your family.

All-purpose cleaner. Combine one cup each warm water and white vinegar in a spray bottle and shake well. Use on most surfaces. Add 20 to 30 drops of your favourite essential oil if you prefer something scented. For tougher jobs, double up on the vinegar.

Furniture polish. Add two tablespoons each of olive oil and white vinegar (or lemon juice) to two cups warm water in a spray bottle. Shake well before spraying on wooden and plastic furniture and wiping clean.

Laundry detergent. Dissolve six tablespoons of baking soda and two tablespoons of coarse salt in 2 litres of hot water, then add six tablespoons of liquid castile soap. Mix well and add half a cup per full load directly into the washer tub.

Glass and mirror cleaner. All you need is equal parts water and white vinegar, mixed gently in a spray bottle. Wipe with an old newspaper for a streak-free finish.

Stainless steel cleaner. Gently massage a very thin layer of olive oil onto stainless steel surface, then wipe off with a cloth dampened in white vinegar. Now your appliances are clean and fingerprint resistant.

Find more recipes for DIY alternatives and other ways to make your own clean products online at chfa.ca. If you’re not into DIY, then stop by your local CHFA member health food store and explore the many natural household cleaning products.            

 

Essential beauty tips for Spring

 

From NEWS CANADA

With all the excitement of getting outside during spring time, we may forget to take proper care of our skin. When not treated, our skin problems from winter can continue through the warmer months. So check out these three essential natural beauty tips from the Canadian Health Food Association to help you keep your skin looking fresh.

Always use sunscreen. Applying sunscreen regularly is the first and easiest step to protect against sun damage.

This is especially crucial to remember in the spring and summer, when we’re outside more often. Brimming with options, the sunscreen aisle can seem overwhelming but you can simplify your choice by looking for a natural sunscreen made with zinc oxide and titanium oxide. Unlike others, natural sunscreens contain ingredients that lie on the skin and reflect the sun’s rays without being absorbed.

If you’re catching some waves, make sure you re-apply throughout the day – water reduces the effectiveness of sunscreen, even if it says it’s waterproof.

Balance your natural oils with argan oil. Argan oil is a great moisturizer that works for your face, hair and nails.

Thanks to its high vitamin E content and fatty acids, argan oil helps reduce the appearance of acne scars and has been shown to help reduce pigmentation and age spots.

If you suffer from oily skin, there’s more good news: argan oil can also help rebalance those oils and reduce the look of shine throughout the day.

Treat your hair with an avocado mask. If you suffered from a dry and itchy scalp during the winter, the problem may not go away on its own just because it’s spring. Try a DIY recipe for an avocado, olive oil and honey hair mask to bring back the moisture. Simply mix one avocado with two tablespoons of olive oil and one tablespoon of honey in a bowl, and spread on damp hair. Make sure to massage the scalp. Leave on for 20 to 30 minutes and follow your regular hair-washing routine. You’ll notice a big difference immediately.

For natural sunscreen, oils and all these ingredients, check out chfa.ca to find your local CHFA member health food store.

 

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