We are surrounded by chemicals in our homes. Here’s how to detox

Since the Industrial Revolution, we have synthesised more than 80,000 artificial chemicals and almost all of them have made their way into our air, water, soil and food. "And so into us," says Dr Jenny Goodman, who specialises in the effect poor nutrition and environmental pollution are having on our bodies and brains, and is the author of a new book, Staying Alive in Toxic Times.

In other words, we live in a toxic world.

Beauty and cleaning products can often be absorbed through our skin and into our bloodstream.Credit:iStock

At home, we use beauty and cleaning products with toxic ingredients, says Goodman, most of which are fat-soluble and readily absorbed through our skin and into our bloodstream.

In many cases, these toxins push healthy nutrients out of our system. For example, aluminium, found in deodorants, pushes out silica, which is needed for our connective tissue. "Aluminium has been found in the brains of people with Alzheimer's post-mortem, and in breast tumours," Goodman tells me over a glass of tap water in the British Library, where she wrote most of her book.

Listening to her, one can readily fall into hopeless despair.

Hair dyes are linked with breast cancer and bladder cancer. The mattress you've just bought is impregnated with fire retardants that are only required because it's made of synthetic material. Those fire retardants contain bromine, which pushes out iodine, essential for the functioning of the thyroid gland.

Just this month, a study suggested parabens, commonly found in shampoos, moisturisers and some foods, could cause weight gain in the babies of mothers who use them. Some scientists criticised the methodology of the study. However, nobody disputes that they are hormone disrupters.

Surely, if these everyday items all around us posed such a risk, we'd know about it? When I ask her for the scientific proof of her firmly-held beliefs, she directs me to the 28 pages of references to studies from scientific and medical journals, at the end of her book.

One of the most clear and important ones though is a study that didn't actually make it into the book. Entitled, the "Neuro-behavioural effects of developmental toxicity" it was published in the The Lancet (Neurology) in 2014 and looks at some extremely common industrial chemicals and links them with autism, ADHD, dyslexia and other cognitive deficits in children all over the world. "It is scary. The article summary ends with a call to action; not usual for The Lancet!" says Dr Goodman.

The situation is hardly better outside. Nickel, which is in car fumes, coins and jet fuel, pushes out zinc, vital for our immune system. Too much calcium pushes out magnesium. "All the old ladies with osteoporosis taking calcium – what they need is -vitamin D and K," says Goodman.

Research has shown that autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes and MS could also be linked with toxicity.

Times of hormonal upheaval such as the menopause are particularly affected by what our bodies unwittingly absorb every day. When women come to Goodman complaining of debilitating symptoms of menopause – hot flushes, insomnia, mood swings and so on – she first asks them about the toxins in their life.

"Women are shocked to hear that their favourite hair dye, perfume or nail varnish is full of dangerous chemicals," she says. "Just read the list of ingredients and look them up. Hair dyes go straight through the scalp into the bloodstream and have been linked to bladder and breast cancer. Perfumes contain benzene and other potentially carcinogenic petrochemicals and go straight into your body and brain via the nose, lungs and skin."

In the case of one patient who was suffering from severe hot flushes, but did not want to take HRT, prescribing vitamin E helped considerably. Naturally occurring vitamin E found in food like eggs, avocados, nuts, seeds and lettuce, is in fact eight substances that work together. Yet most vitamin E supplements contain only alpha tocopherol, which is easier to synthesise in a lab. Goodman recommends Life Extension's supplement, which contains all eight sub-types of vitamin E.

Ensuring you are taking a good range of good-quality supplements is a great starting point for fighting off toxins. Goodman takes vitamin C and D through winter, and zinc and magnesium pretty regularly. "I'll take a B complex at breakfast if I feel like I'm doing too much," she says.

Ideally we'd get most of our vitamins from our diet, but due to nutrient depletion in the soil from intensive farming methods, that broccoli you're eating isn't as magnesium-packed as it would once have been. She also advises detoxing your home of extraneous cleaning products, and replacing them with brands such as Ecover.

Should we all ditch deodorant? "What we need to do is wash from time to time and reacclimatise ourselves slightly to the smell of human sweat."

How many of us are willing to make these changes, to give up these things we see as part of everyday life? Goodman equates them to the same as learning to live without plastic bags.

Not all medical professionals believe that our toxic environment is something to worry excessively about, though. Dr Arun Thiyagarajan, the medical director for Bupa Health Clinics, told me that: "Although everyday toxins may be bad for your health, it's important to put risk into context. Using an occasional cleaning product, for example, is unlikely to cause any significant detriments to our health.

"While people may choose to avoid certain products, my advice would be to focus on the bigger things. Regular exercise, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake and protecting your skin from sun damage are some of the most effective ways to stay healthy. They can also help reduce your risk of diseases such as cancer."

He does not recommend taking supplements unless you have been recommended them by your GP, saying: "The majority of people will be able to get the vitamins and nutrients they need from eating a healthy, balanced diet. Perhaps the only common exception is vitamin D, as this typically comes from exposure to the sun – which us Brits don't often get to see!"

Goodman, however, insists that a "21st-century detox is not just for vague or hopeful reasons". It's no quick fix, though. For depression she first normalises a patient's B and D vitamin levels and then slowly reduces their level of antidepressant.

"Slow medicine requires a lot of -determination from patients. My hope is to empower the general public to learn what I and my colleagues, students and patients have learnt about how to get well and stay well."

How to detox: practices and products that may do you the world of good

Sweating is the best way to eliminate toxins. It is very important to wipe off sweat every few minutes, otherwise the toxins released from the tissues on to the skin will simply be reabsorbed by the skin. And shower afterwards.

Vegetable juicing

The purpose is to cleanse the gut and thus the liver. Juicing also provides a fresh and concentrated source of vitamins, minerals and natural antioxidants, which we need to quench the toxic free radicals in our body.

Epsom salt baths
Almost all of us are magnesium-deficient, for reasons to do with diet, stress and pollution, and it is easier to absorb it through the skin than it is orally. Magnesium is vital for muscle relaxation, maintenance of normal blood sugar, bone structure and at least 100 crucial enzyme reactions within the body. It also helps push toxic metals out of the body. The sulphate component of Epsom salts supports some of the liver's detoxification pathways.

Specific supplements
Take B complex, vitamin C and a probiotic with breakfast, and zinc, magnesium and vitamin D with dinner. Always take your magnifying glass with you when buying supplements, and be very careful when reading the labels. The nasties to look out for include talc, which is talcum powder; titanium dioxide, a white dye also used in paint and sunscreen; potassium sorbate, a preservative that can spark hay fever or asthma in sensitive people; and calcium carbonate, which is basically limestone or chalk. Goodman's favourite brands for purity and safety are Viridian, Metabolics, Pure Bio and BioCare.

High-dose vitamin C
For getting rid of heavy metals, vitamin C is invaluable, but to be effective one needs to use it as a medicine rather than as a supplement. Build your daily dose gradually, to find your individual "bowel tolerance".

The Telegraph UK

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