IstockphotoBy Chris Woolston
Every day we put potential toxins into our mouths, breathe them into our lungs, and track them into our homes without ever really knowing where they'll end up-or how much damage they'll do when they get there. In fact, if you could peek inside your body you'd find fire-retardant chemicals, heavy metals, pesticides, plastic particles, and dozens of other residues of modern life.
The time has come to fight back! Our 12 simple steps will help you detoxify everything from your food to your feet, from your bedroom to your breasts. Purifying your life won't happen overnight, despite what those detox foot-pad makers promise on late-night television. (PS: They don't work!) But if you begin today you'll definitely be a little healthier by the time you get into bed. Here's how to get started:
1. Protect against pesticides
Washing fruit and veggies is a must-do every time you bring them home. Why? An overload of pesticides in air, food, or water may set the stage for Parkinson's disease, breast cancer, and possibly Alzheimer's disease decades down the road, according to research. Apparently the chemicals in pesticides-which find a home on the surface of produce-can damage the energy-producing parts of brain cells. There's also a pesticide-and-arthritis link. Protect your brain and body by washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly, especially if you aren't eating organic. (You don't need to use fancy detergent; plain water should do the trick.)
Also watch out for pesticides in your own yard and garden, because anything you spray outside will likely end up in your home. Defend your greenery, instead, with insects (such as ladybugs) or a natural, safe repellent like neem oil (1 quart, $22.50).
2. It's curtains for plastic
You know that strong odor emanating from some new plastic shower curtains and mattress covers? Blame the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) used to manufacture them-which releases toxic chemicals that can make you dizzy and drowsy with just a few deep whiffs. Retailers like Target sell curtains made with materials like cotton, polyester, or hemp, which are safer to use and easier to clean.
3. Look out for lead
Thanks to the widespread use of leaded gasoline in past decades, women 40 and up have high amounts of lead in their bones, says Ellen Silbergeld, PhD, a toxicology expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Why that's bad: As your bones greedily soak up calcium, they can easily be fooled by lead, a dangerous metalliclook-alike. Lead-laden bones may be weak and prone to breaks. And as bones start to thin after menopause, the toxic metal could be released into the bloodstream, where it can increase blood pressure and possibly lead to neurological and kidney trouble.
How to fight back? Calcium, vitamin D, and regular exercise all can slow bone loss and reduce the amount of lead that moves from the bones into the blood, Silbergeld says. To keep more lead from climbing aboard, reduce dust in your home with either frequent wet-mopping or good vacuuming with a HEPA-filtered cleaner. (HEPA vacuums trap even those tiny dust particles you can't see.)
The lead-paint issue is a toughie. If you live in an old home or apartment with chipping paint, talk to a knowledgeable inspector about testing before you do any renovating. Call the National Lead Information Center at 800-424-5323. Keep in mind: The Environmental Protection Agency says home test kits aren't very reliable. Ask your doctor whether you need a blood-lead test, which usually isn't necessary unless you've gotten acute exposure, say, during a home renovation. (And while we're on the topic of paint, be sure to renovate with these healthy paint brands that don't contain irritating volatile organic compounds.)
4. Be smart down there
Do tampons have dangerous levels of dioxins or asbestos? Nah, it's a myth. But don't ignore the small-but-real risk of toxic shock syndrome (several dozen women get it each year), a potentially fatal condition caused by poison-producing staph or strep bacteria. Lower your odds by changing your tampon every four to eight hours and avoiding highly absorbent types (often labeled "ultra").
Protect your ovaries while you're at it, by limiting exposure to perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs)-often in the coatings of nonstick pans and many other items like clothing, furniture, and packaged-food containers-which may double the risk of infertility, according to a study in Human Reproduction.
5. Don't party hard
There's some concern that chemicals found in plastic bottles and food containers have estrogen-like effects and can slightly raise the risks of breast cancer. But so far there is no real proof. What do we know that really does boost breast cancer risk? Alcohol. A new, massive study from England suggests that just one drink a day is linked to 11 additional cases of breast cancer per 1,000 women, and each drink after that increases the dangers. Even then, the risks remain small-your overall lifetime risk is about 12%. But if you think of alcohol as a toxin, maybe you'll think twice before getting a frequent buzz.
6. Soap yourself silly
It's tempting to try those gadgets or elixirs (or even foot pads) that claim to help you shed toxins through pores or sweat glands, but they're a waste, experts say.
The one skin product every toxin-conscious person should have? Soap. Sudsing up your skin every day (with extra washes for your hands) will help clear away toxin-producing germs, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), that can cause nasty skin infections. Use alcohol-based hand gels when soap and water aren't convenient. If you're worried about soap's drying effects, try a natural moisturizer like Dr. Hauschka Skin Care Rose Body Moisturizer ($39.95).
7. Use pain pills sparingly
Your liver is a toxin-clearing machine, but it's not perfect. Many medications, including common drugs such as the pain-reliever acetaminophen, can damage the organ. According to the American Liver Foundation, you shouldn't take more than 3 grams of acetaminophen a day-the equivalent of six extra-strength pills-for more than a few days in a row. Take as small a dose as you need to feel better.
8. Don't fool with fire retardants
Flame-retardant chemicals common in foam products and electronics, such as mattresses and televisions, have found their way into virtually every human body.
No one is sure if that's a problem for humans, but animal studies show that these chemicals, known as polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs), may interfere with the functioning of the thyroid gland and immune system. To be safe, seal up any rips in old foam cushions or mattresses (which may have been treated with the retardants) or get new ones, since many companies are phasing out PBDEs.
9. Stay smoke-free
You know regular smoking is a killer but think the occasional smoke can't hurt? Not true. University of Arizona researchers found that just one cigarette impairs blood flow in the heart. And a Norwegian study showed that women who smoked one to four cigarettes a day tripled their risk of dying from heart disease and saw a fivefold jump in the risk of dying from lung cancer.
The threat of secondhand smoke is no less scary: Exposure kills nearly 50,000 adult nonsmokers every year. There are even new worries that thirdhand smoke (what's left in your hair or your clothes after being in a smoke-filled room) is harmful, especially to babies. Sadly, you can't stop other people from smoking. But you can help your body rebound by eating a lot of broccoli and cauliflower.
These cruciferous vegetables (which also include Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and watercress) contain sulfouraphane and other compounds linked to lower disease risks. Studies suggest that people who regularly eat these vegetables enjoy protection from lung cancer. Three to five servings a week should do the trick, but don't boil or microwave them to mush; overcooking may destroy the toxin-fighting compounds.
10. Freshen in friendlier ways
That sweet-smelling air freshener? It may be polluting your home with chemicals that can irritate your eyes and lead to headaches and nausea. Aerosol cleaners are equally guilty. Instead of covering up unpleasant smells, open the windows when weather permits. Get some fresh air in your home office, too, where ultrafine particles from laser printers can escape into the air. And green up with Areca palms, Boston ferns, and English ivy; they help purify your air. When you're cleaning, try natural solutions like baking soda or vinegar.
11. Eat safer fish
Heavy metals can be hard on the heart. Mercury, for example, may raise your risk of atherosclerosis or a heart attack. Ironically, we get the vast majority of our mercury from fish, a supposedly heart-healthy food because of its high omega-3-fat content.
The Food and Drug Administration urges women who are pregnant or nursing to avoid mercury-rich fish including shark, swordfish, and king mackerel. It's probably wise to go easy on slightly less-tainted types such as tuna, too. Such advice actually makes good sense for every adult, Silbergeld says. To cut down on mercury, stick with cod, flounder, and wild Alaskan or Pacific salmon, as well as shellfish like clams and shrimp. If you love sushi (with its healthy combo of resistant starch and omega-3s), limit yourself to one to two meals a month, and don't always choose tuna.
12. Wipe your feet
Your shoes can play a vital role in detoxifying your home. Pesticides and lead-contaminated dust-not to mention annoying pollen during allergy season-tend to settle on the ground and can stick to footwear. Wiping your feet on an abrasive, high-quality door mat before walking inside can keep toxins from invading your space. Better yet, make a habit of taking off your shoes at the door.