I learned the hard way the role that toxins have in health and illness. Now I'm passionate about making everyone aware of the toxins we are continuously exposed to. It's been a hard road, but today I feel blessed to be a 21st century canary in the coal mine! |
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Wow! The last post I wrote was late April of 2015. I assure you I am still around. But I’ve been through a lot since last April.
Since the journey is very personal, I’ve been talking about it on a different blog under my name: Barbara McNeely. The new journey officially started on May 22nd, 2015 and it’s described for you on this blog post.
Needless to say, the surgery and recovery have consumed much of my time. And have me re-evaluating my purpose and my path going forward. If you want to read more about it, you can follow my newest blog.
I’m going to start this story in the middle. I’ll work on catching you up as I go along. It’s just that today is the day I decided for sure that this story had to be told.
Last night I had the strange leg swelling again. It was most noticeable in the left knee because the extra fluid on that knee made it painful to put any pressure on it. So, that means not sleeping on the left side OR the right side. Which leaves just one choice left: sleeping on my back. It always takes me longer to fall asleep on my back and that gives me time to think.
I had this problem a few weeks back. And I asked everyone I knew about it to see if they could figure out why. Why? Still my favorite question. The question started out to NOT be about the swelling so much as understanding why, once I was relaxed and in bed, did my knee start hurting when even the slightest pressure was put on it. And furthermore, why did the problem go away after sleeping for a few hours.
I asked my chiropractor and he shed some light on it for me, and left me with more detective work. He said that it hurt because of a fluid build up. The fluid coming from lower parts of the leg and it spread to the knee while lying down. He suggested that I look at food as a cause.
And that’s when I realized that perhaps it was caused by cucumber, since I had added cucumber smoothies (cucumber + cold water) to my diet in an effort to reduce swelling and lower blood pressure. I stopped the cucumber and the problem went away. Do you see the irony in that? I bring in a food to reduce swelling and it causes even more?
When it happened again last night, I had to look at what I had changed recently. I assure you that I’ve not had cucumber since I figured out that connection. As I drifted off to sleep, I remembered that I had almond butter on my toast for the first time in several weeks. Perhaps it is an almond issue then, or an issue to a contaminant such as mold.
This morning, I chose to put butter on my toast and not almond butter. The first bite I took was of the fresh cantaloupe, the same cantaloupe I ate yesterday morning. Almost immediately, I noticed that the tip of my tongue felt strange, almost as if it was a bit swelling and burned all at the same time.
Now I have to suspect both foods – almond butter and cantaloupe. I’ll cut out the cantaloupe for sure but I may give the almond butter another try, maybe. In a few weeks.
As I said, this is the middle of the story. I’ll be writing more in the coming days and weeks. I have a lot to say and a lot of questions. Here are just a few:
Do we slow down because we age? Or do we age because we slow down?
Lately, I have noticed that some people tend to confuse the terms antiperspirant and deodorant. It makes sense, in a way, because they both work to achieve the same thing.
Let’s face it, none of us wants to smell bad. And, for some, we also concerned about the amount of sweat we produce.
I’ll start with my own experience. Many, many years ago, I tried using antiperspirants. I developed small, painful lumps in my pits. That went away when I changed to a deodorant. My husband had a similar experience. Today I understand why, and I’ll get to that shortly.
Both types of products – antiperspirants and deodorants – have essentially the same goal. And that is to eliminate body odor. It’s how they do it and the ingredients they use that matter.
How Antiperspirants Work
If you break the word down, then you have an idea how it works:
anti – this is a prefix meaning preventing or suppressing
perspire – defined as “give out sweat through the pores of the skin as the result of heat, physical exertion, or stress”
Therefore, an antiperspirant works by seemingly preventing sweat. Except the don’t actually prevent sweat, they work by clogging the pores. The sweat still happens, but it likely finds another outlet. Or it could back up in the body.
This isn’t really a good thing. We sweat for very good reasons. Two of them are to remove toxins from the body and to help cool the body down. So clogging the pores may not be a good thing. I believe that the problems I encountered when using antiperspirants was due to the build up of toxins that were unable to leave through the pores.
The active ingredients in antiperspirants are aluminum salts. That fact alone is enough to make many people want to stay away from them since there are some reports linking aluminum to breast cancer.
It’s also interesting to me that antiperspirants aren’t required to fully stop sweating to use that name on the label. According to this Huffington Post article, “the FDA only requires that a brand cut back on sweat by 20 percent to boast ‘all day protection/ on its label.” That explains why you find antiperspirants paired with deodorants and perfumes – what the antiperspirant doesn’t catch, the deodorant or perfumes will make smell better.
There are two answers to this question. The primary goal of a deodorant is to prevent body odor. It’s right there in the word:
de – this is a prefix denoting removal or reversal
odor – a distinctive smell, especially an unpleasant one
There are a number of ways that a deodorant can prevent body odor. Before talking about them you first need to know the source of the odor. There are bacteria on your skin that grow and thrive in sweat. These bacteria are responsible for body odor. Most deodorants employ more than technique for preventing body odor:
Antimicrobials -The best deodorants have antimicrobial properties that prevent the growth of the bacteria. No bacteria, no odor.
Odor-aborbing Substances – Products such as baking soda will absorb odors.
Perfume or fragrance – These are added to many deodorants. Their function is to actually mask the smell of body odor. You may find fragrance as an ingredient in ‘unscented’ deodorants. They’ll be listed as ‘masking fragrances.’
If you’ve read this blog for long, it won’t surprise you to know that I believe the best deodorants have no fragrance at all. Even if you’re not sensitive to fragrance, ask yourself why you would need a fragrance in your deodorant? In a world where every product comes with a fragrance, why do you want ALL of those smells? Better to find a deodorant that works well and doesn’t NEED fragrance to hide the fact it doesn’t work well!
I would be remiss …
if I finished this post without talking about Mariposa Naturals Deodorant. It’s the one in the picture at the top of this page.
Have you ever been in an enclosed vehicle when someone uses their hand sanitizer? The power of the VOCs in the fragrance take over and soon the fragrance fills the entire vehicle. It’s too much for most people to have to breathe in a small enclosed space.
Last year, on a road trip, another passenger used their hand sanitizer. Within seconds the fragrance filled the entire car. I wound up hanging my head out the window for a few miles to avoid a migraine. Since then, I have purchased a fragrance-free, alchol-free hand sanitizer and keep one in both of our vehicles.
I understand the need for hand sanitizers when there is no other way to wash your hands. While I do carry one on trips and have them in the car, I try not to use them often.
Here are some reasons you should rethink frequent use of hand sanitizers:
Most hand sanitizers contain alcohol. The alcohol concentration needs to be 60% or higher in order to kill germs.
The alcohol in hand sanitizer will dry your skin.
Too many hand sanitizers are full of fragrance, enough to drive the scent-sensitive crazy!
Hand sanitizers don’t really clean your hands. That’s right. They may be killing some of the bacteria on your hands, but they are NOT a replacement for soap and water.
Cleaning your hands with a hand sanitizer will not remove food allergens from your hands. Hand sanitizer may kill the bacteria and viruses, but it won’t remove everything from the hand. So when dealing with food allergies, nothing replaces good old soap & water!
As I said, I am not opposed to the occasional use of hand sanitizer for those times when soap and water isn’t available. I just encourage everyone to find less harmful hand sanitizers. Even if you think they don’t harm you, be considerate of the people around you.
So, tell me in the comments …
Do you rely on hand sanitizers to clean your hands?
There is so much information here on the internet. You could literally prove either side of any argument by selecting the right sources. Who do you believe? It’s hard to know. Some writers have good intentions but are misguided. And others have an agenda, perhaps because they want their side to look good. It can be hard to weed through all the information to get to the truth.
Parabens fit easily into this category. Parabens are used as preservatives in many skin care products, shampoos, deodorants and antiperspirants, and more. It makes sense that you don’t want bacteria to grow in your lotion, right?
On the ingredient label, you’ll find them listed as ethylparaben or butylparaben or methylparaben or propylparaben. Methylparaben & propylparaben are the most common ones and can be found in over ten thousand (10,000) products in the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Skin Deep database.
Parabens are derived from – Sorry this is where it gets confusing:
All commercially used parabens are synthetically produced, although some are identical to those found in nature. They are produced by the esterification of para-hydroxybenzoic acid with the appropriate alcohol, such as methanol, ethanol, or n-propanol.
Parabens are derived from para-hydroxybenzoic acid, or PHBA, which occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables.
That’s a lot of mumbo-jumbo, and they essentially say the same thing, although Cosmetics Info leads you to believe that perhaps the parabens used in cosmetics are derived from fruits and vegetables. But they’re not. They’re derived from a chemical reaction.
And, even though the PHBA is found in plants, y’all should know by now how I feel about taking products out of their natural environment. I’ve touched on it before. A good example is the sugar in an apple or other fruit. When consumed with the apple, the sugar isn’t really a problem. The fiber slows the sugar down in its transit through the body. But, taken alone as apple juice, that sugar can wreak havoc on your body.
Do parabens cause cancer?
Maybe, maybe not.
According to a Real Simple article on parabens, parabens were classified as xenoestrogens in the 1990s because of their ability to mimic estrogen. And a cancer researcher found parabens in tumor cells. This alone, doesn’t prove a relation between parabens and cancer. Also, no tests were done to determine if healthy cells also contained parabens. Still, like a puppy holding its favorite toy, many people hold on to the fact that a researcher linked parabens to cancer.
So, their role in cancer, if any, has not been proven so far.
Parabens as Xenoestrogens
The fact that parabens are classified as xenoestrogens raises some other questions. As xenoestrogens, parabens act like estrogens within the body. Hence, they will increase the total amount of estrogen. According to a Women In Balance article on xenoestrogens:
Build up of xenoestrogens have (sic) been indicated in many conditions including: breast, prostate and testicular cancer, obesity, infertility, endometriosis, early onset puberty, miscarriages and diabetes.
That build up is based upon ALL of the chemicals that are xenoestrogens. A list is included in the “Women In Balance” article mentioned above. Taken together, exposure to xenoestrogens can be quite high.
Are parabens safe?
According to the FDA, there is no reason to be concerned with parabens. Which doesn’t say that they have been tested and proven safe. Nor does it rule out a future finding that they are harmful. They believe that they are safe when used at low levels.
Checking the EWG’s website, parabens are rated in the moderate toxicity range. You may want to reconsider their use, especially if you experience skin sensitivity to make up and skin care products.
What are considered low levels? How do we know our level of exposure? Keep in mind that our skin is our largest organ. Applying lotion to your entire body allows for a large area exposed to whatever is in that lotion.
Should you use products that contain parabens? That’s up to each of us to decide for ourselves and for our children.
For myself, I try to avoid products containing parabens. Partially because of the parabens themselves, but also because of the many chemicals in those same products. I avoid as many chemicals as possible.
So, tell me in the comments …
Are you concerned about you and your family’s exposure to parabens?
Last week, I was discussing essential oils with a friend. To be clear, I believe that essential oils have a place, I just think that, like most things, they need to be used in moderation. And yes, I am talking about them again. I promise this will be the last essential oil post for awhile. Probably.
I came up with the following analogy of why & how something that starts out good may turn out to have some not-so-good qualities:
Let’s start with the apple. I think we can all agree that an organic apple is good for you. Right? Although perhaps, if you’re diabetic then you may want to limit your intake of apples.
I asked Google and learned that, according to the USDA, an apple has 19 grams of sugar. It also has 4.4 grams of fiber, 1.6 grams of other carbohydrates, 0.3 grams of fat, as well as sodium, potassium, and other vitamins and minerals. In reality, the list of what’s in an apple is longer than a nutrition label. All of it works together. The fiber works to slow down the release of sugar into the bloodstream.
My point? We started with something good – an apple. And when concentrating it we lost all of the fiber and who knows what else? So that apple with natural sugar turned into a glass of apple-flavored sugar water by the time we got to the apple juice from concentrate. In other words, we got something potentially harmful when taken regularly.
The same can apply to an essential oil. Let’s take oregano essential oil. No real reason to choose oregano, it was the first one that came to mind. Besides, I love oregano and use it a lot when I am cooking.
It is possible to make your own oregano essential oil although it sounds like a lot of work. I include the link because in step 12 it hints at how much plant material you will need to make just over an ounce of EO. If you have a 10 liter (equals 2.6 gallon or 333 ounce) kettle filled with water and plants, you’ll get about 1 1/4 ounces of essential oil. That is a lot of concentrated plant material.
So what’s in that oregano essential oil that is said to be beneficial? According to the Aromatherapy Bible, it is the phenols that provide anti-bacterial action. And oregano essential oil appears to have a high concentration of phenols. You can read about the composition of oregano oil in this article on oregano oil.
So this is where I perked up. I recall phenols from the days that I worked in research at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. We used a lot of chemicals in the lab that were dangerous. And one of these was a phenol solution. I once knocked a bottle containing phenol out of the refrigerator in the lab. Of course it broke. And it spilled on my feet. I had on knee high hose that day and it ATE through those hose. We were quick to rinse my feet, but I did sustain some minor burns. My point? Phenols can be toxic!
A semivolatile organic compound is an organic compound which has a boiling point higher than water and which may vaporize when exposed to temperatures above room temperature. Semivolatile organic compounds include phenols and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).
Perhaps I have side-tracked my analogy. Or perhaps not. We started with oregano plants and concentrated it. Highly concentrated – extracting only the oil. And the type of compounds – the phenols – illustrate that, while the essential oil can be beneficial, it should be used with caution.
This week, our Toasmasters Club held a speech contest. We do this two times per year. On a whim, or in a moment of temporary insanity, I decided to enter the contest. I was then inspired to write a blog post similar to the speech. Then, I decided to just give you the text of my speech. Here it is:
Canaries and perfumes and migraines.
Mister Toastmaster, Fellow Toastmaster & Distinguished guests. Can those 3 things – canaries, perfumes & migraines – really be related? Trust me, they can.
It started for me at 16 with just one perfume. It was called Emeraude and it was my favorite perfume. I still remember the shape of the glass bottle with the gold-colored cap. And the emerald green liquid inside. And if close my eyes I can still smell it’s fragrance.
Yet one day I developed what seemed to be an allergy to that perfume. It gave me a terrible headache. A migraine, actually, but it will be 30 years will pass before I learn it was a migraine. It turned out to not be the only perfume. Over time it became all perfumes, fragrances and anything containing fragrances. I couldn’t be near fragrances, even on other people.
It reached a crisis point when the migraines became chronic. Every day. All day. And the doctors? They didn’t care WHY. They said it was female hormones. And they prescribed drugs.
So that’s my first connection – perfumes that triggered migraines for me.
But this isn’t about me. If it were, we could stop now. It’s much bigger than one person who can’t tolerate perfumes.
It’s about what I learned when I went searching for answers. Answers that doctors did not have.
And I learned a lot!
I learned that the use of petroleum-based chemicals and synthetic chemicals has increased drastically since World War II.
I learned that some of these chemicals are known to be toxic and some are even known to cause cancer.
I learned that the chemicals can play a role in: asthma, allergies, autism, headaches, migraines, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, gulf war syndrome, and that’s just a few of them.
I learned that these chemicals – including benzene, acetone, formaldehyde, ethylene glycol – antifreeze, PERC / perchloroethylene – used in dry cleaning – are everywhere. They are used in solvents, glues, paints, in clothing manufacture, dry cleaners, household and industrial cleaning products, and even personal care products and perfumes.
Why perfumes? That’s easy. Most of these chemicals are volatile. In fact they’re classified as VOCs – volatile organic compounds. In perfumes, they help the perfume’s fragrance disperse through the air. Have you ever been in a car when someone used hand lotion or hand sanitizer? And the perfume smell invades the entire space? That’s the work of the VOCs.
What are the ingredients in a perfume? No one knows because the fragrance industry says it’s a “trade secret.” You won’t find an ingredient list on a perfume bottle. And a shampoo or lotion or hand sanitizer containing a fragrance will merely list that single word – FRAGRANCE.
Tests have found many of the chemicals I listed earlier in perfumes. What about the FDA? The FDA admits they can’t monitor or test most of the 80,000 chemicals within their purview. But, they say, it’s okay, because the fragrance industry is self-governed.
In addition to learning about the chemicals in our 21st century world, I learned about the canaries. See, I have not forgotten the canaries.
Do you know the story of the canaries in the coal mine? Years ago, miners took canaries down in the coal mines because the canaries were more sensitive to deadly gases. As long as the canaries sang, there wasn’t a problem. But if they stopped singing, it was time to get out of that mine.
Through the magic of the internet, I have found many people who share my sensitivity to fragrances and chemicals. And they consider themselves to be the 21st century version of the canaries in the coal mine.
All of them sensitive to the chemicals in our modern world to varying degrees.
Some, like me, can manage being out in public, within reason.
Some are unable to work in an office because of all the chemicals they encounter – whether from coworkers’ fragrances or chemicals used in the building.
Others must wear a gas mask when out in public.
And still others are unable to go out in public.
All of them canaries.
Chemical sensitivity is real. Conservative estimates suggest that it impacts between 2 and 10 percent of the US population, but it could be much higher.
The symptoms it causes vary from person to person. It’s mechanism isn’t fully understood. But it is being studied, including researchers here in San Antonio.
Like anything that isn’t fully understood, it is surrounded by controversy. Some medical professionals question if it’s a real condition.
But the Canaries? We know. We know that to some degree everyone who is exposed to chemicals is being harmed. That includes each of you.
That is why we are singing.
We are singing to warn you and everyone else. Warning you to find less toxic products — for your body, for your home, and for your environment.
You could be next. Or your children. Or your grandchildren.
Where do your start? Start by by getting rid of the synthetic perfumes, fragranced products
and air fresheners. It isn’t just fragrances, but that’s a good place to start.
Do it for yourself. For your pets. For your family. For your kids. For your grandchildren.
Have you seen the post about essential oils and migraines? I’m guessing that there are a lot of people that are bothered by essential oils, based on the popularity of that post. You might want to read it now, and the comments at the end.
I’m not here to bash essential oils. I have seen firsthand the good that they can do. I also know that they are not for everyone and that they can be harmful, if used improperly.
For examply: I recently attended a meeting where someone had applied liberal quantities of essential oils to mask the smell of skunk from their dog’s skunk encounter. It did very little to hide the skunk smell. And, because we were meeting in a small room, the EO smell was so strong that I developed a migraine.
Proponents of essential oils (EOs) are often overzealous in their praise for EOs and insist that they can do no harm. I have friends who sell EOs and they are always eager to give me this or that oil. My problem with that is, too often, my complaint is a headache or a threatening migraine. And for me, EOs are just another strong chemical that can trigger a migraine, rather than helping. And based on traffic to the post I mentioned above, that’s true for a lot of people.
I’m going to stick my neck out, again, by reminding everyone that Essential Oils actually are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). I’ll write more about why that is true next week. For now, here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re considering using essential oils:
Use them sparingly – a little goes a long way.
If you know someone with extreme sensitivities, don’t use essential oils in their presence.
If you share living quarters with someone with extreme sensitivities, don’t use essential oils at all.
Dilute oils with a carrier oil before applying to your skin.
Dilute oils with water before diffusing.
Test a tiny bit of your diluted oil to see how you react to the smell.
Don’t ingest EOs.
Consult an expert who knows about the safety of EOs before use. Hint: This may not be the person who is selling you EOs. If they insist they are always safe, you don’t yet have your expert.
It’s no secret that certain smells evoke memories and emotions. Bringing back both the good and the bad.
The smell of walnuts reminds me of my grandmother’s farm. She had a walnut tree and a shed that reeked of walnuts.
Yet I realized a few years ago that I also associate the smell of walnuts with head pain. It turns out that this was my first migraine trigger!
The smell of homemade biscuits also remind me of my grandmother because she made them every morning whenever we visited her.
While I can’t really say that the smell of pecan pie evokes a certain memory, it definitely evokes some serious feel-good emotions for me!
How far would you take it though? Even though I love the smell of baking biscuits and the memories it evokes, I would not want to smell it all the time. If for no other reason than it would eventually lose the power to evoke the memory.
Apparently, though, I could be in the minority. Recently, according to my Google Analytics, my blog showed up in the list returned when someone searched for “KFC Perfume!” Now that’s just crazy! Crazy that my blog showed up. Even crazier when you learn there actually is a KFC Perfume! OR, at least there was a KFC scented candle for a while.
It’s been said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Could you also take a shortcut by tempting his nose?
Seriously, though, since scents evoke strong emotions, they are a large industry because companies know that the way to our pocket books is through our noses!
P.S. There must be something to it and to the power of suggestion. As a child I ate enough fried chicken to last a lifetime. And I rarely eat it anymore. Very rarely. But right now? I can almost taste it after just thinking about it while writing this post!
So, tell me in the comments …
What smells evoke specific memories or emotions for you?
What are your thoughts on pizza or fried chicken perfumes?
Hi there! They’re letting me write again on the blog. I wanted to tell you about my recent dentist visit. Thankfully it was just for cleaning and checkup. But it didn’t all go so well.
You see, as soon as I sat down in the waiting area, I smelled fragrance. I knew there had to be a plugin air freshener nearby, so, I moved to a new seat. I know they have them in their waiting room and it drives me crazy. Don’t they know how harmful air fresheners are? The saddest thing is they really don’t even ‘freshen’ the air, they pollute it.
Well, it got worse because when I went back for my cleaning, there was one in that room. Seriously, that room is like 8 feet by 6 feet. Who even thinks it needs an air freshener. I asked the dental hygienist to remove it and she did so, rather grudgingly.
After my cleaning, the dentist comes in to check everything out. She asks me if I have any complaints. I know that she means complaints about teeth that may be bothering me. Instead, I tell her my complaint about the air freshener. And I just happened to have this card with me so I gave it to her:
She actually thanked me and said she had not really thought about what chemicals might be in the plugins. And agreed that I was probably right.
Luckily, I never developed a migraine that day, although I did have a bit of a headache most of the day. Even so, when I got in my car, I could smell perfume from the plugins. It was in my hair and on my jacket. Probably on everything. Gross. I had to ‘wear’ that smell the rest of the day!
Have you ever visited a place that had too much air freshener? Would you be bold enough to let them know? I get so frustrated that I’m finally able to talk with people and suggest that they find a safer alternative.
Oh, before I go: Some have been asking if I was going to post my picture on here. Well, we’re having a bit of trouble getting the film developed, but it will be on here soon!
I want to hear from y’all!
Do you use plugins in your home? I would love to know why. And if you read the post that talked about air fresheners, did it change your mind?