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Green chemistry to protect our health

Why don’t we get told this?

Our modern lives are drenched in chemicals, some of which can mimic hormones in our body's endocrine system. I have had many conversations over the years about such things, but last night I really felt like the information was sinking in as one of my patients had made major strides in her awareness and preparedness to change.

Sperm count and fertility are on a downward slide in some populations. What if chemical exposure was partly responsible for these trends?

One hypothesis is that a group of chemicals — known as 'endocrine disrupting chemicals' (EDCSs) — could affect human reproduction, puberty, metabolism and other functions controlled by hormones in our endocrine system.

Many suspected EDCs are already in your home — but how much risk do they really pose? At what exposure level do they become unsafe? Unfortunately the answer is not straightforward, with a range of opinions held by scientists, industry and regulators. My guess is that they almost certainly do.

What are EDCs?

Chemicals that mimic human hormones can be naturally occurring (such as those found in soy) or synthesised It is difficult to know what chemicals are in what products due to limitations in labelling

Examples of industrial chemicals with the potential to mimic hormones include: synthetic hormones (in birth control products or HRT); Bisphenol A; phthalates; parabens; triclosan; resorcinol; perfluorinated compounds (PFCs); some flame retardants; heavy metals such as lead and mercury; some pesticides and herbicides (including DDT, endosulfan, synthetic pyrethroids and chlorpyrifos); and more.

The following suggestions are some simple ways that may limit your exposure to potential EDCs in the home.

Eat fresh food, and wash your fruit and veggies

Washing fruit and vegetables is a simple step that can be taken to reduce any potential EDC exposure. Fruit and vegetables can have residue from pesticides which may be EDCs. Simply washing your fruit and vegetables with water can remove most of these residues.

Also eating fresh food over processed food, to reduce the risk of exposure to chemicals during processing.

No matter how pristine processed organic spinach might be, we don't know what chemicals it came into contact with while being processed — did it come into contact with detergents and packing chemicals? The recommendation is always fresh over processed.

Tin cans and jar lids are often lined with bisphenols, like BPA. And while many manufacturers are now making BPA-free products, chemicals being used to replace BPA may also present a risk.

Watch out for plastic

Avoid microwaving plastic containers.

Opt for glass, porcelain or stainless steel over plastic containers.

Phthalates can be found in plastic food wrap, vinyl flooring and soft toys.

Minimise exposure through personal care products

Cosmetics and personal care products — such as perfumes, nail polish, skin creams, shampoo and conditioner — can contain some types of phthalates and parabens (chemicals used as preservatives). Antibacterial soaps and some brands of toothpaste can contain triclosan.

Check the ingredient listing for parabens or phthalates, and be wary of artificial fragrances which can contain phthalates. However, it's often difficult to know what chemicals are in personal care products, especially in fragrances —

Australian suppliers are not required to list the individual components.

Using less products is one way to reduce exposure. Or make your own products using common household ingredients, such as bicarb soda and coconut oil.

Check out your furnishings, clothing, and non-stick products

Always check if your furnishings come with a flame retardant, and what type.

Common household objects like your couch, mattress, water-proof clothing and non-stick cookware can contain potential EDCs in the form of flame retardants (such as PBDEs), stain and water resistant coatings (such as PFOAs), or non-stick coatings (PFCs).

Keep your house clean, but with the right products

Cleaning products for everything from benchtops to the bathroom tiles can contain potential EDCs, such as 2-butoxyethanol and methoxydiglycol. If they contain artificial fragrance they may also contain phthalates.

There are many alternative cleaning products, such as baking powder as a general cleaner and deodoriser; lemon juice as a mild bleach; salt mixed with lemon juice or white vinegar to remove stains; or white vinegar as a deodoriser and mild disinfectant.

Green chemistry – the road ahead?

It's estimated that there are close to 100,000 manufactured chemicals in our world, and we have not tested every single one of them, so let’s all support products that don’t contain EDC’s or better yet, make our own.

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