Most people dislike the idea of eating foods that are contaminated with pesticide residues or feature more chemical names than natural ingredients on their labels. Given the choice and the resources, many opt for organic foods to avoid chemicals that can cause cancer, neurological damage or other serious health problems in the long term.
It’s not the occasional non-organic tomato people worry about—it’s the overall effect of repeated, regular consumption of small amounts of toxic chemicals. Fortunately, there are ways to make improvements that won’t break most budgets.
A little here, a little there
Small amounts do matter. Chronic chemical exposure is defined as continuous or repeated contact with a toxic substance over a long period of time (months or years). Traces in food, significant amounts in household cleaners, and off-gassing toxic vapors and dust that slowly emanate from mattresses, sofas and other household items—these have added up to an unprecedented chemical load in our blood, tissues and brains.
Avoiding pesticides is especially critical for infants and children. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued an important report in 2012 that said that children have “unique susceptibilities to [pesticide residues’] potential toxicity.” Research has linked pesticide exposures in early life to “pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems.”
One easy way to budget for healthier eating is to prioritize what the Environmental Working Group calls The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen. If a food is on the Dirty Dozen list, it’s worth buying organic. One of the Clean Fifteen? Enjoy it without anxiety. Notice that most of the produce items on the Dirty Dozen list have thin skins, which lets them absorb more pesticides. That’s a helpful rule of thumb to keep in mind when you don’t have the lists with you.
A strange overlap
Many foods and most mattresses and sofas have something in common in terms of toxic chemicals. That is flame retardants. These dangerous compounds have permeated our air, water and soil so much that up to 20% of our exposure to flame retardants comes, incredibly—from eating them.
The highest exposure to ingested flame retardants, researchers say, comes from eating butter, seafood, meat, eggs and dairy products.
But I don’t eat my furniture…
Yes, but you know those dust motes you see floating in a sunbeam? Ordinary house dust is a primary source of chemical exposure in the home—much of it created by slowly disintegrating furniture foams. Most of the dust is microscopic and hard to remove fully. Yet when we touch or breathe in these particles, we also take in small amounts of all the chemicals they have absorbed.
Flame retardant and other endocrine-disrupting (hormone-altering) chemicals have been linked to a host of serious health consequences, from cancer to obesity, infertility, and developmental brain disorders such as ADHD and autism.
So if you’d like to start figuring out how to avoid unnecessary chemical exposure, you’ll want not only to eat organic when you can—but to sleep and rest organic, too. You’re not chewing on your mattresses and other foam-filled furnishings, of course! But you’re in very close contact with them for a very long time.
Organic mattresses and sofas made with pesticide-free organic fabric and batting—plus natural latex foam rubber that contains no chemical flame retardants—will not add toxic dust to your indoor environment. That helps protect everyone, but especially infants and children, whose sticky fingers are magnets for dust particles that wind up in their mouths.
One step at a time
Organic living will benefit every member of the family. More good news is that no matter when you start, you will be reducing your body’s lifetime chemical burden—and theirs.
The best way to begin is to eat organic food as often as you can and, as much as possible, to choose products for your home that are free of pesticides, flame retardants and other toxic chemicals.
Then, just as importantly, try to release worry—because that’s no good for you, either. Everyone must juggle priorities and though it might sometimes feel like a tall order, it won’t help to focus on fears. Instead, simply go as organic as is reasonable for you, and trust that each step is helping to nourish your body and support your healthful rest.
Lastly, don’t forget to exercise, reduce stress, connect with others and enjoy the countless wonders of life. These are “organic” too—and they’re equally powerful for your health.