Viva La Vegan!

I recall the story of a lady who visited me in the past. She told me about her son who had been born without a pituitary gland. She told me that she believed it was due to one incident alone. She was gardening one day during her pregnancy and noticed bugs on her fruit tree. Her neighbour gave her a chemical-based insecticide that she used on the tree. This lady told me that she always avoided chemicals but that one day was the exception. She believed that her son was born without a pituitary gland because of her chemical exposure on this day. Although there is no way of definitively proving this, it does make you think more about the types of chemicals that people use and how they can affect us.

Chemical_DangerPhoto Credit: Tri-County Hazardous Waste & Recycling Program

Another colleague once told me the story of her husband who walked past a dead bird in the backyard without reacting in any way. She asked him to remove the dead bird and his response was that he had simply not noticed it. He had worked in wheat fields in the past where, due to the spraying of various chemicals on the crops, a large quantity of birds died in the fields. So much so that seeing the dead bird was not something out of the ordinary for him.

And it isn’t uncommon for Naturopaths specializing in fertility to give couples the instructions that they must not store any chemicals in the kitchen – especially under the sink where many people store them.

So if a chemical is designed to kill insects and/or other small creatures, then how can it affect human health? And how can we avoid using chemicals around the home?

According to the United States Environmental Protection agency there are various negative health effects from different types of chemicals. The organophosphates and carbamates affect the nervous system. Others may irritate the skin or eyes. Some pesticides may be carcinogenic.  Others, such as PCBs may affect the endocrine system in the body.

Scientists at the University of Berkely have found that newborns and young children are often exposed to non-persistent pesticides through breast milk. As non-persistent chemicals break down quickly in the environment and are thought to be rapidly metabolized and excreted by the body, the scientists were somewhat surprised to find them in the breast milk. Some of these chemicals have been associated with neurodevelopmental effects in children.

But it gets worse. Many chemicals simply don’t break down in the environment. They can accumulate in fish and wildlife. Derek Muir and Colleagues from Environment Canada concluded that of about 400 chemicals that resist breaking down in the environment, only 4% have been properly analysed. About 75% have not been studied! Essentially this makes us human guinea pigs in the chemical game.

This build up of contaminants in all creatures is one reason why the vegan diet is earning merit. We have all heard that the higher up the food chain we eat the more toxins we ingest and this is a very real thing!  A healthy vegan diet offers abundant phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre which helps our bodies to dispel toxins, including various forms of chemicals from the system.

Another way of lowering your chemical load is to eat as much organic produce as possible. Those who purchase organic produce can attest to the noticeable improvement over conventional produce! Organic produce may be more expensive than store-bought produce. In this instance consider supporting the local farmers at the farmers markets – many of them are chemical free farmers, and many of them can tell you about the chemicals that are typically applied to your fruit and veg after it has been picked by large growers. They will happily tell you about how they minimise chemical use, and that they don’t use chemicals at all after the fruit and veg has been picked.

You can also grow some fruit and vegetables in the garden or on the balcony. And be sure to wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly. You can wash fruit and vegetables by soaking them in salty water for up to 5 minutes and then rinsing. This will help to draw off some of the chemicals.

Another way of minimizing chemical exposure at home is to avoid commercial cleaning products. In fact many people are unaware that these very products can also have a profound effect on pets who are much more sensitive to them than we are! Products such as vinegar, baking soda and eucalyptus oil for example can be used very effectively to keep the house clean.
Vinegar and eucalyptus oil may also help in deterring ants and other insects, especially those that navigate using scent. Though be sure to note that spraying these directly onto insects will kill them.

Many people may be unaware that we absorb chemicals through our skin. For women using chemical-based cosmetics this can be a major chemical load for the body! Many perfumes and colognes are similarly a mixture of chemicals (and possibly other non-vegan additions) in a pretty glass bottle. Essential oils can be used instead of perfumes or colognes and can be made into an original signature combination especially for you!

The list of natural alternatives to chemical-based products is simply endless. In short, the more you can avoid using chemicals around the home and for personal use, the healthier you and your family may be – including your pets!

altEve Nguyen is a degree-qualified Naturopath, CPAP therapist and K.L stretch teacher with over 10 years experience in the field of health and Nutrition. In addition to teaching nutrition and cooking classes, Eve was chosen to be a Fairfield City Green Champion in 2010. As a vegan with a particular interest in environmental impacts on our health, Eve enjoys delivering information/ presentations to help people realise the link between the state of the environment and their own health.

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