My young family has lived through five life-threatening illnesses in less than 7 years – most of which were cancer. And yes, it was as bad as it sounds, and probably far worse than you might imagine. However, those years changed our lives in profound and amazingly positive ways.
Illness has a way of snapping priorities into alignment; changing your perspective and creating long lasting change. That’s what happened to us, and these are the first five changes we made:
First, we decided to buy only organic foods, which is a great goal to make but a harder one to afford. Instead, we started with the “Clean 15” and the “Dirty Dozen” lists. Published by the Environment Working Group (EWG), these lists rank foods according to how much or how few pesticides are sprayed on them. The lists are reevaluated yearly and this year, apples took the #1 spot on the Dirty Dozen.
How can an apple, an icon of health, top the list of most pesticide-ridden foods? Apples are sprayed multiple times during a growth cycle to kill bugs that love apples as much as we do. However, they are sprayed so much that when non-organic apples were washed, cored, peeled and then tested, those apples still tested positive for 4 to 10 different pesticides. Many of these pesticides are known (or suspected) to cause nervous system damage, cancer, and to interfere with your hormones.
2. Skin care
Did you know that our skin can absorb up to 60% or more of what we put on it? I didn’t. But after my family was sick so often, I became suspect of just about everything, including skin care products. But when it came time to research the ingredients, I felt like I needed an advanced chemistry degree to understand them. I started researching each one until I noticed a pattern. Some lipsticks have lead, most nail polishes have phthalates, which can cause fertility issues, and some artificial fragrances were classified as hormone disruptors. Lotions have parabens that can mess with your endocrine system and/or raise breast cancer risk and most antiperspirants contain aluminum, which can be linked to Alzheimer’s and more...and the list went on and on.
It made my head spin.
Instead of buying the brands I knew, I started purchasing different products with ingredients that I could read and actually understand and pronounce. I started my search at natural food markets and Whole Foods. If I couldn’t find a non-toxic product that worked, I made it myself. Interestingly enough, there’s an online database that ranks cosmetics according to their toxicity levels. While it’s very difficult to avoid every toxin, this database gives you an overall idea of just how toxic a product is.
We purchased a water filter, to be specific, a double reverse osmosis (RO) water filtration system. This system removes just about everything from of our water. While it might not be for everyone, I sleep much better knowing I have it. While I didn’t necessarily distrust our water, I questioned how I could tell if it was clean every time I turned on the faucet?
As fate would have it, soon after our system was installed, I found an article in The Washington Post about hexavalent chromium, or chromium 6, showing up in water samples from 35 U.S. cities. To my surprise, one of those cities was Villanova, PA. Since I live within walking distance of Villanova University, that water is also my water.
Hexavalent chromium is a “heavy metal used in producing pigments, leather tanning, electroplating, metal processing, wood preservation,” among other things. According to Clean Water Action, it’s a known cancer causer, a reproductive toxicant and the subject of the 2000 movie, Erin Brockovich. It seeps into drinking water by leaks and discharges from industrial facilities. While I wasn’t happy to read the article, I was very happy to know that my water filtration system removes hexavalent chromium, along with many other chemicals.
4. Household Cleaners
When considering all the products that come in contact with our highly absorbent skin, cleaning supplies showed up on my radar rather quickly. Many cleaners, especially bathroom cleaners, carry a warning to avoid inhalation of the product. (Am I supposed to hold my breath while I'm cleaning?) I got rid of our cleaning supplies and started making my own. This took some trial and error, but the good news is my supplies are non-toxic, very effective and inexpensive. Most are made of different combinations of vinegar, water, essential oils and baking soda. (Maybe of those recipes are posted on my website listed below.)
5. Ditched the Dairy
Next, we gave up all dairy products. (What? Give up ice cream?) Yes, we gave up ice cream, milk, cheese and all diary byproducts. We now get our calcium where the cows get it, from eating greens.
Giving up dairy always seems to be the show stopper for many people. But this is my thinking: A mama cow has to be pregnant to produce milk. Because of the pregnancy, that milk is chock full of hormones. Those hormones are important because they encourage a 50-pound calf to grow into a 1000 lb bull.
If cow’s milk is a product that encourages growth, then we don’t want it because cancer is an overgrowth of cells. I know that’s an oversimplified explanation, but I also read The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, and that will give you all the details. (I promise!)
What surprised us most after giving up dairy were all the unexpected health changes. My husband stopped snoring, my sinus headaches stopped, as well as that annoying clicking in my ears each time I swallowed. Our stuffy noses cleared up, seasonal allergies lessened, and our colds just about disappeared. Oh, and my cholesterol dropped 30 points in three months. (Woo Hoo!)
If all of these changes sound drastic to you, you’re not alone. Many people look at me like I’m very well intended, but also a little paranoid. Do I expect you to do what we did? Not unless you see the value it has in contributing to a healthier lifestyle.
Creating the cleanest, most non-toxic environment for my family is priority #1 for me now. But, my intent is never to judge anyone else’s values, but rather to start a conversation. I certainly wish that someone would have done that for me ages ago because I never once questioned the ingredients of the well-known products I was putting on my skin or in my body. I was always more focused on what the product said it was going to do rather than how it did it.
Very few people will ever ask you if the ingredients in the products you use are safe or if the food you eat contributes to illness. And don’t expect our the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make those decisions for you.
We are the ones who decide what’s best for our health and the health of the people we love. We make that choice each time we purchase an item. It’s a silent contract that says, “I agree with the safety of the ingredients and the way that item was manufactured or processed.”
So let me be the first person to ask you: Are you comfortable with the ingredients in your skin care products, in or on the foods you eat and do you know what’s in your water? If your answer is, “I don’t know,” maybe it’s time to find out.
image via flickr/cookthink