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Friday, March 8, 2013

Top Ten Tips for Women's Health

Women's bodies are especially sensitive to toxic chemicals in the environment called endocrine or hormone disruptors. They're also called xenoestrogens because they are foreign to our bodies and mimick the female sex hormone estrogen.

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals cause hormone imbalances and they've been linked to several disorders common among women including infertility, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, thyroid dysfunction, and cancers of the ovaries, uterus, and breast. (In men, they've also been linked to prostate cancer.)

These toxic chemicals aren't just in our environment. They're already inside our bodies. The Fourth Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics studied 2,500 people as part of the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and they detected hormone-disrupting chemicals in every individual.

Reduce your exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals in the environment and minimize their impact on your health with these ten tips.

#1  Avoid chemicals in cosmetics.

Every day, the average woman in the United States uses 12 different personal products containing 126 unique ingredients, according to the Environmental Working Group. More than 10,500 different ingredients are used to make personal care products in the US and nearly 90 percent have not been tested for safety. Some that have, like parabens and phthalates, are known endocrine disruptors yet they continue to permeate our personal products.

Learn what you’re putting on your skin with EWG's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. Search by product, ingredient, or manufacturer to read toxicity information and safety reviews on items like soap, shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, lotion, makeup, hair styling products, contact lens cleaner, bubble bath, nail polish, sunscreen, and baby products. Round up all of the personal products in your home and throw away the ones you don’t use. Research the rest and find safer alternatives if their safety ratings concern you.

As much as you can, use natural items in your personal care routine. It's easy to make some of your own products with just a few ingredients, like facial masks and sea salt scrubs.

#2  Avoid fragrances.

Manufacturers are not required to disclose additives regarded as "fragrance" and a single fragrance can contain several hundred ingredients. Use fragrance-free products and remember that “unscented” isn’t necessarily the same thing because chemicals can be added to cover up odors.

Get rid of air fresheners, scented candles, and all other fragranced products. To freshen the air in your home, open the windows and use pure essential oil diffusers if need be. Instead of perfume, dab a drop or two of pure lavender essential oil on your skin. In the laundry room, replace store-bought fabric softeners with a half cup of white vinegar (and a few drops of pure essential oil if you wish to scent your clothes) and organic wool dryer balls.

#3  Use cleaner cleaners.

Replace store-bought chemical cleaners with white vinegar, baking soda, and essential oils. Vinegar cleans by dissolving surface residue while baking soda acts as an abrasive agent to remove it. Essential oils disinfect because they're naturally anti-bacterial and tea tree essential oil is especially effective at removing mold and mildew. Only use pure essential oils and avoid synthetic, fragranced, and perfume oils.

You can mix up your own all-purpose non-toxic cleaner in minutes using just a few ingredients you may already have on hand:

If you can, use a steam mop to clean your floors. Steam mops clean with just water, steam and reusable, washable pads. There's no cleaning solution to add, no batteries to replace, no pads to throw away, and no residues left behind. Having chemical-free floors is especially important for families with babies and small children at home because they spend more time close to the floor and their small body size makes them much more vulnerable to the harmful effects of toxic household products.

#4  Find alternatives to plastic and non-stick surfaces.

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals like bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates are used to make plastic food and beverage containers, nonstick cookware, epoxy linings inside food and beverage cans, and polystyrene (Styrofoam™) containers. These toxic compounds are highly susceptible to leaching, especially when the containers are heated, the contents are hot, or they contain fats or oils.

Hormone-disrupting chemicals are also found in plastic wrap, pizza boxes, egg cartons, take-out containers, water bottles, baby bottles, plastic water pipes, dental fillings, medications, medical tubing, medical devices, carbonless receipts, electronics, eyeglasses, adhesives, shower curtains, tablecloths, plastic toys (children's toys and adult sex toys), vinyl flooring, paint, industrial solvents, and automotive products.

Studies show that diet alone can have dramatic effects on levels of hormone-disrupting chemicals in our bodies. When researchers replaced canned, packaged, and prepared foods with fresh foods for families as part of a joint study done by Silent Spring Institute and the Breast Cancer Fund, levels of BPA metabolites in their urine dropped up to 76 percent (and 66 percent on average) after only 3 days.

#5  Filter your water.

The Environmental Working Group's 2013 Tap Water Report revealed that more than 200 US water systems serving 100 million people in 43 states are polluted with toxic chemicals including endocrine disruptors like pesticides and BPA.

Find out what’s in your water with some help from EWG. Visit their website to enter your zip code and access a drinking water quality report for your area. Then minimize your exposure to toxins in water by filtering it before you drink or cook with it. If you don't have a water filter, check out EWG's water filter buying guide.

#6  Avoid toxic foods.

What y
ou eat most of the time is more important than what you eat once in a while. It's not a tragedy if you consume unhealthy foods or drinks on rare occasion (unless you have unresolved food addictions, in which case you’ll need to avoid them 100 percent of the time). Just make them the exception rather than the rule and savor them in small amounts. 

Most of the time, avoid toxic foods. If you have to prioritize, remember that foods at the top of the food chain usually contain the most toxins, so it’s more important to eat clean animal products than organic produce, for example. Avoid meat, eggs, and dairy products from animals that were treated with hormones or exposed to pesticide-laden feed. Also avoid farm-raised fish (except rainbow trout), large predatory fish, and contaminated species including Chilean sea bass, flounder, marlin, shark, snapper, sturgeon, and swordfish. 

When it comes to plant foods, avoid the Dirty Dozen Plus fruits and vegetables if they're not organic because they contain the highest levels of pesticides: apples, celery, sweet bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, nectarines, grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, blueberries, potatoes, green beans, and leafy greens including kale and collard greens. Eat these foods organic or don't eat them at all. 

When you can't eat organic, choose the Clean Fifteen least contaminated fruits and vegetables: onions, pineapple, avocado, cabbage, sweet peas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplant, kiwi, canteloupe (domestic), sweet potatoes, grapefruit, watermelon, and mushrooms.

Eliminate processed soy products from your diet but eat the fermented ones regularly, like tempeh, miso, and tamari. (Fermenting foods increases the activity of beneficial enzymes, makes proteins easier to digest, makes minerals easier to absorb, increases vitamin content, and supports the growth of intestinal bacteria that break down environmental toxins like pesticides.) Phytoestrogens in soy foods (and ground flax seeds) have been shown to reduce the risk of hormone-related diseases like breast cancer.

Toxic foods also include sweets and starches (like foods made from flour). Eating these foods frequently keeps blood sugar and insulin levels high, which prompts the body to store fat and toxins. In contrast, eating a diet low in sweets and starches prompts the body to burn fat for energy and release toxins from their storage sites.

#7 Break a Sweat.

Sweat is one of the routes of elimination that our bodies use to regularly remove toxins. To support this process, take a sauna at least once a week. If you’re using a traditional sauna, begin with one 15-minute session (140°F to 180°F) followed by a cold shower of 30 seconds or more. If you tolerate the first session well, increase the number of sessions during subsequent treatments until you build up to four 15-minute sessions per treatment, each followed by a cold shower. 

While traditional saunas heat the room, far infrared saunas heat the body directly using radiant heat and invisible light waves. If you’re using a far infrared sauna, limit yourself to one 20-minute session (90°F to 115°F) and follow it with a cold shower of 30 seconds or more. 

#8  Exercise regularly. 

Exercise helps our bodies excrete environmental toxins through more than one mechanism. It can make us sweat but it also increases the circulation of blood and lymph throughout the body. (The lymphatic system collects toxins and waste products from tissues and returns them to the blood where they can be filtered by the liver.)

Most people should exercise 3 hours per week, incorporating aerobic, strengthening, and stretching activities that target all areas of your body: arms, legs, back, chest, and abdomen. Encourage your body to burn fat for fuel (and to release toxins) by working out for at least 30 minutes at a time and incorporating interval training, the practice of alternating short bursts of high intensity activity with periods of lower intensity exercise that allow muscles to recover.

#9  Control cortisol.

Cortisol is a stress hormone that triggers inflammation and prompts the body to store fat and toxins. Keep cortisol levels low by managing stress effectively, exercising regularly but not excessively (limit workouts to one hour), and getting plenty of sleep: at least 8 hours each night in the summer and 9 hours per night in the winter.

#10  Detox twice a year.
Because we're regularly exposed to environmental toxins, it only makes sense to regularly remove them through detoxification. Detox is like a tune-up for the whole body and times of transition like spring and fall are great opportunities. 

Learn more about detoxification in my upcoming book, The Prediabetes Detox: A Whole-Body Program to Balance BloodSugar, Increase Energy, and Reduce Cravings. It will be published this fall and released on January 1, 2014.

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