When we have families, we take on the sacred responsibility
of providing them with a safe and nurturing environment where they can grow and thrive. And we do our best based on the knowledge that we have. We hold our children’s hands as they cross the street and make sure they wear their bike helmets, but how many of us are aware of the daily dangers our families face from seemingly innocuous products? The toxins in items that are commonly used and readily available? Those in our environment? These dangers lurk in what we eat and drink, the goods that we use in our homes or on ourselves. Each and every day we face a toxin load that we may not be aware of.
Toxic chemicals have the ability to cause harm to any body system (including the respiratory, digestive, cardiovascular, nervous and immune systems) and those harmful effects can manifest as disease both acute and chronic. The ones that we inadvertently inhale can result in harm to our lungs and conditions like asthma and fibrosis. Many that come into contact with our skin are associated with local or systemic allergic reactions while still others have been linked to cancer and neurological diseases. For example, mesothelioma (a type of cancer) from asbestos exposure or learning disabilities caused by increased lead levels.
Granted the majority of these potential toxins are present in only minute amounts in the products we are exposed to, amounts considered safe and acceptable. But these are chemicals that we contact on a repeated basis and there is also the potential additive effect of multiple chemicals interacting together that may be significant. These are difficult scenarios to study.
Although the long-term impact remains largely unknown, the fact is that globally we have
seen a rise in the incidence of genital malformations in baby boys, reduced sperm counts in young men, increased incidence of some adverse pregnancy outcomes such as preterm birth, a rise in neurobehavioral disorders in children such as autism and other learning disabilities, early puberty amongst our girls, and increased obesity and Type 2 diabetes rates. Not to mention the worldwide increase over the past 50 years of malignancies such as breast, endometrial, ovarian, prostate,
testicular and thyroid as well as childhood brain cancer and leukemia. If one looks at this increased rate of disease incidence over the past decades, it cannot be explained by genetic factors alone. Instead there must be environmental influences that contribute to this change, chemical exposure included.
The harmful substances that we actually know or suspect are likely only the tip of the iceberg. There are thousands of chemicals used in products we expose ourselves to regularly or are a part of our environment, yet only a fraction of these and their effects on our health in the short or long
term, have been adequately studied.
Unfortunately toxins in general seem to be particularly harmful when exposure is at a vulnerable time in development. This refers to early childhood exposures where the effects are often irreversible and may not manifest until later in life. That means the youngest in our families, sometimes even prior to entering this world, are the most vulnerable.
It can seem overwhelming but at some point we have to recognize that as much as we would like to, we will not be able to shelter our families completely from all possible toxin exposure. But we can certainly do our best to lessen our toxin load by asking questions, reading labels, demanding transparency from manufacturers and making informed choices. Most importantly, we need to empower our children to become educated consumers themselves – a skill necessary to navigate this wonderful yet sometimes toxic world.
by Dr. Soania Mathur
Dr. Soania Mathur is a family physician living outside of Toronto, Ontario who had to resign her practice as a result of her Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease a full twelve years after her diagnosis at age 27. Now she is a dedicated speaker, writer, educator and Parkinson’s advocate. She speaks passionately about the challenges of adjusting physically and emotionally and the coping strategies available to patients.
Recently, Dr. Mathur launched a new company Hippylicious (www.myhippylicious.com)
which is dedicated to providing parents with all natural, non-toxic personal care product