By ARIADNE WEINBERG, Contributing Columnist
Thanks to the advances of modern medicine, we live a whole lot longer than we used to. In 1900, the average age of death in the U.S. was around 52. Now, in 2016, it is 79. This means that lifespan in the industrialized first world has increased 27 years in 100 years. Not bad. Not bad at all.
But living in this industrialized reality does have its drawbacks. Compared to other countries, we don’t actually live for that long.
The people with the longest lifespan live outside of the modern sphere, on a little Greek Island about 45 minutes away from Athens called Ikaria, where many people live to over 100 years, and most routinely live into their 90s. What’s their secret?
After exploring the island, scientists found that the Ikarian diet consists of a lot of beans and not a lot of meat or refined sugar.
Ikarians eat locally grown wild greens, drink lots of herbal tea, and their daily calorie consumption is low.
They eat very little meat. They take naps often and remain sexually active well into their old age.
That sounds like a lifestyle that I could get used to.
Do you envy the Ikarians for what they have? Well, there is one thing that we have which the Ikarians do not --- foods full of preservatives and harmful chemicals.
Those of us living in the United States and in much of the industrialized world don’t have the luxury of eating foods and drinking water of such purity. Much of the food we eat, the water we drink and the products we use regularly have hidden toxins that build up in our bodies.
The Scope of Chemical Body Burden
The phenomenon of toxic chemicals building up in the body is called "chemical body burden". And it truly is a "burden", because this cumulative levels of chemicals have been implicated in many chronic illnesses.
How many chemicals are we talking about? According to the Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, the average person has at least 212 chemicals in your blood and urine.
Surprisingly, this number was about the same for people who hadn’t even been born yet. Tests revealed that more than 200 chemicals were found in the umbilical cords of unborn babies.
So where are all these chemicals coming from, anyway? They are actually hidden in many common products, such as household cleaners, makeup, plastic containers, children’s toys, non-stick coating, and fire retardants. These are items you might have around the house. They can also be in your food.
According to a 2002 study by Philip J. Landrigan at the Center for Children’s Health and the Environment, of the 800,000 toxic chemicals out there, only 500 of them required testing in the U.S. That leaves 799,500 chemicals which may impact your life which no one is testing.
According to Michael McCally, M.D., “Current normal body burdens of dioxin and several other well-studied organochlorines in humans are at or near the range at which toxic effects occur in lab animals.”
Sources of Chemicals in Products and Food and Diseases Caused by Them
Now that we know that these chemicals are prevalent in so many of our day-to-day products, it's important to look at the real effects they have.
Dr. Michael McCally of Mt. Sinai University performed tests in 2002 to discover the amount and different types of chemical residue in people.
Journalist Bill Moyers volunteered to have his blood tested. The test revealed an astonishing 84 different kinds of chemicals in his blood and urine.
The top chemicals were dioxin, PCBs, phlalates, DDT, and xylene.
The chemical with the highest frequency, dioxin, increases the risk of cancer and can be found in meat, dairy, fish, and eggs.
PCBs (otherwise known as polychlorinated biphenyls), are found in many industrial products and chemicals, including surface coatings, inks, adhesives, flame retardants and paints.
PBCs can cause fetal or infant death, as well as mental retardation in children.
Fortunately, PCBs were banned from use in many countries since the 70s and 80s.
But "banned" does not mean these chemicals have vanished. Unfortunately, since they first started being used in 1929, 2 million tons of PCBs have been released into the environment, of which 10% still remain today.
That is why if you look in the blood sample of an average person in the industrialized world, PCBs will be present.
The next most common substance that appeared in the test was phlalates.
Two types of phlalates found, DEHP and DBP are toxic to the liver, kidneys, testes, and nervous system.
Phlalates are especially present in perfumes, nail polishes, lotions, and hair sprays. This means that femme people who like to make themselves up should be especially careful what products they buy. A high amount of phlalates were found in women of reproductive age.
DDT appeared next. This is a dangerous one, because DDT is a pesticide that can be present in common foods, including meat, fish, poultry, and leafy greens.
DDT is another example of a chemical that, even though it was banned 30 years ago, still appears in the environment.
According to a CDC report, DDT was found in 99% of people tested.
DDT can cause breast cancer, male infertility, miscarriages, developmental delay, and nervous system and liver damage.
The next highest amount of chemicals found were organophosphate metabolites, including dursban and methyl parathion.
These substances are found in home use products, pest strips, bug sprays, and pesticides used on food products. These metabolites are possible carcinogens and affect brain development in children.
The last, but not least, was xylene. Used in wood stains, varnishes, gasoline, and paint thinners it is toxic to the nervous system.
Xylene can cause unconsciousness, and at high levels, death. Those who drive and do home repairs should be especially careful of how much they are exposed to products containing xylene.
How to Avoid Becoming a Chemical Sponge
The presence of all these probable chemicals in the blood can sound apocalyptic.
But we don't necessarily need to freak out or move to a Greek Island to reduce our risks (although improving our diet and overall lifestyle to match those that live on Ikaria wouldn't be a terrible plan).
There are many possible precautions you can take, when trying to avoid chemical body burden.
Buying Organic Can Reduce Chemical Exposure
One simple way is to watch out for what's in your food.
In many cases, you can control your exposure. Ask yourself -- is it organic? Does it have hormones or GMOs?
Eating organic food that is unprocessed will expose you to less of these common chemicals.
If you live in the U.S., make sure that you buy organic when shopping for many of the foods that commonly contain pesticides including apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, nectarines, grapes, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, lettuce, blueberries, and kale.
Go Makeup Free for a Few Days or Hours
If you are a person who wears makeup, make sure to purchase environmentally-friendly products without phlalates. Or just go for au natural, minimalist beauty, and skip most of the makeup.
Can't do that? At least try to go makeup free for a few days a week, or when you are at home.
Use a Glass Bottle Whenever Possible
For anyone who takes water on the go in your bag, avoid plastic bottles, as many of those release dangerous chemicals into the bloodstream. Instead, use a portable, glass bottle.
Be Careful with Home Repairs and Cleaners
You can also avoid flame retardants and varnishes in the home and change to green products.
Most of all, just be more aware of what you are consuming, and stay informed. You will keep healthy, and your chemical body burden will be greatly reduced.