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  • Is Your Home Making You Sick?

    With the focus on pollution and the toxic load on the outside environment, it is easy to overlook the chemicals that may be lurking under your own roof. This indoor pollution can be more harmful, and found in higher levels than in the outdoors. But knowledge is power. If we know what these toxins are, we can make adjustments in our lives to reduce our exposure.   

    The following are 10 toxins you should be aware of.

    1) Phthalates are chemicals with a vast array of uses, from softening plastics to giving lotions their consistency. They are hormone disruptors and can be particularly harmful to children. Health Canada is proposing to add Phthalates to the Hazardous Products Act to ban the sale, advertisement and importation of toys for children under three.

    Sources: Plastic bottles, plastic toys and teethers, plastic storage containers, food wraps, and shower curtains. Phthalates can also be found in vinyl flooring, nail polish, soap, shampoo, perfume, and deodorant.

    Reducing exposure: Look for natural alternatives such as stainless steel bottles, toxin free toys and chemical free products.

    2) Heavy Metals are one of the most common industrial poisons found in the home. Pregnant women and young children are more susceptible to the effects of these toxins, which can range from developmental delays to serious illness. Since 1976 Health Canada has limited the amount of lead in interior paint by law however, it can still be found in old homes where the paint has not been removed.

    Sources: Old paint, plumbing (tap water), toys, and leaded crystal. Mercury can be found in metal teeth fillings and in some fish.

    Reducing exposure: Use water-based paint, buy natural toys made in Canada, use cold tap water which contains less lead than hot water, pregnant woman and children should not drink from leaded crystal and choose fish with low levels of mercury.

    3) Perfluorinated chemicals (PFC) are suspected carcinogens. The Government of Canada has recommended that some forms be added to the List of Toxic Substances.

    Sources: Non-stick pans, microwave popcorn bags, scratch and stain resistant coatings, carpets, fabric and cleaning products.

    Reducing exposure: Choose pans that are PFC free (such as stainless steel and cast iron), use natural products where possible, and make your popcorn the old fashioned way on the stove or use a popcorn maker.

    4) Bisphenols are polycarbonate plastics made with bisphenol A (BPA), a synthetic estrogen that may leach toxins and lead to cancer and infertility. Canada is the first country to place BPA on the toxic substance list, and the government is proceeding with regulations to ban the importation, sale and advertising of baby bottles containing BPA.

    Sources: Some plastic bottles, the lining of some cans and many other products made from plastic.

    Reducing exposure: Look for BPA free plastics and cans.

    5) Pesticides are found on a number of foods and find their way in our homes from the outside environment. Pesticides are linked to cancer, nerve damage and birth defects. Health Canada now requires pesticide companies to report all of the adverse effects associated with their products.

    Sources: Foods (produce), bug sprays, and can also be brought in your home on your shoes and clothes.

    Reducing exposure: Buy organic foods, use natural alternatives for bug spray and take your shoes off at the door to minimize the toxins you track into your home.

    6) Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a group of chemicals that are known to be toxic in high doses and are a major contributing factor to ozone, which is an air pollutant.

    Sources: Paint, carpets, deodorants, cosmetics, cleaning products, varnishes, air fresheners and dry cleaning.

    Reducing exposure: Health Canada recommends ensuring sufficient ventilation during major painting or other home projects, choosing low emission products, preventing people from smoking indoors and avoiding certain personal care and cleaning products.

    7) Chlorine is a highly toxic gas and is one of the most commonly used chemical agents. Chlorine can cause, among other conditions, respiratory concerns.

    Source: Household cleaners.

    Reducing exposure: Use natural cleaning products and alternatives such as baking soda and vinegar.

    8) Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDS) are flame-retardants found in common household items. Some forms have been banned in Canada, but the substance is still ubiquitous.

    Sources: Electronics, upholstery and drapery textiles and potentially your mattress.

    Reducing exposure: Be a conscious shopper and keep your home clean, as PBDS can settle in the dust on your floor.

    9) Radon is a natural radioactive gas that can seep into homes through cracks in the basement and the surrounding foundation. Health Canada states that exposure to high amounts of radon increases the risk of developing lung cancer.

    Sources: Rock and earth beneath homes, well water and building materials.

    Reducing exposure: Test your home for radon.

    10) Carbon monoxide is an odourless, colourless, gas that reduces the amount of oxygen in blood. Low levels over long periods of time are dangerous, and high levels can cause unconsciousness and lead to death.

    Sources: A leaking chimney or furnace, unvented kerosene and gas space heaters, gas water heaters, wood and gas stoves and automobile exhaust from attached garages.

    Reducing exposure: Install carbon monoxide detectors on every floor of your home, keep gas appliances properly adjusted, use proper fuel in kerosen space heaters, install and use an exhaust fan vented to the outdoors over gas stoves and do not idle the car inside your garage.

    The thought of these toxins accumulating in our home is extremely alarming and scary to say the least. Fortunately, with the greener consciousness and green movement there is more information and better alternatives available to help decrease our exposure to these chemicals.

     

  • Vitamin D and Cancer Prevention

    As of late there has been a lot of talk about vitamin D and cancer prevention, but is the research really there to support all of the hype? The answer is yes. Research shows that appropriate levels of vitamin D can help prevent breast, ovarian, prostate and colorectal cancer. Low vitamin D levels have also been connected to increased incidence of multiple sclerosis, juvenile diabetes, bone fractures, osteoporosis, mood disorders and influenza.

    A four-year clinical trial that involved 1,200 women, discovered that those taking vitamin D had an astounding 60% reduction of an incidence of cancer compared with those who did not take the supplement.

    If you are deficient in vitamin D, the best way to increase your levels is to supplement with vitamin D3. At first, you may need to take up to 5,000 IU daily to bring your level to an optimum range. Once your levels are stable, supplementing with 1,000 to 2,000 IU per day depending on the time of year, your health, size and lifestyle is a good idea. A standard multivitamin only has 400 IU of vitamin D. 

    It is difficult to get all that you need through foods, but certain fish can provide 300-700 IU per serving, and milk provides 100 IU per glass. Given this information, health authorities may move towards implementing a substantial increase in food fortification to affect the research study results.

    Sun is a great source of vitamin D when sunscreen is not used, as the UVB rays enable our bodies to manufacture vitamin D under the skin. A little sun exposure to the skin is healthy, as long as it is not at peak times of the day and the skin does not burn. The limited sun exposure to the skin may explain why the incidence of cancer is higher in northern latitudes than at the equator.
    I recommend that everyone keep their vitamin D levels at an optimal range with supplements and regular, safe sun exposure to help decrease the risks of certain serious diseases such as cancer, to increase their immune system and to maintain bone health.

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  • 10 ways to raise your kids green

    10 ways to raise your kids green

    While becoming a green parent sounds like an enormous undertaking, it really doesn’t have to be that difficult. There are small changes you and your children can make that will collectively have a major impact on the environment.

    Children who connect with nature and respect the environment grow into adults who care about protecting it. It is up to us to set the example for our children. 

    Here are 10 ways you can become a green parent:

    Walk, bike or take public transit. By not driving, you will be decreasing air pollution, all while saving money, getting exercise and breathing in fresh air.

    Start composting.  Get your children involved in gathering kitchen and yard waste for the compost. Turn it into a fun activity by seeing who can collect them most items, and by using the soil to plant a vegetable garden. To learn how to compost go toHowToCompost.org.

    Conserve water and energy. Brainstorm with your children ways to reduce water and energy consumption. For example, have them turn the water off when they brush their teeth, fill the bath with less water, use the bath water to wash the dog or to water the plants, and have short showers instead of baths when possible.  Also, have your children help you turn off the lights – you can even assign someone to be the official light switch patrol person.

    Other ways to conserve energy are to purchase green power for your home’s electricity, install energy-efficient bulbs, always have leaky air conditioning and refrigeration systems repaired, and hang laundry to air dry instead of using the dryer.

    Take a stance with your wallet. Support organic and local companies by purchasing their products.  Organic companies tread lightly on the planet because they grow their products without chemicals.  By purchasing local products you are providing more nutritious food for your family, supporting the local economy, and reducing pollution from extra packaging and transportation.

    Use canvas bags. The Environmental Protection Agency indicates that over 500 billion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year.  Instead of using plastic bags provided by stores, bring your own canvas bags. Give your children one each that they can decorate with markers, ribbons, bows, or anything else you have around the house. If you are like me and always forget your canvas bags, leave them on the door handle or where you keep your keys.

    Triple R. Reduce, reuse and recycle – we all know the three Rs, here are some ways to implement them:

    • Involve your children in the household recycling to encourage them take an interest in helping.  Take your kids to the local recycling facility to help them understand the process involved in recycling. 
    • Have fun recycling and reusing paper, plastic and aluminum. Newspapers and paper bags can be used to make book covers and Sunday comics can become wrapping paper.
    • Stop junk mail. Have your kids make, and put up a friendly sign on your mailbox  – “Save the trees, no junk mail please” and email companies that mail you advertisements, requesting to be removed from their mailing lists. 
    • Minimize waste when packing lunches. When preparing the kids lunches use lunch boxes – not lunch bags, use reusable containers – not plastic wrap or aluminum, use clothes napkins – not paper napkins and send recyclable cutlery to school with them – not plastic.

    Out with the old.  Host a garage sale and give the proceeds to a charity of your children’s choice. Have your children make the garage sale signs and organize most of the logistics of the sale. This teaches them about recycling, planning and finances. Another idea is to swap items with other families. By swapping toys and clothes, your children will enjoy new items without you having to purchase them. This will help reduce overall waste and will be an economic advantage for you.

    Make your own baby food. Making your own baby food is not only more environmentally friendly and economical, but it can be healthier too. By making your own food you reduce pollution from packaging and transportation. You will also know exactly what is in the food you are feeding your baby.  If it is an option, breastfeeding is not only beneficial to babies, but the environment as well. Breastfeeding avoids the transportation, packaging, time, cleaning products and money that are associated with using formula.  The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for two years. This may be difficult for some, but making an effort to nurse as long as possible can be beneficial to both your baby and the environment.

    Use cloth, non-chlorinated or flushable diapers. Disposable diapers contribute to a significant amount of plastic waste and may contain chemicals that can be harmful or irritating to your baby. Cloth diapers require water and energy to clean and reuse them, but are still the better option for your baby.  Many cloth diapers now come with diaper covers that are water and leak proof.  Look for disposable diapers that are non-chlorinated or new types of diapers, likegDiapers that can be flushed down the toilet or composted.

    Express yourself. Write letters with your children to corporate leaders, public officials and people in power positions to let them know how you feel about local, national, and global environmental issues. Lead by example and teach your children to stand up for the things that they believe in and that are important for their future.

    It may take a little persuading, but if you teach by example and educate your children on how to take care of the environment from an early age, it will become second nature to them later in life. Future generations will benefit from how we raise our children, so make that extra effort today, to make a better future for tomorrow.