The kidneys are small but invaluable organs that sit at the back of the body, below the rib cage and near the waistline. The kidneys are also fairly close to the spine. The kidneys have many jobs, one of which is to filter between 120-150 liters of blood every day and produce one or two quarts of urine that is sent to the bladder to be expelled from the body. This process is a vital part of our natural cleansing process and its unhindered progress is essential for good health.
Kidneys deserve the best treatment we can give them in return for what they do for us. A lot of people think the best “fuel” comes from juicing fruits or vegetables regularly, which they feel concentrates their nutritional intake, providing all the vitamins and minerals the body craves in one giant glass of sludge. Like anything else, there are lots of different opinions about juicing. Some wonder if they will really get that satisfied, “full” feeling from juice alone, and are afraid of feeling hungry too soon after having eaten. But one could say the same about eating junk food, which fills us up but leaves the body feeling hungry soon after the junk is gone. This is because the body still hasn’t received the nourishment it’s looking for in a meal, even though it might have consumed two thousand calories of energy.
Despite widespread knowledge of its nutritional bankruptcy, junk food is still consumed by a large proportion of the US population. Its arrival in other countries around the world that have traditionally thrived on simpler diets has resulted in numerous modern health crises. Junk food is designed to be delicious, so that people love to eat it and crave the flavor even though they know it’s not really “good” for them. So, they put on weight but still feel hungry for more of the same and follow up the burger and fries with ice cream, cookies, or cake. This cycle leaves us not only overweight but undernourished and hence, sick and sad when any number of health problems may develop. A large quantity of food will not satisfy the body unless it also carries the nutrients the body needs. When we know we have what we need, the “hungry switch” turns off.
When we juice, however, we get the opposite result. If we really give our bodies this powerhouse of nutrients from fresh produce, it should feel satisfying and stop telling us to eat more. When the body has the fuel it needs, just like a vehicle, it runs more smoothly. If you are underweight, your cells can start communicating again and you may gain a few pounds. If you are too heavy, the extra weight can melt away.
We usually associate smoking with only respiratory and cardiovascular problems but if you care about the health of your kidneys and other organs, you should not smoke cigarettes. Smoking slows the blood flow to important organs like the kidneys and it can aggravate kidney disease. Smoking can also negatively affect medicines used to treat existing high blood pressure. Uncontrolled or poorly-controlled high blood pressure is a leading cause of kidney disease.
One factor you may not have considered when looking at kidney health is the ingredients of common household cleaning products and the effects they have on the kidneys and other organs. Even bleach, which many of us take for granted and use frequently, is known to cause liver and kidney damage when combined with wastewater. Another common ingredient in cleaning products, 1,4-dioxane, is also linked to kidney disease.
Have you noticed that when you walk down the laundry aisle in the supermarket, the smell can make your nose itch? Extremely sensitive people have a hard time even going down that aisle and for someone with allergies it’s especially challenging. That’s because many of the products sold for household cleaning are loaded with artificial fragrances to try and appeal to consumers. Somehow, we have become used to the idea that it is normal or even expected that household products, whether used for cleaning floors or our bodies, should be aromatic, along with doing the job they are designed for. Isn’t it enough that these products remove dirt from our hands or get our clothes clean? Why must they smell of perfume? Many of the most popular brands we use contain synthetic fragrances and other toxic chemicals that can present health problems for the humans who are exposed to them during normal use. Sadly, they also have a negative impact on wildlife and the environment.
Carcinogens Found in Popular Laundry Products and Air Fresheners
Professor Anne Steineman, formerly of the University of Washington in Seattle, USA, has done extensive work with her team of researchers on trying to answer the question of whether air fresheners in public restrooms as well as widely used laundry products are more harmful to the body than they are useful as products. Over several years of research, they discovered that when it comes to health problems, synthetic fragrances are just the tip of the iceberg.
In 2008, Steineman’s team focused their research on six of the top-selling laundry products and air fresheners in the United States. Each product was analyzed to find out what was in it. Unfortunately, manufacturers are not required by law to disclose their ingredients. In the six products, almost one hundred chemicals were found; some of them identified as hazardous or toxic under federal law. These ingredients were not listed on the labels of the products in question and the consumer, therefore, would have no idea that buying and using them would expose them and their family to contaminants. And further down the wastewater chain, the chemicals would end up poisoning untold numbers of plants, birds and other wildlife. The labels carried no such warnings. Further, according to Steinemann, five of the six products – a whopping 80% – released one or more “hazardous air pollutants”, which are considered carcinogenic and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established that they have NO safe level of exposure whatsoever.
In 2011, researchers conducted a controlled study on emissions for washing machines and dryers. The air samples were taken from two residential dryer vents and drains. During their use of the machines, either no products at all or fragranced products, including dryer sheets, were used. The results showed that more than 25 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were emitted from the dryer vents. There was a high concentration of chemicals, including acetaldehyde, acetone, and ethanol. Seven of these VOCs were classified as hazardous air pollutants; two of the seven, acetaldehyde and benzene, as carcinogenic.
It is estimated that toxic chemicals affect 99% of the U.S. population. In 2016, the journal Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health published an article by Professor Steinemann that reported results from a nationwide survey of Americans. The survey specifically looked into the range of exposures and effects associated with the emissions from fragranced products. Steineman reported that a staggering 34.7% of the population have reported health problems that could be attributed to toxic chemical exposure. The effects included respiratory difficulties, neurological problems, asthma attacks, dizziness and migraines. The impact on the economy was bad as well as the impact on human health. Around 15.1% of the population lost workdays due to toxin-related illness or even lost their jobs due to exposure to fragranced products while at work.
The Worst Offenders in Cleaning Supplies
Because items that come out of the laundry are usually worn or slept on close to the skin, we are constantly exposed to the toxic chemicals that are ingredients in laundry detergent, fabric softener and dryer sheets. These chemicals affect not only us but also the world around us. Once the polluted water from a washing machine is dumped into a drain, the toxins enter the water supply and affect the health of aquatic plants and animals that drink from the water supply. The plant life that is then irrigated by the same water, including many crops. The polluted air from dryer vents not only smells pretty pungent but it contributes to air pollution.
So, what do we need to be concerned about when choosing safe cleaning supplies? There are a few factors to be concerned about with toxic cleaning products. The fragrance we smell in the laundry soap we pick off the shelf is usually synthetic and made from a combination of several hundred chemicals mixed into a toxic cocktail. Manufacturers also add stabilizers like ethylene oxide and polyalkylene. Polyalkylene has been linked to eye, skin and lung irritation as well as to rashes and dermatitis. Seriously, why would you want these next to your skin or wrapped around your loved ones? Why dry your baby’s freshly bathed skin with a polluted towel? As if that were not enough, still more types of ingredients also undermine our health. We have to consider added surfactants like the notorious sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which has a long list of health concerns, such as organ toxicity, reproductive problems, neurotoxicity, possible mutations and cancer. 1,4-dioxane is a by-product of SLS and it has been linked to respiratory problems, allergies, kidney disease, brain disorders, hormone disruption, liver disease and immune system impairment.
Other troublesome surfactants are diathanolamine (DEA), which is linked to skin and possibly liver conditions, quaternium-15, which is known to release formaldehyde (a known carcinogen), and linear alkyl benzene sulfonates (LA), which has been linked to eye and skin irritation and is very toxic to aquatic life. Benzene is another known carcinogen among the many used in cleaning supplies. So are petroleum distillates, which have been linked to lung damage and cancer.
It gets more complicated. Manufacturers also use chemicals called “optical whiteners”, which remain on the surface of the fabric to absorb ultraviolet light. This makes the clothing appear brighter, whiter and more vibrant but the price you can pay for this luminosity is pretty steep. According to one Swedish study, optical brighteners have been linked to contact dermatitis and possible genetic mutations in aquatic life. They are not biodegradable, so they will never disappear. Bleach is a classic whitener and almost everybody knows the feeling of that strong smell stinging in the eyes and nostrils while using it. It is cheap, and it gets added to many cleaning products. Whether it’s used alone or added to a formula, it’s a known skin, eye and lung irritant. When it gets combined with wastewater, toxic organic compounds get formed that are known to cause respiratory problems as well as kidney and liver damage. At least we all know the smell of bleach, which makes it easier to avoid. There are other ingredients to be aware of and avoid if possible, such as phosphates and Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA), which are included to soften hard water, remove grease and dirt, and suspend dirt once it has washed out of the fabrics or dishes so that it doesn’t settle back on them while still in the wash cycle. Phosphates have been linked to environmental damage and are particularly devastating to waterways. Phosphate runoff causes algal blooms that have been responsible for devastating imbalance in aquatic ecosystems. It can speed up eutrophication (a reduction in dissolved oxygen in water bodies caused by an increase of mineral and organic nutrients) of rivers and lakes. Thankfully, many manufacturers of cleaning products now acknowledge that phosphates don’t belong in the environment (due in no small part to increased public awareness and resulting reluctance to buy detergents containing phosphates) but EDTA is often substituted and considering that it a known toxin that does not biodegrade, hopefully the formulating chemists will keep looking for better substitutes.
These are just a few of the chemicals that are included in the formulas for detergents, air fresheners and many other commonplace household products that we often take for granted. But they are the worst offenders and, as such, deserve our attention. Because of the presence of these chemicals in the average home as a result of using toxic household products, the EPA has actually declared that the air inside such a home can be five times more polluted than the air immediately outside its front door.
Despite the efforts of U.S. Senator Alan Franken who, in 2009, sponsored a bill called The Household Product Labeling Act, which would have mandated accurate listing of all ingredients (including fragrances) on their labels, the bill did not pass, and we are still mostly in the dark about what goes into the formulas.
We do have resources, though. As consumers, we need to research the actual ingredients in the household products we have become accustomed to buying. Even formulas that claim to be “natural” or “green” might just be including those words as they are a marketing point but don’t actually mean much. We can also make our own substitutions with natural cleaners like white vinegar and baking soda. Of course they wouldn’t offer the same carefully-engineered fragrances or super-bright appearance to your fabrics, but it’s easier to avoid the health complications that come with toxin exposure than it is to deal with the consequences later on. If you can ignore the marketing gimmicks pushing toxin-laden cleaning products and just keep it simple, you may find you are choosing better health for yourself and your family.
Want to find out some techniques being used to help detoxify the body? Click here.