Each and every day, you come into contact with a large number of items—many of which have health risks that can accumulate over time. Many chemicals appear safe yet aren’t, and are not likely to be suspected when your health starts failing.
But other items that are part of the “standard” of contemporary living—such as electronics and even your office chair—can also do more harm than good in the long run.
The list of offending items can certainly be made exceedingly long, but here I will list 10 everyday items that you’d be better off without. A recent article in Time Magazine1 lists even more items you should throw away for better health.
#1: Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose (Splenda) trick your body into storing fat and raise your risk of diabetes, so if you’re looking for health benefits, you’d be better off throwing those colorful little packets in the trash.
The same goes for any food or beverage containing artificial sweeteners, such as diet soda. Besides worsening insulin sensitivity and promoting weight gain, artificial sweeteners also promote other more serious health problems, including heart attacks, stroke2,3,4 and Alzheimer’s disease.
One of the mechanisms by which artificial sweeteners promote obesity and disease is by disrupting your intestinal microflora.5,6,7,8 Specifically, artificial sweeteners alter metabolic pathways associated with metabolic function.
Decreased function has been observed in pathways associated with the transport of sugar in your body, for example. Artificial sweeteners have also been found to induce gut dysbiosis and glucose intolerance in otherwise healthy people.
#2: Plastic Food Containers and Bottles
Tossing your plastic food containers and plastic bottles is a basic step to reducing your exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as bisphenol-A (BPA), bisphenol-S (BPS), and phthalates.
Your endocrine system as a whole is instrumental in regulating mood, growth and development, tissue function, metabolism, as well as sexual function and reproductive processes, and endocrine-disrupting chemicals have been linked to a wide number of adverse effects, including:
- Reproductive health problems
- Hypertension: According to one randomized, controlled trial,9 BPA from cans or plastic bottles can raise your blood pressure within just a few hours of ingestion
- Reduced IQ in children10,11
- Hyperactivity, increased aggressiveness, and impaired learning
- Cancer of the breast, prostate, and thyroid12
Heat, along with wear and tear through multiple washings can increase the amount of chemicals being leached from containers and bottles, so holding on to old containers is not a good idea.
While I used to support switching to BPA-free containers, it’s now been revealed that even “BPA-free” plastics can leach endocrine-disrupting chemicals that are just as bad as BPA.
Your best bet is to avoid plastic containers altogether, and replace them with glass bottles and containers. Also opt for glass baby bottles if you have young children. Make the switch to glass, and you won’t have to struggle figuring out which plastic might be safer than another, only to later find out it wasn’t such a great trade after all…
#3: Non-Stick Cookware
To further clean up your kitchen act, toss non-stick pots and pans and replace them with ceramic or glass cookware. The non-stick coating is made with a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which has been labeled a “likely” carcinogen by an independent scientific review panel that advises the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Although PFOA is a long complex name, it is essentially a complex chemical and relies on fluoride for its non-stick properties. The problem is that once you heat the pot or pan, the fluoride vaporizes into the air where it can kill small birds and harm you and your family. You can easily bypass this unnecessary health risk by switching to ceramic or glass cookware that do not emit toxic fluoride.
#4: Air Fresheners
Room deodorizers frequently contain 2, 5-dichlorophenol (2, 5-DCP), a metabolite of 1,4-dichlorobenzene, which has been linked to precocious puberty and other health problems,13 including cancer. Endocrine-disrupting phthalates are also commonly found in air fresheners and room deodorizers.
If you’re having issues with unpleasant smells, you’d be wise to address the root causes rather than masking them with chemical sprays.
Opening your windows and doors from time to time can help, and will also improve the general air quality in your home or office. If you want a scent, opt for high-quality pure essential oils, which can actually support your health and wellbeing.
#5: Antibacterial Soaps and Detergents
Routinely disinfecting your body and surroundings may actually cause far more harm than good in the long run. Not only does it promote the development of drug-resistant bacteria, but antibacterial compounds such as triclosan have also been linked to a number or harmful health effects, especially in young children.
For example, research has shown that triclosan can alter hormone regulation and may interfere with fetal development in pregnant women. This antibacterial ingredient has also been linked to:
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Endocrine disruption
- Weight gain
- Inflammatory responses
Warm water and a mild soap is really all you need to safely eliminate disease-causing microbes Even the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stated that “there is currently no evidence that [antibacterial soaps] are any more effective at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water.”
Besides hand soaps and products specifically marketed as antibacterial, triclosan can also be found in a number of other household and personal care products, including cutting boards, toys, acne cream, and Colgate Total toothpaste—all of which are also best avoided.
One all-purpose disinfectant that works great for kitchen counters, cutting boards, and bathrooms—all places where germs like to grow—is 3% hydrogen peroxide and vinegar. Simply put each liquid into a separate spray bottle, then spray the surface with one, followed by the other. In tests run at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, pairing the two mists killed virtually all Salmonella, Shigella, and E. coli bacteria on heavily contaminated food and surfaces when used in this fashion, making this spray combination more effective at killing these potentially lethal bacteria than chlorine bleach or any commercially available kitchen cleaner.
#6: Commercial Cleaning Products
You can avoid quite a few hazardous chemicals simply by tossing those commercial cleaning products in the dustbin. Every single one of them can be replaced with a short list of basic ingredients. Here’s a simple starter list of what you need to make your own natural cleaning products:
|Baking soda||White vinegar||Lemon juice|
|Hydrogen peroxide||Liquid castile soap||Organic essential oils (optional). Certain ones, including lavender and tea tree oil, have anti-bacterial qualities|
|Mixing bowls||Spray bottles||Microfiber cloths|
For a great video on how to use these ingredients and other tips for cleaning your home without hazardous chemicals, please review the article “How to Keep Your Home Clean Naturally.” For example, lemon juice is a natural whitener, vinegar and water makes an excellent window cleaner, and vinegar combined with hydrogen peroxide works exceptionally well as both a disinfectant and sanitizer. Baking soda is also great for scrubbing your bath and kitchen.
#7: Personal Care Products
Chemicals are very effectively absorbed via your skin, so cleaning out your bathroom cabinet can go a long way toward reducing your toxic load. This is particularly true for women, who tend to use several different products on a daily basis. Makeup is also a hidden source of heavy metals. In the report Heavy Metal Hazard: The Health Risks of Hidden Heavy Metals in Face Makeup,14 Environmental Defense tested 49 different makeup items, including foundations, concealers, powders, blushes, mascaras, eye liners, eye shadows, lipsticks and lip glosses. Their testing revealed serious heavy metal contamination in virtually all of the products:
- 96 percent contained lead
- 90 percent contained beryllium
- 61 percent contained thallium
- 51 percent contained cadmium
- 20 percent contained arsenic
If you use conventional makeup on a daily basis, you can absorb almost five pounds of chemicals into your body each year15 — and that’s without adding in body lotion, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, and other personal care products! To address this health-defeating cycle, switch to organic brands of toiletries and cosmetics. The Environmental Working Group has a great database16 to help you find personal care products that are free of potentially dangerous chemicals. Better yet, simplify your routine and make your own products. A slew of lotions, potions, and hair treatments can be eliminated with a jar of coconut oil, for example, to which you can add a high quality essential oil for scent.
#8: Stale Spices
Herbs and cooking spices contain a wide variety of antioxidants, minerals and vitamins, and help maximize the nutrient density of your meals. On a per gram fresh weight basis, herbs rank even higher in antioxidant activity than fruits and vegetables. Many studies have also shown that most spices tend to have unique medicinal qualities. Four spices that are particularly effective at quelling inflammation are:17
Freshness matters, however, so if your pantry is filled to the hilt with old spice bottles, it may be time to refresh your stock. Expired, stale spices also will not provide you with much flavor, so if your attempts at spicing up your meals have left you unimpressed, they may simply have gone stale.
# 9: Electronic Devices
While few would consider getting rid of their smart phones or computers, you would be wise to reconsider how you use all of your devices, and just how many you surround yourself with at any given point of the day. Some kids, especially teenagers, tend to be surrounded by multiple electronic gadgets for hours at a stretch. I feel the evidence of long-term harm of EMF and wireless radiation is very clear, necessitating a prudent approach.
On May 31, 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO)/International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) issued a report admitting cell phones might indeed cause cancer, classifying radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” (Class 2B).18 The classification came in part in response to research showing wireless telephones increase the risk for brain cancer. To reduce exposure, avoid continuously carrying your smart phone on your body.
Tucking it into your bra or pocket may be convenient now, but it’s an open invitation for health problems down the road, and that may be more than just a little inconvenient! It’s important to realize that as long as your cell phone is on, it emits radiation intermittently, even when you are not actually making a call. So wearing a cell phone on your hip for 15 hours a day is giving that area of your body nearly continuous radiation exposure. For more tips on how to reduce exposure, please see my previous article “Heavy Cell Phone Use Can Quadruple Your Risk of Deadly Brain Cancer.” Also consider unplugging from your digital life from time to time to “smell the roses” as it were. As noted by Time Magazine:19
“Mounting research indicates that information overload—what happens when you use smart devices constantly—is linked to depression and anxiety. Recent studies suggest that this is particularly true for people who are overly attached to their smartphones and tablets, and for those who use multiple devices at once (which experts call media multitasking). Power down and stow your devices in a drawer at least a few times per week to give your brain a break‚ ideally on a set schedule (for example, weekdays after 9 p.m. or weekend mornings before noon).”
#10: Your Chair
While I placed this last, mounting research clearly reveals that your chair may actually be one of the most dangerous items to have around for your health. Prolonged sitting has repeatedly been shown to be an independent risk factor for chronic disease and early demise, even if you exercise regularly and are very fit. That’s right; exercise cannot undo the damage caused by hours of daily sitting, just like it cannot undo the harm done by smoking.
Along with obesity, sitting is the new smoking, increasing your risk for lung cancer by more 50 percent.20 Who would have guessed that sitting is far more dangerous than second hand smoke? Sitting has been found to increase your risk of death from virtually all health problems,21,22 from type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease to cancer and all-cause mortality. And, the less you exercise, the more pronounced the detrimental effects of sitting.
What’s the solution?
Stand up as much as possible. A standing desk is one option. Barring that, make sure you stand up at regular intervals during work hours. For a number of other tips and tricks, see my previous article, “Tips for Staying Active in the Office.” As a general rule, if you’ve been sitting for one hour, you’ve sat too long. At bare minimum, avoid sitting for more than 50 minutes out of every hour. If you don’t already have a fitness tracker, it may be money well spent to get one. I recommend aiming for 7,000 to 10,000 steps per day, over and above any exercise regimen you may have. I was probably doing 2,000 steps a day prior to using a fitness tracker, and now I am up to about 15,000 steps a day or about eight miles.
For many, simply getting and staying out of your chair is a first step that can bring you closer to a healthier lifestyle. As you become more used to low level, non-exercise activity, you’re more likely to get motivated enough to start exercising more vigorously.
Eliminate Known Risk Factors That Prevent Optimal Health
We live in an extremely toxic world; that’s an unfortunate reality. Your diet plays a significant role, but you’re also exposed to a great amount of chemicals from all the products you use, and your skin serves as a very efficient delivery system, straight into your blood stream, bypassing many of your body’s innate filtering systems. Taking some time to go through and reassess the products you use is a positive step that can help to significantly reduce your toxic burden, and that will have nothing but positive ramifications for your health.
Environmental pollution is a massive problem, but for most there aren’t many immediate solutions to address it. Your time is far better spent focusing on your immediate environment; your home, and all the products you come in contact with on a daily basis. Addressing habits like sitting and your use of electronics will also help you optimize your health, and reduce your chances of chronic disease.