Are We The Next Dinosaurs??

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Tyrannosaurus Rex, Museum of Natural History, May 2014

 

The Law of the Instrument, also known as Maslow’s Hammer, is a concept in psychology that not so eloquently states, “when you’re holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Ever since I’ve started my graduate program, my studies have been my golden hammer. I see nutritional biochemistry unfold in every stranger who walks by on the street and hear it echo in side conversations between friends waiting in line, sticking out like nails on a boardwalk waiting to be pounded. This past weekend, my hammer was ready to go in an unlikely place: the silver screen.

 

My boyfriend, Ben, and I went to see Jurassic World in 3D on a quiet Sunday night. Neither of us had any knowledge of the plot before heading into the show; we were more excited and overly impressed by the addition of luxury recliners at the local theater (amazing!).

 

Jurassic World Movie Theater Pic

 

For those of you who haven’t seen the blockbuster yet, don’t worry – no spoilers here. Basically, Jurassic World is an amusement park/experience set on an island off of Costa Rica that is home to dinosaurs that are artificially produced from prehistoric DNA and released into the “wilderness” for patrons to view. In an effort to boost profits, the CEO of the juggernaut park approved the engineering of a genetically modified dinosaur that would be bigger, badder, scarier, and every other superlative trait indicated by the guest satisfaction survey. They named her Indominus Rex.

 

In order to give her traits that deliver on all of these requests, the scientists mixed in genetically advantageous material from non-dinosaur species, such as the cuttlefish and frog. However, the scientists failed to think through what other traits from these various species may work themselves into Indominus Rex’s DNA to create a terrifyingly lethal dinosaur who would unleash its fury on the island’s thousands of guests. Golden hammer in tow, I couldn’t help but relate all of this to GMOs and the food industry. Bryce Dallas Howard may as well have been wearing a Monsanto building access card on her belt loop.

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I’m sure all of you have at least heard of the term “GMO” before. Today, I am here to break down the basics for you – the good, the bad, and the diseased.

 

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), like most things, were conceived with good intentions.

 

We wanted to feed the world and remediate world hunger and malnourishment-associated diseases. In order to do this, seeds of certain crops were genetically modified and reproduced to withstand harsh growing conditions, resist pesticides and antibiotics, and provide different nutrients in foods that normally do not supply them.

 

For example, crops that have no chance of thriving in drought-like conditions had a gene for drought tolerance inserted into their DNA so that they could flourish in equatorial areas to feed hungry populations. Crops that get pummeled and devoured by insects before they can be harvested were genetically modified to resist powerful pesticides so that the chemicals would kill the hungry insects, but allow the plants to thrive and produce far greater yields. Seeds for genetically modified “golden rice” were engineered to contain beta-carotene, giving it an orange-like hue in order to provide vitamin A precursors to populations in China, where rice flourishes but children commonly experience blindness due to lack of access to vitamin A-rich foods.

 

All good so far, right? Not for long.

 

Anyone with a knack for business could see how people would want to capitalize on the fact that producing successful crop yields in any type of weather condition would create more jobs, more food, and billions of dollars. To boot, you wouldn’t even have to worry about insects interfering with their growth. Sign me up.

 

Taking it a step further, wouldn’t you want to partner with the scientists who are creating these pesticide-resistant seeds and manufacture the pesticide to which they are resistant? And patent both the seeds and the pesticide so that every farmer has to buy them from you if they want to compete with higher yields? Wouldn’t it be even better if the scientists could doctor the seeds with a sterile, suicide gene that makes them unable to germinate and thus self-destruct after one year so that farmers must continue to purchase them from you annually instead of just once? Cha-ching.

 

Enter Monsanto: the company that reigns over most of the food production in America and throughout the world, and has done all of the above and more.

 

Upon first learning about GMOs in depth, there were two main things that worried me. One, what happens to the people who eat these foods with patchwork DNA and gene combinations that have historically never been ingested by humans? Two, if these crops are being doused with so much pesticide in order to kill the insects, what is in this toxic chemical concoction that is now on basically all of the foods we eat, and is it even safe for human consumption?

 

In regards to the first question, there has not been enough significant research conducted or results produced for me to know the answer. We do not know for sure how this genetic material could intermix with our own and cause our body’s cells to mutate, proliferate, and lead to cancer or other mysterious diseases. As my writing is evidence-based, I cannot comfortably weigh in on this. What I will say is this: most of the genes are thoroughly researched before a scientist can patent and sell the seeds. However, I personally don’t think that scientists take into account how ubiquitous GMOs are in our food and beverage supply and how much we consume of these products on an hourly basis over decades of time to accurately gauge their cumulative effects.

 

The second question, however, is what I plan to address in this post.

 

The Monsanto-born pesticide, which is employed by virtually all farmers that plant GMO crops, is called Roundup. Its active ingredient is glyphosate, residues of which can be found on nearly all sugar, corn, soy, canola, cotton, and wheat grown on American soil. Since Roundup’s patent has recently expired, agriculturists around the globe can now better afford the herbicide to use on their crops and for lawn maintenance. Due to its omnipresence on our land, it also contaminates our streams and water supply from run-off.

 

Glyphosate works so effectively because it interferes with the shikimate pathway, which then disrupts the plant’s synthesis of the amino acids tyrosine, phenylalanine, and tryptophan. Plants exposed to glyphosate show significantly less levels of these nutrients, along with an excess of ammonia. Due to the fact that humans do not possess a shikimate pathway, Monsanto has asserted that glyphosate would have no effect on our biochemistry and therefore do no harm.

 

What they fail to acknowledge is that, although we as humans may not have a shikimate pathway, the millions of beneficial bacteria and fungi that reside in our digestive tract do.

 

A study analyzing the effects of glyphosate on E. coli, a resident bacteria in our gut, revealed metabolic starvation, suppression of the shikimate pathway, energy drain, downregulation of the genes that create ATP, mitochondrial impairment, and a switch to a less efficient anaerobic metabolism. Basically, it kills them. If glyphosate is insidiously interfering with the delicate balance of good and bad bacteria in our guts, it leads to dysbiosis. Autism, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, obesity, depression, and cognitive disorders have all been linked to dysbiosis in our guts. Is it a coincidence that all of these diseases have dramatically increased since the introduction of GMOs and Roundup to our food supply? I personally think not.

 

The health of our gut’s microbiome determines our ability to synthesize various vitamins, detoxify toxins, and maintain homeostasis of our immune system through our gut permeability. If we are readily taking in less vitamins as a result of processed and adulterated foods, being exposed to more toxins from environmental chemicals and herbicides in our foods, and we combine this with a substance in everything we eat that shuts down our ability to get rid of these toxins and synthesize vitamins that help us function, can you see how detrimental this is to our health and wellbeing? Yikes.

 

Glyphosate has been shown to inhibit Cytochrome (CYP) enzymes in our body, which have several hundred integral functions. One of which is the catabolism, or breakdown, of vitamin A. Without the breakdown of vitamin A, its endogenous levels within our body increase dramatically. I’m sure most women reading this have heard of the dangers of vitamin A associated with pregnancy. Researchers investigated the effects of low dose glyphosate on embryonic development in frogs and chicks, revealing severe embryonic defects as a result of high levels of this vitamin due to its inability to be broken down. This was directly related to the ingredient in Roundup.

 

CYP enzymes are also responsible for the activation and metabolism of vitamin D3 in our liver. Anyone else notice a greater prevalence of vitamin D-deficient individuals or issues with its utilization in the last 15 years? Hmm, weird.

 

Cytochrome P450 enzymes in our liver, whose existence dates back 3 billion years in plants, animals, and bacteria, serve as key players in detoxification reactions and energy production. This showcases yet another angle where the synergistic effect of increased toxin intake and the inability to detoxify can be causing damage that we cannot research at a fast enough rate to keep up with the onslaught.

 

Table of glyphosate usage

Close to 200 million pounds of Roundup are used each year on American crops and plants.

 

Leaving questionable trails of disease in its wake, the chemical’s effects are not limited to humans; our ecosystem is suffering, too. Honeybees, which help to pollinate all crops, plants, and flowers, have an innate resistance to most pesticides. The reason why they have this immunity is due to their CYP enzyme activity. As we know, glyphosate inhibits these enzymes, thus leaving the bees vulnerable to lethal effects of all other insecticides, causing them to die in large numbers once they bring the chemicals back to their hives. Around 2006, there was a surge of honeybee colony collapses across the country, which still continues. Without honeybees, our plants, crops, and flowers will be unable to grow successfully and independently. If we can’t rely on honeybees, the price to germinate will raise our food costs astronomically.

 

Honestly, who wins in this scenario?

 

There is so much more to write on this subject, and even more we have yet to learn, but I will stop here and leave you with what you can do to help yourself and the world around you:

 

  1. Buy organic foods when you can to avoid pesticide exposure.
  2. Stay away from the foods that you know are genetically modified in abundance (mainly processed foods that contain corn, soy, wheat, sugar, canola and cottonseed oils).
  3. Help lobby for GMO labeling on foods so we at least have the right to know what is in what we eat.
  4. Save the bees! Support beekeepers by buying local raw honey. Here are 10 other easy ways, especially if you have a green thumb.

 

As the title of this post asks, are we the next dinosaurs? Is our world’s population set to become diseased and eventually extinct? To me, it is truly mind blowing that billions of dollars are being “invested” in warding off global warming when the disastrous (and preventable) effects of GMOs are taking place right under our government’s nose. People are feverishly concerned about a climate catastrophe being the end of our species like it was for the dinosaurs. Worried about the poles melting and leaving us all under water? As you can see, my friends, we are already drowning.

 

If you’re interested in receiving emails when I write new posts, please subscribe in the box provided. Have a great weekend, everyone!

 

References:

Samsel, A.; Seneff, S. Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases. Entropy 2013, 15, 1416-63.

Fagan J, Antoniou M, Robinson C. GMO Myths and Truths. 2014.

Put Down the Juice Cleanse and Read This First!.. What Detoxing Really Means

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 Your Neighborhood Healthfood Store, October 2014

 

When I was in my early twenties and learning about Chinese medicine, I went for regular acupuncture treatments with a very lovable and charming practitioner named Dr. Wang on the Upper West Side. Dr. Wang barely spoke a word of English, save a few words of instruction on how to position my body on his treatment table, and maybe some metaphorical words of advice – at which I would smile politely, but really had no clue what he was talking about.

 

Without fail, when I went for tune-ups for symptoms like headaches, frequent colds, low energy, trouble rising in the morning, and irritability prior to menses, Dr. Wang’s diagnosis after looking at my tongue and feeling my pulse was always, “liver qi stagnation.”

 

I would usually nod, expecting this answer. In between his needle insertions, I would probe as to what this meant and how to fix it. He would then say, “Eat greens. Look at green things. Take herbs. Don’t be so angry. If you’re holding it in, yell. Loud yells, Erin.” With Chinese medical philosophy in mind, these are all sound recommendations. However, I always wondered how this had anything to do with my liver and how to relate these Eastern puzzles to my Western-leaning comprehension. I also wondered if he was a little out of his mind at times, but that’s beside the (acupuncture) point.

 

A couple of years later when I started to delve into the science of Nutrition, the etiology of my Chinese diagnosis became very clear when I started to learn the role the liver plays in our bodies. The liver alone handles up to 500 separate functions, which impact every system in our body and, reciprocally, every system in our body affects the liver. According to the Huang Di Nei Jing, the liver is like the General of an army. Liver qi stagnation loosely translates to a liver that is overburdened, backed up, and not able to freely take care of these functions so that the body (and army) can operate smoothly.

 

As one of its major functions, the liver breaks down and detoxifies substances so they can be eliminated from the body via the kidneys and bowels. Complementarily, the liver is also a major storage unit, housing glucose for energy and vitamins and minerals for biochemical mechanisms of the cells as needed.

 

Eliminate, store, eliminate, store. Do you see how this delicate balance can be thrown off if we’re not careful?

In this post, I’ll be primarily focusing on the detoxification function of the liver. Before we dive in, though, I just want to mention that the detoxification mechanisms of the body are extremely complex. There are specialists out there who study this for years and new facts and protocols are readily established all of the time. I’m just here to brush the surface and set the record straight on a few misconceptions you might have, and shed some light on yet another potential ceiling that blocks us from reaching an elevated state of health.

 

Now, disclaimers out of the way, let’s look at detoxification:

Detoxification, simply put, is the way the body heals and repairs itself, which it has always done for as long as we have been roaming the planet. It is an internal cleansing process that takes place continuously and naturally. A true minimalist, the body prefers to not keep anything around for a long time – even good things. For instance, our very own hormones are constantly broken down and reconstructed in preparation for recycling or elimination. Enzymes in the liver break down most of these unwanted molecules using Phase I and Phase II detoxification pathways.

 

phase I and II pathways

 

Pictured above is a general overview of these pathways. Phase I uses enzymes (such as Cytochrome P450) to break down toxins into intermediate and, oftentimes, more toxic metabolites. At this point, some toxins (like caffeine) are ready for immediate elimination, but most require a second cycle (Phase II) before they are neutralized enough for eradication.

 

To confuse you a little more, there are six different pathways within Phase II that complete the breakdown of chemicals outside the body (such as heavy metals, xenobiotics, drugs) and also those found inside the body (dietary, produced by the gut, endogenous in nature).

 

phase II pathways

 

These channels further deconstruct the toxins from Phase I and bind them to specific protein molecules that escort them out via the kidneys or bile, and later through the bowels. Now, what do all of these channels have in common? They’re amino acid driven – remember this for later.

 

So, great … all of this happens in the liver and the liver takes all of the credit. But, how does all this stuff get to the liver in the first place? One major way is through the lymph.

Our lymphatic system is a branch of the circulatory system and a major component of the immune system. It is a network of organs (tonsils, thymus, spleen), lymph nodes, ducts, and vessels that make and move lymph from the tissues to the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, it gets circulated around the body and eventually makes its way to the liver.

 

lymphatic system diagram

 

Lymph plays a vital role in detoxification. Essentially, as interstitial fluid, the lymph flows through cells and lymph nodes where bacteria, viruses, organic materials, and toxins are filtered out via immunomodulatory mechanisms. In this sense, you can call it the pre-filter to the liver’s master filtration, as to not overburden the liver’s job since it has so many responsibilities already. It’s like its own personal assistant.

 

Anyway, the lymph flows verrryyyyy slowly. It moves around at a rate of three liters per day. Blood circulates at a rate of five liters per minute. Why is the lymph so slow? Well, there’s no pump! As the heart is in charge of circulating the blood, WE (yes, you!) are responsible for voluntarily pumping the lymph around. If not adequately circulated, toxins of any kind will store themselves in any number of places for which they have an affinity (for instance, heavy metals love nerve tissue) … and then they start to strain the immune system.

 

Lymph that is not flowing enough doesn’t look so great, either. I’m sure most people who are reading this have a little bit of cellulite or at least know what it looks like. If you don’t, you should probably go buy a lottery ticket because you are living a pretty nice life. These dimples are due to a lack of blood and lymph fluid circulating to the subcutaneous layer of skin, causing the septa (fibrous tissue) to become stiff. Lymph then gets trapped and the surrounding tissue hardens, causing those lumps and bumps Kim Kardashian has learned how to disguise so well in her selfies. Say (cottage) cheese, Kimmy!

 

The vessels that move our lymph around open and close via skeletal muscle movement. Naturally then, physical movement or exercise is one surefire way to get it pumping. Want to know a really effective method???

Rebounding! Or, better known as jumping on a trampoline.

 

 

Looks fun, right?

 

The combination of gravity, muscle contractions, and pressure really forces the lymph fluid to move all over your body, collecting toxins and wastes in its bouncing glory. During exercise, the blood also brings more oxygen and nutrients to the liver so it is primed to get down to business with the lymph escorting the waste right there, ripe for the picking.

 

Aside from rebounding, here are some other great and fun ways to improve lymph circulation:

Yoga Inversions: Turning upside down helps to circulate the lymph from your legs and lower body.

Massage, particularly lymph massage: This one doesn’t require any effort and it’s super relaxing. Massage therapists, with their pressure, help to open and close these vessels to get things flowing.

Qi gong exercises: Particularly, beating the area of your chest over your thymus gland, like Tarzan. You might feel a little awkward doing this, but you should try it. It feels so good! Beat it like a drum, hard, about 20 times. You’ll feel a nice vibration. This thumping helps to stimulate an increase in the maturation and release of white blood cells.

 

The skin is another huge detoxification organ; it is responsible for a quarter of the body’s detoxing each day. It can excrete up to half a liter of fluid, mostly via the sweat glands through perspiration, but also by diffusion.

 

One way to enhance detoxification through the skin is by using an infrared sauna. Infrared rays penetrate deeply into the skin, warming the body instead of heating the surrounding air like steam saunas do. It requires a much lower temperature to trigger twice the amount of release, and the rays penetrate deeper into the skin, targeting toxins that reside in the fat cells. If you’re interested in visiting one, I know of a great place in the city, so please message me. This is not something you should try on your own! It should be under the guidance of a licensed practitioner, such as a naturopathic doctor.

 

Another great technique to target the skin to assist detoxing is through dry brushing. Dry brushing is a way to stimulate the organs of detoxification by providing a gentle internal massage. It also moves lymph back into the circulatory system, which as we already know, helps bring it to the liver.

 

One thing to keep in mind, too, is what you put on your skin. You want to make sure that any heavy products do not block your pores, and also be careful not to apply anything too toxic that will be absorbed. You can read more about this in my previous post.

 

Last week, I was down in Maryland visiting for a few days. On a neighborhood walk, my boyfriend and I walked along a stream that spanned a long portion of the main road by his family’s home. In looking and listening at the dark green water flow from one small pond to the next, down small waterfalls, and around various bends, I was in awe of how effortlessly everything was running steadily through these small obstacles without a hiccup.

 

Your body’s detoxification system works in a similar fashion.

 

Each obstacle the water nimbly surpassed represents different foundational components of health of which you must be mindful. You can’t just work on the getting the lymph rushing to the liver; the stream will back up and overflow at one of the bends. You can’t just work on speedily filtering out the liver; the stream’s water level would get too low. You can’t just do an extreme detoxing protocol to take care of your body; sure, the stream would flow smoothly if done correctly, but the water would not be clear and vibrant. You get the picture, right?

 

Everything in our body and in this stream is interconnected. One system affects the next, affects the next, affects the first one. You should think of and approach everything slowly, gently, and completely… versus a shock-to-your-system Master cleanse, or Blueprint cleanse, or any extreme fasting as a quick-fix to give your conscience an excuse to go back to your binge-drinking, no sleep, work-a-holic, coffee chugging norm.

 

Maybe Dr. Wang was right. Looking at green things, such as this stream in Maryland, did help me understand what I need to do to fix my liver qi stagnation.

 

Now, before you run out and start a detoxification program or do any of the beneficial rebounding and sauna-ing tactics mentioned above, please note that this can be a dangerous shock to the body if it’s not primed and prepared. Elimination pathways need to be open and functioning well. Once these toxins are released from their storage sites, our body must have the capability to flush them out. If you’re not flushing them out, they will just be released to other parts of the body and could make you feel even worse.

Here’s how to ensure these elimination pathways are clear:

MANAGE STRESS: First, detoxification is a parasympathetic process. This means that our body must be in “rest mode” for us to fully and properly detoxify. If you are constantly stressed and worried, under the gun at work etc., you are in “fight or flight” mode, and your body does not prioritize detoxing by any means.

Stress also triggers your adrenal glands to release the hormone cortisol. Excess cortisol due to ongoing, chronic stress has been shown to directly contribute to fatty liver, which clogs this metabolic organ.

The body also sees constant stress as a toxin itself. So don’t stress about detoxing either, that would be counterproductive 😉

DON’T EAT LATE: Since detoxification is a parasympathetic process, one guaranteed way for our body to be in this state is when we’re asleep. If you eat late at night right before you go to bed, your body prioritizes digestion over detoxification, so you miss out on this integral time of reparation and healing.

SLEEP. A LOT!: The best medicine.

MAINTAIN A CLEAN DIET: Processed, lifeless food is toxic. Too much volume of food is seen as a burden to the digestive system, too. Wholesome, natural foods provide the proper macro and micronutrient balance and enzymes needed for all detox pathways.

I asked you to remember that the six channels in Phase II are amino acid driven, right? It’s important to get all of the essential amino acids through your food – high quality animal protein is best.

BLOOD SUGAR BALANCE: Steep fluctuations in blood sugar levels as a result of eating too much sugar and carbohydrates in relation to proteins and fats cause your adrenal glands to, once again, fire large amounts of cortisol.

Chronically high blood sugar levels create a buildup of free radicals and a general catabolic state, which robs nutrients necessary for proper detoxification.

Blood sugar handling also depletes the B vitamins necessary for liver enzyme function and neurotransmitter synthesis.

HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATE: Drink purified water as a staple beverage. Diuretic drinks like soda, alcohol, and caffeine will deplete water from your body. You also want to be properly hydrated so that the kidneys are functioning well, as they are the major excretory organ for toxins. If you’re dehydrated, your body will want to retain water and, with that, retain toxins.

Sweating also requires proper hydration, as does the circulatory system in order to keep the blood nice and fluid so that toxins are delivered to the lymph and liver.

ENHANCE DIGESTIVE FUNCTION: Someone could have the most pristine diet out there, but if you’re not digesting the food well, this will clog detox pathways, harm your gut lining, and set off an immune reaction from food allergies that will stress your body so that it will slow down all detoxification.

More specifically, poor fat digestion clogs the lymph and the liver, preventing proper bile production. The bile is built from healthy fats and is the “river” by which toxins are removed from the body via the intestinal tract. I’ll be writing more about the importance of healthy fats in an upcoming post.

One of the best ways to start working on your digestion other than eating healthy foods is to make a commitment to be in a relaxed state during mealtimes.Turn off the television, put away your cell phone, and have a conversation with your dinner date. If solo, try eating your food with your legs crossed in Indian-style on the floor (I’m serious). This triggers the brain to be in a more parasympathetic state, with enzymes and stomach acid abound.

 

My Recommendations:
  • Address the foundational approaches listed above for 2-3 months, at least.
  • Start with supportive therapies (rebounding, dry brushing, sauna, etc.) after 2 months of foundational work.
  • If you’re still not noticing any improvement after six months of foundational work and supportive therapies, consult with a Naturopath, Chiropractor, Functional Doctor, or Clinical Nutritionist to assist you with high quality supplements and a more intense and monitored protocol.

 

As for the title of this post, sure, juice cleanses can help. A little. But they’re not the answer.

 

I know it was lengthy one (thanks for reading the whole thing!), but I hope this post opened your eyes to how things really work and how intimately tied everything in our body is to one another. Most importantly, I hope you understand what we can do to help it function as it should.

 

Although he may be a little unconventional, it may pay off to heed Dr. Wang’s words of advice: eat greens, yell a little bit, and look at green things, too – grass ceiling being one of them. Have a great weekend, everybody!

 

 

Toxic Beauty – Do You Know What’s In Your Daily Regimen?

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My Beauty/Personal Product Collection, September 2014

 

I’m a little embarrassed to admit, and was rather aghast to realize that on any given day all of the products pictured above could make their way on to my skin. In my defense, I never said it was easy to look this good (kidding, kidding).

 

This beauty repertoire may seem crazy or excessive to some people. But, I bet if you placed all of the products you own on a magenta towel, too, yours may look even more saturated than mine. For me, though, there’s a gaping disparity. With the stringency I exercise in what goes in my body via food and bev, to the ways I aim to avoid negative energy in my surroundings, along with the positive thoughts I try to cultivate, you would think I would be just as heedful in terms of what I apply to my skin, considering it’s the body’s largest organ.

 

Well, it’s complicated. Cetaphil and Neutrogena moisturizer have basically had a sixteen-year common-law marriage on my face. NARS lip-glosses are the best, period. Benzoyl peroxide, although it has bleached about fifty pillowcases of mine by now, without a doubt works on any breakouts. I’m a creature of habit; once something works well for me, I don’t deviate. I’m sure most females out there would agree.

 

What if your beloved beauty regimen, though, is a huge toxic load in your daily routine?

 

What if you likened the amount of carcinogens incurred during your morning makeup application to those in smoking a cigarette? Would you still be so loyal to those products?

 

Scarily, this could be the case. I’ve been in denial of making this type of switch for a very long time. So, I decided to investigate the subject a little further, and here’s what I found out…

 

When I was at the Evolution of Medicine Summit last week, I heard Heather White speak. For those who weren’t able to tune in, Heather is an environmental lawyer and the Executive Director of the Environmental Working Group. The EWG is the country’s leading environmental advocacy organization that uses their own research to help people, businesses, and (hopefully) the government make better choices to conserve public health and our environment.

 

She informed the crowd that one of the EWG’s top initiatives for this year will be updating the Federal Cosmetics Act, which determines what ingredients and chemicals can and cannot be used and sold in any skincare and beauty products. Do you know the last time this act has been updated? 1938… 1938! What was going on in America in 1938?

 

  • The average home cost $3,900
  • Oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia
  • Ballpoint pens were introduced
  • DuPont announced a name for its new synthetic yarn: Nylon
    • Of which, the first toothbrush with bristles was sold
  • The figure of the mythic hero arose with the introduction of Superman in Action Comics
  • The tape recorder was invented

 

As you can see, we’ve made some revolutionary advances since 1938. To compound this, tens of thousands of new chemicals have made their way into the environment and our products since then, as well. It’s beyond everyone to understand why the government hasn’t revisited the laws that permit known toxins into our makeup, shampoos, sunscreens, diaper creams, and even contact solutions.

 

So, what are some of these toxins?

 

Take a few of the creams you use everyday and look at the list of ingredients on the back of the bottle. See if you can match a few of them up to the list below (courtesy of Beautycounter’s Never List):

  • Parabens (methyl-, isobutyl-, propyl-, and others): A class of preservatives commonly used to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. Parabens are endocrine (or hormone) disruptors, which alter important hormone mechanisms in our bodies. Specially, parabens mimic estrogen; they can lock on to our cell’s own estrogen receptors and mess with important natural signals. They may play a role in triggering breast cancer. Found in: shampoo, face cleanser, body wash, body lotion, and foundation.
  • Phthalates (DBP, DEHP, DEP and others): A class of plasticizing chemicals used to make products more pliable or to make fragrances stick to skin. Phthalates disrupt the endocrine system and may cause birth defects. Found in: synthetic fragrance, nail polish, and hairspray.
  • Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate: SLS and SLES are surfactants that can cause skin irritation or trigger allergies. SLES is often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a byproduct of a petrochemical process called ethoxylation, which is used to process other chemicals in order to make them less harsh. Found in: shampoo, body wash, and bubble bath.
  • Bisphenol A (more commonly referred to as BPA): A hormone disruptor that may also alter DNA. It’s used in plastics and resins. Found in: plastic bottles, lining of aluminum food cans, possibly in eyeshadow, and styling gel.
  • BHA and BHT: Synthetic antioxidants used to extend shelf life. They are likely carcinogens and hormone disruptors, and may cause liver damage. Found in: lipsticks, moisturizers, diaper creams, and other cosmetics.
  • 1,4-Dioxane: A by-product of manufacturing that is a probable human carcinogen (a known animal carcinogen), as well as toxic to organs and the respiratory system. It’s also a skin irritant. Likely to be present where ethoxylated ingredients like sodium laureth sulfate, PEGs, and ceteareth are listed on ingredient labels. Found in: shampoo, body wash, and bubble bath.
  • Mercury and Mercury Compounds (also listed as Thimerosal): Metallic element used as a preservative and antiseptic known to damage brain function. Found in: ear and eye drops; may be used in mascara. (Side note from Erin – Thimerosal is also used in many vaccines.)

 

To help provide me with a little more color on the matter, I decided to consult with a growing expert in the field; I interviewed Jessica Warta, an independent consultant for a company called Beautycounter, a beauty and skincare brand with the mission to get safe products in the hands of everyone.

Jess and I used to work together in HR, where she introduced me to the wild world of pivot tables, which was certainly life changing at the time. We reconnected again this year as our worlds realigned with a shared interest in natural health. Once again, she has enlightened me… but in a much more significant way than through v-lookups.

 

Check out our interview:

 

Jess, what made you decide to join Beautycounter as an independent consultant?

I joined Beautycounter six months ago because I truly believe the education around these products and the industry is worth sharing and is what inspired me to join the company. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Like many of your readers, I’m a daughter, a sister, a wife, and a mom, and I pride myself on cooking and eating organic, jogging, going to barre and pilates classes three to five times a week, and consider myself to be an overall educated, health-minded person. However, I experienced a big wakeup call six months ago when my friend and Beautycounter Founding Member, Kristin Brady, asked me if I understood the back of the ingredients on my body lotion, my shampoo, my kids’ shampoo, and all of the other products my family and I use daily. I candidly admitted that I had never once thought about nor read the ingredient label on ANY of my personal care products in my entire 33 years, assuming that anything on the shelves of any typical drugstore is safe.

Unlike the Food Industry, which the FDA oversees with strict standards for what food items are certified as “organic,” the FDA does not hold the personal care industry to such standards and requirements. So when a food item says it is organic, it is. However, when a personal care product says it is “organic or natural,” it doesn’t mean anything. Cosmetic companies can write WHATEVER they want on packaging to market the product. It is serving the needs of the leading companies and not the American consumer.

So in short, I joined Beautycounter to be part of the mission to put safe products in the hands of everyone and educate every person I come in contact with about the ingredients in their personal care products and choosing “clean,” safe products.

 

What differentiates Beautycounter from all of the other organic competitors on the market?

Beautycounter has the strictest and most transparent Ingredient Selection Process in the virtually unregulated, $60 billion dollar cosmetics industry.

It bans and eliminates more than 1,500 chemical ingredients from its products, setting a new health and safety standard, while ensuring that the products perform to the highest standards. To put this into perspective, there are currently 1,300 chemical ingredients that are banned in the European Union. Do you know how many chemical ingredients have been banned in the US? I guessed maybe 500. The answer is 11.

Beautycounter screens for safety criteria like skin irritation, carcinogenicity, and reproductive toxicity, as well as any information regarding cumulative exposure (are we exposed to this chemical from other sources?) and bioaccumulation (will it build up in our bodies over time?). They also work closely with green chemists and consider environmental impact working diligently to avoid ingredients that negatively impact the ecosystem. Further, all Beautycounter products are free of common allergens like skin irritants, nut oils and gluten, and chemicals linked to cancer or hormone disruption.

Finally, Beautycounter developed a Never List – a list of the 27 most harmful chemicals that we should avoid at all costs. Through that link, you can see WHY each of these chemicals is so dangerous.

 

beautycounter

 

How would you recommend someone go about evaluating his or her current collection of products?

I would absolutely print out and have a copy of Beautycounter’s Pocket Never List in your wallet to refer to when you are shopping for personal care items and do a quick scan of the ingredient label before purchasing.

Another invaluable resource in my education regarding personal care product safety has been the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database. The EWG is one of Beautycounter’s trusted non-profit partners.

You can also download the app on your smart phone. Through this app, you can either scan the bar code or type in the name of thousands of products and it will provide an immediate toxicity rating from 1-10 (1-3 being good, 4-6 being fair, and 7-10 being very toxic). I’m warning you that the app can get a little addicting, though!

 

What are some baby steps to make the switch over?

At Beautycounter we have a company mantra that I believe applies perfectly to your question: “It’s about progress, not perfection.” Six months ago when I began my education process, I initially felt totally overwhelmed by all of the new information on personal care product safety and toxins to avoid. But I think it’s all about perspective, and understanding that we certainly can’t eliminate all the toxic chemicals we come in contact with and control everything in our lives.

However, to me, making healthy, safe, informed choices regarding what food I put IN my body, as well as the products I put ON my body are two things I believe I can integrate into my life without a radical change.

Another important point I tell my clients all the time is that our skin is our biggest organ, it may absorb up to 60% of what you put on it. So the initial products I recommend incorporating right away are those that you use in your routine daily and are readily absorbed into your skin, like moisturizers, skin tints and concealers, body lotions, and eye creams.

 

Well, there you have it. (Thank you, Jess!)

 

I want to emphasize, though, that the condition of your hair, skin, nails, and even eyelashes reflects as a barometer of your overall internal health. Think about it – if your body is struggling, it’s not going to care about your looks. It’s focusing its energy on your heart and brain to function and keep you alive and well. So, the best way to really beautify is from the inside out through diet, exercise, and making yourself happy.

 

Your body is constantly detoxifying, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s detoxing pollutants you inhaled waiting for a cab, last night’s cocktails, chemicals in the water you used to brush your teeth, and even toxins made in your very own gut’s bacteria. Why burden your liver with even more work to do with having to detox your moisturizer?

 

The harder your liver has to work to detoxify –> the more free radicals it generates –> and the faster your body ages –> and you get wrinkles –> and then you’ll have to add yet another under-eye cream to your cabinet (sans parabens, of course!)

 

If you are interested in learning more about or purchasing Beautycounter products, please reach out to Jessica Warta via her page here.

 

Stay tuned for an upcoming post on natural ways to detoxify your body.

 

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