Right after I got my preliminary diagnosis of premature ovarian failure, my doctor speculated that the problem might’ve been linked to my history of autoimmune disease. She admitted, though, that no one knows much about autoimmune disease, so I took it upon myself to get all edumakated on the subject. Now, I’m a researcher at heart — when I was in grad school, I used to love rolling up at the library as soon as it opened, travel mug full of java in hand, in order to dive head-first into Lexis-Nexis like Scrooge McDuck into his pile of money — and this situation was no different.
I’d always known that having Celiac predisposes me to other autoimmune conditions, but I figured going gluten-free was all I needed to do to prevent those other things from ever cropping up.
As it turns out, there’s a lot more at play than that. In The Autoimmune Epidemic, Donna Nakazawa notes that new diagnoses of autoimmune disease have skyrocketed in recent decades, and that one of the probable causes is the population’s vastly increased exposure to environmental toxins. Such toxins can come from non-organic foods, household cleaners, industrial pollution, and even carpets and furniture.
Color me appalled, y’all.
At various points while reading The Autoimmune Epidemic, I sat on the couch (which, as I soon learned, is probably toxic as all get-out), brazenly slack-jawed and mouth-breathing, as I realized in horror that basically everything around me is poisonous. Noooooooooooo!
The root of this problem lies in chemical regulation: in the European Union, for example, substances must be proven safe for humans and the environment before they can be used in agriculture, cosmetics, industrial chemicals, food, household cleaners…basically, the list goes on for a while. In the U.S., by contrast, chemicals can be used in every imaginable context — and can only be taken out of those products if they’re proven to be harmful. However, it’s really, really hard to prove that something is harmful once it’s out in the general population. And therein, to quote my homie Shakespeare, lies the rub.
To quote the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the nation’s leading health and environmental research and advocacy organization,
EWG research into more than 2,000 common cleaning products lays bare the troubling consequences of the lack of federal oversight over the ingredients in cleaning supplies. Manufacturers can use nearly any substance they want, even those known to pose health or environmental hazards. And they can hide information about virtually all those ingredients from the eyes of consumers. The result is an unregulated industry and hundreds of potentially harmful cleaning products on store shelves. (Source)
Oh, hell no.
Brandon and I looked up our all-purpose cleaner, laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, and dish soap on the EWG’s consumer Guide to Healthy Cleaning, only to find that they’d all earned big, fat, stinkin’ F’s. Once again: oh, hell no.
We were so very mad when we saw this. Like, if steam could’ve been coming out my ears a la Looney Toons, it absolutely would’ve been (replete with the steam-engine whistle sound).
Failing the ability to totally wig out and send expletive-laden hate mail to the makers of all these products (because really, what would that do?), we decided to instead put our money where our mouths are: we tossed out all our old stuff and bought A-rated products.
Here’s a run down of what we used before vs. what we use now:
One of the things that irked me the most in finding out that, like, everything we own is hazardous is the fact that all the Green Works products we’d been using are practically brimming with really bad crap. Y’know, things like probable carcinogens, which I think we’d all like to avoid. I’d specifically bought Green Works because it’s marketed as a health-conscious, eco-friendly alternative to the more hardcore cleansers out there. But obviously, that marketing ploy turned out to be — how do I say this gently? — a steaming pile of BS.
Buyer beware, I know. But y’all, I looked at the ingredient lists. I compared labels. I didn’t just pick it up because a commercial told me it was a good idea. And yet, I got totally hosed.
Insert fit of rage here, my friends.
But wait, there’s more! In doing some further investigation, I found that all my cosmetics are just as laden with endocrine disrupting, banned-in-the-EU chemical compounds as our old cleaning products.
So, those cosmetics are next on my list of items to be replaced. Financially, though, it wouldn’t be feasible to toss all my makeup and start over from scratch — so for now, I plan to gradually replace my existing stash as I use up what’s left. As I start hunting for new cosmetics, hair products, body wash, and moisturizers, EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database will hopefully provide loads of guidance on what products are safe vs. which ones I need to avoid.
All in all, although I’m peeved beyond words about the extent to which manufacturers have pulled the wool over my eyes — and a lot of peoples’ eyes, for that matter — I’m tremendously grateful to the EWG for doing so much research and using a rigorous methodology in order to determine what’s safe and what’s not. They’re a tremendous resource, and I wish I could bake a huge batch of cookies and send them out to all their offices. Failing that, I’ll just have to give them my eternal gratitude.