Have you ever thought about the hundreds of different chemicals we are exposed to each day – in products we use to clean our homes, the personal care products we use on our bodies, in the pesticides we spray in our homes, offices, gardens, and playgrounds and in our food, water and air?
Numerous industrial chemicals have been detected in human blood, urine, hair, breast milk, and even umbilical cord blood.
It’s an even scarier thought that the vast majority of chemicals that are in use and in circulation have not been adequately tested for their impacts on human health or their particular impacts on children and developing babies – yet – it is now widely recognised that babies and young children are at greatest risk from these chemical exposures. Some chemical exposures can have life-long impacts on an infant’s health, immune function, and ability to learn.
As a mother, I want to do everything I can to keep my family safe from harmful chemicals, and no doubt you feel the same way. Parents can do a lot to protect their children from chemical hazards simply by changing their own personal behaviours and consumption patterns.
So if you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, are breastfeeding or have young children, it is advisable to pay particular attention to reducing chemical exposures as much as possible.
Here’s a ‘starter-list’ of some practical measures you can take to protect yourself and your children from common chemicals: making yours and your family’s life just a little less toxic.
Stay tuned for information to come about a lecture I will be giving on this exact topic atBondi Beach Public School in August this year.
• Store your food in glass containers whenever possible, as it is the most inert container you can use. Don’t microwave in plastic or with Gladwrap: use glass or ceramic instead. It is especially important to look for BPA-free bottles for your infants (these will have a golden tint); and BPA-free water bottles for your children and yourself. Ask your health care provider for some options of suppliers.
• Avoid processed foods, and become a food label detective. Avoid artificial food additives of all kinds, including MSG and artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners are found in most chewing gums, diet foods and drinks, and some children’s medications.
• Buy and eat organic produce and free-range, organic foodswhere possible, to reduce your exposure to pesticides, GMOs and fertilizers. This especially applies to animal produce (meat, chicken, eggs) and full-cream dairy products, as these may contain higher levels of some pollutants. If you don’t have access to Organic produce, consider eating fewer meat and high-fat dairy products. In addition, ask your Naturopath or Health care provider about the EWG’s ‘Clean Fifteen’ Vegetable and Fruits List.
• Avoid the use of insecticides / pesticides in the home or garden, or on your family pets. Examples of common things to avoid: Mortein, Baygone, garden sprays, flea treatments, mosquito repellants that contain DEET etc. There are safe, effective and natural alternatives out there.
• Throw out your Teflon pots and pans and instead use safer cooking materials like ceramic, stainless steel, and glass.
• Run your tap water through a home-filter, or drink spring water. Filters can reduce levels of common tap water pollutants.
• Avoid artificial fragrances: in air fresheners, fabric softeners, perfumes, cheap candles, and other synthetic fragrances. Use fresh flowers, essential oils and natural alternatives instead.
• Reduce the number of cosmetics and other personal care products you use, which can contain harmful chemicals and can be sold with no safety testing. With most people using about 10 cosmetic and personal care products each day, aim to switch to Natural brands of personal care items: including shampoo, toothpaste,antiperspirants and cosmetics. Skin care products are notorious for containing a slew of dangerous chemicals. See the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database or ONE Groups’ Chemical Directory for more info.
• Avoid Nail polishes and Nail polish removers; aerosols like hairspray, conventional hair dyes and bleaches while pregnant and breastfeeding.
• Carefully consider what you put on your baby’s skin: be cautious of Ingredients such as preservatives, parabens, foaming agents (SLS), fragrances and petroleum-based ointments. Speak to your Health Care provider about some alternative brands and products.
• Carefully consider the toys you choose for your children, as children like to ‘mouth’ things. Avoid toys that have been painted overseas, plastics, adhesives, lip-glosses, nail polishes, etc.
• When renovating your home, look for “green”, toxin-free alternatives in lieu of regular paints, varnishes and floor coverings. Use low VOC paints, varnishes and sealants (available from your hardware) and avoid formaldehyde resins. Ideally, aim to finish the Reno’s, polish the floor boards, and paint the baby room well before you conceive. See the Safer Solutions website for more advice on healthy home renovations.
• Become a conscious purchaser when buying house-hold goods, cleaning chemicals, aerosoles, air fresheners etc. Look for green, toxin-free alternatives.
• Reduce the number of household cleaners you use; and only use natural cleaning products in your home. Most health food stores will have these available or you can search online for them.
See the Safer Solutions website for keeping your home healthy and green
Winter is the peak cold and flu period and prevention is the most important strategy for our littlies, however – particularly when Kindy or Pre-school are involved – some infections are almost inevitable. These simple strategies will help protect against winter infections and speed recovery if a cold or flu takes hold.
The first line of defence is to keep germs at bay and stopping spread. Encourage hand washing with a gentle soap, covering mouths when coughing or sneezing, and always have a chemical-free hand-sanitiser gel handy.
Encourage Vitamin C and Betacarotene rich foods plus garlic
Encourage foods such as red capsicum, citrus fruits, papaya, parsley, kiwi fruits, dried apricots, berries, broccoli, pumpkin, spinach and tomatoes. Garlic has antimicrobial and immune support properties. Mashed sweet potato with garlic and parsley is a winner with my kids when they are sick.
Boost Vitamin C and Zinc
Best taken as low, divided doses throughout the day – see your healthcare provider for specific formulas, as children always need their dose individually assessed based on height, weight and age.
Minimise hidden sugar in your child’s diet
Sugar reduces the immune response and lowers our ability to fight a bug. Eliminate lollies, juices, honey, jams, boxed cereals, sultanas, flavoured milks, sweetened yoghurts for the best chance at recovery.
Be informed about Vitamin D
Research has identified Vitamin D as a key factor in promoting healthy immune response, and supplementation has been shown to reduce the risk of flu infection by half1. Ensure your children get regular safe and smart sunscreen-free exposure to the sun; and include Vitamin D rich foods like oily fish, eggs and fortified milk.
Probiotics and immunity
Probiotics have demonstrated effectiveness in providing kids’ protection against infections such as colds and flu’s2. In fact, over 70 percent of your child’s immune tissue surrounds their gut. Remember the effects of Probiotics are strain-specific, so speak to your health care professional.
Rest rest rest
Getting adequate sleep is essential to prevent and manage infection. Lack of sleep reduces our immune response and makes us more susceptible to catching bugs.
Essential oils like tea tree, eucalyptus, lavender, peppermint, and lemon are natural decongestants. A couple of drops into a vaporiser while sleeping or in the bath can break down mucous and improve breathing. Chest rubs with pure paw paw and calendula calm (Petroleum-free) can soothe dry and chapped skin around the nose.
Always speak with a health professional before giving your children any supplements, or if symptoms worsen or persist. Also, delay immunisation appointments if your child has an acute infection, a runny nose or seems not themselves.
1. Urashima M et al. Randomised trial of vitamin D supplementation to prevent seasonal influenza-A in school children. Am J Clinical Nutrition 2010 May; 91(5):1255-1260.
2. Leyer GJ et al. Probiotic effects on cold and influenza-like symptom incidence and duration in children. Pediatrics 2009 Aug; 124(2):e172-179.
I am feeling genuinely refreshed and re-inspired following a beautiful stay at Gwinganna Health and Lifestyle Retreat. Gwinganna Retreat is on a plateau in a hidden region of the Tallebudgera Valley, Sunshine Coast, QLD. It is a serene ‘escape’ from the modern age of technology, allowing people to really focus their attention on their own health and wellbeing. Amongst other things, I discovered on my 6-day retreat that it is entirely possible to survive almost a week without an iphone, laptop, the internet, coffee, wine or chocolate! And I felt amazing for it. What a revolution! It was good to re-connect back in with nature and with my inner-self.
Gwinganna functions on four simple ‘health’ philosophies:
All of these philosophies are implemented daily at the Gwinganna Retreat & are specifically directed towards maintaining optimal wellbeing and therefore are ‘preventative medicine’ concepts. Gwinganna’s world-class Spa was outstanding – my personal favourite being the sublime ‘crystal steam room’ followed by a cold shower and crushed ice form the ice machine – enlivening!
With ‘Nourishment’, in particular, Gwinganna’s organic food philosophy is based around the belief that Mother Nature knows best. I especially enjoyed their focus on Low Human Intervention Food – (Low HI foods) – where food has undergone no or minimal changes from it’s place in nature to your plate.
For example, a piece of sweet potato may have been steamed or roasted, but it is still recognizable as a sweet potato the way it came from the earth. Too many foods today have lost this simple but essential philosophy. It was really wonderful during my stay to re-evaluate my relationship (as a Nutritionist, mother, and woman) with food – and to be reminded of the meaning of true nourishment.
Choose Low Human-Intervention Foods!
As inspiration; I have included below a recipe from Gwinganna’s fabulous cookbook:“From garden to gourmet”; plus have included some photos of the organic vegetable garden from which we ate. Enjoy!
½ cup tahini
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup coconut
1/2 cup LSA
1 cup dried fruit of your choice (I used organic dried apricots)
1/4 cup chopped almonds (soaked overnight in water)
Mix all the ingredients together to make a stiff mixture. Use more coconut if necessary. Shape and roll into balls with dampened hands and coat with coconut or LSA.
The Organic Veggie Garden