Home is the keystone to our environment since we spend about two thirds of our life there. Over the last few decades, there have been thousands of new chemicals introduced to the environment, and many of these are found in our homes. Some of the new compounds have potential health concerns associated with them so it is valuable to learn about the different aspects of a healthy home.
Drinking water may come from the tap or a well system. Tap water is heavily treated, which makes it clean and drinkable—and those who have travelled off-the-grid are extra grateful for this modern marvel. However, tap water can still be high in unhealthy trace minerals like lead, iron, mercury and fluoride. These minerals in excess levels have been associated with deleterious health effects. There may also be trace amounts of pharmaceutical metabolites and pesticide residues in various drinking water sources.
Well water, although considered a better option, is not perfect either. Well water can be contaminated by local pesticide runoff, heavy metals and microorganisms. A solution to this problem is water filtration. Leading ceramic filters boast the ability to filter out microorganisms, pharmaceuticals, pesticides (glyphosate and atrazine), lead and other heavy metals. Reverse osmosis is another way to filter drinking water. One may also want to consider a water filter head for their shower. Filtering out the heavy metals that cause hard water often can improve the health of our hair and skin.
Over the last half century, the clean and sterile environment touted by commercial companies has potentially been making people sicker. We do not need to live in filth, but there is a healthy balance. For example, many conventional hand soaps contain triclosan, an antibiotic. The FDA recommended in 2016 banning this antibiotic because it is ineffective and provoking antibiotic resistance. Another common cleaning ingredient is sodium-lauryl sulfate (SLS), which is a surfactant aimed at degrading oil residues. This compound has been linked to various skin issues and liver toxicity, as well as being a possible endocrine disruptor.
Cleaning agents like vinegar and baking soda are staples in a healthy home. Otherwise, many companies market SLS-free cleaning products. On this note, there was also a study that showed families hand-washing dishes rather than using a dishwasher had fewer allergenic tendencies.
Plastic has many different synthetic compounds that are considered “xenobiotics”—foreign chemicals to the body that disrupt normal physiology. Plastic chemicals have been shown to interact with estrogen receptors, disrupting estrogen levels. Endocrine glands make hormones that help signal the body to stay in homeostasis. Plastics create a false environment of elevated estrogen, which is dangerous considering the relationship between estrogen and endocrinology disorders and even certain cancers.
The marketing stunt of BPA-free (bisphenol-a) products makes people think they are making a better choice when it comes to plastic, however there are many other bisphenol derivatives just as bad or worse than BPA. Choose glass from this point on and let plastic Tupperware slowly be replaced over time. Plastic is extremely harmful for the global environment too, which is currently under threat. If the earth is not healthy, then its inhabitants won’t be either.
The air we breathe consists of more than the necessary oxygen for life. Today, many homes have air quality concerns which provoke health issues such as asthma, autoimmune diseases and even cancer. Beyond the fact that secondhand smoke is detrimental to health, there are many other microscopic threats in the home such as molds, bacteria, viruses, animal dander, pollen and volatile organic compounds (VOC)—the dangerous vapors released from many things including fuel, cigarettes, consumer goods and plastics.
Molds are being considered as a potential cause of many health issues including autoimmune disease. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are used to mitigate these air pollutants. Also, air conditioning filters must be changed regularly, as these can be a breeding ground for molds.
Naturopathic aphorisms believe in spending more time in nature, thus open windows are a great idea for proper ventilation. In our modern homes, we have climate-controlled environments with the windows locked year-round. People with severe seasonal allergies may require this to reduce their allergy symptoms, however many people may be worsening their reaction to their outside environment the more they separate themselves from it. Micro-doses of fresh air throughout the year may be beneficial for an allergic immune system.
Green plants are beneficial for many reasons. They can cleanse the air of dust, offer more oxygen and create an aspect of green space in the home; the latter has been associated with increased feelings of well-being.
We spend about one third of our life in our bedroom, so we must make sure the environment is optimal. Everything previously discussed should be considered for the bedroom: clean AC filters, HEPA filters and use of natural cleaning products.
Modern day mattresses are being shipped overnight in boxes and they expand upon opening; however, these mattresses have also tested dangerously high in VOCs. There is a market for hypoallergenic and organic, natural mattresses. Sheets and pillowcases should be regularly cleaned. Silk pillowcases are a healthy and affordable option to promote skin and hair health.
Lighting is important throughout the house, but especially in the bedroom. A relaxing environment before bed can set someone up for a successful night’s sleep, which is pertinent for well-being and healing. TV screens, tablets and LED lights shining in our eyes are neuro-excitatory and can stimulate cortisol—the stress hormone that should be low in the evening. High evening cortisol is correlated to insomnia, weight gain and poor immune function. It’s best to have soft lights and even a red light to promote relaxation.
Candles can promote a relaxing environment, however even candles can be considered toxic. Candles can have wicks with lead, fake scents and parabens, which create harmful gases. Look for beeswax candles as an alternative.
There is an abundant amount of research being published regarding genetics and disease. Scientists agree that the genes’ environment seems to be more important than the genes themselves. One’s environment is influenced by nutrition, water, air quality, stress and sleep. This is why a healthy home is paramount to a healthy lifestyle—it is the actual environment we live in. We have a choice in what we bring into our environment, and small choices can add up quickly to healthier longevity.