Category Archives: Environment and Health

Rubber Duckies and Mac & Cheese

These Have More than Color

My Facebook wall lit up last week with this piece from the Seattle Times, discussing the finding of phthalates in boxed macaroni and cheese. Phthalates are an industrial chemical used to soften plastics. Many of us grew up unwittingly consuming phthalates as we chewed on plastic teething rings and hot drank bath water in which our rubber duckies swam. Phthalates were banned from children’s products in the USA over a decade ago. Despite this ban, our children are still exposed – now from foods, beverages, and pharmaceuticals, likely due to machinery in the food processing industry and the soft plastics that encase our beverages and, in teens and adults, the lids on our to-go lattes in the morning.

Phthhhh, you may say. Why should I be concerned about the mac and cheese I had as a kid? Why should I be concerned about my kids’ occasional mac and cheese treat?

Phthalates act as endocrine disruptors in the body, which means they interfere with normal hormone functioning in humans and animals. In the case of Phthalates, research shows that they bind to steroid nuclear receptors and steroid binding proteins. This can then inhibit a message to the cell’s nucleus to do any number of things a hormone would signal a nucleus to do (think fundamental actions at the DNA level that will impact cell growth, differentiation, and changes in gene expression) or prevent a hormone from sending a message to other areas of the body.
Estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, estradiol (all are sex hormones), aldosterone (blood pressure), and cortisol all utilize steroid receptors. If phthalates bind to the receptor then these hormones cannot bind to the cell to send a message the body needs to receive.

What does this look like in real life? Phthalates are believed to disrupt male hormones like testosterone and have been linked to genital birth defects in infant boys and learning and behavior problems in older children. It may also disrupt cortisol and progesterone balance by binding to Corticosteroid-binding Globulin (CBG). One study shows that parents with higher levels of phthalate metabolites in urine who have difficulty conceiving appear more likely to give birth to low-weight infants (via IVF).

This article from Slate suggests an occasional box of mac and cheese isn’t going to kill anyone. And while that is true, this argument completely fails to acknowledge that exposure is coming from multiple sources – some of which we cannot easily control. Because phthalates soften plastic, they are used in thousands of products, such as:

  • building materials
  • household furnishings
  • clothing (especially plastic rain coats)
  • cosmetics and personal care products (nail polish, soap, shampoo, hair spray)
  • pharmaceuticals
  • nutritional supplements
  • herbal remedies
  • medical devices
  • dentures
  • children’s toys (especially imported from outside the USA)
  • glow sticks
  • modelling clay
  • food packaging
  • automobiles
  • lubricants
  • waxes
  • cleaning materials
  • insecticides

We consume phthlates via direct ingestion, inhalation, intravenous injection and skin absorption. Products containing phthalates result in exposure through direct contact and use (like hair spray), indirectly through leaching into other products (the mac and cheese), or general environmental contamination (when your neighbor sprays for insects).

At the end of the day, whether or not we buy boxed mac and cheese is one exposure we can easily eliminate. Considering phthalate levels were up to 4 times higher among all boxed mac and cheese (even organic) when compared to a block of cheddar cheese, this becomes an actionable step to reduce exposure. Stopping my organic boxed mac and cheese habit and AquaNet addiction is easier than getting my neighborhood and city to stop using insecticides in public spaces and more realistic than refusing to use vehicles for transportation. Those with dentures or medical devices can reduce additional exposure by these means as well and use dietary changes to help their body process and eliminate existing exposure.

While we may not be aware of all the chemical exposures our bodies have to work around we can change our diet and lifestyle to reduce exposure and make sure our body has the best chance to detoxify what it comes in contact with. Beyond reducing exposure to environmental pollutants and processed foods, consuming a diet rich in vegetables (especially greens and cruciferous veggies) can ensure your body has the necessary components for efficient detoxification. This is especially important if you or your family have a history of infertility, hormone imbalances, or cancer, or if you or a family member suffers from autoimmune disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes and there is no family history of such illness. Our genetics outline a future if we take the past of least resistance, yet lifestyle and environment determine whether or not we succumb to genetic predisposition. If you have an illness that is unheard of in your family history it may mean that you’ve been exposed to something unique your parents and grandparents have not which triggered genes to promote disease. Much can be done to reduce damage and in some case, put such illnesses into remission and your food choices ALWAYS have an impact on the outcome of your diagnosis, regardless of disease. If you’d like to learn how diet can affect your health or disease management, schedule a complimentary call with VIBRANCE to discuss how you can take control of your health.


Sources and More Info:

An excellent post discussing phthalates and the mac and cheese study in more depth: (

Messerlian, C., Braun, J. M., Mínguez-Alarcón, L., Williams, P. L., Ford, J. B., Mustieles, V., … & Hauser, R. (2017). Paternal and maternal urinary phthalate metabolite concentrations and birth weight of singletons conceived by subfertile couples. Environment International107, 55-64.

Sheikh, I. A., & Beg, M. A. (2017). Endocrine disruption: In silico interactions between phthalate plasticizers and corticosteroid binding globulin. Journal of Applied Toxicology.

Schettler, T. E. D. (2006). Human exposure to phthalates via consumer products. International journal of andrology29(1), 134-139.

Nontoxic Household Cleaning Products (DIY)

clean all the things

Spring is here! There are loads of people who utilize spring as a time to ‘reset’ and shake off the winter sludge with a dietary detox or cleanse. Spring cleaning season is also here, and you may be finally seeing the extent that the dust has accumulated on the blinds now that the sun is shining. While seasonal detoxes can be a great mental reset, if toxins are a concern it is of primary importance not to cleanse your diet for X days, but to first minimize exposure to harmful chemicals every day. I encourage you to go through your cupboards and garage this spring and get rid of harmful pesticides, herbicides, and heavy-duty cleaners which have warning labels on them. While you can pick up some non-toxic cleaners at the store, some of these still contain questionable ingredients and all of them are far more expensive than the DIY recipes I have here that work just as well. Give these a try and let me know what you think!

DIY everyday cleaner – I have a couple bottles of this in the house in various places. Some essential oils have strong antibacterial and antiviral properties; these are the ones I like to use in this cleaner.

  • 1 cup white vinegar (If your countertops are made from marble, granite, or stone, use rubbing alcohol or cheap vodka instead of vinegar (its acidity can harm these surfaces).
  • 1 cup distilled water
  •  10-20 drops of your favorite essential oils (lemon, tea tree, orange, pine, and clove all have great antibacterial action). Alternatively, add the peel from 1-2 citrus fruits instead!

Mix all in a spray bottle and use when needed.

Use Lemon and Salt to Clean Wooden Cutting Boards & Surfaces

All Natural Kitchen Cleaning Hacks Photo via The Kitchn

Clean butcher blocks and wooden cutting boards with lemon and salt! Sprinkle the wooden surface with coarse salt and then scour it well using a lemon that has been cut in half. Squeeze it slightly as you scrub to release the lemon juice. Let it sit for about 5 minutes, scrape it off and then give it a final rinse with a clean, wet sponge.

Clean Your Baking Sheets with Baking Soda & Vinegar

All Natural Kitchen Cleaning Hacks Baking SheetPhoto via Bon Appetit

Any baking sheet that gets used often will end up with black, caked-on residue. I used to think I needed a pressure washer to get it looking new again, but not quite! An easier solution is to mix 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup baking soda. Put the baking sheet in a plugged sink, and cover it with the baking soda and water, letting it sit for 30 minutes to an hour before scrubbing that black tar off with a scouring pad.

Shower Cleaner – 1 cup water, 1 cup vinegar, 5-10 drops of lemon, pine, or lavender essential oils. Spray on tile and let sit for several minutes before wiping away.

Toilet Bowl Cleaner Kristin Marr at Live Simply has a great toilet bowl cleaner that utilizes baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. The baking soda adds a little bit of grit and the peroxide disinfects *and* reacts with the making soda to foam up the bowl a bit. Take her advice and keep the two separated until they are to be used. Here’s the recipe:

    • citrus-379376_640cup water distilled or boiled water for long-term use
    • 1/2 cup baking soda
    • 1/2 cup Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap
    • 15-30 drops lavender essential oil or grapefruit, tea tree, lemon, orange, or whatever you like!
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
    1. Using a small funnel, add the liquid ingredients: water and castile soap to a squirt container or bottle. Then, add the baking soda. Shake to combine the ingredients, except the hydrogen peroxide.
    2. Place the top on the bottle (make sure the squirt top is closed!). Shake the bottle vigorously until the ingredients are combined.

To Use: Squirt the interior sides of the toilet bowl with cleaner. Spray hydrogen peroxide over the cleaner. Allow both to rest for 5-15 minutes, then scrub the toilet bowl with a cleaner brush. Store the cleaner (sans peroxide) at room temperature and vigorously shake before using. Separation of the ingredients is normal. You may wish to store the peroxide in a spray bottle next to the bowl cleaner. Alternatively, it can be omitted, but it will then not have as strong as a disinfectant effect. Read more here.

Mildew killer – spray vinegar directly onto the affected area. Let sit for 30 min, then rinse away with warm water, scrubbing if needed.

DIY Window Cleaner – This is originally from Crunchy Betty, but nabbed from

  • 1/4 cup white vinegar spray-316524_1280
  • 1/4 cup isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch (the cornstarch reduces streaking)
  • 2 cups water
  • 8-10 drops essential oil of choice (optional)

To use: Combine everything in a spray bottle and shake well to mix. Spray onto glass surface and wipe clean with newspaper.

For more recipes I strongly recommend the book Clean House, Clean Planet! It’s a timeless publication that covers all areas of the home. If you want something a little more current that includes such 21st century items as foaming hand soap and dishwasher pellets, check out The Organically Clean Home: 150 Everyday Organic Cleaning Products You Can Make Yourself–The Natural, Chemical-Free Way

These cleaners will leave your home smelling fresh and your surfaces shining! In my next post I’ll share some other tips to keep toxin exposure low inside your home.

Global Warming is not the Biggest Environmental Threat

There’s a lot of talk going on about global warming again. Some of that is coming from it being the environmental topic that politicians fall back on every election cycle. But our president is also in his last year and struggling to complete his agenda of bringing the United States’ policy into greater integrity in this area, especially with the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris this month. 

So if I told you that global warming isn’t the biggest environmental threat to our demise, you might be surprised. We are all seeing the photos of receding glaciers and starving polar bears on our Facebook feeds and it is looking rather dire. However, we are also seeing radical increases in Parkinson’s disease, autoimmune disease, and cancers localized to neighborhoods and regions and there is no news blasts nor political discourse about how the environment is contributing to our health decline and death TODAY.
Right now – the pesticides being sprayed on our crops and the pollution created by cars and industry is killing our children, rendering us infertile, and creating epidemics of new diseases considered rare just 20-30 years ago. Some of the illnesses we have now were unknown then and our researchers and doctors don’t know what causes them or how to effectively alleviate suffering. Yet research is showing the origin of many of these ailments are stemming from pollution and toxins we are exposed to every single day. The amount and concentration of these pollutants is, in some cases, higher and more chaotic than before. New chemicals are being produced and put to market every year. Some argue that not enough testing is being done on single chemicals, let alone all of them mixed together.

Photo credit: Flickr user kris krüg (Creative Commons)

I’ve been doing a great deal of research into this in the last month and it has honestly scared the crap out of me. I am worried about the future of my son and his peers and ashamed of what I will have to tell him about how we have handled our world and what we have chosen to ignore. The door blew open for me in doing some reading about Parkinson’s and discovering this is a disease that science has determined to be environmentally derived. If you’ve lived in a rural area, near factories or farms, for a decade or more count yourself lucky if you don’t get Parkinson’s or another neurological disease.
Asthma, respiratory diseases, and cancers are strongly correlated with air pollution. In fact, emergency room visits reliably increase when air pressure changes keep ‘normal pollution’ from city living from dispersing with typical wind patterns.

Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller, which contains glyphosate. Photograph: Studioshots/Alamy

The World Health Organization recently came out with a statement condemning glycosphate, a component of Round-Up (which is commonly used in both agricultural and residential weed killers) is a ‘probable carcinogen’. Round-up is the most popular and widely used herbicide in the world. Even if you are eating GMO free, your neighbor is probably spraying Round-Up in the yard and your city may be spraying it in parks, alongside highways, and in other public areas.

Perhaps it is safer to talk about global warming because it is a threat that is breathing down our neck, but not yet at emergency levels. It’s easier to discuss something that is in the near future, coming toward us, than something that we are surrounded by right now. Maybe it feels safer to discuss policy to save ‘future us’ than to stare in the mirror and address that the food we are eating, the water we are drinking, and the air we are breathing is killing us right now. Today. Regardless, to focus our environmental efforts to global warming is, I believe, doing the world’s population a serious disservice right now.

In my next post I will share with you what I am doing as the best form of damage control I know how to do right now. I am still learning and adapting to all this knowledge, but we are not without some control over our outcome, regardless of how little control we have over what is being used in our environment.

Romieu, I., Meneses, F., Sienra-Monge, J., Huerta, J., Velasco, S., White, M., Etzel, R., and Hemandez-Avila, M. (1995). Effects of Urban Air Pollutants on Emergency Visits for Childhood Asthma in Mexico City. American Journal of Epidemiology, 141(6): 546-553

Tanner C.M., Kamel F., Ross G.W., Hoppin J.A., Goldman S.M., Korell M., Marras C., Bhudhikanok G.S., Kasten M., Chade A.R., Comyns K., Richards M.B., Meng C., Priestley B., Fernandez H.H., Cambi F., Umbach D.M., Blair A., Sandler D.P., Langston J.W. (2011). Rotenone, paraquat, and Parkinson’s disease. Environmental Health Perspectives 119(6), 866-872.

Willis, A.W., Sterling, C., and Racette, B.A. (2009). Conjugal Parkinsonism and Parkinson Disease: A Case Series with Environmental Risk Factor Analysis. Parkinsonism & Related Disorders, 16(3), 163–166.

Guyton, K.Z. et al. Carcinogenicity of tetrachlorvinphos, parathion, malathion, diazinon, and glyphosate. The Lancet Oncology , Volume 16 , Issue 5 , 490 – 491