Many of our patients are striving to fight off cancer, bolster overall health and improve their quality of life. A big part of that process is ridding their bodies of cancer-causing toxins.
But one key area that is often overlooked is the numerous unseen dangers lurking in our homes and offices. I often liken these living environments to fishbowls. If you don’t change the water and clean the bowl frequently, the gunk builds up and the fish become sick and die.
The same goes for creating a toxin-free environment conducive to healing and recovery. Failure to “clean house” can seriously undermine all the treatments, dietary changes and detoxification protocols you and your medical team are working so diligently on. A clean home—a toxin-free sanctuary—is a necessary ingredient in the recipe for wellness. Fortunately, you can easily start creating an anticancer living environment today.
Things are very different in our world than they were 100 years ago. After all, there was no such thing as electromagnetic pollution, and chemical toxins were not nearly as abundant as they are today. As a result, the incidence of all types of diseases, from autoimmune disease to heart disease and cancer, has been skyrocketing.
Once thought to be a disease that mainly afflicted older people, cancer is now seen more prevalently in children and young adults. If we want to survive as a species, we need to open our eyes and start doing everything in our power to “clean up our fishbowls” and remove as many toxins as possible from our indoor and outdoor environments.
One of the easiest places to start is by looking closely at some of the most problematic household items. Most people use these things every day and never give them a second thought.
Cleaning supplies such as laundry and dish soaps, along with floor, bathroom and carpet cleaners, are notorious for containing toxic chemicals. And many personal care products are laden with DNA-altering chemicals that no one should slather on their faces and bodies. The following are some of the most common culprits:
Perchloroethylene (perc) Found in the solvent used for dry cleaning garments, drapes, bedding and curtains, this potentially toxic chemical can be avoided by switching from dry cleaning to a wet cleaner. Using water-based technology like liquid carbon dioxide, wet cleaning is a chemical-free way to freshen up those dry-clean-only items.
Ammonia Ammonia is prevalent in many household cleaning products. You can easily find out if the products you are using contain ammonia (and other harmful chemicals) by visiting the Environmental Working Group’s website at ewg.org. They grade products on an A–F scale, and products earning a D or F grade pose significant hazards to your health and the environment.
It’s easy to make your own toxin-free cleaning solutions using natural substances such as vinegar, baking soda and tea tree oil. A simple internet search for terms like “nontoxic cleaning product recipes” will yield an abundance of helpful information.
Chlorine Many bathroom cleaning products contain chlorine. You can swap these chlorine-based products for natural options such as borax powder, Bon Ami, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, essential oils and baking soda.
I like to mix a few drops of lemon or orange essential oil into a gallon of water and add a splash of hydrogen peroxide and vinegar. Again, you can find plenty of step-by-step directions online for making your own natural, chlorine-free cleaning products.
Triclosan Though the FDA banned triclosan in over-the-counter household products in 2017, some liquid dishwashing detergents, hand soaps and antibacterial hand gels still contain this phenol ether derivative.
While it was initially thought to be beneficial as an antibacterial agent, triclosan has since been found to contribute to the antibiotic-resistant “superbug” bacteria issue. Furthermore, per the FDA, in high doses, triclosan is an endocrine disruptor linked to lowered thyroid hormone levels.1
While the chemicals listed above are some of the most common ones hiding in your personal care products and household cleaning items, several others can also be problematic. Instead of memorizing a laundry list of hard-to-pronounce substances, go by this general rule: if a product has a perfumed or chemical scent or a laundry list of unrecognizable ingredients, chances are it contains toxins.
When checking labels on your personal care products, look for these ingredients that have been linked to cancer and other diseases:
Determining which products are truly healthy can be confusing. Slick marketing campaigns use buzzwords like natural and organic to tout their products as safe and chemical-free, but many are brimming with toxins.
One of the best ways to avoid harmful chemicals is to compile a list of commonly used toxic ingredients and carry it with you to check product labels. You can also check the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database (ewg.org/skindeep), which rates the safety of more than 86,000 cosmetics and personal care products. Or you can search the site by entering the brand names of other household products (ewg.org/guides/search).
It is crucial to clean up these household and personal care items because your skin literally soaks up these chemicals and toxins and absorbs them into your body. Doing whatever you can to remove these potential cancer causers from your living environment can go a long way toward improved health and wellness.
It isn’t reassuring to note that many pots and pans out there and several types of containers we store our food in are full of potentially carcinogenic heavy metals and other chemicals. These toxins can leach into our food, wreaking havoc on our health and undermining our efforts to create a toxin-free living environment. Avoid pots, pans and storage containers made from aluminum or plastic, and stay away from Teflon-coated pans.
When heated to high temperatures, cookware coated with Teflon can emit polymer fumes. Short-term exposure can cause flu-like symptoms, and prolonged exposure can increase your risk of developing certain cancers.2
To sidestep these risks, replace old pots and pans with ceramic, cast iron or glass cookware and store food in glass, not plastic, containers. You can use stainless steel if it’s free of heavy metals like nickel.
An easy test for determining the quality of stainless steel products is to place a magnet in the pot or pan. If it sticks, the cookware is likely to be okay. If it doesn’t stick, it may contain many unwanted and unknown metals other than stainless steel.
Any appliance that heats food to extremely high temperatures, like deep fryers and BBQ grills, can strip food of its healthy enzymes. Cooking at high temperatures, such as grilling meat over an open flame, can also create harmful carcinogens that can damage cells and potentially cause cancer.3
Other problems arise when electric appliances, such as coffeemakers and water kettles, have food or liquid passing through or touching hard plastic. Instead, look for stainless steel versions.
Finally, ditch the microwave. These appliances can change the configuration of food and potentially even leak small amounts of dangerous radiation into your home. Play it safe and sauté, steam, bake or broil your food.
I don’t expect anyone to run out right away and purchase all new furniture, drapes and flooring after reading this article. That said, there may be an ancient mattress, a dusty rug or a few old window coverings made of less-than-ideal and potentially toxic materials that you may want to replace with healthier versions.
Old carpets are laden with chemicals linked to cancer, chief among them formaldehyde. Those musty floor coverings are also filled with mold spores, dust, and bacteria, which can be kicked up and inhaled. Most new carpet isn’t much better. It’s full of problematic chemicals as well.
Fortunately, nontoxic flooring is available. Carpet made from natural sources like wool is a wonderful option. Consider replacing the carpet altogether and using hardwood, natural stone, or tile flooring. You can also find area rugs in natural fibers like jute, bamboo and wool that are safe and nontoxic from various online retailers.
If replacing your flooring isn’t an option, I strongly recommend purchasing a HEPA air filter to reduce the number of airborne toxins you breathe in every day. Most people are shocked to learn that the air inside homes is considerably more toxic than the outdoor air—even in a big city.
Conventional mattresses are another issue. They often contain nylon, polyurethane foam and petroleum-based polyester, chemicals known to emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which have been tied to cancer. The flame-retardant chemicals most mattresses are doused in can also be toxic. Lastly, the metal springs in some mattresses have the potential to conduct and amplify the effects of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) in the environment. In short, your bed could be making you sick.
The good news is you can choose from several natural and safe options, from 100 percent wool mattresses to 100 percent organic cotton sheets and other bedding to 100 percent organic towels and bath mats.
Know that harmful VOCs can also lurk in other places in your home. They can be found in building supplies, chemical cleaning products, vinyl flooring, paint, solvents, air fresheners and photocopiers, to name a few. Follow these tips for reducing your exposure to VOCs at home:
Most people know that mold is dangerous. Yet, despite being linked to numerous chronic and serious health conditions—including cancer—it’s found in an alarming number of households. Cold, damp weather makes mold problems even more common but no less problematic.
Whether the mold is visible or hiding behind the walls, in the washing machine, under flooring or behind sinks, it’s a good idea to find it and get rid of it. One easy way to test for mold is to order an Environmental Relative Moldiness Index (ERMI) test.
These home kits are available from a variety of online retailers, and they test for several hazardous mold species. If testing reveals harmful mold in your living or working space, you must have it removed by a professional mold remediator. Follow up with your integrative physician to discuss any health problems stemming from the mold exposure and work together to devise a treatment plan to rid your body of these toxins.
We talked a little bit about HEPA filters earlier, but cleaning up your indoor air is a must for the home and workplace, especially if you are dealing with a severe health condition such as cancer.
Investing in a quality air purifying system that rids the air of dust, pollen, pet dander, chemical gases, mold and other irritants will reduce the toxic burden your body has to process and allow you to focus on getting—and staying—healthy. Some of the nicer HEPA air purifiers can cost a pretty penny, but they are worth it.
For a more budget-friendly approach, consider airing out your home daily by opening the windows and buying more plants. Plants scrub the air, soaking up harmful gases like formaldehyde and benzene, and add color and cheer to any home or office space.
Certain plants are extremely effective at purifying indoor air. These include peace lily, English ivy, snake plant, chrysanthemums, devil’s ivy, dracaena, bamboo palms and gerbera daisies.
Rome wasn’t built in a day; you certainly don’t have to take all these detoxification steps simultaneously. But it is crucial to reduce your toxic burden as much—and as soon—as you are able. Creating an anticancer living environment is paramount to your wellbeing and will ensure you and your loved ones can thrive and live the healthiest lives possible within your four walls.
Our regular columnist Dr Leigh Erin Connealy joined us for a discussion about cancer—its origins, the best anti-cancer diet, other ways to prevent it, and strategies to support any treatment you’re having.
Since Erin joined the WDDTY team, we’ve been constantly amazed at her breadth of knowledge about the disease that afflicts so many of us.
Not surprisingly, she is one of the most sought-after cancer specialists in the US, and so we are especially privileged that she found the time in her busy schedule to talk with us.
FDA, “5 Things to Know about Triclosan,” fda.gov
WebMD, “Is Teflon Coating Safe?” June 22, 2021, webMD.com
Mary Beth Terry, “Do Grilled Foods Cause Cancer?” June 8, 2022, cuimc.columbia.edu