In the past 200 years, we’ve seen the most significant shift of humans moving away from their natural living conditions and replacing them with ease and comfort. But this detachment from our natural environment has inherent negative impacts on our physical and emotional well-being.
One side of the problem has an easy fix — we just need to spend more time outdoors.
But the other side is a bit trickier because now we would have to start changing how we’re spending our time indoors.
So, at the risk of sounding overly dramatic: Spending time indoors is actually slowly poisoning you.
Quick history lesson & framing
Back in the 1970s, a young chemist named Arlene Blum was studying a chemical called brominated Tris — a flame retardant that was added to most children’s pajamas. She was shocked when her lab found that the chemical could move from the pajamas into the child and that it was likely to cause cancer. Her research was published in a journal called Science where it was picked up by the media.
Within months, brominated Tris was banned from pajamas only to be replaced with chlorinated Tris – a chemical cousin her lab also found to be toxic. After more research and yet another media outcry, chlorinated Tris was also phased out from children’s pajamas. This led Arlene to the realization that very little is known about the chemicals that are used in our everyday products.
In short, toxins are poisonous substances that cause harm to your body. But where do these harmful substances come from?
Well, you’re surrounded by them all the time.
You might have heard of things like fluorinated chemicals, flame retardants, volatile organic compounds, BPA and its alternatives, phthalates, pesticides, heavy metals, and mold — these are just some of the chemicals that we’re exposed to on a daily basis.
And they’re called environmental toxins.
It’s safe to say that most of us don’t pay much attention to them. Because, in most cases, their damage isn’t immediately visible.
There are short-term acute symptoms when being exposed to some of these substances, but these symptoms are highly dependent on the individual. It’s really the long-term effects that we should be worrying about.
The symptoms of exposure to common everyday environmental toxins can range from milder issues like acne, allergies, weight gain, or difficulties losing weight to things like hormonal imbalances, poor digestion, memory issues, brain fog, and lack of motivation.
Then there are some of the more complicated conditions like autoimmune diseases, cancers, and just aging faster.
And coincidentally, these are the very same modern-day diseases that most people are struggling with.
So this is the way we see it: If you’re a healthy person, and you’re doing everything right, but you still can’t manage to get rid of some of your nagging symptoms, then these environmental toxins might just be what’s stopping you from achieving optimal health.
Indoors vs. outdoors
How much time do you think you’re spending indoors in a week?
This is somewhat of a trick question because, over recent years, we’ve spent more time indoors than ever before.
A pre-pandemic survey funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggested that an average American spends about 87% of their time indoors and an additional 6% of the time inside an enclosed vehicle.
The main goal of this study was to understand how humans might be impacted by pollutants in our various indoor and outdoor environments. Therefore, researchers needed to find out how much time we spend in each environment. This finding is important because there are direct dangers associated with spending too much time indoors.
In another study the EPA conducted, they also found that “levels of about a dozen common organic pollutants were 2 to 5 times higher inside homes than outside”. This means that your indoor air is more polluted than the air outside. But the pollution outdoors is outside of your control. There’s not much you can do on an individual level to mitigate that.
However, what you can control is what’s going on in your own home.
And the good news is that getting rid of most of these environmental toxins is a pretty straightforward process.
In a 2016 study conducted by a number of scientific institutions, including Harvard and the Silent Spring Institute, researchers identified 45 chemicals from five different chemical classes present inside your average indoor dust.
All of these chemicals were derived from consumer products, like household products, beauty products, and home materials, and they were associated with health hazards such as cancer, hormone disruption, and reproductive toxicity.
Co-author of the study Veena Singla commented that
“We think our homes are a safe haven, but unfortunately, they are being polluted by toxic chemicals from all of our products.”
This study focused specifically on how the indoor environment affects children, particularly because children often play on the floor and put their hands in their mouths.
Singla also added that they end up having a lot more exposure to chemicals in dust, and they are more vulnerable to their toxic effects because their brains and bodies are still developing.
But also, as a general health recommendation, having children constantly wash and sanitize their hands isn’t a good idea either.
In order to develop a healthy immune system, kids need exposure to germs. And excessive sanitization disrupts their skin microbiome, which can lead to conditions like psoriasis.
So stopping household dust from accumulating, and getting rid of items that produce or collect dust, can already be of enormous help. But the real solution is not to let these chemicals end up in the dust in the first place.
So, how does any of this make any sense? If these chemicals are so bad for us, how can any of them end up in your home?
What you have to understand here is that nowadays, almost every product is mass-produced and manufactured using chemicals that are known to be harmful or could potentially prove to be harmful during manufacturing.
And there are more than 80,000 different chemicals on the market today.
So when you buy something and bring it to your home, these chemicals off-gas, linger and accumulate.
To actually understand how this can be the case, we’d have to look at which governmental agency has sufficient authority to ensure the safety of these chemicals used in our everyday products. And in the US, for example, which one do you think it is?
It’s none of them.
Not the World Health Organization, not the US Food and Drug Administration, US Environmental Protection Agency, or state or local governments. No governmental agency has sufficient authority to ensure the safety of the chemicals used in our everyday products.
This means that all of these 80,000+ chemicals are unregulated; most manufacturers themselves don’t actually know if the chemicals in their products are safe or not.
Arlene Blum is now a renowned biophysical chemist and the Executive Director of the Green Science Policy Institute. She’s working hard to reduce the use of entire classes and groups of potentially harmful chemicals in our products.
But already, as a young chemist in the 1970s, she realized that one reason behind all this is that since evaluating just one substance can take many years, studying the tens of thousands of chemicals on the market today, one at a time, is simply not feasible.
So right now, it’s up to us as consumers to educate ourselves and make conscious choices about what we allow into our homes and what we put on our skin.
Health effects & detoxing
As these environmental toxins enter your body, whether you’ve eaten them, drank them, inhaled them, or absorbed them through your skin, however they get in, they make their way into your bloodstream, where they will circulate into your tissues and organs.
Our bodies have the capacity to filter out many of these compounds naturally, which is what your liver does, for example.
And the simplest and often neglected practices really do yield the best results. Practices like getting enough sleep, movement, sunlight, and spending time in nature.
But from an evolutionary perspective, the real problem is that we are exposed to supernatural levels of these common everyday toxins. Then, for example, if they are absorbed through your skin, these chemicals essentially bypass your liver and your primary immune system defenses.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, there’s actually a group of chemicals called Forever Chemicals that can not be detoxified. And the damage they cause to our biology is cumulative. They’re called forever chemicals because all of them are highly persistent, and they hardly ever degrade in the natural environment.
So, many of these environmental toxins are actually immune to your immune system.
Now, depending on the specific situation, this is where detoxification protocols can be really helpful. And claiming that “detoxing doesn’t work” is actually untruthful.
Yes, there is a lot of dubious information out there, and individuals or companies are selling snake oil, but you can’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
Discrediting established science and implying that your body can handle every toxic chemical you throw at it does more harm than it does good.
Still, instead of trying to cleanse or flush your body with questionable programs and supplements, the smartest course of action is not to get poisoned in the first place.
This means that your best option is to start reducing the overall amount of toxins you’re exposed to.
So what can you do?
As a species, we have migrated from the forests, fields, and farms into living rooms, factories, and offices. We have lost our sense of freedom and intuitive living.
We should be spending time outside in clean air and basking in the sun, not waking up in dimly lit houses, commuting to work and spending the day in a stuffy office basking in the glow of artificial lighting. We are constantly breathing in pollutants and covering ourselves with unknown toxic compounds.
These factors cumulatively affect everyone’s health and well-being in dangerous ways. But you can’t really opt out of society as a whole now, can you? Fortunately, it is possible to control these harmful factors.
The solution to all these problems is pretty straightforward. You would just have to start lowering exposure to environmental toxins.
And as you now know how much time we’re actually spending in our homes, that’s the best place to start.
But outlining all the hidden dangers and tactics to combat them requires its own article entirely.
The best recommendation that we can leave you with is to air your home. Just open your windows twice a day to ventilate out all the trapped pollution. Ideally, you’d want to do it early in the morning or late in the evening when the overall outdoor air pollution is lower.
Alternatively, if you can’t wait for the next article, and want to dive deeper, check out our 10-step guide for a healthy home or take our environmental snapshot quiz.
So, what you can expect is that if you start limiting your exposure to these factors that we’ve talked about, your body will be allowed to slowly heal over time.