I’m excited to have Lara Adler as my guest for today’s show! Lara is an Environmental Toxins Expert and Educator. She is a Certified Holistic Health Coach, who teaches health coaches, nutritionists, and other holistic health practitioners how to eliminate the number one thing holding their clients back from the results they are seeking- the unaddressed link between chemicals and chronic health problems. Lara trains practitioners to become experts in everyday toxic exposures so they can improve client outcomes without spending hundreds of hours researching on their own.
The information about environmental toxins that Lara will be sharing today is vital for you, the listeners, on many different levels. People are often surprised to learn that there is not much protection in the US, even though we have federal agencies designed to protect consumers. Even from my perspective, as a savvy, allopathic, western medicine, functionally-trained nurse practitioner, I learned a lot from Lara that I did not know before, so stay tuned today to hear about the nasty truth behind environmental toxins.
This episode is important, so be sure to listen to it several times, take actionable steps, and share it with your loved ones!
“The reality is that we have industries very heavily involved with the government in the writing of the laws that ultimately protect industry over the consumer.”
IN THIS EPISODE YOU WILL LEARN:
- Lara discusses the scope of the issue of environmental toxins.
- Why the products in the marketplace are not guaranteed to be safe.
- Our skin is our largest organ, yet most people don’t even think of skin as an organ.
- We absorb many of the chemicals and compounds that we put on our skin.
- How the levels of chemicals, and the associations between chemical exposures and certain illnesses or outcomes, are determined.
- Lara talks about what sparked her interest in the area of environmental toxins.
- Lara talks about endocrine-disrupting chemicals. She explains what they are and why we need to be concerned about them.
- Lara talks about phthalates and some of the other more common obesogens.
- We need to be a voice for others and protect those who have no access to workable solutions or organic food.
- How to make meaningful changes, starting with things that are free and easy.
- The problem with non-stick cookware.
- There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Lara shares some healthy resources.
Connect with Lara Adler
On her website
Watch “The Devil We Know” and “Dark Waters” on Netflix.
Lara has curated several shopping guides on her website.
Connect with Cynthia Thurlow
- Follow on Twitter, Instagram & LinkedIn
- Check out Cynthia’s website
- Check Out Dry Farm Wines: www.dryfarmwines.com/cynthiathurlow
About Everyday Wellness Podcast
Welcome to the Everyday Wellness podcast with Cynthia Thurlow! Cynthia is a mom of 2 boys, wife, nurse practitioner, and intermittent fasting and nutrition expert. She has over 20 years experience in emergency medicine and cardiology, but pivoted to focus on food as medicine. She loves to share science-backed practical information to improve your overall well being and is grateful to be interviewing leaders in the health and wellness field. Her goal with Everyday Wellness is to help her listeners make simple changes to their everyday lives that will result in improved overall wellness and long term health.
Presenter: This is Everyday Wellness, a podcast dedicated to helping you achieve your health and wellness goals, and provide practical strategies that you can use in your real life. And now, here’s your host, Nurse Practitioner Cynthia Thurlow.
Cynthia: Well, today, I’m so excited to have Lara Adler with us, and she and I were talking before we began recording, and I started in motion last year after taking one of her courses that this was going to come to fruition, because on so many levels, our listeners need this information. I say this from my perspective. I’m a allopathic western medicine, functionally trained, nurse practitioner. I think I’m pretty savvy and there was a lot of information that I myself did not know, and this is going to be one of those episodes that I think is really important to share with your loved ones. Make sure you listen to it a few times, take actionable steps. So, let me give you a little bit about Lara’s background.
Lara Adler’s an environmental toxins expert, and educator, and a certified holistic health coach, who teaches health coaches, nutritionists, and other holistic health practitioners, how to eliminate the number one thing holding their clients back from the result they are seeking, largely the unaddressed link between chemicals and chronic health problems. She helps train practitioners to become experts in everyday toxic exposures. So, they can improve client outcomes without spending hundreds of hours researching on their own. Welcome, Lara. It’s so good to be connected with you.
Lara: Yeah, thank you so much for inviting me to come and chat.
Cynthia: Absolutely. I think it’s important for the listeners to have an idea of the scope of the issue. I think people are oftentimes very surprised to learn that even though we’re in the United States, and yes, we have these federal agencies that are designed to protect consumers, there’s not a whole lot of protection going on. Let’s start from the beginning where the scope or the magnitude of the issue really stems from? I know that there’s many reasons, but I think it’s important for people to understand just from the perspective of what is designed to help us and then, we need to go beyond what is currently available to be able to look even more closely at things we’re exposed to in our personal care products, our environment, and our food.
Lara: Yeah, I think the big misconception that people have and understandably they have this is that the federal government has policies in place that are protective, and that products wouldn’t be for sale in the marketplace if they weren’t safe. That’s just the general assumption that people have. Certainly, there are some checks and balances like people can’t– If everybody remembers the famous Tylenol tampering case, I think that was in the late 80s or early 90s. All the Tylenol came off the shelves and– There’s things like that. I don’t want to say that there’s no protections, because we do have the Consumer Product Safety Commission, they’re the ones that do product recalls. If your jacket toggle is going to get caught in the door of a school bus, I remember that from the 90s. That was 80s or 90s. That was a thing. Or, lead pain in Thomas the Tank Engine toys. We do have some recall, but that’s coming from just specifically the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and they’re handling consumer products. They don’t handle things like pesticides, herbicides, those kinds of more widely used products and chemicals in the marketplace.
I think the first thing to understand is that in the United States, we have really weak policy that regulates chemicals in commerce. If you talk to somebody from the chemical industry or manufacturing industry, they’ll probably tell you the opposite, that the regulations are too restrictive to do business. But that’s just song that they sing, because they’re trying to defend their marketplace, or their place in the marketplace, and their ability to sell products and make profit. The reality is that industry is very heavily involved with government in the writing of the laws that ultimately protect industry over the consumer. It takes us decades to pass legislation that’s supposed to protect us. We have the Toxic Substances Control Act, which was first passed in 1976. It took 40 years, four decades, for that policy to get an update, to get a major update, and that happened in 2016. It took 40 years. The reason it took so long is because of industry influence and the partisanship that worked its way in, but this is a nonpartisan– The roots of it, this is a nonpartisan issue. Why? Because all people are exposed regardless of your political party. Yet, it became a very heavily partisan issue.
If it’s taking us 40 years to pass an update to our primary policy that regulates chemicals and commerce and not even all chemicals in commerce, just the chemicals that agency oversees, or that policy oversees, you can start to see what’s happening in the marketplace. We’re not guaranteed safe products, we’re not guaranteed to not be harmed by the products that we’re encountering. Then, certainly, another layer into this and this is an aspect that I just find fascinating and infuriating is that people look at the United States as being this very litigious society. If you don’t like it, sue us.
Lara: Corporations bank on that mindset, that “Oh, well, if something is bad, and something is harmful, we’ll find out real fast, because people will sue us.” But I don’t know how many people that have tried to go up against a large, multinational billion-dollar company like S. C. Johnson, or Johnson & Johnson, or whatever it is, and win. Companies know that the little guy isn’t going to be victorious. They’re not going to have the funds to actually go after them, and they rely on that to keep things copacetic for them. I could probably spend an hour just talking about that kind of dynamic that we’re in. But the bottom line is that chemicals are not required to be tested for safety prior to going to market. There are no strict requirements that say that. We have hundreds of thousands of chemicals in circulation globally. The vast majority of those have never been tested for safety and certainly not the kind of safety testing that is reflective of our actual exposures. There’s safety testing data that exists for a small percentage, like 2%, if less, of the chemicals in commerce. Even that data is not necessarily representative of the chronic low levels of exposure that people are experiencing every day.
Cynthia: I think you’ve described it best, this kind of Goldilocks effect, this cumulative exposure like people will say, “Well, I’m a guy. I just use bar soap, I use shampoo, I brush my teeth, I use deodorant, I use five products a day,” but it’s the cumulative impact of all of those chemicals, and each one of those products over time.
Lara: Yeah, that’s what happening.
Cynthia: Yeah, and I think for so many of us, we don’t think about our skin as being an absorbent organ. We just think, “Oh, I slather myself– [crosstalk]
Lara: No body is thinking it as an organ.
Cynthia: Exactly. [laughs]
Lara: We don’t even think of it as an origin. But technically it is. It’s the largest one that we have. I think a lot of people will toss out statements like, “Everything you put on your skin is absorbed into your body.” That’s certainly not true. There’s plenty of products that are designed to sit on the surface of the skin. That’s how makeup works. There are products that are designed to penetrate the skin, and then there’s other ingredients and products that aren’t intended to go into the skin, but they do just because of their molecular size. We don’t absorb everything, but we do absorb a lot of chemicals and compounds that we put on our skin, and not all of that is bad.
But in the cases where it is bad, we should pay attention to that, and we should explore that. That’s really the work that’s happening in the field of environmental health that is starting to explore like what are the repercussions of these chemicals showing up in people? I think an interesting thing for people to understand is, we can’t test chemicals directly on humans. That’s not the way it works. There’s ethical standards, that’s not how science research happens. We do however test on animals. In this realm where we’re in a situation where we can’t directly test chemicals and say like, “Well, what would happen if a human being was exposed to this chemical every day for its life for 80 years? What would the impact be?” A, we wouldn’t do that ethically. B, nobody’s committing to an 80-year longitudinal study. That’s not happening. So, we do rodent studies, and then, we have to draw inferences between animal research and epidemiological data that is looking not for necessarily health effects, but they’re looking for levels of chemicals and associations between chemical exposures, and certain illnesses or outcomes, both positive and negative.
So, we do see that when we look at that animal research and then look at the epidemiological research, we see a lot of parallels and that gives us the data that we have, or the information that we have to say, “Okay, well, maybe we need to be approaching things differently in terms of our chemical regulation,” but then we go back to the first part of the conversation, which is we’re butting up against industry that’s pushing really, really, really hard against any movement in that area.
Cynthia: I’m curious. Was there something that occurred for you or a loved one that got you started with a desire and an interest in this area? Because, obviously, a lot of it can be very scientifically dense. As you’re diving into this research and diving into especially epidemiological studies, this is not stuff you sit up with late at night. You really do have to have all your mental faculties aligned to be able to absorb what you’re reading. Was there an issue did something crop up, was there a family member who got harmed, or just your genuine interest? I know you describe yourself as a science nerd, which I love.
Cynthia: Because I understand the why behind the how. But was there one thing in particular that developed your interests in this or you just fell into it?
Lara: I wasn’t. I think a lot of people in the health space come to their area, their little niche because either they or a family member had an issue. I didn’t have that. I didn’t. I grew up in the teenage 20s culture of damn the man and-
Lara: -that whole vibe, where the stuff stands up for the little guy, well, let’s right some wrongs kind of ethos. When I started learning about this topic which really happened accidentally, because as I was working as a health coach and I had clients. I didn’t really have a very clear niche in my health coaching business. I was just working with people casually, typically around weight loss, that was an easy area. Most of my clients who sought me out for that, they had results, they did all the things, and then I had a couple of clients who also did all the things, but their weight didn’t really budge, and they were frustrated, and I was frustrated.
So, I started looking at what am I missing. There’s got to be something I’m missing, because they clean up their diets, they’re drinking the water, they’re sleeping, they’re doing yoga, they’re minimizing their stress, whatever it was. They did all the things that worked for everybody else. That was really where I cracked the door open into this whole area of environmental health and be like, “Wait a minute, there’s things that we’re unknowingly exposed to.” They’re not things that we’re doing. It’s not choices that we’re making that I’m going to eat this versus that, or I’m going to exercise or not exercise, or whatever. There were just things that were passively being exposed to, and some people certainly more than others.
In that case of that, I deep dived into the literature, it was linked to metabolic issues that lead to insulin resistance, diabetes, weight gain, resistant weight loss, and I was like, “Wait a second.” At that point, I’d been researching and reading about nutrition, and wellness superficially, and just for myself at that point for a decade. I was like, “Wait a minute, why is this the first time I’m hearing about this?” I’ve gone to health coaching school, and for a yearlong program, it was not mentioned. None of the practitioners that I spoke to knew anything about this. That was unfolding, and then, at the same time, my sister-in-law was pregnant with my niece. She’s now 12. So, that’s always my yardstick for– my measuring stick for how long they’ve been in this space. I started researching what are the products that– like a baby’s crib mattress. Let’s start looking at what are the issues, and I was horrified.
I was horrified at the chemicals that were being used in products for babies. Then, the more that I started digging into just products for everybody, it was really this feeling of this is not okay, and it’s not okay that people don’t know about this, and not okay that people aren’t actively talking about it. Because the secrecy around it is what keeps it being perpetuated. It’s what allows companies to get away with knowingly putting carcinogenic chemicals in products, putting chemicals that are known or even suspected to be reproductive toxins, and toxic to our most vulnerable, which are infants and babies still in the womb. I just kept thinking, “How do these people sleep at night? What is wrong with people that they’re so willing to put profits over people?” It was that outrage, honestly, that really was the steam that moved this engine along, and I quickly realized that, like I said, all of the health professionals that I spoke to were like, “I don’t know anything about this. I feel like I probably should.”
So, I spent two years really making sure that I understood, doing all the research, going to all the conferences, and lectures, and symposiums, talking to scientists and doing all the things that I knew that was in my skill set at the time to really understand this topic so that I could spread the word to help professionals and that’s been happening since 2012. And what’s great is that this dialogue has expanded so much in that time.
Cynthia: Well, I’m so glad that you had the circumstances that developed this passion and this interest, and I think there’s a lot in what you stated that I want to unpack. There’s a degree of cognitive dissonance and for people that listen to this podcast or other podcasts I’ve done or other people’s podcasts or read things, sometimes it’s very hard to understand that there are individuals in this country, other countries, it’s not unique to the United States, that are more interested in profitability over safety. That’s number one. I think number two, sometimes it’s really hard to wrap your head around. We’re not suggesting anyone that’s listening, you have to change everything you’re doing right away. It could just be one thing from– if you take one little nugget from this podcast, that you’re ready to do one little thing, that has a huge impact.
Then, number three, I left clinical medicine five years ago and developed this business, and almost instantaneously, I started attracting women about the same age that I was that were really struggling with weight loss resistance. I always refer to the analogy of it’s like peeling an onion. Sometimes people, they remove inflammatory foods, they sleep better, they manage their stress, and boom, the weight comes off. Other people have to do five other things. Then, there are people who really still are doing all the right things, and I believe everything, they’re telling me fervently, and we’ve checked all the labs, and we’ve done stool studies, we’ve done all the tests. It’s this type of nuance, it’s these exposures to toxins that are oftentimes, what most people are not having an honest conversation about. So, that’s why I’m so very grateful that you’re here today. What I was thinking might be most helpful for listeners would let’s focus on– because there’s so many things like I can bring Lara back, and talk to her for hours, and we will definitely make that happen.
But what I thought would be most useful today would be to talk about endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and I’d love for you to explain a little bit about what these are, because there are probably some people saying, “Yeah, I’ve heard that. I might recognize.” But other people are saying, “I’ve never heard this before, what are those?” Even if you are really careful and conscientious, you were exposed to these things on a daily basis. So, let’s unpack what they are and identify examples, and then, we can talk about what they actually do? Because you were already starting to allude to some of what they do with the hormone disruption. I think it’s particularly important for women who were struggling with weight loss resistance, in particular, people who are trying to get pregnant, are pregnant, have young children, people that are my stage of life, where I’m done having kiddos who are now teenagers, and we’re focusing on different things. We’ve got all these hormonal fluctuations, but let’s talk about these group of toxins, because I think this is particularly important for the listeners.
Lara: Yeah, it’s probably, I would say, one of the biggest and most important areas, and there’s so much research on endocrine disruption at this point. There’s still lots we have to learn. But there’s a lot that we know. The endocrine system is our hormonal system. It’s not just sex and reproduction. It’s everything from digestion, and whether you’re hungry or full, it’s your mood, it’s your energy, it’s development, it’s reproduction, it’s body temperature. Your endocrine system regulates all the things, basically. Interference in that system is logically assume is that it would cause some downstream problems there. This class of chemicals that are known as endocrine disrupting chemicals, there’s about thousand of them that are identified as known or suspected to be endocrine disruptors. My hunch is that number will balloon exponentially as we do more research.
As I mentioned, we’ve only really started to examine a tiny fraction of the chemicals that are in commerce. In the United States, we like to say there’s 84,000 chemicals in commerce. We don’t actually know the accuracy of that number. We used to say that there were about 150,000 chemicals worldwide. A new analysis, I think that was published just this year, discovered that, we’re actually closer to 350,000 chemicals worldwide. There’s a lot. Because we really looked at a small pocket of them like I said, we have thousands of these endocrine disruptors.
And then, there’s subclasses. There’s chemicals that can be endocrine disruptors and also be obesogens, diabetogens like that. Obesogens is that origin what I started looking at.
But these endocrine disrupting chemicals can block or mimic our natural hormones in our body or can interfere with their synthesis or their metabolism. They’re like masquerading as our natural hormones, and they can turn on or turn off things in the body that maybe shouldn’t have been turned on or shouldn’t have been turned off, and then cause all these downstream effects. What’s really challenging is a single endocrine disruptor like BPA, which is one of the ones that people tend to be most familiar with. As I like to say, it has the most street cred, because people see labels of BPA free all the time, and we can talk about that in a minute. These chemicals are ubiquitous. One, so we’re all being exposed. But two, the single chemical like BPA has so many different endpoints of potential impact. We can’t say for a given person, “Ah, you are exposed to BPA. You are going to end up with this symptom or that symptom.” We don’t know yet what the outcome is going to be. We can see here’s the menu of things that we think might likely result from exposure to BPA, or that BPA is linked to or associated with, but we can’t say, “Oh, you’re exposed to BPA. Therefore, you’re going to have this outcome.” That area of research is still in the dark. We don’t know that yet, and I think that uncertainty is part of what industry frankly relies on. They’re like, “Well, then, prove it.” Then, we’re like, “No, we can’t prove it exactly.” Again, we can look at those rodent studies, we can look at epidemiological data, and make strong cases for, but I think that that part is challenging.
But going back to the general topic of endocrine disruption, is that we have these low levels of exposures day in day out to these chemicals that are bioactive in the body, meaning that they’re doing things, they’re turning things on, they’re docking in our estrogen receptors, or what have you. They’re bumping iodine out of our thyroid, which we need for optimal health on all levels. Most people will come and say, “Oh, but the amount of this exposure that we’re getting is so small, it doesn’t really matter.” That’s the company line of industries that use endocrine-disrupting chemicals. “Oh, the amount in our product is so small. It doesn’t matter.”
Well, if that was the only exposure that somebody was getting, if they only got that one exposure from that one product, one time, sure, not a problem at all. No big deal. But that’s not the reality of human exposure. The reality of human exposure to your point earlier is that some guy might be using 5 products, some woman might be using 10 products, a teenager might be using 20 products. They use more products than anyone. Those are just personal care products. We’re not looking at laundry detergent, and household cleaners, and home fragrances, and whether or not you’re driving with one of those Christmas tree air fresheners in your car. We’re not exposed to one single product. We are exposed to hundreds of products all day every day. That’s the one point to keep in mind.
The other point is that our body is naturally designed to be responsive to really minute levels of hormones in the human body. That’s how the human body works. The hormones that course through our veins are doing so at extraordinarily low levels, like parts per trillion levels. Really, really tiny. The way that I like to say it is that our hormones are communicators. They’re messengers. They communicate in whispers.
Lara: It’s really quite– Really little amount. Really, really, really little. You’ve ever either for people that have gone through puberty, or have had children that have gone through puberty, or gone through menopause, they don’t feel insignificant. Those are not giant fluctuations. Those are relatively small fluctuations in hormones that cause these major fluctuations and how we experience life during those times. So, we know that the body is extraordinarily receptive and responsive to these really tiny levels of hormones, because that’s how our physiology has evolved. When we have similarly low levels of exposure to these chemicals that interfere with hormones, it logically makes sense. We see this out in animal studies that the low levels of exposure that we’re getting, these parts per billion, parts per trillion levels of some chemical in your drinking water or some chemical in your shampoo day in day out, those chemicals are bioactive in the human body at those levels, and the body can’t tell the difference in a lot of cases between a molecule of, say, estradiol, and a molecule of BPA, because they’re almost the same.
This is where this idea that endocrine-disrupting chemicals are really concerning at all levels of human lifespan. They are most damaging, they are most concerning during fetal development, and I would even say back up before that when it comes to conception and healthy– the ability to conceive, because a lot of these chemicals interfere with the health of sperm, or sperm counts, egg health, all of these different factors in human fertility. Then, most vulnerable, which is the developing fetus that’s like, it’s literally building with a Lego set. Imagine somebody coming in and taking out a bunch of Legos or throwing in some other Lego pieces that are faulty. You can’t undo that structure once it’s built, faulty as it might be, because of this endocrine disruption. This really is the most vulnerable population.
What I think is fascinating, and make sense given disease rates that are happening in children right now, childhood obesity has tripled since the 1970s. We’re seeing all kinds of whether it’s learning disabilities, behavioral problems, all of these different things that are taking up in children is that there is this concept called, got a couple different names, FBAD, one of them is fetal basis for adult disease or fetal origins of adult disease, which states that it is that what’s happening in the womb during fetal development that can actually set you up for increased risk of disease in adulthood.
You were talking earlier about there’s some people that just struggle with losing weight. It’s entirely possible, and we’ve seen this in rodent studies, that they were exposed unknowingly by their parents while they were in utero to these obesogenic chemicals that can alter their fat cell production or alter their bodies in ways that predispose them to gain weight, even given the same caloric intake as somebody who maybe was not exposed. That might explain some of those differences why somebody can eat whatever they want and never gain a pound, and then, you’ve got somebody who looks at something wrong and then they just put on 5 or 10 pounds. The gist with endocrine disruption is that the small doses really, really matter more so even than some of these large doses, which our toxicology field really looks at those high-dose exposures. We can certainly talk about that at the end of the conversation as well.
Cynthia: I think it’s really invaluable for people to understand that these exposures can be cumulative, and that’s important to understand that we have hormones in our bodies that are designed to play a particular role, unless they get dysregulated either due to lifestyle choices, the way we eat, the lack of sleep, too much stress, the things we’re exposed to in our environment, food, personal care products. So, there can be a lot of information and I love that you’ve touched on the epigenetics. Obviously, things that we’re exposed to through our parents. During my nutrition training, we talked about Pottenger’s Cats, meaning, if you’re looking at generations or lineages of certain cats, and people are going to say, “Why are you talking about cats?” The point is that there were certain phenotypes of cats that the healthy cats derive from cats that ate a particular type of diet, more nutrient dense, and then, other cats who ended up having a lot of health problems who ate very differently. There’s so many variables that impact how we’re able to be flexible with our health or our weight. I also think about there’s lots of studies, as I know you know, about just the changes in bacteria in our gut can impact how many calories will be broken down and utilized. There’s so many levels. We use the term ‘multifactorial,” so many reasons why this can happen.
But you’ve mentioned and touched on BPA, and I think about my biggest association with BPA, when I had younger kids it was with bottles, because bottles and it was BPA free, which I later learned is crap and garbage anyway. It’s not any better. But I also think about receipts. Every day you go to the store, and you get a receipt, and 99.9% of time I say, “No, thank you.”
Cynthia: Unless I genuinely need it, and then I have a little plastic bag, which isn’t ideal. But then I don’t have to touch it, and then if I need to scan it, it scanned. But what are some of the other more common obesogens that you can think of like, I always think about phthalates, which is spelled– no one ever spells that word right. I jokingly say, it’s like if they could have just spelled it with an F and not a Ph.
Lara: Could have been [unintelligible [00:35:34] Ph, th.
Lara: What other words start with Ph, th?
Lara: Yeah. BPA certainly is a big one. It’s one of the most common chemicals in the marketplace. It’s expected that 93% of the population has BPA. It metabolizes in their body at any given time. I’ll continue down on that list, but I’ll pause here and say, and this is true for phthalates as well, is that some of these chemicals that were exposed to have, they’re nonpersistent. They don’t build up in the body. We might be exposed to them a lot. But they don’t build up in the body. So, there’s other chemicals like lead, which deposits in our bones, that’s a lifetime store of lead in our bones. There’s PCBs, dioxins. There’s these fat-soluble persistent chemicals that are really, really hard for the body to get rid of. Those are problematic on a whole another level. But these nonpersistent chemicals like BPA, phthalates, organophosphate pesticides, that’s another one that we can talk about. These are nonpersistent chemicals. The body knows how to metabolize them pretty well and breaks them down and you pee them out.
Some people are like, “Oh, well, that’s the body doing what it’s supposed to do,” which is great. It’s true. The short amount of time that these chemicals are in the body, they can still have an effect. A negative effect. They can come in, flip a bunch of switches, and then peace out of the body. They’re problematic on their way in and on their way out. But what that tells us in terms of their short transit time is that when we reduce exposures, we can actually have a meaningful impact on the long-term levels of these chemicals in our bodies to some degree.
I like to preface this because, it’s a little overwhelming for people when they learn about this stuff. So, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, I like to frame it that way. Yes, BPA is certainly one of these endocrine-disrupting chemicals. It’s also classified as an obesogens. All obesogens are endocrine disrupting chemicals. Not all endocrine-disrupting chemicals are obesogens that we know of. So, BPA is one, phthalates are another. Phthalates are again spelled P-H-T-H-A-L-A-T-E-S.
Lara: Slap the person who decided to come up with that.
Lara: Phthalates [unintelligible 00:38:10] name. Phthalates are another ubiquitous chemical. They’re suspected to be in 98% of at least the US population. These are found both in soft plastics and in fragranced items. Perfume, shampoos, household cleaners, laundry detergent, scented candles, air fresheners, all of those products that are so commonplace. Most people have some or most of these fragranced items– My next-door neighbors, I have to close my windows when they do their laundry, because their smell of their detergent and their dryer sheets is so pungent. It will wake me up out of the sleep. I don’t know why they sometimes do their laundry at literally 3 in the morning. But I have had to wake up and close my windows at 3 AM, because I can just smell their dryer sheets coming in.
All of those products utilize, or most of those products will utilize phthalates make that fragrance formula stick around longer and be persistent, because they want that to be persistent. When I see advertisements for laundry products that have these set release speeds that will extend the amount of time that your laundry will smell the product by weeks or months. Well, you’ve just jacked up the amount of fragrance and the amount of phthalates to extend that. Phthalates are ubiquitous within scented products. That’s all our personal care and household cleaner products. Then, they’re also found like I said in soft plastics. If we think and in particular anything that’s made of PVC, whether that’s a PVC backpack, raincoat, your shower curtain, your kid’s Halloween mask, a garden hose, these are all typically made of PVC.
If we think of PVC, polyvinyl chloride, if we think of a PVC pipe in order to make that pipe soft and flexible, phthalates are added to add that resiliency, that component to the type of plastic. Those phthalates will migrate out very, very easily into their surrounding environment. For example, shower curtains. People, such a benign like, “Why are we talking about shower curtains?” But shower curtains, that plastic smell that you’re smelling, those are phthalates. We don’t want to use those. It’s just an unnecessary exposure. Phthalates are a well-established endocrine disruptor and obesogenic chemical.
I’ve mentioned organophosphate pesticides. This is the newer class of organophosphate pesticides. It used to be organochlorine pesticides. These were highly persistent, and we’re building up– this was the whole DDT, thinning of eggshells for eagles and birds that really, Rachel Carson brought to the world’s attention in the 1960s with the publication of her book, Silent Spring, which is hailed as the book that really kicked off the environmental movement. She was a woman way ahead of her time, who was silently battling cancer while fighting this big fight. She is a hero among humans. I really believe she was just a brilliant woman.
Anyway, she really rang the alarm bells about that, and because of that, we decided as a society to let’s find a better replacement for those really persistent toxic chemicals. We did take action there and we swapped them out with organophosphate pesticides. So, no organochlorines, yes, organophosphates, they’re way less persistent. They’re not really less toxic. They’re differently toxic. Those are also chemicals that were being exposed to. Our primary exposure source is through food. It’s through the consumption of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. Obviously, if people are utilizing lawn and garden, pesticides that they’re buying at Home Depot, you’re getting a major additional source there. If somebody is working occupationally as a landscaper, as an agricultural worker, they’re getting an absolutely enormous, amplified level of exposure. Those are occupational exposures that are really, really concerning.
But these are again nonpersistent chemical that we can significantly reduce our exposures to as individuals through the purchasing of organically grown foods. There’s been at least five or six studies at this point that have just repeated the same findings, which is often an argument, “Oh, we can’t reproduce the findings,” except that they have many times at this point, that when people switch from a conventional diet to an organic diet, they can drop the circulating levels of pesticides being excreted in the urine by 80% to 90% in three to five days.
Lara: Oh, yes. That’s light at the end of the tunnel. We can have a meaningful, measurable effect on the levels of chemicals that we’re bringing in by not bringing them in. Now, I’ll say because I think this is an important whole other facet to this conversation is that there are millions of people in this country and elsewhere around the world that don’t have access. They can’t afford organic food. They can’t afford the nontoxic skincare. That’s a whole other dynamic of this conversation. I’m cognizant as I give these recommendations for people to make lifestyle changes, to minimize their exposures, that some of these recommendations are not accessible to all people, and that is really where we need to be more vocal advocates in the same way that you said you have little kids and a baby bottle is the big source of BPA. The reason why that was BPA, not the other bisphenols, because BPA is just one in a family, BPA was actually banned from using baby bottles was because moms were not having it. They rolled there– It was called the stroller brigade.
Lara: They rolled their babies up onto the lawn of Congress and their state houses and what politicians [laughs] say no to a bunch of moms with babies? They really use their power in the marketplace to demand change. In addition to serving our own best interests by minimizing our exposures in the ways that we can, I think we also really need to fight and advocate for stronger policies that will protect those that don’t have the access to buying organic food, for example. So, [crosstalk] it’s all right. I think that would– It’s all right.
Cynthia: No, no. I think that was a beautiful explanation. I think it really is important that those of us are voice for all individuals, and not just advocating for where we live geographically, but acknowledging that there are people who don’t have the ability to make all those decisions seamlessly. I trained in inner city of Baltimore and I remember, one of the projects that we were always working on with the kids was trying to instill gardens that the kids could be involved in, because, for example, in the Inner city, people’s access to food is oftentimes the hyperpalatable, highly processed stuff, and a corner market. I may say, market, it’s not the market that we’re thinking of. Really, instilling that joy and that love for actually getting their hands in the dirt, and allowing something to grow, and just being cognizant that—I never wanted to just advocate for just my own children. I want to make sure that we’re advocating for all the kids, or all the young adults, or all the young women, for example.
This is again, a tangential comment, but when you’re thinking about as women start menstruating, and they’re considering becoming sexually active, and they’re considering options for contraception, just acknowledging that not everyone has the ability to go buy organic tampons, or a diva cup, it’s like, “Okay, we need to come up with workable solutions for everybody,” because it needs to be as equitable as we can make it, or at least have manufacturers providing more options than just bleached cotton that’s– Anyway, we could talk just about that. [laughs]
Lara: Yeah, that’s a whole other facet that I think is important. Going back to the pesticides, so doing our best to minimize our exposures there. There’s so many other areas of exposure to these endocrine-disrupting chemicals. In an attempt to make at least the parts of this conversation as equitable as possible, the lens that I really am looking more closely through is getting people to start where it’s free and where it’s easy. That’s my tag in this, or the way in which I want people to approach this. Like you said, it’s not about going in and getting rid of everything all at once. It’s not about throwing out your furniture and ripping up your flooring, and doing a whole home remodel. That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about making small but meaningful changes, lifestyle lies that can help to lower– You’re never going to eliminate your toxic exposure. We’re long past that point. We can’t do that, but we can minimize it in meaningful ways.
I’ll give you an example of in meaningful ways. In research around fertility, where they’re looking at levels of chemicals like BPA and phthalates, in women that are undergoing IVF treatments, the women that had the highest levels of exposure to, say for example, phthalates, were significantly affected by or had lower fertility rates. The women that had the lowest levels, not none, just the lowest levels, it didn’t have those same fertility hurdles that women with a higher level. Our goal is not zero. Our goal is less. That’s our goal. I thought that that specific research shines a light on the reality. We’re not looking for zero. We’re just looking to get as low as we can, because that’s where we can start to see a positive impact.
We want to start with the things that are free and easy that everybody can do. The first of those things for me is always just ditch, just throw out, just don’t donate it. Just throw it out. The scented candles, the air fresheners, the reed diffusers, the plugins, the Febreze, home air freshener products, those are all filled with phthalates. They’re also filled with other chemicals, VOCs, things like benzenes, which are carcinogenic. They’re significant indoor air pollutants. Just don’t buy them. This can be challenging, because people love their– They’re so attached to their home fragrances and their scents. I get that that can be challenging, but I encourage people strongly to just start minimizing it, and then go without. Even with the scented candles being burned, if you can smell it, it’s entering your body. The fastest way for a chemical to enter your body outside of injection is via inhalation. It goes right into your bloodstream. Let’s focus on those ones that were inhaling.
On the same token, the next thing that people can do that’s free and easy is open your windows. We build our homes to be really energy efficient, which is great from an energy standpoint, but it’s terrible from an indoor air quality standpoint. That really took place in the 1970s. That started being a build trend in 1970s, because we had the OPEC oil embargo. Everything all of a sudden became about energy efficiency. Then, our homes started to be built really, really airtight. What that means or the impact that that has is most of the materials that we bring into our homes is off gas chemicals. Your floors, the paint on your walls, your furniture, especially if it’s that cheaper particle board, MDF furniture or kitchen cabinets are often made of this stuff, flooring is vinyl or laminate flooring, and all of these materials, not even factoring in the scented candles in the air fresheners are off gassing. If our homes are really airtight, then we’re trapping all those chemicals in. We know this, the EPA has found that indoor air is actually two to five times worse than outdoor air, and it can go up to 100 times worse, especially if somebody is doing a renovation or they’re painting, that indoor air quality. Technically, if it was a workplace, it would violate OSHA standards in a lot of cases. But there’s nobody that regulates indoor air, because it’s its individual private property.
So, open your windows. Opening your windows is a great way to just let that stuff out, and get some fresh air in. Even if you’re in a city that has air pollution problems, you don’t have to leave them open all day, 10 minutes a day, it’s fine. Opening your windows. Taking off your shoes, when you come in the door, really simple. Anybody can do this. We’re not just trying to avoid the dog poop that we may have stepped on, but if we went to the park, or if your neighbors are using pesticides on their lawn, you are tracking them into your house. If you have carpets in your house, then those carpets are trapping all those things. So, just get into the habit of taking your shoes off. It’s really, really simple. Then, from there, we’re really looking at making small investments, maybe swapping out your plastic storage containers. We talked about BPA and phthalates. Those two chemicals are often present in our food storage containers, whether it’s leftovers or the squeezable bottle of ketchup that we just bought.
We want to start really minimizing plastic, especially plastic in the microwave. We just don’t do that. Move it into a glass bowl or a plate, ceramic plate, and stick it in the microwave if you’re going to use that but don’t microwave in plastic. That’s another simple thing that people can do to minimize their exposures to some of these endocrine-disrupting chemicals, these obesogenic chemicals. Then, from there, it’s cleaning up your food in whatever ways you’re able to. It’s cleaning up your personal care products, your household cleaners, your cookware. I’ll tell you, I’ve been doing this for 10 years professionally, 12 years personally, and I’m still always making changes. There’s no goal here. It’s a journey. There’s no destination in place. This is just always learning and always making different choices as you are able to. If it takes a month, it takes a month. If it takes a year, it takes a year. If it takes 10 years, it takes 10 years.
Cynthia: I think that slow and steady message is important for people to understand. I know that when I went from– I thought I ate a pretty good diet to getting more conscientious about the foods I was eating, and obviously, the foods I was cooking and bringing home, I adapted much more easily than my husband did. Now, he’s fully on board, but there were definitely specific things. I’ll give you an example. Seed oils was one of the things that my husband, he had to read about it, go do the research, and as an engineer, then he was like, “Okay, checkbox. I can commit to that.” One thing in our house and I’m sure it’s probably no different in anyone else’s, we have no nonstick pans anymore. But I know that was really hard for my husband who likes to make omelets, and wants to flip the omelet, and wants to do all these fancy things when you makes that omelet. Nonstick cookware, I think we’ve all been conditioned that this is ease of use, which of course it is, but I think what many people don’t realize and again, this is but one example, the nonstick surface, you end up actually adjusting. So, as it’s breaking down, you’re ingesting those chemicals into your own body, which is disgusting. It’s like, “Oh, the nonstick surface is worn off.” I’m like, “Oh, it’s because we’ve been eating it.”
Lara: Yeah, and those chemicals are concerning. Those are called Pfas chemicals. They’re in our drinking water, they’re a major, major environmental pollutant. They’re referred to as forever chemicals. They don’t break down. They bio-persist in our bodies, they build up, they’re hugely, hugely problematic. If people want to learn more about this, they can go to Netflix and watch The Devil We Know documentary. They can go watch Dark Waters, which is a film with Mark Ruffalo, that is based on the same story that the Dark Waters documentary explores, which is this DuPont’s production of these nonstick chemicals that they’ve known about for decades causing health effects, and they suppressed that information. We’re polluting drinking water of people living in Parkersburg, West Virginia, that ended up developing all types of serious and fatal illnesses.
It’s a pretty shocking, yet a common occurrence when it comes to common representation or good representation of what’s often happens behind the scenes when we’re looking at chemicals in their health of accent and the lengths that industries will go to protect their profits over people. It’s a real eye opener.
But those PFAS chemicals, yes, I’ve never advocate for nonstick cookware. I think it’s a hard no for me, and nonstick cookware is not actually our most significant source of exposure to those chemicals. Those exposures are more likely even though, I still want people to swap them out, because they’re not good to utilize not only for ourselves, but when we’re disposing them, we’re still contributing to the manufacturing process of the harming and pollution of different communities, often communities of color, low-income communities where these factories are situated. It’s not just about protecting our health. This is also my argument for organic food. It’s not just about me. It is about all the farmworkers. It is about all the agricultural workers that are being exposed at really high levels, then bringing those exposures home to their children and their families.
We’re getting exposure to PFAS chemicals through food packaging through our pizza boxes, our microwave food containers on any kind of paper that utilizes, or that’s going to be in contact with a wet, hot, or oily food. They need to make that paper waterproof or greaseproof. Microwave popcorn, big exposure source to PFAS, because the entire inside of that bag is lined or coated in this PFAS chemical. We’re also being exposed through our stain-proof sprays. I see folks with the stain-proof sprays for their boots to keep their suede nice. Those are typically PFAS chemicals. I don’t have confirmation on this, but I don’t see how it wouldn’t be PFAS chemicals, Rain-X, which is that buy it at the hardware store, you wipe it on your windows so that the water beads off. It’s great. It’s super helpful. But it is a hydrophobic liquid that is very likely just PFAS chemicals. Then, we’re also being exposed through our drinking water, PFAS is found in firefighting foam. If you live near an airport, if you live near a military base, military is one of the largest polluters in the world unfortunately, with various chemicals that they just dump into the groundwater and pollute communities and environments.
PFAS chemicals, we’re being exposed in lots of different places. But yes, ditch the nonstick, my favorite recommendation. I’m a cast iron girl, but now, I’m a cast iron and carbon steel girl. Carbon steel has the same properties as cast iron. It does require the same kind of babying that cast iron does, meaning you can’t let it soak. You can’t let your food sit in it. You have to coat it with oil when you put it away, that kind of stuff. But it’s really lightweight. It’s very, very thin. One of the objections with cast iron is it’s really heavy. Carbon steel is, if you think of a traditional walk, it’s really thin. It’s thinner than stainless steel. It’s really thin and lightweight. Now, carbon steel, sometimes it takes a while, but you can get your seasoning– It has a smoother finish than most cast iron.
Lara: It also is so lightweight that you can flip it. So, you can flip an omelet. You can have a fried egg slide off. I had one this morning on my carbon steel pan, and it just slides right out, just like a nonstick pan wood. It does require some cooking skill, and it does require learning how to season and utilize those pans. So, it’s not as lazy as a nonstick is where you don’t have to have any skill. You just crap your egg and it’s there. So, I think that if people can put in a little bit of effort to learn how to use these pans, how to actually cook properly, don’t put cold meat into a hot pan, that kind of stuff, you can achieve a fairly nonstick finish with much safer materials.
Cynthia: Oh, you’ve given me certainly something to think about. I want to be mindful of your time. I’m actually going to absolutely positively bring you back, because we could have gone in so many different directions.
Lara: Oh, my God. Yes.
Cynthia: Just touching back on the personal care products, I’ve always sent people to Environmental Working Groups website, to Skin Deep to plug in products. When people are looking at cleaner deodorants, cleaner lotion, I usually recommend people start with toothpaste, and I give them a couple things to think about, because it’s just too overwhelming to change them all. For full disclosure, it took forever for me to go from antiperspirant deodorant to just deodorant, because I was convinced by the lovely—the processed food industry, and the big ag companies that– Sweating was a bad thing, and now I think about it makes me laugh.
Cynthia: I’m like, “Your bodies are designed to sweat,” because it’s a way that we detoxify. But I know people oftentimes are very fearful to switch out to a cleaner product, because they think they’re going to stink, and they think that it’s not going to be effective. So, what are some of the ways or resources that you usually send people to? Because that will probably come out of this podcast, people will be asking, “What do you use? What do you like to use? What are your resources?” So, I’m pre-emptively going to ask that question before.
Lara: Yeah, no, it is overwhelming. The first resource I’ll point to is my own website. I curated a bunch of shopping guides for folks of products that I’ve personally vetted that I think are good, and there’s 10, categories. Skincare, beauty care, makeup, hair care, oral care, feminine care, cookware, all the stuff. That’s a short cut where people can go. There’s also– at least when it comes to personal care products, there’s a couple of really great stores. I link them on my skincare and beauty care pages on my site. Online stores like The Detox Market, Credo Beauty, because what these companies have done is essentially created a marketplace where they have vetted dozens of brands that have stepped into this “clean beauty space,” and I’m using air quotes there, because it’s really an unregulated phrase or concept. There’s lots of different interpretations, and there’s a lot of what’s called clean washing or greenwashing that happens, where companies are like, “No, our products are clean,” [unintelligible 01:04:04] and then, according to you, there’s a lot of disingenuous marketing that’s happening out there, which is why I like companies like The Detox Market, or Credo Beauty, or Follain is another one, because they’re vetting these products, and saying, these are our standards, and these are the chemicals that we don’t want to see and the products that we sell. They’re not always 100% perfect, but as I mentioned earlier, I’m not picky about perfection. I’m not. I just want people to be doing better, making better choices.
Those stores are a great resource. They’ve got all of the personal care products for men and women that you would need. That’s really where I tend to point people. I don’t actually tend to point people to the Environmental Working Group’s databases, because I think most people truly find them to be overwhelming. While you might find products there, you won’t find those products in a store. Then, you have to go through all of these hoops to jump through to be like, “Well, I found a product that’s great, but now I have to figure out where to buy it.” Maybe, they don’t sell direct and, “Well, they’re not at my local co-op, or my local health food store. Now, I’m back to square one.” I think they’ve worked their way out because they’ve got the EWG verified, that the same concept is like The Detox Market. There are resources out there. I think those are the ones that I’ve mentioned. People can hop over to my website, if they just want the shortcut. Here’s the basics that every that I think people need.
But yeah, I don’t want to get people to feel overwhelmed, because when people are overwhelmed, they don’t do anything. They’re just frozen in inaction. Even if the action is small, like I said, if it’s ditching the scented products in your home, if it’s opening your windows, just start there, and then, if you’re at a place where your deodorant or antiperspirant runs out, and you need to buy a new one, then you can switch to a better product. You don’t have to go and throw out the products that you have, that’s money that you spent, you can utilize them. If you feel throwing them out, great. But otherwise, just use them up and then when you’re ready to replace them, you can go to one of those resources and say, “Let me try this deodorant, let me try that line of shampoo,” and see how they do.
And keep in mind, and I think this is a challenge for a lot of people, especially, when it comes to deodorants, and haircare specifically, is like everyone’s body chemistry is different. Not every product is going to work the same for every person. The same thing with hair. Everybody’s hair is different. It’s oily, it’s dry, it’s textured, it’s straight. What’s the climate that you live in, so one shampoo product isn’t going to work for anybody. I have tried some bad shampoos, real bad shampoos. Companies send me products all the time to try, and I’m like, “Sure, great.” There’s been a handful where I’m like, “Yeah, I can’t, I’m sorry.
Lara: It just didn’t work for me, and it might work for other people, but it was a no for me. There is an experimentation process when you’re looking to swap out particularly personal care products until you find the one that works for you. I think prefacing that for people going in, I don’t want them to try one product and be, “This doesn’t work.”
Cynthia: Yeah. No, and I think that the emphasis on bio-individuality acknowledging that we all are very unique individuals, I can tell you that despite having very fine hair, I have a lot of it, and on the East Coast, where the humidity is out of control right now, this time of the year, I tell people all the time, I’m like, “All bets are off in the summer.” I’m more often than not my hair in a ponytail, and it’s the only way it can be controlled, because otherwise it’s the size of New Jersey.
Lara: Yeah. [laughs]
Cynthia: Well, I know that you mentioned your website, but I would love for you to share with listeners how to connect with you. You have a great Instagram account. That’s actually where we initially got connected. Let listeners know how to connect with you. Obviously, I want to bring you back. There are so many rabbit holes we could have gone down including just the water issue alone. I was telling my husband the last couple of weeks, I’ve been doing your water course, and I was telling him, I said, now, I’m completely paranoid. It’s like we’re moving to a new city, and I’m like, “We have to get our water tested.” He was like, “Oh, boy, here we go.” [laughs]
Lara: Here we go. Do you know how the number of husbands that meet me? [giggles]
Lara: You know what? I would say to you is that, so, I’m married to an engineer, who is a very reasonable person, but sometimes it’s like moving a mountain, but the seed oil thing as an example, it took him a long time. But now he’s 100% on board, and he tells me, when I go to the store and try to find a chip, because I have teenage boys, and I’m a realist. They’re not going to not eat a chip. I’d rather they ate a cleaner chip. How few products don’t have seed oils in them, whether it’s a cookie, or cracker, salad dressing. He now reads those labels. Once he’s on board, he’s 100% on board. I don’t think it’s so much that husbands get kerfuffled, I think it takes them a little longer to come around. I think maybe the women were like, “Oh, my gosh. Sound the alarms. We need to be aware of this. There’s some danger amongst us. We need to be aware,” and then, the men go, “I need little more time to process this.”
Lara: Yeah, I have a good friend who’s doing a home renovation, and she was calling me from Home Depot and her husband-
Lara: -rumbling in the background, and I was like, “I’m sorry, Pat. She asked, I can’t not answer the question.
Lara: You would do with this information, but you will. Yeah, people can jump over to Instagram and they can find me there @environmentaltoxinsnerd. There’s tons of information and resources there. I work primarily with health professionals. So, my content is mostly geared towards them, but you don’t have to be a health professional to benefit from what you learn. Then, my hope also is just that for students of mine like you who do take in this information that you then become the resource for folks who are looking for guidance and support on these topics. So, yeah, either my Instagram people can find me there, or just my website, which is laraadler.com.
Cynthia: Oh, thank you again for your time, and as I mentioned earlier, I will definitely be having you back. [crosstalk] There’s so many different topics we could have dove down, and I think this is really important information. I think for so many people, this might be the third time they’ve heard it, the tenth time they’ve heard it, but to have everything organized in such a way that makes it accessible and makes it non-frightening, because that’s one of the things that I think is critically important is that, if you have a platform, a website, a podcast, if you can share good information, educate, and inspire people to make positive life changes, that’s really what it’s all about.
Lara: Yeah, absolutely. I couldn’t agree more.
Cynthia: Thanks again.
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