Your nose is pretty good at alerting you to danger.
If you woke up to the smell of smoke, you’d quickly know to call the fire department. Same goes for the “rotten egg” smell added to natural gas that’s a dead giveaway for a leak.
But lots of times, we invite some pretty nasty substances right into our homes — ones that we expect will have some kind of odor coming along with them, like glues, varnishes, paints, cleaning agents, and on and on and on – without paying a bit of attention to the dangers they may present.
Now, a new study from Swedish researchers has found an alarming connection between many of these smelly chemicals and the risk of developing multiple sclerosis.
That, however, is only one of the dangers.
Because the toxic compounds you use around the house without a second thought could be setting the stage for a whole host of health problems for you and your loved ones.
The nose knows
We certainly shouldn’t have to choose between having a well-maintained, clean home and staying healthy. But every time we ignore those noxious vapors so we can get the room painted, the floors shiny, or the bathroom clean, that’s what we’re doing!
As a study just published in the journal Neurology detailed, there’s a significant connection between the use of “organic solvents” — compounds found in paints, cleaners, and many other chemicals – and an increase in the odds of developing MS.
The researchers found that frequent exposure to these toxins can make it 50 percent more likely you’ll develop MS compared to those who steer clear of them.
But if you’ve got a gene variant (called “human leukocyte antigen,” or HLA) that can increase your chances of coming down with an autoimmune disease such as MS, the risk jumps even more.
For a real toxic trifecta, however, add smoking (past or present) to those two risk factors, and the danger soars 30 times higher.
The researchers said that they believe the trigger could be how these chemicals can irritate the lungs, making them much more likely to provoke an autoimmune response in the body.
But you don’t have to be channeling Bob Vila by painting or laying down flooring to be putting yourself, your family, and your pets in jeopardy. Even everyday products used all around the house can contain some extremely nasty chemicals.
A number of years ago, a study by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission on chemicals commonly used around the home found over 150 that are linked to allergies (another autoimmune reaction), birth defects and cancer.
And if you realize that most of the products we buy are comprised of multiple toxins, the real danger in using a witches’ brew of noxious compounds is something that would be almost impossible to put a number on.
The good news is that these hazardous household products aren’t the only game in town. In fact, for every toxic substance you bring into your home, there’s an equally effective and safer solution. For example:
- All paint brands now have versions with low – or no – VOCs (for volatile organic compounds, which are solvents released into the air as paints dries). They look just as good and last just as long as the kind that can fill your home with cancer-causing fumes.
- It’s easy enough to find cleaning agents that are made from safer ingredients – even from big names like Clorox. And you can always make use of kitchen items such as vinegar (still the best glass cleaner around!), dish detergent, and hydrogen peroxide to kill germs on counter tops.
- Floor cleaners, furniture polish, stain removers, and glues also off-gas toxic VOCs. So, why not try some safer alternatives? For floors, add a small amount of liquid castile soap to the bucket of hot water you use to mop. To polish wood furniture, rub in some almond, walnut, or olive oil and wipe off any excess. Baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, or lemon juice can probably remove just about any stain. And where glue is concerned, read the back of the packaging before buying! Any product that says you need to use respiratory protection or that is “harmful or fatal if swallowed” obviously isn’t safe to have around your house.
- Even so-called “air fresheners” also off-gas toxic VOCs, often containing dangerous chemicals disguised as pleasant aromas like “fresh linen” and “jasmine breeze.” If you need to freshen the air in your home, try some cut flowers (tulips can actually purify the air), put some fresh eucalyptus in the bathroom, or use a diffuser with a few drops of essential oils.
And remember, whatever you’re cleaning, painting, waxing, or polishing with, ventilation is your best friend. So, open the windows and get some air circulating inside. That will do a lot more for the “health” of your home than air fresheners or an anti-bacterial spray.
“Exposure to paint, varnish, other solvents linked to increased risk of MS” American Academy of Neurology, July 3, 2018, ScienceDaily, sciencedaily.com