Archive for the ‘Toxins’ Category

Plants to tackle indoor pollution

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Industrialisation and urbanisation has cut us off from nature and filled our indoor environments with thousands of hazardous synthetic chemicals, such as formaldehyde, benzene, xylene and trichloroethylene. Furnishings and fittings, floor coverings, gas cookers and stoves, cleaning products, disinfectants, plastic bags, adhesives, paints, varnishes, air fresheners, perfumes, hair sprays, cosmetics, deodorants, shoe polish and other household items are often loaded with these synthetic chemicals that can contaminate the inside of your home by releasing harmful gases or particles in the air.


If you work in an office the pollution could be even worse. Printers, copiers, computer monitors, floor coverings, paint and wall paper all release harmful substances into the indoor atmosphere. According to the Healthy Plants in the Workplace Campaign approximately one third of indoor working spaces have an unhealthy indoor climate, and it is no surprise that illness related absence is much higher in these buildings.


Most people spend up to 90 per cent of their time indoors in modern energy efficient, tightly sealed homes that keep toxins firmly locked inside. These toxins can trigger allergic reactions and many other health problems, such as fatigue, headaches, dizziness, chemical sensitivity, sick building syndrome, skin, eye and respiratory infection, and even an increased risk of infertility.


In 1983 the US Environmental Protection Agency detected over 350 volatile organic compounds in five different buildings in Washington DC homes for the elderly, and since then other research studies have found traces of toxic chemicals in other indoor environments. NASA (The National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has been aware of the problem of indoor pollution in closed spaces since the early 1970s, but it is only recently that governments and industries have started to look at ways that buildings can be made more health friendly.


Fortunately, there are a number of ways to improve the quality of your indoor atmosphere, and perhaps the simplest and easiest is to utilise the healing power of plants. NASA research has shown that household plants can absorb harmful substances and chemical compounds in the air through tiny openings in their leaves. They also give us oxygen in exchange for our carbon dioxide and humidify the air by releasing moisture. Low humidity can cause dryness of the mouth, a blocked nose and skin and eye irritation. Plants have been shown to reduce coughing and irritation by up to 30% as well as easing headaches and fatigue. In addition, household plants can absorb noise and act as a filter for dust and dirt in the air.


And if all this wasn’t enough researchers have discovered that indoor plants can reduce stress levels and, by so doing, boost mood and enhance productivity in the work place. It seems that simply observing plants can reduce stress (indicated by physiological measures such as lowered blood pressure and heart rate). One study showed that illness related absence from work was decreased from 15% to 5% within six months when plants were placed near to the computer monitors of the workers.


So, with all these health benefits, visiting a garden centre could be a very smart move. Putting a plant on your desk or filling your home and office with plants could make all the difference to your health and well-being.  NASA research has consistently shown that living, green and flowering plants can remove several toxic chemicals from the air in building interiors. So why not use plants in your home or office to improve the quality of the air, to make it a more pleasant place to live and work – where people feel better, perform better and enjoy life more.


But which plants to choose? Which have the most ecological benefits? May I recommend the following:


Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)

The Peace Lily is a beautiful plant with dark green leaves and a white flower. It’s brilliant for removing alcohols, acetone, trichloroethylene, benzene and formaldehyde. It grows best in bright indirect light and warm temperatures. Avoid intense exposure to sunlight as it can cause wilting and wash the leaves regularly.


Mother in Law’s Tongue (Sanserieria Trifasciata)

The spiky, prongy leaves of this plant have earned it the name Mother in Law’s Tongue. It is great for humidifying the air and for removing formaldehyde. It copes best in low light and moderate temperatures and requires little watering.


Areca Palm (Chrysalidocarpus Lutescens)

A bushy plant that releases a lot of moisture into the atmosphere – judged one of the top plants for removing indoor toxins. During the summer months it needs a lot of watering, moderate to bright light and average temperatures. Don’t allow the plant to sit in water or the roots might rot, and remove stems quickly when they die to prevent rot from affecting other healthy stems.


Boston Fern (Nephrolepsis Exaltata Bostoniensis)

This popular fern is particularly good at removing air pollutants such as formaldehyde and for humidifying the air. It thrives in indirect sunlight and moderate temperatures. It needs plenty of watering; ensure the soil remains moist but don’t flood it with water.


Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea Erumpens)

Adds moisture to the air and is also one of the top rated plants for removing benzene, trichloroethylene and formaldehyde. It needs low to medium light and well-drained, moist soil.


Janet Craig Dracaena (Dracaena deremensis)

This tall plant with long leaves is one of the best plants for removing trichloroethylene. It should be kept in medium light, in average warmth and watered every two weeks or when dry. The compost should not dry out and it should be misted regularly to keep up the humidity.


Other great indoor plants for tackling toxic substances include: Date Palm (Pheoenix Canariensis), which is particularly good at removing xylene; Elephant Eat Philodendron, which is particularly good at removing formaldehyde; Rubber Plant (Ficus Robusta), which again is effective at removing chemical toxins from indoor environments; and Spider Plant (chlorophytum Comosum), which can help remove carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and xylene from indoor environments.


The recommendation is that you use 15 to 18 good-sized houseplants in 6 to 8-inch diameter containers to improve air quality in an average 1,800 square foot house.

Ask Marilyn – Star Question: are epsom salts effective and are they always safe to take?

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

Q: I’ve read up a little about Epsom Salts or Magnesium Sulphate, and they sound great for some skin problems, helping the body to detox, as a muscle relaxant (good for muscle cramp/spasm?) and de-stressor. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the subject and if there are any cases where it would not be recommended (such as during pregnancy?).

A: We think of magnesium generally as nature’s tranquilliser as it has a calming and relaxing effect on the body including the muscles.  Epsom salts are just hydrated magnesium sulphate and when used in the bath, the magnesium is absorbed through the skin, hence the relaxing effect on problems with muscle cramps and spasms.  This relaxant effect is also useful for women who have painful periods because the womb is a muscle and can also be helpful for other conditions where muscles are affected e.g. fibromyalgia.  The magnesium can also help reduce inflammation so may be useful for people with arthritis and general aches and pains.

Epsom salt baths can also be helpful for skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis as it can reduce inflammation in the skin.  Soaking in Epsom salt baths can also be helpful for relieving a flare up of genital herpes and when suffering from shingles. 

It is also thought that Epsom salts can help draw toxins out of the body, so helpful if you are doing a detox and want something to make the detox more effective.  It is not advisable to detox during pregnancy because the toxins will be released into the bloodstream and can pass into the baby.  So I would suggest that in pregnancy only the feet are soaked in Epsom salts.

For a regular bath use one to two cups of Epsom salts in water temperature that is comfortable (not too hot).  You could do dry body brushing before you get in the bath as this will help to open up the pores to increase the absorption of the Epsom salts.  An Epsom salt bath is best at the end of the day because at the end of the bath, just dry yourself off and get into bed, it is better not to rinse off the salts.

Discovering herbs: Aloe Vera

Monday, December 1st, 2008

There are many claims made for the benefits of aloe vera, a succulent plant native to northern Africa. The plant has supporters all over the world and is a common sight on the shelves in health food stores.  Aloe Vera has many properties including antibiotic, astringent, coagulating agent, pain inhibitor, cell growth stimulator and scar inhibitor. Numerous studies show that it is great for treating and curing skin conditions and delaying the onset of wrinkles. Research also suggests that it contains around 200 healing substances – including most vitamins, minerals, enzymes, protein and amino acids – and that using aloe vera is a great way to boost your health and wellbeing.

Skin conditions are said to improve when treated with clear gel taken from the aloe vera leaf, such as eczema. Cuts and burns are treated too resulting in reduced inflammation and pain. It is said that the gel boosts the immune system. The sap, which is at the base of the leaf, is used to treat digestive disorders, chronic constipation and low appetite.

The Indian sub continent promotes the plant and it is part of the culture there. In Pakistan, the benefits of aloe vera have been recognised for hundreds of years. People routinely take a mixture of aloe vera and herbal seeds after meals if they suffer from indigestion. The people of the Hazara region in Pakistan believe that the nutrient value found in the gel gives them more stamina. In addition to medicine and food, aloe vera is often used in products such as shampoo, moisturisers, soaps and sunscreen. This is because of the benefits of aloe vera in preventing dry skin and scalp.

There are numerous aloe vera products on the market, including creams for skin problems and heat lotions for aching muscles. Aloe Vera is also sold as a nutritional supplement, blended with other vitamins, minerals and herb, such as ginseng, reishi mushroom, ginger oil, turmeric and folic acid. Enthusiasts can also take aloe vera in the form of a drink, blended with fruits such as apples, cranberries, pomegranates, peaches, grape seed and blackberry. Drinking two to four ounces a day is all that is required to gain the many benefits of aloe vera juice. If you drink it daily, aloe vera can aid your digestion, improve your metabolism (fat burning) and help detoxify your body and cleanse your colon.

Perhaps, one of the most valuable health benefits for today’s society is aloe vera’s ability to assist weight loss. Throughout history aloe vera has been associated with achieving healthy body weight and it has been known as “the dietary plant” and “the harmony remedy.” This is because aloe vera works to both reduce and stabilise weight by stimulating metabolic rate so that we burn more energy. In addition, aloe vera contains amino acids, methionine, serine threonine and molybdenum, which work together to detoxify heavy metals and additionally aid in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fat and protein. This action prevents a build up of fat in the liver and the arteries. These detoxification and laxative qualities of aloe vera, improve the efficiency of the colon, which is extremely important for good health. Poor colon health results in the re-absorption of toxins into the human body resulting in low energy and un-wellness.

Another of the most important health benefits of aloe vera is its operation as an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agent, helping to prevent the onset of disease in the body. Thus, taking aloe vera daily helps to maintain good health and provide a sense of wellbeing and energy.

Aloe vera juice can contain nineteen amino acids, twenty minerals and twelve vitamins and as such it is in my opinion an excellent, natural nutritional supplement. But beware; you need to choose the juice carefully as many are preserved with benzoates or benzoic acid which you definitely want to avoid.  Research has shown that sodium benzoate can damage DNA in the mitochondria causing the cell to malfunction.  When mixed with vitamin C, sodium benzoate forms benzene, a carcinogenic substance.  You can also get liquid aloe vera in capsule form which avoids the need for a preservative (see the Resources Page).