Whilst what we put into our bodies is my main focus and extremely important, the elements we surround it with are important too! Its impossible to avoid all toxins and stresses in modern life, but by ensuring we have the best quality air, water and light, the simplest of things, we are getting off to a good start.
Exposing yourself to natural light is incredibly important to ensure your circadian rhythm is working. This is the wake/sleep cycle and it enables you to have most energy during the day and sleep well at night. Unfortunately, as we are constantly exposed to unnatural light forms, and spend huge amounts of time indoors, our circadian rhythm can easily get out of balance. Here are a few things you can do to help it get back on track:
- Get outside as much as possible during the day, especially in the morning when you want your body to get into ‘wake up’ mode. Avoid wearing sunglasses in the morning if possible, as these make your brain think its darker and later than it actually is. Try simple things like taking a five minute stroll round your garden before breakfast, or getting off the bus a stop early or parking your car a little further from the office, to have a short walk first thing.
- Sit by a window whenever possible and maximise natural light into your home or office. Keep windows clean and uncovered where you can.
- If you are in a dark environment a lot during the day, try a natural light lamp/ light box. These are often recommended for Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD) and are widely available at a fairly low cost.
- At night you want the opposite, and to have as dark a room as possible. Ensure you have no screens or standby lights on in the bedroom. Try to avoid looking at screens at all just before bed, or wear blue light blocking glasses. If your phone has a night mode, which turns the screen slightly orange, use this, as it’s a more natural tone of light for your brain at night.
Water is life! We all need it, we all use and drink it daily. Most people don’t drink enough of it in fact; the average adult needs between 1.5 and 2 litres a day. That in itself is a challenge and something you should think about and work on building up to if you don’t currently drink enough.
But we should also think about the quality of the water we drink. The chances are, you will be on mains water which has been heavily filtered and cleaned with chemicals. Whilst in the UK, tap water is among the cleanest in the world and has to comply with extremely strict standards, it does still contain chemicals. Chlorine is the main chemical present in tap water, as it is added as a disinfectant, but traces of lead may also be present (predominantly from old piping), and some areas add additional fluoride to water. While fluoride is needed for healthy teeth, too much can cause fluorosis which is permanent damage and discolouration. It is worth noting, that exposure to fluoride is predominantly from toothpaste rather than from tap water.
Perhaps more concerning than the above, is that tests have shown small amounts of drugs and hormones in tap water in the UK. This is because all water, including that from our toilets, goes back into the system, so drugs (including the widely used contraceptive pill which contains the hormone oestrogen) are able to get into our water system. Whilst the levels are very low, the impact on our health over the long term of consuming water containing these substances just isn’t known. A rather alarming fact that we do know however, is that official research by the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs has found large numbers of male fish are changing sex due to levels of hormones seeping into our rivers.
So what can you do about it? Is bottled water better? Well the health issue with bottled water is that it is contained in soft plastic bottles, many of which contain Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical which can be irritating to the respiratory system and is known to be a hormone disruptor. It acts a little like oestrogen in the body, disrupting natural hormone balance which could impact fertility. Some research has also been suggestive of links between BPA and cancer, given its ability to causes cellular damage. Aside from BPA, bottled water is extremely expensive compared to tap water, and has an environmental impact due to the use of plastic bottles and transportation from source. Overall, it is not a sustainable option on an individual or environmental level.
The best option appears to be the use of a home filter to remove as many as possible of the contaminants from tap water. These come in a range of formats, from simple water jugs such as those by Brita, to larger scale carbon filters such as Berkey, to fully plumbed in systems. There is of course a cost differential between these, and my personal research led me to choose the middle option of a large carbon based filter. This is not too much of an upfront cost, and as filters don’t need to be replaced regularly, there are no additional costs for a number of years. I find the taste of the water more pleasant than straight from the tap, and I gain comfort knowing the substance that I am consuming in large quantities day in, day out is as clean as possible!
Something we all need in even greater abundance to water is air! Whilst moving to a secluded country spot, surrounded by greenery and fresh air would no doubt do us all good, for many it just isn’t an option. City air sadly does contain pollutants, and whilst even in London, the air quality is better than many other countries, it is a known health risk. Respiratory and heart problems can be caused and exacerbated by pollution, and even relatively low levels of pollution can cause chronic illness including heart disease over prolonged periods.
What can you do? There are a few steps you can take to limit your exposure to pollution, including limiting time in built up areas where possible (not always practical), wearing a mask, particularly if you cycle or walk/run through urban areas when you will be breathing more deeply and are close to traffic, and ensuring you have plenty of antioxidants in your diet to help combat the impact of the toxins on your body.
Plants are also a wonderful thing to have in the home! There are a number that help to clean the air by removing chemicals, bacteria and viruses, as well as improving oxygen levels. NASA even conducted research on the topic! The plants they recommended to help improve air quality in the home included:
- English Ivy
- Peace lily
- Bamboo palm
- Variegated snake plant
- Some dracaenas
- Some daisies and chrysanthemums
As well as absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, all of these plants helped remove benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene from the air. These are three chemicals which are all carcinogens (increase the risk of certain cancers).
Furthermore, research has shown a link between both green spaces and indoor plants, and improved mental health, so having a few of our green friends around is can help us stay healthy in multiple ways!