Every day, no matter where you live or what you do, your body is exposed to small amounts of toxic chemicals—and not just from outdoor air pollution. Countless toxins make their way indoors as we come and go, but some are there already, hiding in everyday items like appliances, furniture, and toys. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) such low-level exposure is not dangerous to our health, but a new report suggests otherwise.
Researchers from the University of Colorado and the Endocrine Disruption Exchange recently examined more than three dozen studies focusing on four volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in particular: benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene—commonly referred to as BTEX. In addition to their use in many consumer products, BTEX are found in gasoline and diesel fuel. The four chemicals are ever present in our environment, yet we don’t notice because they are odorless at low levels. As it turns out, those low levels may not be as safe as we thought.
In looking at the data collected, lead author Ashley Bolden and her team found that in many cases, indoor levels of BTEX were significantly higher than outdoor levels, and that even so-called “ambient levels” of these chemicals were associated with hormonal changes that can significantly impact human health. Specifically, researchers were able to link ambient level BTEX exposure to the following:
- Developmental effects (such as low birth weight in babies);
- Reproductive effects (such as lower sperm count and motility in males);
- Immune system effects (including allergies and a decrease in white blood cells);
- Effects on respiratory function (including an increased risk of asthma and pulmonary inflammation); and
- Effects on metabolic function.
Should we be concerned? Yes, says Bolden, especially since Americans spend the majority of their time indoors. However, the solution may be as simple as improving building ventilation standards to decrease exposure and lessen the potential health risks. The report, published in a recent issue of Environmental Science & Technology, even caught the attention of officials at the EPA, who plan to review the findings.
Despite recent marketing efforts to make high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) seem less harmful to our health, the truth remains that it simply isn’t good for our bodies. HFCS is created by way of a chemical enzymatic process that increases its fructose content, and—as you may have guessed—this is not a good thing. In fact, countless studies point to the dangers of a diet high in HFCS and why you should avoid it.
Let’s Talk Liver Health
Due to the extra fructose, HFCS is absorbed more quickly into your body—and that fructose travels directly to the liver, where it contributes to fat deposits and triggers a number of metabolic imbalances such as increased triglycerides and impaired insulin sensitivity. Not surprisingly, several studies have linked too much HFCS in the diet to obesity and a higher risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
The Heart of the Matter
Can too much HFCS increase your risk of heart disease? Yes, say scientists from the University of California, Davis. In a recent study involving more than 80 adults between the ages of 18 and 40, Dr. Kimber Stanhope and her team were able to determine that regularly consuming beverages sweetened with HFCS—even at low levels—contributes to heart disease risk factors and over time may increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
The more we learn about HFCS (and sugar in all its forms), the more health experts urge us to eliminate it from our diet. Just last year the World Health Organization revised its recommendations to say that our daily sugar intake should amount to only 5% of our total calories—half of what they recommended previously. That’s about 25 grams or 6 teaspoons of added sugar daily. The problem? Most of the time we don’t even realize we’re eating it.
So much of the food in our Standard American Diet (SAD) contains high-fructose corn syrup. And it isn’t just found in sugary sodas, candy, and snacks, but in unexpected places such as bread, cereal, protein bars, yogurt, and even pasta sauce! Your best bet? Always read the Supplement Facts labels to see how much sugar is in the products you buy. The closer it is to the top of the ingredients list, the more sugar a food is going to have.