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Toxic chemicals pervade our surroundings, often entering homes unnoticed through everyday items like household cleaning products, personal care products, and even furniture, toys, and food packaging. Unknowingly, people expose themselves and their families to these chemicals, unaware of the potential harm they can cause. Most people know these toxins aren’t good for environmental health. but they may not realize the impact on the human body, including the gut microbiome.

Chemicals May Interfere with Our Gut Microbiome

We’ve already written about how household chemicals have been linked to various health issues, from asthma and ADHD to cancer and hormonal imbalances. The more toxins you’re exposed to, the more potential for harm. What does that mean for children who are still growing and developing?

A 2021 study found that increased exposure to household chemicals adversely affects gut health in children. During the study, researchers measured blood, urine, and fecal samples of 69 young children for common semi-volatile organic compounds, including PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances) and phthalates. They found that children with higher levels of these compounds (indicating greater exposure) also had less diverse microbiomes. [1]

A diverse gut microbiome, comprising various bacteria and other flora, is crucial for human health, particularly for the immune system and nutrient absorption. The disruption of this balance due to chemical exposure poses health risks for both children and adults. [2] That’s why restoring gut health is one of the first steps we encourage no matter where someone’s at on their health journey.

The body is like a Swiss watch, and the gut is an important “gear” that affects not only digestion but the immune response, the creation of neurotransmitters, hormone balance, and many metabolic processes.

The Harmful Chemicals Linked to Gut Dysbiosis

The 2021 study on children’s gut health particularly looked at PFAS and phthalates. Here’s a short overview of each, along with their effects on the human gut microbiome:

PFAS

PFAS chemicals are very persistent in the environment and known as “forever chemicals” because their chemical bond is strong, and they’re hard to break down. They also repel oil and water, so they’re used in many products, including carpeting, cookware, furniture, clothing, and other consumer products. Because they are everywhere and don’t break down over time, they contaminate our water and air. They even accumulate in household dust! [3] In this study, children with higher levels of PFAS had lower concentrations of beneficial bacteria in their gastrointestinal (GI) tracts.

Phthalates

Phthalates are plasticizing agents used in many plastics to make them soft and pliable. They’re also used as binders and solvents and can enhance fragrances. That’s why they’re frequently used in scented personal care products like shampoo, lotion, and sunscreen. Unfortunately, phthalates are endocrine disruptors that can interfere with hormone-signaling pathways in the body. Phthalates have already been linked to early puberty, low sperm count, and other hormonal changes. [4][5]

And now they seem to also disrupt the health of the gut microbiome. Those with higher levels of phthalates had fewer fungi making up their intestinal microbiota.

Other Household Chemicals

Beyond PFAS and phthalates, many household products, like antibacterial soap, disinfectants, and sanitizers, can also disturb the gut microbiota, throwing off its delicate balance. While they’re designed to kill harmful bacteria, they can also affect good bacteria in the gut, disrupting the delicate balance of the gut microbiota. The use of these household disinfectants increased significantly during the COVID-19 “pandemic” and has continued since. [6]

Triclosan is an antibacterial agent that was commonly used in products like soaps, hand sanitizers, and cosmetics. It was intended to prevent bacterial contamination and growth. Unfortunately, it’s also linked to antibiotic resistance, hormone disruption, and environmental pollution. Due to concerns about its effects on human health and the environment, it’s been restricted or banned in some countries. [7][8]

In a Johns Hopkins study, frequent use of disinfectants in the home was associated with changes in gut bacteria in newborns and obesity in childhood. This may be due to increased numbers of Lachnospiraceae, a family of gut bacteria linked to obesity. [9]

Many household chemicals (BPA, phthalates, PFCS, chlorine) can also disrupt the integrity of the intestinal barrier, leading to increased permeability (leaky gut). This can allow harmful substances to pass through the intestinal lining and into the bloodstream, potentially triggering inflammation and immune reactions associated with gut dysbiosis. [10][11]

Potential Consequences of Gut Dysbiosis

When the balance of our intestinal microbiome is off, important metabolites (byproducts) like short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) go down. SCFAs are important not only for a healthy gut but also for a healthy brain. Getting enough SCFAs helps reduce brain inflammation, potentially improving mental health conditions. [12]

So, to summarize, exposure to common household chemicals may contribute to:

  • Hormone imbalance
  • Obesity
  • Leaky gut
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Brain inflammation and mental health conditions

These chemicals are everywhere in common grocery store cleaning staples. So, how do we reduce exposure to our families?

How to Reduce Your Exposure to Harmful Chemicals

1) Check Personal Care Products and Cleaners

Check the ingredients of your household cleaning and personal care products that may contain toxic chemicals. Common ones include floor cleaners, dusting sprays, laundry detergents, soap, shampoo, and lotions. Consider upgrading them to more natural alternatives to start lowering your chemical exposure. If you’re overwhelmed by how many products these chemicals are in, start with the items you use most frequently. Anything with the word fragrance or “parfum” can also include phthalates.

2) Re-Think Stain-Resistant and Water-Resistant Materials

These materials often use PFAS. You’ll find them in clothing, carpets, and furniture. Yes, they might make life more convenient (especially when you have kids!), but they add to your toxic exposure. Read more about these “Forever Chemicals” here.

3) Consider Making More Meals at Home and Skip the Drive-Thru

One study found that those who ate out more often had 35% higher levels of phthalates, as we noted in the toxic exposure of eating out. [13] It’s not worth the convenience! Spend a little more time preparing and cooking healthy meals at home to avoid the side effects of plastic in your food. And eating at home more will make the next tip even more worthwhile.

4) Consider Upgrading Your Cookware

Heat can release chemicals into your food, so if you can, try to avoid plastic and nonstick cookware. Switching to healthier cookware is a step to reducing your exposure, and good cookware lasts a long time. There are many options, and you can check out some of our favorites in this article on upgrading your cookware.

5) Research Options for a Good Water Filter

PFAS are persistent in drinking water. A 2023 report by the US Geological Survey found that almost 50% of Americans have PFAS in their drinking water. [14] So, invest in a good water filter that removes tiny particles. Your regular refrigerator filter won’t do the job. Try a countertop one or a whole house system.

6) Avoid Plastic Water Bottles When Possible

Speaking of microplastics, those who drink out of plastic water bottles double their ingestion of microplastics. [15] The plastic from the water bottle leaches into the water you drink. Instead of continuing to buy bottled water, invest in a quality glass or stainless-steel water bottle you can refill with pure filtered water.

Studies have linked these toxic chemicals to numerous health risks for years. Minimizing exposure to these chemicals using natural or environmentally friendly alternatives and adopting practices that promote healthy gut microbiota, such as consuming a diverse and fiber-rich diet, may help reduce the risk of gut dysbiosis.

The Wellness Way is Here to Help

Protect the health of your family by reducing your exposure and finding ways to support your body so it can handle the toxins you can’t avoid. That may involve adding supplements like probiotics or prebiotics to support those gut microbes. But you won’t know what to take unless you test. To test your gut health and get personalized coaching, contact a Wellness Way clinic today!

References

  1. Exposures to Semivolatile Organic Compounds in Indoor Environments and Associations with the Gut Microbiomes of Children | Environmental Science & Technology Letters (acs.org)
  2. Diversity, stability and resilience of the human gut microbiota – PMC (nih.gov)
  3. Pollutants in house dust as indicators of indoor contamination – PubMed (nih.gov)
  4. A systematic review on the effects of environmental exposure to some organohalogens and phthalates on early puberty – PubMed (nih.gov)
  5. Common Chemicals May Harm Sperm and Pregnancies, Growing Evidence Shows | Scientific American
  6. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic Lifestyle Changes May Have Influenced Small Bowel Microbial Composition and Microbial Resistance – PubMed (nih.gov)
  7. Triclosan and Antibiotics resistance (europa.eu)
  8. pdf (ct.gov)
  9. Are household disinfectants microbially mediated obesogens? – PMC (nih.gov)
  10. Bisphenol A increases intestinal permeability through disrupting intestinal barrier function in mice – PubMed (nih.gov)
  11. Exposure to dibutyl phthalate impairs lipid metabolism and causes inflammation via disturbing microbiota-related gut-liver axis – PubMed (nih.gov)
  12. Microbiota-derived metabolites as drivers of gut-brain communication – PubMed (nih.gov)
  13. Dietary sources of cumulative phthalates exposure among the U.S. general population in NHANES 2005–2014 – ScienceDirect
  14. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in United States tapwater: Comparison of underserved private-well and public-supply exposures and associated health implications – ScienceDirect
  15. Synthetic Polymer Contamination in Bottled Water – PubMed (nih.gov)

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Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Wellness Way clinic or personal physician, especially if currently taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Pregnant women, in particular, should seek the advice of a physician before trying any herb or supplement listed on this website. Always speak with your individual clinic before adding any medication, herb, or nutritional supplement to your health protocol. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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