Saturday, February 27, 2010

Are we inadvertently harming our babies?

It is hard for a new parent to imagine what parents did before the invent of the plastic, on-the-go sippy cups that have become synonymous with toddlers these days.

One of my goals in my quest to "live natural" is to "go back to basics" (hence the name of my blog). It is my belief that in a lot of ways, going back to the way things used to be done and living natural merge into the same path. However, there are some things to be said for new inventions that make our life easier.

The problem is that many of these so called "wonder inventions" are harming our environment, they are harming our bodies and worst of all...they are harming our children.

I am not against toddlers having sippy cups. I am just against what the manufactures use to make these sippy cups. Most baby bottles and sippy cups are made with polycarbonate plastics and identified by the #7 recycling symbol.

Studies have shown that they may leach Bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is a known endocrine disruptor, meaning it disturbs the hormonal messaging in our bodies.

There is a link between bisphenol-A and phthalates and early onset of puberty. Puberty and Plastics, Dec 2003, Mothering Magazine

Synthetic xenoestrogens are linked to breast cancer and uterine cancer in women, decreased testosterone levels in men, and are particularly devastating to babies and young children. BPA has even been linked to insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes.

In 2006 Europe banned all products made for children under age 3 containing BPA, and as of Dec. 2006 the city of San Francisco followed suit. In March 2007 a billion-dollar class action suit was commenced against Gerber, Playtex, Evenflo, Avent, and Dr. Brown's in Los Angeles superior court for harm done to babies caused by drinking out of baby bottles and sippy cups containing BPA.

For more of the science on the effects of BPA on our endocrine system etc. see these studies: Environmental Health Perspectives Journal.

What do do?

The first, and best (in my opinion) thing you can do is to get your baby off to a good start by breastfeeding. But even breastfeeding moms still sometimes have a need for bottles. And of course, some women are unable to breastfeed or may not have enough milk, and will have to use bottles to supplement.

I would recommend glass baby bottlesover the standard plastic.

In searching for safe sippy cup alternatives (because I am not about to give my two year old a glass cup to carry around!) I found a couple of sites that have compared the different cups available. You can read about the reviews here and here.

Let's Talk Water...

It is my opinion that bottled water is a scam. Here me out...

If, like us, you are on well water, chances are that your water is as clean, if not cleaner than bottled water. If you have a contaminated well, that is a whole 'nother issue. I recommend having your water tested periodically.

If you are on public water, it is the law that they regularly test their water and make the results of those tests available to the public. You can look up the results of your local water utility here.
Although it is true that your local tap water may not be the safest, bottled water is not as well regulated and studies have shown that it is not even particularly pure. A four-year study of bottled water in the U.S. conducted by NRDC found that one-fifth of the 103 water products tested contained synthetic organic chemicals such as the neurotoxin xylene and the possible carcinogen and neurotoxin styrene.

Bottled water that is labeled "purified water" is taken from lakes, rivers, or underground springs and treated, all of which makes it almost identical to tap water.

Other brands of bottled water is just tap water in disguise. In a quote from Jim Shepherd, Dasani's group director of research and development, he says that "Coca-Cola tested Dasani in hundreds of focus groups until it hit on a markedly crisp quality, achieved by adding magnesium sulfate, potassium chloride and sodium chloride to purified municipal water." Which is a fancy way of saying that they simply add salt to tap water in order to make it taste better.

Not only is it more expensive per gallon than gasoline (if that's not a kick in the gut, I don't know what is!), bottled water incurs a huge carbon footprint from its transportation. Meaning that it takes energy, gas, etc. to bottle and transport the bottles. 1.5 million barrels of oil, in the US alone, are used to make water bottles. What's worse (or maybe not, they are both pretty bad) 86% of these bottles are landfilled or incinerated.

And finally, if all of this has not convinced you, let me leave you with one plea. Please do not re-use your plastic water bottles! It is a noble gesture, I know, it will save you money, it will save the bottles from piling up in the landfills. However, this is a dangerous thing to do! The most common plastic used to make water bottles is #1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE). If reused, they can leach chemicals such as DEHA, a known carcinogen, and benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), a potential hormone disrupter. According to the January 2006 Journal of Environmental Monitoring, some PET bottled-water containers were found to leach antimony, an elemental metal that is an eye, skin, and lung irritant at high doses. Also, because the plastic is porous you'll likely get a swig of harmful bacteria with each gulp if you reuse #1 plastic bottles.

I would recommend investing in one of the re-usable water bottles on the market. My family uses Kleen Kanteen and we love them. Others report success with the Sigg Bottles.

More on water...

Since water is so substantial to the survival of the human race, I thought I would do some more research on it and how to conserve it so as to make sure it stays around (in an unpolluted state).

All the water that goes down the drain, clean or dirty, ends up mixing with raw sewage, getting contaminated, and meeting the same fate.

I have found some good tips on water conservation, which is not only good for our Earth but for our water bill (for those who are on public water). Here are some ideas:
  • If it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down (does this need more explanation?)
  • This one is probably obvious, but check periodically for leaks and fix them promptly.
  • Take a Navy shower.
  • Turn off the water while you brush your teeth or shave.
  • Always wait until you have a full load before running the dishwasher or washing machine.
  • Plant locally appropriate plants so that you do not have to water your lawn as much. If you feel that you must water, do so at night or in the coolest part of the day in order to decrease evaporation (or go wild and don't water at all - let nature take its course!).
  • Harvest your rainwater. Put a rain barrel on your downspouts and use this water for irrigation.
  • Harvest your greywater. Water that has been used at least once but is still clean enough for other jobs is called greywater. Water from sinks, showers, dishwashers, and clothes washers are the most common household examples.
  • Don’t pour chemicals down drains, or flush drugs down toilets; it could come back in diluted form in your water

As an interesting side note, did you know that using a dishwasher actually uses less water and energy than hand washing? That's good news for me. :)

I do have a confession to make...we are not actually a complete "chemical free" home. And out of the "chemical sins", I am probably committing a biggie. I currently use Cascade in my dishwasher. I have tried homemade detergent (which works wonderfully for us in the washing machine), I have tried different commercial brands of "green" cleaners...nothing seems to work. However, while researching for this post, I ran across someone who swears by Bi-o-Kleen so that will be my next stop.

Not only do I hate using the Cascade, but the smell is horrible. I am so used to not smelling chemicals now that it is very strong to me (funny how I used to love going down the laundry isle at the store because I thought it smelled "good", lol).

Going Natural at the Dentist's Office...

I had my six month cleaning this morning and thought I would share a few things that I learned. My hygienist says that she always enjoys my visits because I am a "trip"...well that is one way to describe me I guess!

She and I don't always agree on everything, but we remain respectful. She always laughs when I turn down the complimentary toothpaste in favor of my own homemade tooth cleaner.

Most commercial toothpaste contains chemicals that I don't really want going into my body. Not to mention, they cost money. I use the "old time" mixture of baking soda and salt. It costs a small fraction of what one tube of toothpaste would cost, one box (mixed with a little salt) lasts almost a year and the best part is that it does a wonderful job!

I have always hated the part at the end of my cleaning appointment where they use that nasty, fruity tasting gel to polish my teeth. Instead of leaving with a cleaner feeling mouth, I left half sick to my stomach because of the taste.

My hygienist and I were talking about how strange I am that I prefer the Cavitron over the usual scaling (and torturous scraping) with the instruments. She said that since I am so "strange" about that (that word keeps coming up in reference to my personality...wonder if I should look into that?) that I may prefer the "baking soda sandblasting" polishing over the traditional polishing (with the before mentioned cherry gel goop).

So it turns out that there is a (in my opinion) better way! I was all excited that this "new" natural way was out there (I have no idea, nor do I really think I want to know, what is in the gel goop). Imagine my surprise when I was informed that this technique had actually been around for years and predates the gel goop.

One of the chemicals that I have a problem with, and this one has pretty much inundated all of our beauty products these days, is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS). Like with everything else out there, there are two camps...the ones who think the SLS scare is a bunch of hype and then there are the conspiracy theorists, like me.

The way I look at it, if I can do without it - then why not do without it? Why take the chance. Not ingesting it has no danger of hurting me. Ingesting it possibly does. I'll err on the side of caution. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. It probably isn't as dangerous as the scare tactics would lead us to believe but it probably isn't as safe as the Food and Drug Administration would lead us to believe either.

The MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet ) on SLS states that Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is "Hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant), of eye contact (irritant), of ingestion, of inhalation. Slightly hazardous in case of skin contact (sensitizer). Severe over-exposure can result in death."

I think I'll take a pass.

The next chemical that I have a problem with is fluoride...yes, good old fluoride.

Fluoride occurs naturally in water at varying concentrations.The general term "fluoride" describes a compound of which the element fluorine is one part. Fluorine combines with other elements, such as calcium or sodium, to form compounds that are usually found in soil and water. When water passes through and over the soil and rock formations containing fluoride it dissolves these compounds, resulting in the small amounts of soluble fluoride present in virtually all water sources in low concentrations (less than 1 part per million).

Here is where the problem comes in. For starters, water municipalities are adding a lot more than 1 ppm to the drinking water (the max allowed is 4 ppm). When you throw in the exposure from the water, the toothpaste, the mouth rinse, the fluoride treatments, etc., that is a lot of fluoride!

Plus, the "fluoride" that they add to drinking water, or use in toothpaste, is not he same as the naturally occurring Fluoride.

UNICEF states that "fluoride a naturally occurring chemical that is sometimes added to water or toothpaste to reduce tooth decay, but which in larger doses is poisonous, causing fluorosis. Fluorosis can stain the teeth, or in very high doses lead to bone damage, bone malformations and even death." They also report, "more and more scientists are now seriously questioning the benefits of fluoride, even in small amounts."

The World Health Organization (WHO) also speaks of the dangers of fluoride.

I have found that the FDA has never actually approved Fluoride for human consumption. Ffluoride supplements were "grandfathered in" before the 1938 law was enacted requiring drug testing. Once a drug is on the market for any reason, doctors can use them to treat any disease or condition. Sodium fluoride was on the market pre-1938, but not to stop cavities and not for any medical reason. Sodium fluoride sold as a rat poison.

Fluoride has been linked to:

  • thyroid damage
  • darkened teeth from fluoridosis
  • brittle bones

Fluoride has also been linked to problems with lead. Evidently, lead uptake is enhanced in the presence of fluoride. This has been linked to:

  • Behavioral disorders in children
  • Alzheimer's
  • Migraine headaches
  • Clinical depression
  • Dementia

Oh, and as an added bonus to my appointment, I found out that I have four fillings that contain mercury, one of the most toxic elements known to man! How cool is that.

Why my microwave is now used as a cabinet...

For those in my age group, you probably didn't grow up with a microwave. If you did, you probably got it later in life. Yet somehow, now it is hard to imagine our lives without them. They are used to heat leftovers, melt ice cream so it is easier to scoop, get the lemon a bit juicier before squeezing, pop popcorn, melt butter...the list goes on. I have even been to restaurants (granted, they were hole in the wall places) where they used a microwave to cook my food!

As I got more into the "natural lifestyle" I found that I used my microwave less and less. It just didn't fit into my "made from scratch" ideas. Now don't get me wrong - I am not against modern conveniences...I use a food processor!, I use a yogurt maker, but once I got used to home cooked food - I found that even re-heated food did not taste "right" to me after coming out of the microwave.

Then, on the advice from a friend, I did some research on microwaves. Just how do they cook our food so quickly?

Microwaves cause food molecules to vibrate rapidly, creating friction that produces heat which then cooks the food. In other words, food cooked in a microwave simply absorbs microwave and turns their energy into thermal energy, which cooks the food.

Here are some things that I found during my research:

There was a case in 1991 where a lady went into the hospital for a hip replacement. She needed blood and for some crazy reason, the nurse heated the blood in the microwave oven, in the nurses lounge, before giving it to the lady. The lady died within minutes. I was a bit skeptical because this appeared on one of the many sites that make some pretty outrageous claims (and in making their claims, they make us who actually do our research look like fruit loops). So I did some further research and it turns out that this actually happened! I think that the case is still tied up in court - because of course, the hospital is saying that she died of something else (just minutes after receiving this microwaved blood, mind you).

Research was done toward the end of the 1980s in collaboration between a Swiss laboratory, Dr. Hans U. Hertel and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH). Dr. Hertel's startling findings showed that microwave cooking resulted in:

  • Increased cholesterol levels
  • More leukocytes, or white blood cells, which can suggest poisoning
  • Decreased numbers of red blood cells
  • Production of radiolytic compounds (compounds unknown in nature)
  • Decreased hemoglobin levels, which could indicate anemic tendencies

The publication of the results caused considerable disturbance. The Swiss electrical industry threatened both scientists with legal action if they would continue to talk about the results in public. Under this pressure Prof. Bernard H. Blanc withdrew from the scientifically reached results by declaring in the modern “scientific” jargon that more research would be necessary to prove them. Dr. Hans U. Hertel, however, stood behind the honestly achieved results and was subsequently legally prosecuted and condemned, first by the District Court of Belp, Bern, then by the Upper Court in Bern and finally by the Federal Court in Lausanne. The study was finally published in 1992.

A study reports that a test done on raw broccoli found that: Microwaving raw broccoli drastically eliminates natural health-promoting chemicals. Of particular note in the research was the post-microwaving disappearance of 97 percent of flavonoids -- substances often found in many brightly colored fruits and vegetables. These substances are linked to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and lung cancer. MURCIA, Spain, Oct 17, 2003 (United Press International via COMTEX)

Translation: When you microwave vegetables it changes the food. It diminishes the "good" things in food that help to prevent heart disease, stroke and cancer.

There are also warnings in regards to heating breast milk in the microwave. This from the FDA, who although I personally think they say some pretty quacky stuff, most people take them seriously.

There is a substantial loss of the anti-infective properties of breast milk when it is microwaved. The anti-infective action is a significantly lessened. There's the possibility that other properties of microwaves may also negatively effect the anti-infective properties of breast milk.

More research is definitely necessary. I do not take these few scientific tests and run with it as the "gospel". However it does raise enough concerns, paired with the other reports I have read, that I no longer use my microwave.

And you know what?

I don't miss it! I am actually loving the extra "cabinet" space that it affords. If I want to make popcorn I use my Whirley-Pop Stovetop Popcorn Popper. If I need to melt butter I use my little cast iron melting really doesn't take that long to do. If I need to re-heat food I either put it in the oven or in an iron skillet on the stove top.

The only thing that I have missed in not having a microwave is the way I used to make a huge pile of pepperoni and cook it until crispy (and stinking the house up) and scarf it down. And that is probably so horrible for me that my body is thanking me for not using my microwave!

Steps to take before purchasing new...

When I get it in my head to start a new project (and when you get to know "my head" you will understand that this could be anything from re-organizing the pantry to digging a backyard pond to having another baby!) I have a list of mental steps that I take.

It is my goal to both cut down on my family's consumerism as well as to spend little to no money (because we have little to no money).

I start by making a mental list of the items I am going to need. Once this list is made, I try to find ways to use things that I already have to get the job done. Could I use that basket sitting in the kid's closet to store these canning jars in? Maybe I could use that wooden crate sitting outside for the job?

No? Then I move on to trying to think of ways to make what I need. Could I use those scraps of wood and some nails to build myself a small crate? Could I (and I am stretching here, even for me) use those long plants that my mom calls "weeds" to weave myself a basket?

No? Then the next step is try try to find what I need for free. Could I maybe find a crate in a dumpster? Could I post on and ask for it?

No? Well then I guess I will have to have some patience and wait until it shows up at a thrift store. It usually does and sometimes, in the process of waiting, I decide to take a different path and don't even need the item after all!
I may also look on or as you can often find what you are looking for there at a substantial discount. In addition, I am a member of several online trading posts/swap boards and they will often have what I am looking for.
If, after all of this, I still must have the item, I will start trying to find a way to pay for it. This is a process in and of itself but one that I will not bore you with as I am doubting that you are very interested in my family's finances.
I will also research, research, research. If I am going to actually pay retail price for something, I am going to make sure it is the best product on the market. I do not want to pay hard earned money for something that I am going to be disappointed with or that is only going to last a month.

I usually do the research and the choose the best item in the price range that I can afford. Often times this means compromising on a few of the "perk" features but I can usually find a good quality item that will do the job I need for it to do, even if it doesn't have all of the "bells and whistles".

On that note...I have actually found that the more "bells and whistles" an item has, the more likely that item is to wear out or tear up before its time. If I want a CD player, I want one that will play CD's...that is its basic use. I do not need one that is going to read the names of the song out loud before it plays them. Just play the damn CD, right?

It is a process and it is one that teaches patience and sometimes humility.


Between food scraps, leaves, garden mulch and other organic material in your garbage, a tremendous amount of waste is created. Yard and kitchen waste account for around 30% of the US waste stream.

This is something that I never gave much thought to until I started trying to "live green". Then I decided that I needed to give it a try, for many reasons. One, I was trying to cut down on the amount of garbage that my family produced. I figured that if I could recycle some of it and compost some of it, my actual garbage production would go way down (and I was right). Two, we were spending money on fertilizer and "good dirt" for our garden and plants. Why spend money when we could make it ourselves?

I'll admit that I was pretty intimidated by the idea of a compost pile. It seemed like an awful lot of work and calculation (how much "green" to put in, how much "brown" to put in). Finally I just took the plunge and went for it.
My compost piles consists of a couple of wooden pallets for the sides and has a chain link fence across the front (because it is enclosed in the chicken coop). Now that i have chickens, they eat pretty much everything that I put into the pile before it actually gets a chance to compost. For those without chickens, here are some things you should know if you are interested in your own compost pile:
First of all, what is compost? Compost is where you turn your garbage into fertilizer by gathering leaves, grass, branches added in with kitchen waste (banana peels, leftover scraps) and letting it decompose rather than throwing it all into a garbage can.

You can go as simple or as elaborate as you choose. You can have a bin in your yard (homemade or purchased) or you can have an indoor bin filled with worms who will compost for you. Either way, your ultimate goal is to create finished compost. Which is defined as a pile of organic material that is so decomposed that it has transformed into something beyond "rotted" stuff and into something useful.

If you want to use it for fertilizer for your lawn, plants, garden, etc. then you are going to want to invest a little time and work into it. If your reasons are purely environmental, you can pretty much just let it go and not worry about the end results. You can either "cold compost" or "hot compost".
With cold composting, you pretty much just throw the stuff in the pile and leave it at that. They will decompose over time and that will be that. The main drawback is the smell but if you can stand that, this is the easiest way.

Hot composting is when you get a bit more involved. With this, you will be able to keep the pile neat and decent smelling and in the end you will have a finished product.

If you choose an outdoor compost you have the choice of purchasing a ready made bin that usually has a built in feature to make it easy to turn your compost. They are also usually compact and more attractive than an actual "pile". Or you can build your own pile. There are directions all of the Internet for different ways to build your own pile. Some of them get pretty creative. A quick google search will bring up pages of links.

I would recommend putting it a few feet from the house, just in case of smell or rodents. Regardless of what you use to build the sides of the bin, you will need to have it well ventilated. This means, keep it a few feet away from fences, trees, etc.

I would also recommend putting it in reach of a hose, unless you do not mind carrying water in a bucket when needed. If you live in a hot area, I would put it in the shade so that it doesn't bake into a hard pile that takes years to decompose. If you live in a really wet area, I would recommend covering the pile. If it gets too wet it will smell bad and will not get enough air to properly compost.

For the pile to be able to reach the temperatures it needs while still allowing the center to breathe, the bin should be between three and five feet cubed (that is, three to five feet wide, long, and tall).

As for what to add and how, the most common ration I have found is a 30-to-1 ratio of "browns" to "greens". Greens are made up of fresh plant matter or animal by-products. They provide the nitrogen, protein, and some moisture to get things going. Browns are made up of dry or dead plant materials. They add carbon and bulk so that the composting microbes can breathe.

If you don't want to get so technical, just follow the general rule of adding more dry bulky stuff than fresh or green dense stuff. To put it simple, if it's fresh, it's a green; if it's dead and brown, it's a brown.

Greens: grass and plant clippings, waste from your garden (plants that were left too long and got too large, etc.), coffee grounds, eggshells, tea bags, vegetable peelings and scraps, leftovers from dinner, fresh manure (chicken and cow), human hair, milk

Browns: Wood, sticks, sawdust, dead leaves, dry straw, shredded newspaper, dead plants, rice, pine needles.

As you add materials, make sure to spray it down with the hose every few inches. It needs to be moist but not wet.

It can take anywhere from six weeks to two years to produce healthy compost, depending on the materials you use and how much attention you give your pile.

What is happening, unseen, is that the center of the pile is heating up. The microbes, who are eating away, are the cause of the heat. You will need to turn your pile (which means that you will mix it up so that the outside is worked into the inside and everything gets a chance to compost. You can use a shovel to do this. You will notice that as time goes by, your pile will shrink. It should also smell "Earthy" and look like dark soil. This is how you will know that it is ready to be used as fertilizer.

You can also compost indoors, on a smaller scale, by using worms. Here is a link that explains more about that. I do not have any personal experience in this area so I will let the link explain more.

As a side note, my journey down the road of having our septic system pumped led me to do some research on composting human waste. I won't go into that here but for those interested, this is an excellent online book on the subject.