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Indoor Air Pollution and Thyroid Health

Published June 17 2013

Previously I wrote an article which spoke about the impact of outdoor air pollution on thyroid health.  But indoor air pollution is also a big factor.  And the good news is that in most cases we have more control over the pollution that affects us while indoors, at least in our own home.  So what I’d like to do in this article is discuss some of the common sources of indoor pollutants, talk about how they affect thyroid health, and then list some things you can do to help minimize your exposure to indoor air pollution.

Common Sources Of Indoor Pollutants:

VOCs: these are volatile organic compounds, and while these are a factor with regards to outdoor air pollution, according to the EPA there is actually greater exposure to VOCs from the air inside our homes.  Some examples of the solvents found in breath samples include chloroform, trichloroethane, and benzene.

But how can this be?  Well, here are some of the sources of these solvents which are commonly found indoors:

To no surprise if someone in the house is a smoker then the people living there will be exposed to a greater amount of these toxins.  Benzene is a known carcinogen that is present in tobacco smoke, but there are many other toxins as well.  Fortunately I currently have a smoke-free home, but for the first two decades of my life I dealt with the constant smoking from my mother, who averaged about two packs of cigarettes per day.

Are The Toxins From Your Carpet Making You Sick?

Besides living in a house with a smoker for the first 20+ years of my life, I also lived in a house that was carpeted.  And when I finally moved out from this house, the apartments and houses I lived in for many years thereafter also had carpeting.  Carpets can contain VOCs, formaldehyde, dust mites, and other toxins.  In fact, when I did a search on pubmed I came across a study which showed that carpets of different wool type (wool, synthetic) emitted benzene, toluene, xylenes, styrene, 4-phenylcyclohexane, 2, 2-butoxyethoxy-ethanol, along with acetone and formaldehyde (1) [1].  While some of these were emitted in low concentrations, it still can have a negative impact on your health.

You also need to be concerned about flame retardants, also known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).  These are found in mattresses, couches, and other furniture.  In fact, there was an article in USA Today printed in November of 2012 which focused on this.  It discussed a study led by Duke University which showed that out of 102 couches tested, 85% were treated with some kind of untested or potentially toxic flame retardant (2) [2].  The same study discussed how these flame retardants “are linked to hormone disruption, cancer, and neurological toxicity in hundreds of animal studies and several human ones”.

Let’s Not Forget About Household Cleaners, Air Fresheners, Cosmetics, etc.

When I talk about environmental toxins during my webinars or with my patients, I commonly recommend making the switch to natural products.  The chemicals from these products can without question have a harmful effect on your health.  Fortunately there are natural substitutes for just about every household product out there.

It would be great if you can switch to all natural and organic products, but I realize this can be expensive.  While I can argue that in the long run it will be less expensive when you consider the impact these chemicals can have on your health, I realize that many people still won’t switch out all of their products, and if one can’t truly afford to buy everything natural, then you need to prioritize.  So I would begin with any sprays or air fresheners you use, as these will have a big impact on your respiratory system and immune system.  Put aside the Formula 409 or Clorox and purchase some natural household cleaners, or simply use something like vinegar and/or baking soda as a cleaning agent.  I know it’s great to have a home that smells nice, but I would still recommend getting rid of any artificial air fresheners.

With regards to cosmetics, make sure you use a natural deodorant, and if you use body creams or lotions you want these to be free of any chemicals since you’re rubbing them into your body.  If you don’t want to get natural soaps and shampoos, at least try to purchase products without artificial fragrances.  Truth to be told this topic deserves its own article, as there’s so much I can talk about with regards to natural products and cosmetics.

How Do These Toxins Affect Thyroid Health?

There are numerous studies which demonstrate the effect these toxins have on thyroid health.  One study showed that perflurocarbons from common household products such as food containers, stain-resistant protection for clothing, furniture and carpets, paints, etc. are associated with thyroid disease in women (3) [3].  Some studies have shown that certain solvents such as benzene have a negative effect on thyroid function.  With regards to the products we use, I came across one study which showed that parabens can affect thyroid hormone levels, especially in women (4) [4].

What Action Steps Can You Take To Improve Your Health?

Okay, so now that you know the impact that some of these toxins have on your health, what can you do to minimize your exposure to them?

1. Purchase natural household products.  I realize they are more expensive, but remember that we’re talking about the health of you and your family.  If you absolutely cannot afford to make the switch, then at the very least try to switch out those products that you most commonly use .

2. Use a natural dry cleaners.  If you live in an area which doesn’t have a natural dry cleaners nearby, then perhaps you can at least minimize the amount of dry cleaning you do each week or month.

3. Consider replacing your carpeting.  If you live in an apartment then this probably isn’t an option.  And even if you live in a house, replacing the carpet with hardwood floors can be very expensive.  But if the toxins from your carpeting is having a negative impact on your health then this is something to strongly consider.

4. Use low or non-VOC paints.  This isn’t too difficult to do, as these days it’s easy to purchase paint that is low or free of VOCs.

5. Be careful when buying new furniture.  When you buy new furniture you ideally don’t want them to contain flame retardants.  You might want to try to get furniture made from polyester, or furniture made from wool or cotton fillings.  To be honest, this is one area I need to improve on, as I’d be lying if I told you that I have all natural furniture.

6. Invest in a quality air filter.  One of the best things you can do is invest in a quality air purification system.  A HEPA filtration system is recommended.  I have a few BlueAir purification systems, but there are some other quality companies out there, such as IQAir.

7. Electronic Pollution. I didn’t talk about the negative impact of electronic pollution in this article.  However, I have written a blog post in the past entitled “Can Being Exposed To Electronic Pollution Harm Your Thyroid Gland [5]?”  In this post I discussed the potential impact that EMFs can have on thyroid health.

8. Eat organic foods and drink purified water. The goal of this article wasn’t to focus on the chemicals present in food and water.  However, since they are indoor sources I did want to briefly mention this.  Obviously you want to try eating as many whole, organic foods as possible, and drink purified water.

So hopefully you realize that there are many toxins which can be present inside one’s home.  While I understand that not everyone can make all of these changes, most people can at least make some of the changes I discussed in this article.  Simply getting a good quality air purification system and using mostly natural household products can make a big difference.  I’m sure many people reading this have already made some of these changes, and I of course commend you for doing this.  For those people who haven’t made any of these changes yet, make it a goal to try incorporating some of these changes I discussed in this article in order to reduce your exposure to indoor air pollution.