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#03 – Creating a Nontoxic Home, Eco-Friendly Nurseries, Greenwashing and the Tap Water Dilemma with Leigh Matthews

Are you concerned about your family’s increasing exposure to toxic chemicals? This episode is for you. From the kitchen to the bathroom to dining out and even your children’s bedrooms, learn practical tips you can use to make your lifestyle a little greener. 

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This Episode Covers:   

  • The most sensitive individuals to environmental toxins and chemicals [3:45];
  • PFOA and placental fluid, dangers of teflon and nonstick pans, greenwashing [5:40];
  • Cast iron skillets [14:05];
  • VOCs, paint, nurseries / newborns, car exhaust, SoCal neighborhoods and air quality [17:00];
  • Fertility, Phthalates, sunscreen and endocrine disruptors [27:00];
  • Roundup and pesticide in food [35:00]; 
  • Tap water vs. bottled water and water filtration systems [47:50]; 

Why are toxic chemicals an issue?

Every day, over 300 children in the United States ages 0 to 19 are treated in an emergency department, and two children die, as a result of being poisoned – often by household cleaners and medicines.

Many more children, and adults, suffer ongoing health issues because of toxic chemicals in household products, furnishings, tap water, and food, as well as due to poor indoor air quality.

Long term health issues associated with toxic household chemicals include:

  • Endocrine (hormone) disruption leading to abnormal growth and development in childhood and at puberty, and fertility problems
  • Cancer
  • Cognitive decline
  • Shorter lifespan
  • Nerve problems
  • Respiratory or breathing difficulties
  • Skin problems
  • Mood disorders.

Everyday items in your home, such as toiletries, clothing, bedding, your mattress and pillows, cookware, carpets and rugs, and sports goods like yoga mats, can all contain toxic chemicals.

Keep in mind that most scientific studies look at chemicals in isolation – they don’t account for the ongoing, cumulative effects of multiple chemical exposures. We pretty much know nothing about what happens when we’re exposed to a variety of volatile oil compounds, heavy metals, parabens, phthalates, and such decade after decade.

Five top toxic chemicals you’re likely to encounter in your home?

1. VOCs

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a large group of toxic chemicals that include:

  • Acetone
  • Benzene
  • Ethylene glycol
  • Formaldehyde
  • And
  • Methylene chloride

These all easily evaporate at room temperature – a process called off-gassing.

If a new item of furniture, new carpet, rug, clothing, yoga mat, mattress, or other household item smells ‘chemically’, chances are it is off-gassing some VOCs. VOCs are also present in paint, varnishes, and floor treatments.

Most of these VOCs are not regulated in any helpful way, other than formaldehyde in nursery furniture.

VOCs have been linked to eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, asthma, cancer, liver damage, kidney damage, and damage to the central nervous system.

Infants and children are more vulnerable to the effects of VOCs because they take more breaths per minute than most adults (around 40-60 vs. 12-16).

‘Nesting’ right before a new baby arrives can have detrimental effects on parent and child as VOC exposure can increase dramatically.

Some green certifications, such as Greenguard Gold and Oeko-Tex, offer strict standards for chemical use and VOCs in household products.

2. Phthalates, Parabens, Parfums

Parabens are a group of preservative chemicals commonly found in shampoo, conditioner, body wash, moisturizers, make-up, shaving cream, cleaning products, and more. If something contains water, it may, by law, have to contain preservatives. Many manufacturers choose parabens rather than looking for a safe, natural preservative, such as ascorbic acid (vitamin C).

Parabens are the most widely used preservative in cosmetics, with the David Suzuki Foundation noting their presence in around 75-90% of cosmetics. They’re easily absorbed through the skin and include known endocrine disruptors.

Parabens are sometimes ‘hidden’ in the ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ of a product, which is why I try to avoid any products that include this in the ingredient list.

Fragrance recipes are considered trade secrets, so manufacturers are not required to disclose fragrance chemicals in the list of ingredients.

Phthalates are another group of chemicals that include known endocrine (hormone) disruptors.

Phthalates are primarily used as plasticizers in polyvinyl chloride (PVC), so they’re present in a heck of a lot of household products.

Phthalates are not chemically bound in PVC, meaning they can migrate from products.

Phthalates may be antiandrogen, meaning that they reduce the production or block the activity of male sex hormones.

Therefore, certain phthalates are limited in children’s toys and other products in the EU.

Phthalates are also commonly found in sex toys.

Other things can also lurk in the ‘parfum’ component of a product.

Scented candles are also a major source of toxic chemicals. They typically contain paraffin wax and parfum, which emit benzene, and alkans and alkenes – all known carcinogens – when burnt. Wicks are also liable to contain excessive levels of lead.

3. Non-stick chemicals PTFE, PFOAs

Non-stick cookware is typically coated with perfluorinated chemicals (or PFCs). These fluoropolymers repel oil and water.

Noon-stick coatings are also used in food packaging and pop up in some unlikely places, including:

  • Some types of dental floss
  • Microwave popcorn bags
  • Pizza boxes
  • Other food containers
  • Carpet treatments
  • Windshield cleaning solution
  • The non-stick insert in some rice cookers.

These coatings are generally made using poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) is the most common, and PTFE was originally applied to cookware using solvents such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

After significant research showing undesirable health effects of PFOA, and a not inconsiderable lawsuit (R), DuPont, the maker of Teflon, and other manufacturers phased out their use of this chemical in the non-stick coatings.

This doesn’t mean non-stick coatings are now safe, though!

PFOA was certainly a major health concern associated with these non-stick coatings, but it wasn’t the only toxic fume released from PTFE.

PTFE starts to break down at about 600 degrees Fahrenheit, whereupon toxic fumes such as PFOA, as well as  are released into the air. This might seem like a very high temperature, but it only takes a couple of minutes of heating an empty pan for it to reach 500 degrees F.

Cooking a steak can require a temperature of around 600 degrees F.

So, even seemingly normal cooking conditions can easily lead to PFOA and other toxic fumes being released into the air from PTFE coatings.

PFOA is a greenhouse gas and has adverse effects on health, including being a probable carcinogen (R).  It is also a suspected hormone disrupter, with its effects made worse by the fact that it lingers in the body and in the environment. Most adults have some PFOA in their blood, and the chemical has also been found in newborns and in marine animals and polar bears (R).

PTFE-based non-stick coatings appear to be particularly troublesome for reproductive health:

  • Linked to a nearly two-fold increase in the risk of preterm birth (R).
  • Increased risk of low birth weight
  • Negative effect on blood glucose regulation in pregnancy, increasing the risk of gestational diabetes (R).

The Madrid Statement on Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs) was published in 2015 and signed by hundreds of concerned scientists from across the world:

“PFASs are man-made and found everywhere [and] are highly persistent, as they contain perfluorinated chains that only degrade very slowly, if at all, under environmental conditions. It is documented that some polyfluorinated chemicals break down to form perfluorinated ones” (R).

The scientists urged governments to better regulate PFSAs and scientists to investigate these chemicals further, and the signatories to this statement also suggested the individual consumer, “Whenever possible, avoid products containing, or manufactured using, PFASs. These include many products that are stain-resistant, waterproof, or nonstick.”

4. Pesticides

Just this week, Bayer’s Monsanto lost a court case and were ordered by a jury in California to pay $2 billion to a couple who claimed their glyphosate Roundup weed killer caused their cancer. This is their third big court loss in recent years.

Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum herbicide that’s been around since 1974. The use of these kinds of herbicides has increased 100- to 300-fold by volume since the late ‘70s.

In 2014, an estimated 113.4 million kilos of glyphosate was used on crops in the US.

Glyphosate is commonly used on food crops such as wheat, barley, oats, and beans, as well as coffee and conventionally grown cotton.

Glyphosate has been labelled as a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization.

Glyphosate may indirectly affect health by killing off beneficial bacteria and affecting host immunity. This is thought to be why the chemical is linked to colony collapse disorder in bee populations and the demise of earthworm populations.

The Environmental Working Group (a great resource!) published a report last year revealing the presence of glyphosate in 43 of 45 samples of conventionally grown oats. Almost ¾ of samples had higher glyphosate levels than the 160 parts per billion level EWG scientists consider protective of children’s health.

Also, around 1/3 or the 16 organic oat products the EWG tested also had glyphosate, although these levels were well below EWG’s health benchmark.

What to do? Buy organic, wash your fruits and veggies, and talk to your local farmers at farmers markets to find out how they grow their products.

Also, look for products that feature the Detox Project’s “Glyphosate Residue Free” label. This label offers extra assurance that a product does not contain glyphosate. Maybe we can put a link to the list of certified products in the shownotes? here.

And always buy organic cotton, or wash any new cotton items before use.

5. Heavy metals and other contaminants in water

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 1 in 12 Americans is exposed to potentially harmful microbes, pesticides, lead, or radioactive radon with every drink of tap water and every time they take a shower (R).

1 in 4 Native Americans living on tribal land don’t have access to safe water in their home.

The main reasons for water contamination include:

  • Crumbling water treatment infrastructure
  • Hazardous agricultural practices (largely animal agriculture and feed lots)
  • Fracking, pipelines, and other industrial activities
  • Failing environmental protections and oversight.

Installing a high-quality water filtration system is the best way to ensure safe drinking water in the home. Make sure the filter is National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) approved.

More on Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is best known for its use by undertakers, but it’s also present in a whole host of household goods including furniture, especially mattress supports in cribs and the bottoms of dresser drawers.

These furniture parts are often made with composite wood, such as plywood, particle board, or medium density fiberboard (MDF) where the glue that sticks the composite together contains formaldehyde.

For this reason, it is best to buy a crib (or other furniture) made of 100% solid wood.

Set up in 1992, the California Air Resource Board (or CARB; gotta love your CARBs) regulates formaldehyde emissions in composite wood. Look out for CARB II, a stricter standard for formaldehyde emissions from furniture.

Formaldehyde has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as “carcinogenic to humans,” based on nose and throat cancers in working populations.

Products mentioned in this episode:

Berkey water filter

Aquasana water filter


ProPur shower filter


John: Hey, everyone. Welcome to the “GeneFood Podcast.” I’m your host, John O’Connor. Today, my guest is Leigh Matthews. Leigh is a medical writer, researcher, and nutritional therapist based in Vancouver, Canada. She holds a degree in nutritional therapy from the University of West London in the U.K. And she’s one of the brightest minds in nutrition that you may not have heard of. She has authored four books. And we work with Leigh on a project called Leaf Score. 

We, internally as a team, at GeneFood are interested in finding non-toxic products and products that are eco-friendly, from mattresses to clothing to water filters. And we started creating content for the blog that really became bigger than what we can include on a nutrition site. So we created a site as a sister project called Leaf Score. And Leigh is in charge of the content and the research at Leaf Score. And she has just dug in really deep on the research to try to help families and those of us who are concerned about environmental toxins find good stuff, find food that doesn’t have glyphosate, find, you know, mattresses and cribs that don’t off-gas volatile organic compounds and all sorts of nasty stuff.

So, in today’s episode, we cover some of her research and some of the things that she has found, and the tips to help families reduce their exposure to the toxic chemicals that seem to be growing around us all the time. This is a really tactical, information-rich episode that we really enjoyed doing and I hope you enjoy it and find it useful. I think the thing that you bring to the table that’s so awesome is you can kind of help us be a referee between don’t worry about this, but you might want to think about this. As, for example, for the audience, I mean, I was super worried about metal springs in mattresses. And Leigh was like, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, nope, that is not something that you need to worry about.” Kind of got, like, a…

Leigh: After digging into the physics, of course.

John: That’s right.

Leigh: After doing my due diligence.

John: After doing the diligence, I kind of got like a science spanking one day and a call, but I recovered. And so it’s nice to have like a referee who’s like digging into the research. We were doing all this research originally for GeneFood. We found out that certain genetic markers like SOD2 and some of the glutathione markers are associated with either enhanced or reduced abilities to clear environmental toxins. So we had this whole eco home piece of the site that we are developing, and Leigh is in charge of that. And it became so big that we quickly realized that we kind of need to spin it off and create our own site. So now, Leaf Score is this site that rates products based on their level of environmental toxicity from cosmetics to mattresses, to clothing, children’s toys, etc. And Leigh is completely in charge of that research and helps out with that site.

So, Leigh, have your notes here in terms of the issues in the environment that you think are most important and you kind of want to get into. And we’re just going to basically just pick your brain for as long as you’ll stick with us and try to figure out kind of how to make heads and tails of all this toxicity talk. So, when you sent me your notes about kind of what you wanted to focus on, the first thing that jumped out to me is, you know, you mentioned kids right off the bat. And so, speak to us about that. I know you’re planning a family soon. So what’s the deal with that?

Leigh: Well, I think it’s like you said, John. With some people, they’re just more vulnerable to toxins. Their capacity to clear toxic chemicals from the body is much reduced, and that tends to be people who already have chronic health issues, small children, seniors. Yeah. So once you sort of look at how the regulations work, like the maximal limits for different toxic chemicals, it quickly becomes apparent that just operating on the assumption that one level works for everybody is faulty, frankly. So, yeah, if you have any…if you have small children at home, or if you have seniors, or even if you have non-human animals who have different kinds of exposures to these things, then, yeah, it’s really important to look at all of the chemicals that are in all of the things, which can spiral you into paranoia quickly.

John: Yeah. That’s what we’re gonna hope to do here is kind of give…be like, okay, focus on these five or six things, you know, don’t let it ruin every day. Like, some people might have heard some sirens in the background here. Like, we’re in New York City, so I’ve been kind of like, “Oh, my God, I don’t know.”

Leigh: It was perfect timing, really.

John: Yeah. It’s like this environment I’m not sure is all that healthy for anyone. But back to the kids, so the thing that I thought was really interesting about this whole thing is I think it was like the Environmental Working Group, one of the first resources I looked at talked about how when they test, I don’t know if it’s the placental fluid, or how there’s like all this stuff that are being found now in like newborns and fetuses. So what are they finding? Like, what are the worst offenders, and why is this happening?

Leigh: Well, I mean, one of the things that’s quite shocking is that PFOA, perfluorooctanoic acid, the stuff that used to be used to stick non-stick chemicals, basically to non-stick pans, that’s been banned in the U.S. for quite a number of years, but it’s still showing up in adults, in children, and in the placenta. So, yeah, it passes through the circulation to a fetus, even though it’s not still being used in the U.S. because it’s just so present in the environment. And, yeah, that can be an endocrine disruptor, yeah, and have all kinds of effects. So, yeah, that’s just one of them. But then there’s…I mean, there’s things like pesticides, and phthalates, and parabens, and all of the weird things that are mixed in under the label of perfume or fragrance in many products.

John: Yeah. We’re gonna jump into all of that. Like, on the PFOA, I think that is the one that’s tied to Teflon, right?

Leigh: Yes.

John: So, is PFAO that used to be made is like the co-factor or something for producing Teflon, or what was that? It’s like…

Leigh: Yeah. PFOA is basically the chemical that was used to apply the non-stick PTFE coating. So even though a lot of brands now don’t use PFOA, PTFE is still being used, and that in itself can be harmful. So, yeah, looking at cookware, for example, is a great indicator of how greenwashing can work. So I know [crosstalk 00:07:46]…

John: Greenwashing, what do you mean by that? I’m assuming [crosstalk 00:07:49]…

Leigh: A little bit of a tangent, but yeah. I mean, anybody who’s been in a store recently or just perusing products online can see that companies using the word green, using the natural, saying things are non-toxic, but none of these are actually regulated terms. So they can use them, even if all they do is maybe take one toxic chemical out of the typical mix of a product. But then there might be other things still present. So, in terms of non-stick cookware, there’s plenty of PTFE non-stick cookware out there. And just because they don’t use PFOA to apply the PTFE, they might say that it’s an eco-friendly, green, non-toxic product, but they’re still using chemicals that can degrade, that can off-gas, that can lead to like Teflon flu, that can kill your parrot if you have a parrot at home.

John: Yeah, I saw that one.

Leigh: Yeah, all of these toxic fumes coming off. Yeah. So greenwashing is basically trying to make a product look much more eco-friendly, non-toxic than it actually is, and assuming that we’re all busy, and don’t have the time to do the research, and don’t have the enthusiasm for the research, which clearly for nerds like me is a bad assumption to make.

John: Nerds like us, Leigh, nerds like us.

Leigh: Yes, of course.

John: I mean, so the PFOA just sticking on this whole blood thing, so that’s been found in people’s blood pretty…it seems like everybody has PFOA, this Teflon byproduct or this Teflon-enabler chemical.

Leigh: Yeah. I’m pretty sure they found it in polar bears, too.

John: It’s just absolutely mind-blowing. And then, so now, if you’re looking for, you know…so that’s sort of one of these, like, poster child for stuff that’s actually we know just through testing that it’s finding its way into people’s blood. I think there was a class action lawsuit in a factory, I believe it was DuPont, that there was a PFOA factory and they were hit with some very significant damages, and that was one of the catalysts for kind of getting rid of PFOA is that it’s been found to be a carcinogen.

And now when you’re looking at these non-stick pans, the thing that was interesting about the research that you did, and just kind of bringing these issues to our attention is, like, I think the huge irony with the PFOA/PTFE stuff and the Teflon stuff is that it tends to get dangerous when it’s heated, and that’s the whole point is that you’re heating it, you’re using this stuff to cook. And it’s like…so isn’t there a…so, tell us, like there’s a degree, it’s like 400 degrees or something or…?

Leigh: I think it’s 500 degrees, yeah, with most non-stick pans. Once they get up to 500 degrees, that’s when the…let’s just call it Teflon, but yeah, the Teflon coating starts degrading and off-gases toxic fumes that, as I mentioned before, can pretty quickly kill any birds that you have in house if you happen to have pet birds. But for humans, it can also cause respiratory issues and, yeah, just like bring those toxins into your circulation quite quickly because you’re breathing them in. And, I mean, being vegan, I don’t do this, but cooking a steak, apparently you have to get it up to about 500 degrees. So just getting a good sear on a steak is already getting you above that temperature point. Yeah.

John: Not to mention…

Leigh: And then if you leave the pan on the stove, I mean, it’s just bad news.

John: Right. You make that one mistake or not to mention, also just considering the intention I think when consumers buy these products is to have them for a period of years. So, you have, you know, a Teflon pan, you think it’s no longer Teflon because they say it’s PFOA-free, but it’s still made with PTFE, and it still has these issues that are related to toxicity and off-gassing with temperature. And then you use it for two years, so what does it even look like two years from now? I feel like that’s probably…we could guess but there’s probably variability in terms of these pans. You use them for a long time and they start…right? I mean…

Leigh: Yeah. I mean, it’s an interesting one. So the piece that I wrote about non-stick coatings, I sort of joked that there might be this sweet spot where the initial like residue from applying the coating, so things like PFOA and the replacements that they now use to stick the coating, that they might off-gas more the first few times that you use them, but then as the pan gets older, they’ll also start breaking down more. So there’s sort of this sweet spot where you’ve off-gassed the initial residue, but the pan still has some integrity. Yeah. I mean, the sweet spot is very hard to find, and may not even really exist, and is definitely not something you should bank on. But it might be there. I mean, ideally, you wouldn’t have the non-stick pan, but yeah.

John: That’s the thing. It’s like, if this was the only way to cook food, then maybe, you know, the risks sort of like outweigh, you know, the…you just make the decision, “I’m going to use it,” but there’s other ways to cook food. And, you know, in many cases, they’re not even more expensive. So, it’s just sort of like, you know what…like, what’s even going on here?

Leigh: And as you mentioned that, yeah, like they’re not necessarily durable, these non-stick pans, well, they’re just not durable. So, yeah, if you’re concerned both about health and the environment, which are obviously pretty intertwined anyway, having more durable cookware like cast iron, ceramics, glass, they’re all much better for the environment too. And then like cast iron, I plan on handing down to the next generation, and hopefully, they’ll hand it down to the next generation. And if I hadn’t emigrated, I would have brought a whole bunch of cast iron cookware with me to Canada.

John: That’s amazing. Yeah. It’s funny. So let’s go off on that tangent for a second. The cast iron thing, you know, I’ve been using cast iron pan, and I really go back and forth on my cast iron pan because I feel like, you know, like, I’ll leave for the weekend, my sister watches my dog, Ned, and then…and Kate, I love you, I love you to death, like this is not a…like I do this too, it’s not just my sister, like, you know, this is like…but it rusts easily, right? It’s like, if you even just get a little bit lazy with it, and you leave it in the sink or something, what am I…like, how do you take care of your cast iron stuff?

Leigh: Well, it’s pretty easy to spruce up if it does rust. I mean, yeah, I’m currently in the process of training my partner to also take care of cast iron.

John: To not do that. Yeah.

Leigh: And soon I’ll have my parents visiting me for a number of weeks. They’re staying with me this summer. So, yeah, I’ll be getting them to take good care of the cast iron too. I mean, it really is just being a bit more mindful about it. So when you cook, pretty much immediately upon finishing cooking, you just soak the pan, so put hot water in there, stick it back on the stove, and then clean it out, clean it out and dry it up. That’s it. Yeah. I mean, every so often, add another like layer of seasoning. But if you just sort of are a bit more mindful about the cooking process, then it’s quite easy to take care of. And then if you do get those spots of rust, the easiest thing to do is apply like a lemon juice wash. So I just have a big old bottle of lemon juice in the refrigerator, and I use fresh lemon juice for cooking, but I use that to clear up any rust spots because the antioxidants that are in there will help essentially lift up the rust. So if you soak it for a little bit of lemon juice, and then give it a good wipe, and then apply another seasoning, and that’s it.

John: And, okay. Yeah, that makes sense. So basically just tell your guests, you know, “Look, I have this cast iron pan. I’m trying to keep it in good shape. So maybe, you know, please don’t do bad things to it.” I get it.

Leigh: Yeah. I mean, definitely, like not cleaning it with soap is the main one, right?

John: Because it gets this like patina on it, right?

Leigh: Yeah.

John: Okay. So, on your list, you also had VOCs. So we’re going to touch on that a little bit here. And VOCs…when I think of VOCs, I think of like…

Leigh: Paint?

John: You would say paint?

Leigh: Yeah.

John: Actually, no, I want to see…that’s why I want to pick your brain because when I think of VOCs, I think of car exhaust. I think of like…

Leigh: Oh, okay.

John: I know that some UCLA atmospheric scientists, and in conjunction with I think like “The L.A. Times,” put together a tool in California that people in California can use to see how close they live to a major interstate. And the idea is that there’s a public policy push right now by some groups saying that, you know, there’s very cheap real estate directly next to these massive California freeways. And these developers are building projects that are right literally on the highway. Like, if you’re in L.A., you can be on the 10, or one of these highways, and they’re just…people are…some of these buildings are built right on the highway. And they say that if you’re within 500 feet, that’s like a danger zone. If you’re within 1,000…like humans shouldn’t occupy that. And if you’re within 1000 feet, it’s a bit of a gray area. So, there’s whole neighborhoods, like the Little Italy neighborhood in San Diego downtown is pretty much all within 1000 feet of Highway 5. So that’s what I think of.

Leigh: That kind of reminds me of there’s some flooding going on in Ottawa now, in Canada, and they’re thinking of expanding the floodplain. So, it’s almost like a man-made floodplain for an interstate. That’s kind of crazy.

John: So, but again, so that’s my…like, without having dug in and doing the research, I think of just benzene from car exhaust, you know. But tell us…clearly, it extends well beyond the borders of air pollution caused by cars. So, like, you seem to think of this more as like an off-gassing kind of thing. So…

Leigh: Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting that you mentioned, like, the outdoor air quality because often, like, the concentrations of VOCs are much higher in the house than anywhere else. And, unfortunately, often they’re much higher in, like, a nursery if you’ve just sort of stocked that with a whole bunch of…

John: Wow.

Leigh: Yeah, like, the concentrations in a nursery that you’ve just sort of nested with a new crib, and paint, and all of the things, yeah, it can be much higher than the rest of the house and that’s because high volatile organic compounds, VOCs, they’re used in new carpets, wood finishes, I mean, even like composite wood. They’re part of the glue that holds all that composite wood together. They’re in clothing, they’re in yoga mats, they’re in mattresses. They’re basically in pretty much everything that you think about buying, unless you specifically go for things that are low VOC, or that have one of these organic standards, green certifications. So, yeah, they’re everywhere, even the flooring, even your floor treatments.

John: And that’s the kind of like new product smell that you get. You know, you get that…like, everybody knows the new car smell, but it’s like you get home, like…I mean, I have this situation where I moved into a new apartment and I ordered these blackout, like plastic blackout film to block these…it’s a long story, but there’s a translucent window in my…and I was like, “I’m gonna make my bedroom darker,” you know, circadian rhythm, all this stuff. And then I get this stuff, and I have it installed, and it smells terrible. And I just thought of you, and I’m like, “I’m taking this down.” I’m like I am not…

Leigh: I’m sorry, it smells terrible and you thought of me?

John: Well, no, no, I…no, Leigh, of course not. I thought like, “Man, this is off-gassing.” I was like, “This is like…” you know, I’m like, “I don’t want to be…” I’m like, “I don’t want to be sleeping like this.”

Leigh: No, I mean, that’s the irony, right? You’re doing it to try and protect your health by protecting your circadian rhythms. And then the things that you buy to do that to protect your health are often sabotaging it.

John: Yeah. And so like what are…so, you said in the nursery, like just I think this is something that our listeners are going to be super interested in. So, basically, you want to take the ball and run with it. I know in your notes you said that infants, they breathe 40 to 60 times a minute, whereas most adults only breathe 12 to 16. Can you speak about that? I mean, that’s fascinating stuff.

Leigh: Yeah, I mean, they’re tiny little bodies, and they’re growing at quite a pace. Their metabolisms are super, super fast. So, yeah. They process things in a totally different way to adults. And when you look at how most of the research on toxicity is done, it’s on generally healthy adults, usually healthy white male adults. So it doesn’t necessarily apply to everybody else, particularly the more vulnerable. So, yeah, if you’re thinking about how a baby will spend, you know, a good sort of 19 or so hours a day asleep on a mattress, or in a crib, in a room that’s possibly been freshly painted and freshly floored and has a whole bunch of other things, and then they’re breathing that in, and their body has a very limited capacity for processing those toxins, then yeah, it can spell bad news pretty quickly.

And the VOCs, they can affect the actual development of the neurological system in an infant. They can affect the reproductive system. There’s not really a limit so far to the damage that they can do. So, picking products for a nursery that are low VOC or hopefully zero VOC is super important, and definitely something that I’m going to be doing. And just, to me, it’s a really sad irony that the sort of month or so before you give birth, you get, you know, this burst of energy that’s nesting, that’s very, very common, and you’re doing everything you can to think about how to protect your child, and then the things that you’re doing are potentially having the opposite effect.

So, yeah, that’s…like, I don’t have the study to hand right now, but there was a study that I came across that showed how parents who do nest, who do buy all these new products and install them right before giving birth, they have a much higher level of these toxins in their system, and they can have a pretty dramatic effect on birth weight, on milestone hitting for the first little while. Yeah, just like general neurological development in an infant. So, yeah. It’s not great. Yeah.

John: It’s not great, but it’s something that, you know, hopefully, we and other like-minded people can play a small part in spreading the word and saying, hey, you know, some of this stuff might be, you know, nice quality stuff, you might think it’s nice quality stuff, but if it’s off-gassing these chemicals, you know, it’s something that you really want to consider in terms of how that’s affecting your child. What about even before the baby is born? You know, as you said, the parents, and I had a friend here in the city a while back who had a company that didn’t do too terribly well because I don’t think a lot of people really are behind this kind of a product yet, but it was basically a blanket that you could put over the stomach and the torso of, like, an expectant mother to shield the baby from, like, radiation. What do you think of…I’ll put a link to it, and I forgot the name. I’ll put a link to it in the show notes. But, what do you think about even the time leading up to the birth in terms of what you can do? I know they say, of course, don’t eat fish. That’s like a thing that just everybody knows. But, do you have any thoughts on that period in terms of VOC exposure?

Leigh: Well, I mean, I’m interested in seeing more about this blanket because I mean, it’s, like, exposure to radioactive substances, to my mind, it wouldn’t be like…that kind of sounds like an x-ray shield, like one of the neck guards that you wear. So I’m not sure that that would be particularly beneficial.

John: Okay. Good. That’s what we need. If you need to slay that, just completely say, “Hey, that’s not something that I think is like gonna get the Leaf Score,” that’s fine. We won’t even add to the show notes. It’s just, you know, we’ll just keep it ambiguous. But I’m just trying to get people as much information as possible. Like, what can I do…

Leigh: Oh, for sure. Yeah.

John: …even prior to? So, do you think avoiding…?

Leigh: Oh, well, I mean, like even prior to conception, right? Like, I think you can go way back. Like, if you’re even thinking about trying to conceive, then yeah, being mindful of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, parabens, phthalates, bisphenol A, there’s stuff everywhere, particularly like in plastics, and in toiletries, and new furniture that has flame-retardant treatments, new carpets, things like stain repellents, all of that stuff. And organophosphates, if you’re eating food that has been treated with glyphosate, all that stuff can affect sperm quality, it can affect the, like, embryonic development. Even before that, it can affect how your body is producing certain hormones that are important for fertility. So, yeah.

John: So, that’s a mouthful right there because that…this is good information. So, endocrine disruptor, what does that mean?

Leigh: So the endocrine system is your body’s hormonal system, essentially, so your testosterone production, estrogen production, luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, all of that stuff, and your thyroid gland. So, it affects your metabolism and your immune system. So, once you start looking at the effects of like one particular chemical, let’s say parabens and phthalates, they can have really wide-reaching effects because they’re essentially affecting an entire system that governs everything in your body. So it’s…

John: Are those found in sunscreen?

Leigh: Sunscreen, toiletries, they’re in things like perfumes. I mean, they’re in almost all cosmetics. So, if you wear any cosmetics, any mascara, foundation, blusher, all those things, lipsticks, then yeah, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be getting exposure to parabens. Phthalates, they’re plasticizers. So, anything that has anything PVC, or anything that sort of looks like PVC, quite likely to have phthalates in it. And they aren’t well bound to the PVC either. So they will leech out pretty quickly. And the phthalates are in children’s toys, and rather worryingly in terms of this particular conversation, they’re often in sex toys, too. So…

John: Oh, that’s ironic.

Leigh: Yeah. So if you’re thinking about, you know, things for the reproductive system, it’s kind of ironic that phthalates are in sex toys and they disrupt the reproductive system, so.

John: That is going to be quite an internal conversation we’re going to have, which is, like, do we do the 10 best eco-friendly sex toys on Leaf Score? I don’t know. That’s gonna be…That would be one…

Leigh: I have written about this before, so.

John: …hell of a blog post. I think we will do that.

Leigh: Happy to cover it, and then get to the tax write-offs.

John: Yeah, for sure. What about sunscreen, though? Because it’s like, you know, today, it’s actually sunny here in New York. It feels like the winter has lasted forever, and people are out and about, and you see there’s so much conflicting information out there on sunscreen. So, you know, the dermatologist line of thinking is wear your sunscreen, then you have the fact that people that have these melanomas, a lot of the times, they’re not on parts of the skin that are exposed to the sun, and then the third thinking is a lot of the people in the sort of the more integrative world say don’t wear sunscreen because, A, it blocks vitamin D absorption and, B, what you just said, the parabens, the toxins. So how do you tackle that in the summertime in terms of…?

Leigh: Well, I’m very, very fair skinned. So I burn in February up here in Canada. It’s a little bit ridiculous. So, yeah, I definitely wear sunscreen. I tend to try and use the stuff that’s like a mineral block rather than a chemical block and…

John: The zinc oxide stuff?

Leigh: Yeah. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

John: Yeah, which is so inconvenient to wear, but…

Leigh: I know. It’s not great. But, I mean, the other thing that I do mainly is just cover up. I just stay in the shade and cover up, and I don’t go out during the hottest part of the day. And I take note of the UV index because often even when it’s cloudy, obviously the UV can still be high. So, it’s a bit of a false sense of security that you can get from that. I mean, certainly, yeah, as you say, some of the chemical sunscreens, they have various things in them that actually sensitize the skin to ultraviolet damage. So, yeah, it’s another one of those sad ironies that we get so caught up in creating these amazing products that do all these things, but then just don’t have a sense of how all the chemicals mixed together and how they affect everything synergistically. So, yeah, I would err on the side of using mineral block sunscreen and just covering up and avoiding the hottest part of the day.

John: Staying out during the hottest parts of the day. What say you on this whole…for a little while there, I’ve had these little attempts at adding in habits, you know, maybe I’ll have read something, or and I go out and I’m, like, feeling really proud of myself because I’m getting like early morning sun, like 9:00 a.m., and I’m just thinking, “God, I’m doing so many good things for myself here. I’m just getting vitamin D.” What about the sun exposure without sunscreen? Like just, I don’t know…

Leigh: The vitamin D?

John: Yeah, well, in just early morning, is that a time that’s safer? Are those light waves…I think I’ve heard it said that those light waves are generally healthier or is that…? Do we know?

Leigh: Honestly, John, I don’t know about that. And I think it would probably vary depending on where you are in the world. So, yeah. So I mean, I’m up here, sort of near Vancouver, in B.C., but if you’re, say, in Florida, then it’s going to be significantly different. Yeah, I mean, in terms of sort of vitamin D and just like general sun exposure, I’m much more of an advocate for taking vitamin D as a supplement all year round and just making that your habit and not relying on the sun at all because, like, certainly, up in Canada between October and April, the wavelength of the light is just not sufficient to have a synthesize vitamin D. So, instead of trying to remember like October to April to take your vitamin D, I think it’s just better to do it all year round, your body stores it. 

John: All-year round, yeah.

Leigh: Just make it a daily habit, or weekly habit if you take a higher supplement, high-dose supplement. And, yeah, and then just be sun-safe. So kind of just separate the two out really. I know the vitamin D is advertised as the sunshine vitamin, and it is, but it’s not. Yeah, I don’t think that’s really a safe way of getting it consistently through the sun. It just sets us up…

John: Fair enough.

Leigh: …yeah, for harm.

John: I know that’s going a little bit astray of the whole…but I was curious to hear what your regimen was there.

Leigh: You really are picking my brain.

John: Yes, I am. I’m trying. So, and then another thing that…and this is something that’s come up a bunch. When I interviewed Dr. Nathan last week, he mentioned, you know, one of the biggest things that people might want to be aware of in terms of exposure to environmental toxins that is not really speculative anymore is this whole issue of glyphosate. And you have that…glyphosate, for the listeners who don’t know, is a…I think it’s the scientific name for Roundup, which is a weed killer and, unfortunately, gets sprayed on a lot of grains. And they even found glyphosate in Bob’s Red Mill, which is terrible…

Leigh: They did. Yeah.

John: …because Bob’s Red Mill is this great brand. It’s like they’re supposed to be the trusted brand. You can feel so good you’re like, “Oh, I’m buying Bob’s Red Mill,” like, “This is great oatmeal,” like, “I’m taking this home. It’s going to be nice and clean, I’m gonna eat this every day for breakfast, and I’m doing something healthy for my body,” and then the Environmental Working Group is like, “Well, we actually found, like, kind of, like, a lot of glyphosate in Bob’s Red Mill.” So, what do we do about this? Like, what’s the…tell us about glyphosate, just hit us with the sad truth here.

Leigh: Well, I think, yeah, the report that you’re talking about is, yeah, a report from last year, from August 2018. And they looked at, I think it’s like 45 samples of products, like oat-based products, and 43 out of 45 had glyphosate in there. And bringing us right back to what we were talking about children’s health, almost three-quarters of the samples had levels of glyphosate that were higher than the daily level of exposure that the EWG, the Environmental Working Group scientists think is protective of children’s health. So if you’re feeding your kid, you know, if you’re weaning them and you’re getting them onto solid foods, then you’re probably mixing up some kind of oat mush, maybe pureeing that with some vegetables, and if that’s kind of all they’re eating, then they’re going to end up with a decent amount of glyphosate in there. So, then, you want to go organic, and it still is better to go organic. But even some of the organic things that they tested did have glyphosate. There were a few that they tested that didn’t. One of them was I think it’s Whole Foods brand, the 365.

John: The 365 brand.

Leigh: Yeah, so the organic old-fashioned rolled oats, they didn’t test positive for glyphosate. So, it seems like they’re still a good one to go for. But it just goes to show that we really need to keep pressure on these companies, not to sort of rest on our laurels and assume that because it says organic, and it says non-GMO, and the company uses healthy-looking holistic imagery in their marketing and talks the good talk that they’re, you know, doing their due diligence. I mean, Bob’s Red Mill, they did obviously note that in the U.S. it’s very difficult to control contamination, unless you grow all your products, all your crops in a giant bio-dome that’s incredibly well controlled, then you’re going to get seeds that blow across, you’re going to get chemicals that blow across from adjacent fields. And it’s just very difficult. And the use of glyphosate has skyrocketed in the past few years because people aren’t even just using it as a pesticide anymore, as a herbicide, they use it as a desiccant. So that’s why it’s in so many oats because various farmers have realized that if you apply it towards the end of the growing season, it can help. It basically kills the plants faster, dries them out, and makes it much easier to harvest the oats.

John: Oh, Lord. Oh, my goodness.

Leigh: Yeah. So it’s being used off label. And that’s one of the reasons why it’s so spectacularly high. Yeah. I think it’s like a 300-fold increase since the ’70s. Yeah, the use.

John: I was shocked to learn that it’s water-soluble, isn’t it?

Leigh: I believe it is water-soluble. So, yeah, it gets into basically everything. Yeah.

John: I think I’ve heard commentators say that there’s small amounts of glyphosate in the rain.

Leigh: That I have not heard, but it would definitely make sense. I mean, you know, if it’s being used on crops, being sprayed on crops, and then, yeah, just general evaporation and transpiration. It’s gonna be there. Yeah.

John: And what about the microbiome in terms of, you know, there’s so much research that’s coming out, everybody wants a healthy…God, it’s this huge thing. And, I mean…

Leigh: Yeah. That’s a fascinating development in terms of the health effects of glyphosate because for a long time, like, scientists were looking at the direct health effects of glyphosate on humans, and not necessarily finding that it has that sort of immediate carcinogenic effect or endocrine disrupting effect. But then there was this development where people discovered that it affects the microbiome. And I believe at first it was in bees and earthworms that they noticed this. And so glyphosate could be contributing to colony collapse disorder, which obviously is a terrible thing affecting bee populations worldwide and just pollinators in general, where the immune systems of the bees is horribly affected, and then it leads to the entire colony being decimated because infection sets in and spreads like wildfire. So, yeah, that and earthworms. So, all the things that create our food system, that support our food system. And, if we look at those, and we look at the effects on the microbiome in bees and in earthworms, then it’s not too much of a stretch to think about how it’s affecting our own microbiome.

And, as we know, from lots of research in the past few decades, the microbiome has huge ramifications for human health, for our immune systems, for our digestion, for the endocrine system, reproductive health, even for mood, the makeup of the bacteria and the other beneficial organisms in our guts. It’s like a third brain, really. If we have upset in the gut microbiome, then it’s been linked to depression, it’s been linked to higher levels of anxiety, to cognitive dysfunction in general. So, yeah, it just goes to show that looking at the direct effects of the chemical doesn’t always give you the full picture because the human system is so much more complicated than that.

John: And it’s so intertwined, and some of this stuff would be virtually impossible to study.

Leigh: Yeah. I mean, who’s gonna set up a case-control study where they’re, you know, spraying people with glyphosate every day? I mean, I guess you could say that the case that was settled, I think, earlier this week, the Monsanto-Bayer, Bayer-Monsanto case, they have just been told that they have to, I think, pay a couple, $2 billion in compensation, which is obviously a huge amount, and they’re protesting it. But I think there’s about 13 or 14 other cases that have been brought in the U.S. just this year alone based on the negative health effects of that chemical, which people were using willy-nilly.

John: It’s becoming pretty well established. So I guess that paints a fairly bleak picture. We talked about oats. You also mentioned cotton products, non-food cotton products that are not organic cotton. Walk us through some ways we can just try to minimize our exposure to this stuff.

Leigh: Well, I mean, as I said, it’s almost always best to buy organic because then at least there’s some sense of assurance that the crops themselves have not been treated directly with the substances and other chemical fertilizers, that kind of thing. There is no guarantee, as we’ve seen with Bob’s Red Mill organic products and some other organic products, that they won’t be completely free of glyphosate or other chemicals just because of, yeah, airborne contamination, water contamination. But certainly buying organic cotton is super important. And if more of us did that, not only would there be an economy of scale, so the price would go down a little bit, but it would also just massively reduce the amount of this stuff that’s being used, and then that in itself would help reduce contamination. So it’s kind of a win-win really. Yeah, if you have the budget to afford it, do it. It will support everything.

John: That’s right. And that’s a great point. And you’re voting with your dollars with this stuff in a very real way. In terms of the foods, one of the things that…this will be an interesting thing to hear your take on because sometimes people who are hesitant about GMO foods, it’s not even so much that they’re hesitant about the fact that the food is genetically modified as much as they are about the fact that the food was genetically modified so that it could withstand being sprayed with this stuff like glyphosate. What…?

Leigh: Yeah, definitely. That’s the side that I err on. I mean, like, we’ve been genetically modifying food for centuries. We’ve done it a little bit faster recently. But, yeah, it’s the hubris of humanity I think that gets me, that we can manipulate things at such a specific level, such a minute level that we don’t always think out the long-term effects. And while it might seem like a good idea to make crops resistant to pesticides, it’s so mind-boggling to me that you wouldn’t think, well, what’s the wider effect here? What happens when general evolution happens and plants, and animals, and insects all evolve to deal with the stuff in a different way?

John: Yeah. It’s a very sad day when, you know, the analysis for eating something like oats is…you know, of course, there’s all this in the nutrition world. It’s like, there’s people…you know, lectin and all this stuff. But it’s really a sad day when the main analysis for oats is, like, I’m thinking of avoiding oats because of the fact that oats have so much…there’s so much evidence now that they have…you know, they’re contaminated with this stuff. And, you know, you’re getting some stuff riding on that food that’s, like, not really ideal. So, I agree with you. I think that’s kind of a bummer. So eat organic…

Leigh: Well, and it’s not just oats. Like, I mean, it’s wheat, and barley, and beans and as you say, cotton.

John: Or buckwheat. I had buckwheat today for breakfast. What about buckwheat? How much glyphosate is in buckwheat? I’m eating buckwheat lately.

Leigh: Oh, 160 parts per million. Yeah, I mean, probably buckwheat is being treated, which then I mean, interestingly, that just takes me to, like, pillows, right? I mean, buckwheat pillows. There’s this big trend towards those, and they’re pretty great. I don’t know if you’ve ever used one yourself, but they’re quite comfy. Yeah. And if they don’t have organic buckwheat in there, then goodness knows what you’re breathing in while you’re sleeping, so, yeah.

John: Yeah, not good, which brings us to another inch. So, we’re talking about…basically, this is breakfast. Now, let’s go where…we’re moving on, we’re at dinner. And it’s dinner time, and you’re out with friends, and the waiter or waitress comes along, and they say, “Would you like tap water or would you like, you know…” or, “Is tap water okay?” And it’s really like this kind of, like, a war of the worlds because when I’m out with, like, friends or family, I mean, people don’t hesitate to pay, you know, $15, for, you know, like, a martini or whatever but, you know, to pay 10 bucks for bottled water, they’re like, “That is just crazy. I mean, what are you doing?” You know, and like, I’ve just started being like the somewhat eccentric guy who’s just like, “You know what, I’m…” 9 out of 10 times I get the bottled water.

Leigh: You’re not taking your life straw to restaurants?

John: My life straw? No, what’s that? I don’t even know about that. What is it?

Leigh: Oh, it’s like a personal filter, water filter, so you can put it in dirty water. And, yeah, and then just drink the water through it. They’re great. You can have one in your earthquake kit.

John: Right. I was taking my Berkey, my travel Berkey until we give them only one leaf. But, no, I did not know about the life straw. Maybe that’s something I need to look into. I’ve just been ordering just glass jar. And the ultimate insult though, I was at a restaurant, my parents were in town and went to a fairly nice restaurant, and we order bottled water. And they have the audacity to bring out…their still water is in a plastic bottle. And I was like, “Guys, this defeats the whole purpose of this order, you realize,” and I clearly didn’t say that because I didn’t want to be ostracized in the moment. So, anyway, water. I mean, like, tell us what we can do to…I mean, this is a huge thing, water, obviously. Do you drink out of the tap?

Leigh: It’s sort of interesting because I definitely, like coming from like a nutrition background, having done a nutrition degree, to me, it was like, you know, don’t drink carbonated water with your meals and in general, just don’t drink carbonated things because it can block your absorption of certain nutrients, so particularly zinc, and iron, and calcium, that kind of thing. So, yeah, it’s interesting that you say that seemingly simple decision of would you like tap water or sparkling can be…for someone like me, someone like you, can suddenly turn into this very complicated internal process that fellow diners might not be doing. Yeah.

I mean, tap water in the U.S., it’s…I forget the exact numbers, I’m sure we can find it, but there’s something like one in, what is it, one in…let me see, I have it in my notes somewhere, 1 in 12 Americans…the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 1 in 12 Americans is exposed to a whole bunch of things through tap water. And for Native Americans, who live on tribal land, it’s one in four don’t have access to safe water in their home, which is just mind-boggling. And the things that are in there are microbes, pesticides, heavy metals, so lead, mercury, arsenic, that kind of thing. And we often don’t know they’re in there because it’s just, you know, just water. And if you’ve grown up, and you’ve stayed in the same area, then you might just be used to the particular taste and odor of that and only notice once you start traveling.

And, you know, like I am so lucky I live on the Sunshine Coast, we have water just like basically a spring water running off down the mountains and the quality of water is so high here that it doesn’t even really need treating. It’s not chlorinated, it’s not fluoridated. There’s basically nothing done to it aside from basic filtering. But if you’ve ever spent any time in like London, in the U.K., the water is cloudy and tastes funky. And, I mean, obviously you can’t taste the hormones that are in it, but there are hormones in it. It’s been through so many people and so many systems that it’s really very funky.

John: Wow, that’s an interesting way to think of it. Yeah, man, oh, man.

Leigh: Yeah. And I grew up in Sheffield in the U.K. And, again, the water there is really, really high quality because it’s kind of just natural spring water. So moving around and having had exposure to lesser quality water, it’s very easy for me to spot that. Yeah, I was in Ottawa visiting family recently, and the tap water was very, very chlorine heavy, so I…

John: And you could taste that or…?

Leigh: Yeah, you could really taste it. You could smell it. So what I would do is basically just pour a glass of water and leave it to sit for a little while, and the chlorine gas, it off-gases from that. So, it does reduce if you let it stand for a little bit. But ideally, [inaudible 00:53:34].

John: It’s a pretty work intensive way to get your water. When I have a glass…

Leigh: Sorry?

John: That’s a fairly work intensive way to be getting your water. But that’s interesting.

Leigh: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. You know, I figured it wasn’t the time to…like meeting the new in-laws essentially.

John: Yeah. That’s a good…no, touche, touche. Yeah, absolutely.

Leigh: It was not the time to ve telling them to install a water filtration system.

John: I think that’s right. Yeah, it’s best not to bring it up on the first…

Leigh: Yeah. Pick your battles.

John: …meeting. Agreed.

Leigh: I mean, it would communicate my intensity, but yeah. But, yeah, certainly installing a water filtration system is a really good idea for most people, and it’s sad that our institutions and our infrastructure is not set up in a lot of places to safeguard health in a meaningful way. But that’s another example of why we have to sort of take matters into our own hands. And setting up a whole house filtration system is…it can be a little pricey, but compared to buying bottled water and the environmental issues that come along with that, it’s significantly better. And depending on what kind of system you set up, it can like include a UV filter that will get rid of harmful microbes, there can be charcoal filters, reverse osmosis. Yeah, ideally, you would test your water source and see what kind of things are in there and I think…

John: Even I’m super picky about water, I don’t have any plans to do that. I mean maybe…I mean based on your recommendations, what I did is I set up the Aquasana reverse osmosis, which I really like. And that’s considerably less expensive than the Berkey, which we rated or, you know, you gave only a one leaf score.

Leigh: I mean, the Berkeys are beautiful, and I would love it if they just do their work, and be transparent, and if it turned out that the claims that they’re making are true, great.

John: Bump it up to five leaves right away. Yeah.

Leigh: Yeah. And I would get one because I think they’re lovely. And I’ve used one, and they’re great for camping. And I thought about including one in my earthquake kit. But, yeah, like until they’re transparent about their testing, and they just buck up a little bit then, yeah, not a fan, so.

John: That’s where you see them a lot actually. I’ve been getting…this is a conversation for another day, but I’ve been just getting super into the whole tiny home, and eco home, and prefab eco home movement and just watching all these, just crushing these YouTube videos of this guy who does this channel, like, “Living Big In a Tiny House,” and all the tiny house people, especially the people that are really hardcore and have space at a very premium, they use Berkeys. So they’ll have, like, an outdoor kitchen and they use Berkey. So, it’s not to say that there’s not some utility for Berkey, and I used to be very impressed by Berkey until you came through and told me, “Hey, there’s options out there that are a little better.” Also, people should be aware too to filter their shower water and their bath water. That’s a big one.

Leigh: Yeah. I mean, once you start looking at how the absorption of things through the skin, particularly from warm water, how you might actually end up absorbing more through the skin than you do through the digestive tract, yeah, it’s kind of crazy that we don’t filter our shower water, that that’s often neglected. And, again, I have noticed that when traveling and being away from my home space where the water is really high quality that, yeah, it really feels like the stuff in there, like you can feel the heaviness of the water. Even, I mean certain places I’ve traveled in the…like an older shower, shall we say, is stained blue because of the copper in the water. And if you’re thinking about that, and how much you may be absorbing, and you’re breathing in too because it’s aerosolized, then yeah, you’re getting a lot of exposure to these things that you don’t necessarily think about. So, yeah, installing a little filter, like a screw-in filter on your showerhead takes, what, five minutes?

John: So easy. Yeah. I do that now as just a first thing. If I’m moving to a new place, I always put in a shower filter, and also…

Leigh: Do you have a favorite one?

John: I think it’s like the Propur.

Leigh: Okay, yeah.

John: Is that right?

Leigh: Yeah.

John: That one is pretty awesome to me. Although, I also liked the…I want to touch on vitamin C and baths real quick, but there’s a vitamin C shower filter that I like. The only problem I have with that is that it’s a charcoal-vitamin C combination. I don’t think you include in the directory, and that’s heavily influencing my buying decisions right now, so, but I have one of those. It draws down the vitamin C very quickly. And, speaking of vitamin C, I will also take…and tell me your thoughts on this if you think this is effective or not. Like, before I take an Epsom salt bath, I’ll take like a vitamin C tablet and just drop it in the bath water because my understanding is that it neutralizes the chlorine to a degree. Is that accurate?

Leigh: Yeah. No, that’s an interesting way of doing it, for sure. Yeah. I mean, I’ve not seen any specific research on that particular method, but yeah, it makes sense for sure. Yeah.

John: That’s a product you can get on Amazon for, like, you know, really cheap. And I just do it…even if it’s just, you know, I don’t know, peace of mind thing, because like you said, I mean, it’s kind of the matrix here. Like, I’m sure there’s some people listening, and they’re like, “Oh my god, like, there’s so many things we’re talking about here, like I’m not gonna be able to…” and I get it. Like, if you want to take the blue pill and go back in the matrix, that’s fine. But I think that there is some value in…to a degree stepping out of the matrix, or I think you can get totally carried away with it as well. But I think that some of this stuff, the evidence is there to the degree where it’s kind of like…oh, and, you know, another thing, Leigh, is like, for me, it’s also just not supporting the companies that keep doing this stuff.

Leigh: Oh, yeah, for sure.

John: So, it’s like I don’t want to buy stuff from companies that are using Roundup on the food because I don’t want to…even if it’s just one small decision, I don’t want to support those companies. I don’t want a world where they’re spraying my food with pesticides, like I just don’t want that, so.

Leigh: I mean, I talk about this a lot on basically everything that I write for Leaf Score now that I really feel like we need to hold companies more accountable. We can’t necessarily trust the regulatory systems, particularly in the U.S. currently because they’ve been fairly decimated over the past couple of years or so. And, yeah, there’s so much sort of lobbying in there and all of those things, and if we’re not directly talking to the companies and letting them know that we expect more of them, then why would they change, what’s their incentive to change? It’s cheaper for them to use conventional cotton, it’s easier for them to use conventional cotton, it’s easier for them to use non-organic oats in foods, it’s easier for them to not care about the labor standards and like a living wage, and things like even, goodness, like child labor in making a conventional cotton rug. It’s like rampant through that industry. So if we’re not asking these questions, then why would they care?

There are plenty of small companies that are popping up, and they do care, and often that is, like, another the sort of mom-and-pop type, or mom-and-mom maybe, little stores, little companies that pop up, and they’re created by people who are sick of industry, they are sick of the sub-standard standards and expect more. And so, particularly, you find this in children’s products that there are plenty of small companies popping up who are like a couple who couldn’t find a crib mattress that they wanted that actually met the standards that they have. And so they’ve gone out, and they’ve done the work, and they’ve sourced the raw materials, and they’ve found good labor standards and good factories, and just made them themselves. And, yeah…

John: Are you thinking of a company in particular when you…is that going to be in…are we gonna write about that on Leaf Score?

Leigh: Oh, yeah, for sure. I mean, there’s plenty of companies. I really can’t think of any off the top of my head. But, yeah, there’s lots in the children’s product space, and also women’s products. And I think there’s a disruptive tendency in those particular areas, often because it’s female-led. And generally, there is this disjunction between profit and ethics when it comes to the way that standard manufacturing is set up. And there’s a lot of women moving into that space, and a lot of them have different ideas about how manufacturing should be run. And I, for one, welcome it. It’s great to see people saying, “Well, just because this is how it’s always been done, why do we have to carry on doing it when it’s harmful to the environment, it’s harmful to the consumers, it’s harmful to the people who make these goods?”

John: For sure. Yeah. And I mean, even with…you mentioned the regulatory climate. One of the things that’s come up just in my research and, you know, reading your stuff, and just becoming more aware of these issues is, you know, it’s one thing with something like glyphosate that they can kind of shoot up because they know it’s there, and they can sort of test for and see kind of what it’s doing. But for every one of these chemicals that they know is there, there’s many more that they don’t know are there. So, it is important for the increased awareness out there. And, you know, that’s basically the whole point of what we’re doing, which is to just try to give people a resource for finding stuff that, you know, was made by people that are conscientious of these issues because I think there’s a lot of people out there that want to know this. 

And the resources you’re putting together are absolutely invaluable. It’s like the only way that I buy stuff is when I’m like, “Okay, what does Leigh say about this? How many leaves does it get?”And that’s how I’m buying stuff. So, really appreciate your time and all of your expertise on this stuff. This has been a fantastic conversation. And I think we’re going to have to have you on again at some point to get in the weeds on…

Leigh: Oh, plenty more to come.

John: …even more of this stuff, so.

Leigh: We can nerd out about our tiny homes.

John: Absolutely. We will do that. So, thank you so much for your time, Leigh, and we will talk soon.

Leigh: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me on.

John: Yeah. Bye. The “GeneFood Podcast” is our attempt to synthesize the latest developments in the fields of genetics, nutrition, and medicine, and offer you practical tips and stories you can use in your own unique health journey. If you enjoy this podcast, you can find more information online at 

John O'Connor

John O'Connor is the founder of Gene Food. He is passionate about nutrition, genetics, and wellness and uses this blog to publish self experiments as well as some of the research that the Gene Food team does internally to highlight stories of bio-individuality.

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  1. Julia deVille says:

    Great podcast! There was a mention of a Leaf Directory but I can’t find it anywhere and I couldn’t see a link in the show notes. Did I imagine this?

  2. Markus says:

    Being in the process of building my own eco-friendly tiny house, this has been a primary focus of mine as of late. Like you mentioned, it is easy to get terrified and paranoid by all of the chemicals in regular household products nowadays. But in all of this I think we need to be discerning and focus on the most important factors and minimize our exposure as much as possible without getting obsessive.

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