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The problem with perfumes: Watch out for toxins

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Nicely scented products can trigger pleasant memories or a good mood. In fact, some of the chemicals used in perfumes have been found to have a mild narcotic effect. Sadly, however, they can also trigger serious physical illnesses and reactions in people who have developed a chemical sensitivity, and the numbers of such people are growing. But don’t blame the canaries in the coal mine — artificially scents are toxic to all people — just some folks have lost their resilience to them.

Perfumes contain chemicals derived from petroleum that have been associated with hormone disruption, allergic reactions, cancer  birth defects, nervous-system disorders, and a tendency to accumulate in human tissues, although most haven’t been tested for safety at all. For instance, some are linked to sperm damage and are found concentrated in human fat tissue and in breast milk. About 3,000 chemicals fall under this category, however manufacturers are simply required to label them as “fragrance.”

In fact, 75 percent of products that list “fragrance” as an ingredient contain phthalates, a chemical linked to cancers, hormone disruption, and neurological disorders. Although many countries have banned phthalates and the United States has banned them in toys, they continue to be used in perfumes, including those marketed to children.

Unfortunately, you can buy organic foods, drink filtered water, use non-toxic products, and run an air purifier in your home, but you can’t escape perfume scents. They’re in your neighbor’s dryer sheets venting next door, other people wear fragrances or use them in their homes, they’re in air fresheners and insecticides in public buildings, in soaps in public restrooms, and so on. If you participate in public life, you are exposed to synthetic scents. As for your own product use, if you see “fragrance” on the label, then you know it contains an indeterminate amount of these chemicals.

How to reduce the risk of developing a chemical sensitivity to perfumes

Some people have lost their tolerance to chemicals and exposure to perfumes, dryer sheets, scented detergents and so on can trigger any number of symptoms, including migraines, incontinence, fatigue, inflammation, or a worsening of an autoimmune condition. For instance, someone with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease, who is sensitive to chemicals may lose muscle control of her legs when exposed to perfume.

You can reduce your risk of developing a sensitivity to perfumes and other synthetic chemicals by doing the following things:

  • Reduce the toxic burden on your body. This means not using products in your home or on your body that contain synthetic chemicals. Also, avoid foods that have artificial colorings and additives, which also have been linked to numerous health disorders.
  • Make sure your glutathione status is good. Glutathione is the body’s master antioxidant that defends your cells against toxic chemicals. By reducing your toxic burden you protect your glutathione stores. You can also take supplements to boost glutathione production. Ask my office for details.
  • Remove foods to which you are sensitive. If you regularly eat a food to which you have an immune sensitivity, such as gluten, it causes your immune system to be hyperactive and more prone to developing sensitivities to other things, such as chemicals. Do a food immune reaction panel from Cyrex Labs or an elimination/provocation diet to find out which foods trigger inflammation in you.

You don’t have to give up wonderful scents, simply switch to essential oils and natural scents. Some essential oils not only smell good but they are therapeutic as well. However, those with a sensitivity to perfumes may not be able to tolerate natural scents.

Ask my office for more advice on preventing or managing chemical sensitivities.

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