It’s no secret that we’re living in an increasingly toxic world— and researchers are learning more every day about what they refer to as our toxic “body burden” or “pollution in people.” For instance, bisphenol A (BPA), a petroleum-derived compound that mimics estrogen in the body and is most commonly found in a wide range of plastics, has been associated with increased risks for cardiovascular disease, miscarriages, breast and prostate cancer, reproductive and metabolic dysfunction, diabetes, and neurological and behavioral disorders. Meanwhile, phthalates—found in products including toys, personal care items, pharmaceuticals and cleaning supplies—have been linked to breast and liver cancers and the disruption of male and female reproductive systems.
Although companies and policymakers are working to better regulate or even eradicate such toxins in consumer products, the dangers continue to lurk in a shocking number of places. “People are exposed to several hundred chemicals that we know of on a regular basis and studies show that many of them have adverse health effects in people,” says Ted Schettler, M.D., M.P.H., California-based science director for the Science and Environmental Health Network (sehn.org). Scary as that sounds, there’s a lot you can do to lower your own body burden. In fact, a study published in 2011 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that when test subjects consumed a fresh diet devoid of canned or packaged foods for just three days, the BPA levels in their blood dropped by 66 percent and their phthalate metabolites by up to 56 percent. “You can never fully eliminate your exposures to hazardous chemicals, but you can certainly minimize them,” says Jane Houlihan, senior vice president of research for the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in Washington, D.C. To do that, you need to know where the toxins are hiding and what you can do about them—which is precisely why we put together this guide.