Rob Brown, MD

A Physician's Unique Perspective on Wellness

Category: The Conveniences (Page 2 of 2)

Be Cautious of Toxic Air Fresheners – At Home and on the Road

Clean indoor air is important. With non-fragrant cleaning materials, indoor plants and an air purifier, my home air is clean, even in the wintertime. I began to take this for granted, until a recent road trip.

I usually try to stay in a mid range motel or a bed and breakfast. On this past trip though, I had a two day drive and planned to spend the evening at a motel on the fly after hitting my driving limit. Upon exiting the highway, I pulled up to a roadside motel with a vacancy.

As I walked into the room, it was as if I had been placed into a sealed box filled with a sickly sweet, synthetic chemical odor of potpourri. The scent was overpowering and made me dizzy. I left the room door ajar to air out the room. Why the heck did they dispense so much air freshener in the room? What odor are they trying to conceal?

After washing up, I closed the door and prepared myself for sleep. Despite my dread at spending a night in that chemical laden room, I fell asleep instantly. In the early am, I awoke with a headache. I had planned to “sleep in”, but the odor was back in full force. I needed to get out of that room as quickly as possible.

Many new air fresheners either chemically inhibit receptors in your nose or actually coat the inside of the nose with a thin film of chemicals that work by initially stimulating and then deactivating your sense of smell. Isn’t this a form of poisoning? If one went to a public building that had a technology that temporarily blinded you, would this be acceptable? Why is it that we have allowed products in the marketplace that disrupt one of our important senses?

The ability to smell is important for many reasons. Aromas can attract or repel. Odors can alert us to danger such as fire, spoiled food or the presence of toxins. Pleasant smells can create a sense of calm and peace. Nerves travel directly from the nose and into the brain, stimulating memory centers, bringing to consciousness associations we have had with that scent in the past. We have all had recollections of loved ones and past experiences brought on by a particular scent, describable and indescribable.

Our sense of smell works in concert with our sense of taste.

Although the headache cleared after my escape from the motel room, after arriving to the beach, I was still marred by the air freshener.

I treated myself to a lobster dinner, but the food was tasteless. Because my sense of smell had been deactivated, I couldn’t smell or properly taste my food.

It took several days before my sense of smell returned and all was good. If I had continued exposure to that toxin, I would have lost my sense of smell for the whole week.

Many people purchase these carpet sanitizing and deodorizing products for use in their homes. Through daily exposure, these materials have inflicted a chemically induced anosmia on themselves and on their housemates/family.

If there is an offensive smell in your home, remove the source, don’t masque the odor with chemicals that take away your ability to smell. In addition to being able to “smell the roses”, you will enjoy an enhanced sense of taste.

Light at Night

How to Get Restful Sleep in a World that Never Shuts Down

Here we go again, another week of overnights. Another week of disturbed sleep.

I walked into the basement bedroom and placed the blackout liner over the ground level window and moved my toiletries to the downstairs bathroom. When I return home from work at 6:30 am tomorrow morning, I want to be certain there won’t be any light filtering into the room. I set out a pair of earplugs and a blindfold. It works some of the time. Sleep is important.

Many of us are saddled with having to work the graveyard shift. Service industries either outsource their night time coverage to the other side of the world, or delegate the onus of overnight work on the local work force. Sometimes the work is disseminated among the employees. At other times, a designated person or team is assigned this shift. Working overnights can take a toll on your health.

We are not nocturnal creatures. Systems in our body are designed around the rising and setting of the sun, called circadian rhythm. The brain’s production and secretion of melatonin provides the body with a biological clock discriminating between day and night.

To optimally produce and secrete melatonin, one needs exposure to periods of bright light, ideally sunlight, interrupted by complete or near complete darkness. Even for those who go to bed at a normal hour and sleep through the night, darkness in the bedroom isn’t easy to achieve. Sources of light in the bedroom can significantly affect your melatonin production. Who would have thought that light, particularly artificial sources of light could be toxic!

After learning this, I purchased a set of black out shades for the bedroom windows. But after the shades were installed, I noticed that every electrical device in the bedroom was supplied with an indicator lamp letting me know where it was located, just in case I wanted to use it in the middle of the night?! Those tiny lights cut the blackness of night with a faint glow of red, green or even blue light. One might think that closing the eyes is sufficient to block out ambient light, but that is not the case. Light will illuminate the retina, the back of the eye, even when the eyelid is closed. The eyelid will prevent you from “seeing”, of course, but there is a separate pathway from the eye that signals the brain whether it is light or dark. The brain then decides whether or not to produce melatonin. To avoid having to turn off all of these little appliances when I sleep, which some people do, I put on a pair of blinders. These eye covers prevent any light at all from entering my eye.

The proper timing and amount of melatonin produced is critical for proper health. Too much melatonin can cause depression. But the immune system will not function properly without enough melatonin. Melatonin also has hormonal effects on the body and has also been shown to kill off cancer cells. Unfortunately, studies have shown an increased cancer rate in people who do overnight shifts. I don’t have any idea how to trick the body into secreting the proper amount or concentration of melatonin, except to try and prepare for bed with appropriate lighting and then make the bedroom as dark as possible while I am sleeping, even at odd hours.

Preparation for bed is simple. Think of nature. The reddish color of the sun as it sets tells all living things, that the day has ended. To simulate this effect, use bedroom lamps that produce more reddish shades of light to get the brain geared up for sleep. Equally important, avoid blue lights before bedtime, particularly LED screens on electronic devices. Children especially will produce significantly less melatonin if exposed to a laptop or other LED display before bedtime.

Melatonin is produced in the absence of light, most intensely between 1 and 3 am. As I write this, it’s 3:30 am. My peak melatonin production is over for the night, yet I am still awake, looking at LED displays for work.

I just walked into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Ugh. This shift is aging me.

Yeah, I Love Heavy Metal – Just not in my Tomato Sauce

When I first opened the package of aluminum foil, it seemed fine. Perhaps it was because the lighting was bright or I just wasn’t paying attention. But when I went to wrap the dinner leftovers later that evening, I noticed a peculiar rainbow type pattern on one side of the foil. It was a smear that ran lengthwise on the roll. I thought that maybe it was too old or had somehow mildewed from being in the basement too long, which has a tendency to be damp. I unravelled the roll a few feet to try and find foil that looked more normal, but had no luck. Hurried, I chose to make sure that the weird looking side of the foil was facing away from the food, so it didn’t contaminate the food with whatever this stuff was.  Somewhere, I had heard that there was one side of the aluminum foil you didn’t want to have contact your food anyway. This became my modus operandi for the next few weeks. But, each time I handled the foil, I was irked by the blemish. Finally, I threw the box into the recycling garbage. I was pleased with myself for being willing to toss it out, for I’m usually one who doesn’t like to “waste” things.

As if I had been living a bad dream, when I opened the food wrap drawer to make school lunches the following night, that roll of tarnished aluminum foil was back in the drawer! Someone must have salvaged the foil out of the garbage. Ugh. Now, I had to throw the foil out a second time. Not wanting to make a habit of this, I buried the foil deep in the garbage so no one would dare go and get it out. Then, I turned the computer on and began researching aluminum foil. It turns out, after almost 70 years after this invention, it’s not a product you want to have routinely touch your food.

Foil is fine for a wrapping most cold dishes, as long as the food isn’t acidic. Wrapping a sandwich is fine. When aluminum is wrapped on food and heated, the foil releases tiny aluminum particles into the food it is protecting from drying out. Leaching also happens at room temperature when the foil is resting comfortably on an acidic food, such as tomato sauce. How many times have I not only wrapped my leftover spaghetti and sauce with aluminum foil, but then placed the dish along with the foil in the oven to reheat the meal?!

Aluminum is a heavy metal that is toxic to your nervous system. You don’t want to eat it. There is an association between aluminum and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

What to do?

Purchase unbleached parchment paper. I prefer the “If You Care” brand that uses silicone for a nonstick coating instead of other chemicals. It’s cheap, clean and it will provide an appropriate barrier between your food and your aluminum foil. Put your food in a Pyrex dish, CorningWare or a ceramic dish and first cover your food with parchment paper, and then wrap with foil. You can reheat your food in the oven with the parchment paper under the foil. It’s a simple solution to reduce your exposure to a common household toxic heavy metal.

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