No matter how healthy we are—even if we take every step to avoid non-organic foods, GMOs, plastics and artificial ingredients—chemical exposure is a part of life. But how we handle that exposure to chemicals can make all the difference.
It happened to me recently—and pregnant, no less. I spent the night unknowingly breathing in fumes from a drain de-clogging gone wrong. Of course, my partner and I panicked. We take so many precautions not to expose our unborn daughter to chemicals (even though Los Angeles itself is smog central) and here we weren't even given a choice in the matter. But after realizing what had happened, and that we were essentially unable to undo any possible damage that had been done to our child, surprisingly, I wasn't overcome by a feeling of helplessness. I knew there were actions I could still take.
The truth is, living in cities, we're exposed to hundreds—if not thousands—of chemicals every day, no matter how many organic tomatoes we buy and plastic bottles we ignore. And to some degree, the body's immune system can handle these chemicals on its own. Just like taking a walk in the sun shouldn't give you skin cancer, but a healthy dose of vitamin D, small amounts of toxins can boost our immune system function and help us to fight off bigger threats. In theory, anyway.
Still, chemical exposure is scary, particularly since we can't often measure how much we inhaled or absorbed into our bodies. I'd probably be sick to my stomach if I knew just exactly how much cheap perfume and Old Spice I've inhaled over the years, particularly if it leads to a serious health issue down the road.
But we can protect ourselves. Here are some tips I find useful in dealing with acute chemical exposure:
1. Drink lots of water: Like, lots. Water flushes out the system, and as the body is processing new information (ie Drano fumes) you can decrease the stay of chemicals by washing them out the ol' drain.
2. Take a walk in nature: Your lungs will pump fresh oxygen in and toxic chemicals out if you give them a good workout. Do this where there are lots of lush green trees and plants growing and giving off yummy, clean oxygen. Taking a 1–2 hour hike after a chemical inhalation can help your lungs process out those fumes.
3. Drink greens: Leafy greens are known detoxifiers and an excellent tool in moving chemicals out of the body. If you don't have a juicer at home, get on over to a juice bar for a large green juice (and a wheatgrass shot!) to help push those toxins out.
4. Take vitamin C: Just like it works to protect your body from the ravages of a cold or flu and speed healing, vitamin C can help push those toxins out and protect your body from the harmful effects of chemical exposure. You can't really overdose on vitamin C, so take 500-1000 mg every hour, like you would if you had the flu. Give it a go for a day or two at least.
5.Sweat: Whether it's a yoga class, turning that hike into a run, or hitting the sauna or steam room, sweating is one of the body's best ways of processing out chemicals.
6. Think happy thoughts: This may be hard to do when you feel like you've just inhaled a cancer-causing load of oven cleaner or bleach, but it helps. The reality is we can't undo what's been done. But we can change how we receive the situation, and it may sound woo-woo, but loving those chemicals as they enter—and soon LEAVE—your body can be a helpful tool in your recovery.
[Note: If you've experienced a significant brush with chemicals and are showing extreme reactions such as fever, vomiting or fainting, seek immediate medical attention.]
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger
Image: Jack Zalium