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The stresses of daily life are continuing to take their toll on many of us, so it’s little wonder that candles are as popular as ever. This week I even saw scented Christmas candles being advertised on prime time TV. There’s nothing like turning the lights out and breathing in the smell of vanilla and spice or gingerbread biscuits.
But while sniffing your favourite candle before bed often offers stress relief, many are made of nasty stuff, which can be really harmful. This is because they contribute to indoor air pollution (along with log fires, glue, paint, varnish, oil, flame retardants and dyes etc). The World Health Organisation say 4.3 million premature deaths were attributable to household air pollution in 2012. When indoor and outdoor air pollution are combined, WHO estimates that in 2012, some 14% of deaths were due to COPD or acute lower respiratory infections, and 14% of deaths were due to lung cancer.
Finding candles that are totally free of nasty chemicals can be tricky, especially as front labels often make it hard to distinguish what is and isn’t natural (a “blend” may mean a mixture of natural and synthetic ingredients, for example).
So what are most candles made from?
Paraffin. When burned, paraffin wax (made from the residue leftover from oil refining) creates toxic benzene and toluene chemicals, both of which are known carcinogens. They are classed as volatile organic compounds (VOC’s- which you see a percentage for on paint tins). They are linked to cancer and neurological damage. It means that breathing them in is as bad for your health as second-hand smoke. If you suffer from headaches when a candle is burning, it may well be down to the paraffin. Some candles even contain lead in the wick. Check with the candle’s manufacturer for a list of ingredients.
What’s better than paraffin?
As a renewable resource, soy candles are the real slow burners- more hours for your money! But while soy candles are certainly superior to the toxic fragrances and additives in conventional candles, it’s worth noting that most soy is genetically modified. Unless it boasts the certified organic label, it’s likely that your candle is made from GM soy. Is that a good or bad thing? Nobody knows!
The best of a bad bunch; beeswax is the only naturally occurring wax on earth, unless you count ear wax ….(Hmmm). Pure beeswax candles are non-toxic, non-polluting and may actually cleanse indoor air of odours and allergens. They also smell of yummy honey too so win win!
What about the scent?
Smells like… vanilla and cinnamon, nope its…
Phthalates? If you’re smelling fragrance, then there’s probably phthalates in your candle. These artificial scents and dyes often used can also release harmful chemicals when burned, possibly triggering asthma attacks and allergies. Do you sneeze or get wheezy with candles It is known that phthalates are widespread contaminants in both indoor and outdoor environments with the plastic industry being a major contributor. The toxicants can be delivered into the body via inhalation and other methods, then cause an inflammatory response, disrupt hormones and affect respiratory health.
If you want scented, I’m afraid you have to pay for pure essential oil fragrances. If you ever wondered why some candles are so expensive, it because they aren’t made out of cheap rubbish.
Particular botanicals and nutrients from food have been tested in combatting all sorts of nasty bits floating around in our air, so have a look at our website!
Microplastics found as microbeads within cleaning, beauty and dental products are so small they cannot be sived out through water plants and these tiny particles often end up in the sea. Microplasics are one type of pollution that we come across in everyday life, we can’t always see them, just like many types of air pollution. These pollutants are present throughout the marine environment and ingestion of these plastic particles (<1 mm) has been demonstrated in a laboratory setting for a wide array of marine organisms. Like plastics of any size, they look like food, but end up clogging up the insides of the animal, leading to starvation.
A study published 5 years ago investigated the presence of microplastics in two species of commercially grown shellfish: Mytilus edulis (blue mussel) and Crassostrea gigas (pacific oyster). Microplastics were recovered from the soft tissues of both species. At time of human consumption, M. edulis contained on average 0.36g plastic, while a plastic load of 0.47g was detected in C. gigas.
As a result, the annual dietary exposure for European shellfish consumers can amount to 11,000 microplastics per year. What is the effect of this pollution on our bodies? The presence of marine microplastics in seafood could pose a threat to food safety, however, due to the complexity of estimating microplastic toxicity, estimations of the potential risks for human health posed by microplastics in food stuffs is not yet possible.
Microbeads will eventually be banned, however it will take generations to leave the seas. In the meantime do we avoid shellfish and fish, and all the other pollutants they contain, like heavy metals? Or do we protect our bodies from these pollutants with a diet high in antioxidants compounds which can help prevent oxidative damage to our insides?
Air pollution is on the rise.
Emissions from transport are a major contributor to air pollution. They release nitrogen dioxides and fine particles, leading to local pollution especially in urban areas. The most damaging type of outdoor air pollution is fine particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometres in diameter (PM2.5 ). These particles are particularly dangerous because they are small enough to work their way deep into the lungs and bloodstream, where they can trigger heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and asthma.
The level of these particles in the air is measured in micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3). It is usually given as an average yearly amount for a particular area.
According to the work of Richard and Elizabeth Muller at Berkeley Earth, an air pollution level of 22µg/m3 is the equivalent to breathing one cigarette.
Other sources contributing to PM2.5 concentrations can come from afar however, as there have been many occasions where ‘Saharan dust’ has triggered respiratory problems in the UK population, but the dust has been found to contain these fine particulates and ammonium nitrate picked up along the way through Europe.
Air pollution reduces overall life expectancy in healthy individuals, but in combination with other existing health conditions can also cause early death.
For all these reasons, its probably a good idea to look at where you holiday and what transport you’ll take. Although the most polluted cities are in China and India, other tourist hotspots such as Los Angeles, Tokyo and Paris are also highly polluted.
In terms of transport, large boats and ships pump out huge amounts of diesel PM, and greenhouse gas emissions, but also sulphur oxides, and nitrogen oxides in their puffs of black smoke.
Per day one cruise ship emits as much particulate matter as a million cars. Thirty cruise ships pollute as much as all the cars in the United Kingdom.
Although you may be visiting countries or islands with clean air, breathing in the pollution from cruise ships is having a negative impact on the environment and your health.
While the deck is popular with sun-bathers, passengers are likely to be breathing some of these particulates, which are harmful for health and the environment.
Our advice is obvious- don’t stay in polluted cities or near large ports for too long. Not all boats cause pollution, sailing boats and yachts with small engines are a much better option for your health for short journeys like island hopping. If you can’t avoid the big boats, stay inside and don’t go on deck where the air is at its worst.
Studies have identified an association between daily changes in concentration of outdoor air pollution and daily number of deaths and hospitalisations, particularly from cardiovascular disease and following relatively short time after exposure.
It has been suggested that traffic-derived particles, of which diesel exhaust particles are major contributor, are the most toxic component. Diesel exhaust particles have been associated with increased risk of cardiopulmonary diseases. We know that even inhaling diesel exhaust fumes once e.g whilst out walking, or jogging traffic, causes lung inflammation and changes in blood clotting.
We’ve known about the potential health hazard for a while now, a study in 2012 looked at repeated exposure effects and the protective effects of curcumin. Mice were exposed with repeated doses of DEP (15 µg/animal) every 2nd day for 6 days (a total of 4 exposures), and measured several heart and lung functions 48 h after the end of the treatments. The effect of curcumin (the yellow pigment isolated from turmeric) on DEP-induced cardiopulmonary toxicity was also assessed.
Diesel exhaust particle exposure increased white blood cell numbers, tumour necrosis factor α (TNF α) in lung fluid, and enhanced airway resistance. It also increase signals of stress and systolic blood pressure. When mice were given curcumin (45 mg/kg) 1 h before exposure, it significantly prevented the effects listed above mainly through use of its anti-inflammatory ability.
Studies such as this suggest we need more research on using curcumin and other supplements in populations exposed to air pollution. Curcumin is already a popular supplement, and it looks like it can add another string to its bow in regards to pollution.
Nemmar A, Subramaniyan D, Ali BH. Protective effect of curcumin on pulmonary and cardiovascular effects induced by repeated exposure to diesel exhaust particles in mice. PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e39554. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0039554. Epub 2012 Jun 22.
Statistics show that 1.25 million deaths are caused by road traffic accidents per year, 3.5 million are caused by diabetes, and 7 MILLION are the consequence of air pollution. (Reference, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari.)
Environmental pollutants are a global health problem, associated with the development of many chronic diseases. Exposure to pollutants may increase our chances of serious illness, thanks to the effects of pollutants on the parts of our cells linked with inflammation, cardiac injury and oxidative damage.
There is a growing body of evidence based research to show that the food we eat can both positively and negatively influence the toxic effects of pollutants on our health. Recent studies suggest that nutrients like EGCG in green tea can protect against the inflammation caused by pollutants. Increasing our intake of antioxidants, such as vitamin E, and polyunsaturated fats, like Omega 3 oils, may help manage chronic conditions like asthma. This is especially important if you live in a high-risk area and eat a lot of processed foods.
For those of us who live and exercise in polluted cities, or eat fish products from polluted seas and rivers, specific nutrients to help combat this damage could have real benefits. ‘Personalised nutrition’ is on the horizon, and pollution exposure will soon form part of lifestyle assessments. You can start to personalise your own nutrition now by changing your diet to help fight the effects of pollution.
Tried and tested.
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