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Surviving a Heat Wave With Advanced Liver Disease

How Dry Cleaning Impacts Liver Health

Learn about PERC, or perchloroethylene, the toxic solvent that dry cleaning establishments routinely use to clean clothing – and the negative role it plays in the health of your liver.

When putting on fresh, dry cleaned clothes, have you ever noticed that sweet odor? It is not enough to bother many people, and most become accustomed to the smell after just a few minutes. However, this smell is a toxic chemical gas – and the clothing you are wearing lies on your skin, an organ that readily absorbs substances in close proximity.

Living healthfully with a liver weakened from chronic disease requires paying attention to everything you come in contact with. As the organ most responsible for cleansing the blood of any impurities, a struggling liver is unable to process excessive amounts of toxins. Unfortunately, conventional dry cleaners use a toxin particularly harmful to the liver.

Due to the abundance of toxins in our environment, experts always emphasize making lifestyle changes for supporting a healthy liver. Consuming foods and beverages that don’t add an additional burden to your liver is paramount to inhibiting liver disease progression. Additionally, exercising regularly enhances blood circulation, which aids the liver in its filtering duties. While being aware of what you eat and how much you move your body are the primary lifestyle factors impacting liver disease, choosing how you clean your clothing also affects liver health,

Especially if made from delicate fabrics, such as wool, silk or rayon, many people have their clothing professionally dry cleaned to:

·    Prevent fabric damage
·    Avoid shrinkage
·    Remove stubborn stains
·    Maintain their overall appearance

Dry cleaning establishments routinely use the toxic solvent PERC, or perchloroethylene, to clean clothing. PERC is the most popular solvent used in dry cleaning, and is estimated to be used in 85 percent of dry cleaners worldwide. According to the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, PERC exposure can lead to headaches, nausea, dizziness and memory problems. PERC’s toxic byproducts include:

·    Vinyl chloride, a proven carcinogen
·    Carbon tetrachloride, a known liver toxin
·    Phosgene, a hazardous gas that evaporates and can be lethal in closed spaces
·    Trichloroacetic acid (TCA), used as an herbicide in the 1950s and 1960s

Released into the air, PERC can harm the health of anyone handling or wearing dry cleaned items, dry cleaning workers and of people who live near dry cleaners. Because a small amount of this chemical remains in dry cleaned clothing, it can contaminate consumers’ homes. The International Agency for Research in Cancer classifies PERC as a “probable human carcinogen.” Already known to cause cancer in animals, several studies indicate that PERC exposure in humans increases the risk of esophagus, lung, kidney and liver cancers. Other health effects associated with exposure to PERC are memory impairment, liver and kidney damage, endocrine disruption, menstrual disorders, infertility and miscarriages. Clearly a toxic chemical, PERC can easily make its way into your environment if any of your garments are dry cleaned.

For a person living with liver disease, taking steps to minimize exposure to PERC can help prevent his or her illness from worsening. Our experts have compiled six strategies to minimize the threat of this conventional dry cleaning solvent:

1.    Wet Cleaning – As the dangers associated with PERC are made known, professional cleaners are seeking less toxic alternatives to conventional dry cleaning. One popular method, “wet cleaning,” uses water and non-toxic soaps, rather than chemicals, for professional fabric care.

2.    Skip ‘Dry Clean Only’ Garments – Buy clothing and other fabric items that don’t require dry cleaning.

3.    Education – If your local dry cleaner still uses PERC in its process, educate the owner about the risks associated with the solvent and encourage him or her to shift to a more benign alternative.

4.    Air it Out – While this suggestion will not completely eradicate PERC exposure, it will minimize any potential harm. As soon as you pick up items from the dry cleaners, place the garment outside in an isolated area and remove the plastic bag. Keep all food, people and pets away from the clothing for five hours to allow any PERC to safely outgas.

5.    Protect Your Liver – If eliminating dry cleaners from your routine is impossible, rely on milk thistle to protect your liver from PERC. According to Joseph Pizzorno, ND, founding president of Bastyr University, “Milk thistle is possibly the most potent liver protective agent known.” A member of the daisy family, milk thistle is an herb proven to protect and regenerate liver cells.

6.    Detoxify – Especially important for those who are employed at or live in close proximity to a dry cleaner, help your liver detoxify from PERC exposure. A high-quality HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter will clean the air, while the herbal formula LiverCare (Liv.52) will help the liver eliminate the toxins already absorbed into your bloodstream.

Many people rely on professional dry cleaning as their preferred way to maintain garments. Whether you visit a dry cleaner for occasional cleaning or for all of your dirty duds, try the six strategies for minimizing repercussions to your liver. Particularly important for those with liver disease who come into contact with PERC, reduce your exposure to this chemical, protect your liver from this toxin and help your liver eliminate this poison from your blood. As awareness of PERC’s hazards grows, the dry cleaning industry will forage ahead, find more non-toxic alternatives and mandate safer business practices – all to the benefit of everyone’s liver health., Looking Good, Feeling Bad, Jennifer Manning, J.K. Barbalace, Inc., 2007., Dry Cleaning Emission Standards, US Environmental Protection Agency 2007., Tetrachloroethylene, US Environmental Protection Agency, 2007., Dry Cleaning Chemicals, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, 2007., Liver or Leave’er, Richard Firshein, Psychology Today, 2007., Dry Cleaning, The Long Island Breast Cancer Action Coalition, 2007., Embracing a Clean, Green Wardrobe, Worldwatch Institute, 2007.

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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