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Chemicals and Indoor Air Pollution – Is Your Liver at Risk?

Do you know about the connection between common household chemicals, indoor air pollution and your liver? In this article, you’ll find out more about the major culprits of indoor pollution, safer alternatives to common household chemicals, better vehicle picks to reduce pollution inside your car and solutions for minimizing pollution’s impact on your liver.

When most people think of air pollution, images of motor vehicle emissions, smog and ozone depletion typically dominate our conceptions. While motor vehicle exhaust is the primary source of outdoor air pollution, studies by the Environmental Protection Agency maintain that indoor air can be two to five times more polluted than outside air. As the organ shouldering the bulk of the body’s pollution-filtering responsibilities, the liver has more work to do as exposure to any kind of toxin rises.

A person with liver disease is likely to be challenged in filtering the increasing number of environmental pollutants because:

  • They may have a smaller number of fully functioning liver cells to accomplish adequate detoxification
  • Inflammation of their liver decreases its detoxification performance
  • Poor circulation throughout the liver leaves unfiltered toxins in the bloodstream, which act to further damage liver cells.

Indoor Pollutant Sources
There are several major sources of known indoor air pollution:

  • Insulation – After the energy crisis of the mid-seventies, many homeowners tightened up their homes to increase energy conservation and save money. While insulating a home reduces outside air from infiltrating the house, it also traps polluted air inside.
  • Solid Wood Substitutions – For a variety of financial and practical reasons, solid wood furniture and building materials are being increasingly replaced by pressed wood and fiberboard. These materials contain chemicals, mainly formaldehyde-based resins, which emit trace levels of organic chemicals over time.
  • Other Household Chemicals – Many consumer products used inside the home add layers of lingering chemicals to our habitat. Common culprits include hairspray, air fresheners, aerosols, insecticides and household cleaners.

Inside a Car
While technically not considered indoors, the interior of a car, especially a new one, can harbor a host of toxic chemicals. Since the average American spends over 1.5 hours in a car every day, toxic chemical exposure inside vehicles is a major source of potential indoor air pollution.

Over 200 of the most popular 2006 and 2007 model vehicles in the U.S. were tested by the Ecology Center for chemicals that off-gas from indoor auto parts such as the steering wheel, dashboard, armrests and seats. These chemicals become part of the air we breathe contributing to the easily recognizable “new car smell” and a variety of acute and long-term health concerns. Typically found inside a motor vehicle, the chemicals of primary concern include:

  • Bromine (associated with brominated flame retardants)
  • Chlorine (indicating the presence of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC and plasticizers)
  • Lead
  • Other heavy metals

Due to their high levels of toxicity, these chemicals have been linked to a wide range of health problems. For a person already living with liver disease, repeated exposure to these toxic chemicals can cause further damage to an already challenged organ.

4 Hazardous Home Products and Their Alternatives
While much of the pollutants we encounter inside homes, buildings or vehicles are unavoidable, there are some ways to minimize the toxic impact on your liver.

When it comes to improving air quality within your home, experts advise avoiding hazardous household products whenever possible. Some of the more serious offenders to liver health and their alternatives are listed below:

  1. Air Fresheners – Instead, open a window, use an exhaust fan, simmer a fragrant herb, use an essential oil diffuser or utilize baking soda to absorb odors.
  2. Floor and Furniture Polish – Instead, use 1 part lemon oil to 2 parts olive oil or a vegetable oil soap for polishing.
  3. Glass Cleaner – Wash windows with ¼ to ½ cup white vinegar in 1 quart of warm water, and rub dry with newspaper.
  4. Mothballs – Experiment with less toxic moth repellants such as cedar chips, newspapers, lavender, flowers or other aromatic herbs and spices.

10 Cars Low and High in Toxic Interiors
Jeff Gearhart, the Ecology Center’s Clean Car Campaign Director states, “Our findings show that it is not necessary to use toxic chemicals when making indoor auto parts. There is no excuse for manufacturers not to replace these hazardous chemicals with safe alternatives immediately.” Your part in initiating such a change is to choose vehicles with interiors found to contain a minimum of chemical toxins. According to the Ecology Center’s Research:

  • The ten best picks for new cars low in toxic interiors include – Chevy Cobalt, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Honda Odyssey, Volvo V50, Suzuki Aerio, Acura RDX Tech, BMW X3, Nissan Frontier, Toyota Matrix and Volvo S40.
  • The ten worst picks for new cars high in toxic interiors include – Nissan Versa, Chevy Aveo, Scion xB 5dr, Kia Rio, Suzuki Forenza, Kia Spectra 5, Subaru Forester, Chevy Express, Hyundai Accent and Chevy Silverado.

2 Additional Solutions
Since avoiding all sources of pollution can be next to impossible, finding additional ways to help your liver with toxins can stall the advancement of liver disease. Two well-researched solutions to ease the toxic load on your liver are houseplants and a liver detoxification supplement.

  1. Houseplants – NASA researchers found that common houseplants effectively purified the air in spacecraft. The microbes living on the plants’ roots purified the air of many pollutants, including the highly liver offensive chemicals: formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene. The plant species found to most dramatically reduce levels of pollution were golden pothos, nepthylis, spider plant, snake plant, aloe and philodendron.
  2. Liver Detoxification Supplement – Once the toxins have already been absorbed into your bloodstream, one of the few ways to assist your liver in processing a pollutant is via herbal supplementation. With over 300 experimental and clinical studies supporting its efficacy, Liv.52/LiverCare is a top choice for detoxifying the liver. Because it consists of powerful antioxidants that protect the hepatic parenchyma, Liv.52/LiverCare acts as a potent detoxifier.

Unfortunately, toxins encountered behind closed doors are too numerous to count. However, by taking some extra steps as a consumer you can help protect your liver from indoor pollution. If you are in the market for a new car, do some research to find a vehicle with a minimal amount of chemicals used for manufacturing the interior. When using a household product, evaluate its potential for toxicity and choose safer alternatives. Rely on nature to remove toxins from the air by including houseplants in your environment. Most importantly, help your liver with the toxins already accumulated in your system by taking an herbal detoxification supplement. The more savvy people with liver disease become about reducing the load indoor pollution puts on the liver, the greater chance they have of prohibiting the advancement of their illness.


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Tuntawiroon, J, et al., Increased health risk in Bangkok children exposed to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from traffic-related sources, Carcinogenesis, Volume 28, 2007.

www.environmentaldefense.org, Dirty Air and Your Health, Environmental Defense, 2007.

www.healthycar.org, Chemicals of Concern, healthycar.org, 2007.

www.healthycar.org, Chemicals Released from Indoor Auto Parts Contribute to “New Car Smell” and Serious Health Concerns for Drivers & Passengers, healthycar.org, 2007.

www.lwv-fairfax.org, The Air You Breathe – Part 2, Judy Prochko, The League of Women Voters, 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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