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Zorba Paster: That Clean Smell May Come At A Cost

Artificial Scents May React With Chemicals Body Needs To Stay Healthy

Tony Alter (CC-BY)

I happen to like a clean house, though I don’t mean squeaky clean. When Penny and I were raising our four kids, we figured out the amount of clean we needed to stay sane. There is always that trade-off with how much attention and work you need to keep a house nice and tidy enough.

We all have different priorities in this vein, and some use more cleansers than others. But with rare exceptions, how many of us think about the side effects of those cleansers, solvents and waxes – the industrialized products that are household names?

I thought about this a few years ago when I read about Procter & Gamble’s Febreze product, the cleaner and deodorizer millions of Americans use every day to get their house smelling nice and fresh. When it was first introduced, this spray-on stuff was odorless, and it didn’t sell. After millions of dollars invested to make a better “make-your-house-fresh” spray, it flopped until they put in a fragrance.

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That fragrance was superfluous to the odor-eliminating purpose of the product, but the average user wanted a smell to know it was indeed “fresh.”

So the question I pose to you is how safe are all of these things?

A recent article in the BMJ shows chemicals and scents put into a lot of our products might actually be causing increases in allergies, asthma and possibly autoimmune disease. The remarkable increase we’ve seen in these problems in the past few years might be caused by, guess who? Ourselves.

Many of the products we use contain genetically modified enzymes close to what we produce in our own bodies. We use these genetically modified aromas, flavorings and colorings not just in household chemicals, but also in foods and medicines. The consumer demand for such products has ballooned into an annual $10 billion industry touching our lives every day.

Researchers suspected these substances might be affecting our bodies, so they turned their attention to the people directly involved with manufacturing this stuff. They looked at more than 800 workers employed in making the chemicals, cleaners, soaps, detergents, foods and medicines containing these chemicals affecting your hands, nose, tongue and stomach.

The workers they tested had been employed in the industry for periods ranging from three months to 10 years and had been exposed to at least two to four genetically modified enzymes in the workplace. The result: One in four had developed antibodies to the chemicals and enzymes they worked with. Further testing found 35 percent of these workers were sensitive to pancreatinin, trypsin, or lipase – enzymes the body produces to help digest food.

In other words, these workers had antibodies that cross-reacted with the normal chemicals your body needs to stay healthy.

Did this translate into actual disease for these workers? Well, one in three had asthma or allergic rhinitis, which didn’t develop for many of them until after they started their job.

So what does this mean? For these workers, it means a lot – mainly that they might develop lifelong problems related to their job.

My spin: Avoiding artificial chemicals, colorings and aromas is important when you’re looking for ways you and your family can stay healthy. This study might be just the tip of the iceberg; there might be more harm from this stuff than we yet know about. Stay well.

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