Is your furniture burdening your nervous system?
Feb 19, 2018
by Angela Cummings and Sophia Ruan Gushée
Neurotoxicity sounds like a big complex word, doesn’t it? But if you break it down it’s pretty simple to understand: “Neuro” refers to the neurons in the human nervous system, and “toxicity” references adverse effects.
The brain—along with the spinal cord and nerves that communicate with our senses, muscles, and glands—is a key component of the human nervous system. Add a bunch of cells, neurons (as in neurotoxicity-related neurons), and a blood-brain barrier, and you have yourself one complex system. (1)
Toxins or toxicants—like chemicals used in standard consumer products—may affect the nervous system in a significant way.
What are neurotoxins?
Neurotoxins are toxins that can damage or change the neurons in the nervous system. What does that mean for you and me?
It means that neurons—the specific nerve cells responsible for communication to all parts of the body—can become dysfunctional, damaged, or even die from toxicants.
How nervous system cells can be affected
Chemicals and heavy metals can be neurotoxic. Depending on the type of toxin/toxicant, cells can die or stop communicating; thus ceasing to operate correctly. Below are three examples.
- Cells can die. Some toxins/toxicants kill a portion of the cell, and others kill the entire cell. Depending on the type of neurotoxin, the cell can be partially damaged or killed completely. (2)
- Cell electrical impulses can be interrupted. This can cause damage to the structure of the cell, or cause the cell to weaken, slow down or become completely interrupted. This could cause paralysis, loss of senses, and motor function. (3)
- Interactions between nervous system cells and muscle cells can be interfered with. (4) When interference happens, cells can’t communicate correctly.
Cells that are dying, damaged, or not communicating cannot function correctly. This may result in one or more medical conditions.
How does neurotoxicity affect people?
There are three types of neuron cells (sensory, motor, interneuron) that can become damaged. Below are some effects that damaged cells can have (5):
- Sensory neurons: can affect sense of pressure, temperature, vision, hearing, taste, smell, touch, and pain
- Motor neurons: can cause muscular weakness and paralysis
- Interneuron: can cause learning deficiencies, memory loss, lack of coordination, and emotional conditions
Neurotoxicity can also cause depression, anxiety, cardiac muscular weakness, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) (6), progressive bulbar palsy (7), progressive muscular atrophy (8), and many other diseases.
Where are neurotoxins found in our lives?
Neuron cells can be damaged or killed by toxins/toxicants (chemicals and heavy metals). (9) Examples are (10):
- methanol alcohol
- ethylene glycol
These types of chemicals and heavy metals can be found in standard products such as (11):
- styrene containers and packaging
- blankets, comforters, pillows
- headboards and bed frames
- nail polish
- children’s gear and toys
- exercise products
- home and office supplies
- art supplies
- packaging material
- pet products
- synthetic fragrance
- and many more
What can be done?
One strategy for reducing exposure to neurotoxins is to avoid exposure. This includes avoiding exposure to the products that contain these chemicals and heavy metals. Many of the products above fall into broader categories of products that can be avoided. Below are a five tips.
- Avoid flame retardants & fabric finishes. Curtains, bedding, bathroom towels, table runners, furniture casing and other textiles often contain flame retardants and other fabric finishes made from chemicals that are neurotoxins. Consider buying products with no flame retardants, or other finishes. Labels that say “wrinkle free”, “no iron,” or “easy care” indicate a higher likelihood of toxic chemicals.
- Choose solid hardwood instead of composite wood furniture. Headboards, bed frames, end tables, shelves, and other wood products can be made from solid hardwood, solid softwood or composite wood. Choose solid hardwood products when possible to avoid neurotoxin chemicals and heavy metals, which are often used to bind composite wood products.
- Choose natural wood paints & finishes. Wood furniture—like headboards, bed frames, tables and chairs—that are made from wood (non-composite wood) are painted, stained, and finished with products that typically contain chemicals found to be neurotoxins. Choose paints, stains, and finishes with the least amount of chemicals as possible.
- Minimize Fragrances. Candles, air fresheners, laundry soap, fabric softener, hand soaps, shampoos, and conditioners come with synthetic fragrances. These synthetic fragrances are made from chemicals, some of which may be neurotoxins. Instead of using products with synthetic fragrances, consider buying "fragrance-free" or "free and clear" products. Consider freshening the indoor air with natural products—like baking soda, or simmering spices such as cinnamon on the stove. Or, remove the source of odor from the home altogether (if an odor is a reason for using fragranced products).
- Buy, or make, natural cleaners. Household cleaners can be a source of neurotoxic chemicals. Consider using natural cleaners instead of synthetic (chemical) cleaners. Or, make your own!
Neurotoxic chemicals and heavy metals can adversely affect our health. Choose furniture, textiles, finishes, fragrances, and cleaners that are made from natural ingredients and contain minimal chemicals and heavy metals.
Take steps to reduce your exposure and keep neuron cells healthy. Their ability to function correctly can have a significant impact on your health.
(7)(8) Motor Neuron Disease Fact Sheet
(11) Gushee, Sophia Ruan. A to Z of D-Toxing: The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Our Toxic Exposures. New York: The S File Publishing, LLC, 2015.
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