3 min read Make more informed choices about the products you use.
Alcohol consumption has been part of American culture for generations. But what does the science say about alcohol consumption, and how does that compare to national government guidelines?
The Latest Science
The World Cancer Research Fund report on recommendations for cancer prevention concludes that there is ample evidence that alcohol causes many cancers including head and neck, colorectal, liver, and breast cancer after menopause.
The World Health Organization also states that there is no level of alcohol consumption that is without risk, as over 200 different diseases and conditions are affected by high-alcohol use. In January of 2023, the WHO made a broad statement that no level of alcohol consumption is safe when it comes to human health.
That stance is not unexpected given the rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, motor vehicle injury, accidental death, and diabetes attributed to alcohol use.
The National Standards
National governments use the latest evidence to update their standards, but they are often not as progressive nor as timely as the science would support. Recently the Canadian guidelines were updated to recommend no more than two drinks a day. In the United States, the National Institute of Health defines “safe alcohol use” as no more than 4 drinks for men or 3 drinks for women on any day and no more than 14 or 7 drinks per week, respectively. This is much higher than what the WHO recommends. And yet, about 30% of U.S. adults exceed daily limits for alcohol at least once a year.
Image: ACLM Board Review Course 2020
There is agreement, however, that unsafe or high-risk alcohol consumption should be avoided completely. Unsafe drinking or high-risk drinking is any amount above moderation. That means having 2 glasses of wine a night and 3 on the weekend would constitute heavy alcohol use, as would drinking 5 beers during a football game.
Binge drinking also qualifies as heavy alcohol use. It’s defined as:
- Drinking enough so that blood alcohol levels reach 0.08mg/L or legal intoxication.
- Consuming 5 drinks for men or 4 drinks for women within 2 hours at least once a month.
Why You Should Reconsider Your Alcohol Intake
Not only is any amount of alcohol potentially risky for cancer and many other chronic conditions, but generally the more often you drink, the more you’ll want. Science shows that chronic alcohol use results in needing more alcohol to achieve the same serotonin high, which means that as alcohol tolerance increases, there is less of an initial “happiness hit.” Consuming more alcohol also leads to a larger drop in serotonin when one comes down from the high, which is a very vicious cycle. Chronic alcohol use can also influence the stress response. This creates a sensation of more stress without alcohol and drives one to drink more frequently.
To Drink or Not to Drink
Ultimately, your choice to drink alcohol is up to you. But we encourage you to think about your alcohol use and how it measures up to the national standards in different countries and the WHO recommendations. The science shows that consuming less alcohol is better for preventing chronic disease, preserving brain health, and preventing the urge to drink more. If you feel you need help with reducing your alcohol intake or want to learn more about how alcohol affects you, consider joining one of our coaching programs for support, guidance, and resources.
Alcohol and tobacco use have well-documented negative effects on health and can have a significant impact on longevity. Here’s a breakdown of how each impacts lifespan:
- Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to a variety of health problems, including liver disease, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and neurological disorders.
- Chronic heavy drinking can cause alcoholic liver disease. This can range from fatty liver to more severe conditions, like cirrhosis, which can significantly reduce life expectancy.
- Alcohol abuse also increases the risk of developing heart conditions, such as high blood pressure, stroke, and heart failure. Although light alcohol consumption has been shown to have a minimal impact on heart risk, a heavier intake exponentially increases the chances of developing heart disease.
- Long-term heavy alcohol consumption has been linked to an increased risk of various cancers, including liver, esophageal, throat, mouth, and breast cancer.
- Alcohol can affect the central nervous system and lead to cognitive impairment, memory problems, and an increased risk of developing neurodegenerative disorders like dementia.
- Accidents and injuries associated with alcohol use, such as motor vehicle accidents and falls, can also contribute to premature death.
- Smoking tobacco is a leading cause of preventable diseases and premature death worldwide.
- Cigarette smoking is the primary cause of lung cancer and increases the risk of developing several other types of cancer, including those of the mouth, throat, esophagus, pancreas, bladder, kidney, and cervix.
- Smoking damages the respiratory system and can lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, and chronic bronchitis, which can significantly reduce life expectancy.
- Tobacco use is a major risk factor for heart disease, including artery hardening and stroke.
- Smoking weakens the immune system and can increase the risk of infections and respiratory illnesses.
- Secondhand smoke also poses health risks, particularly for those who are frequently exposed to it.
- Quitting smoking has significant health benefits and can improve life expectancy, even for long-term smokers.
Overall, both alcohol and tobacco have detrimental effects on health and longevity. It’s important to note that moderation is key when it comes to alcohol consumption, and the best approach is to avoid tobacco altogether. Making healthy lifestyle choices, including maintaining a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and avoiding harmful substances, can significantly contribute to a longer, healthier life.
Many people opt for electronic cigarettes or “vapes” because they think they’re safer than cigarettes. But there are a growing number of cases of severe lung illness associated with vaping, particularly products that contain THC-emulsified with vitamin E acetate, known as EVALI.
Ninety-five percent of EVALI patients experience respiratory symptoms, such as cough, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Other side effects include fever, chills, and weight loss, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. And as of February 2020, there were over 2,800 reported deaths from EVALI across the United States.
The liquids used in electronic cigarettes mainly consist of solvents, which keep nicotine and flavors suspended and generate smoke plumes.
The most common solvents used are propylene glycol (PG) and vegetable glycerin (VG). While the FDA considers propylene glycol as “generally recognized as safe” for ingestion, its aerosol version hasn’t received the same classification.
Both propylene glycol and glycerol are also known to irritate airways. Exposure to propylene glycol has been linked to chest tightness and wheezing, and symptoms worsen with repeated exposure. Additionally, propylene glycol can cause irritation in the eyes, throat, mucous membranes, and respiratory system, and constrict airways.
Electronic cigarettes are also constructed with various components that can contribute to metal contamination. These include nicotine extract and physical parts of e-cig devices, such as filaments, wicks, sheaths, and joints. Nickel, manganese, zinc, copper, and iron were found to be the most commonly detected metals in e-liquids in high concentrations. Arsenic and other metals or metalloids may also be found. The presence of metals and metalloids in vapes raises concerns, due to their potentially harmful health effects, which may include cancer, heart disease, kidney damage, and neurotoxicity.
Although the flavors used in e-cigs are considered safe for oral ingestion, they may pose risks when inhaled as vapors. Studies have shown that flavorings, especially when heated by the vape device, react with the solvents in e-liquids or form ultrafine particles that irritate and damage the lungs. In addition, benzene, a known carcinogen, can also be formed through the process of converting cherry-flavored vape products from liquid to gas.
Vaping devices contain heating coils and studies have shown that the temperature distribution among the coils is not uniform. This results in “hot spots” and temperature inconsistencies, which can lead to formaldehyde formation. Exposure to formaldehyde can cause irritation to the skin, throat, lungs, and eyes, and repeated exposure has been linked to certain types of cancer.
Electronic cigarette use has been shown to create airway inflammation after just five minutes of use and trigger respiratory reactions like those seen after smoking cigarettes. Chemicals and metals found in vapes are concerning due to their links to serious health concerns. Currently, the long-term effects of vaping haven’t yet been completed, since vaping is a fairly new trend. But as research continues, additional side effects related to years of e-cigarette use may come to light.
Glyphosate is a widely used herbicide and the active ingredient in popular weed killers like Roundup. It was first introduced in the 1970s and has since become one of the most extensively used herbicides globally. The reason this is important is because glyphosate is found in a number of commonly eaten foods, including healthy options, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and more.
Glyphosate has been implicated as a possible endocrine-disrupting chemical (EDC), capable of interfering with hormone function. EDCs can mimic, block, or disrupt the action of natural hormones. EDCs can have broad-ranging effects on reproductive health, growth and development, metabolism, immunity, and neurological function.
Glyphosate and Pregnancy
In animal studies glyphosate exposure during pregnancy caused abnormalities not only in immediate offspring but also in the following generation. Higher blood levels of glyphosate have been tied to lower birthweights and shorter pregnancies.
Glyphosate may also affect male fertility. Studies have shown that male rats given glyphosate experienced adverse reproductive effects, such as reduced sperm counts and reduced testosterone levels.
Glyphosate and Development
Delayed puberty, infertility problems, and decreased sex hormones are all observed consequences of glyphosate exposure. In animals, glyphosate has been shown to alter the development of the ovaries and uterus. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is another glyphosate concern. Glyphosate is thought to bind to estrogen receptors in females and also disrupt pathways that create male sex hormones.
Glyphosate and Immune Function
Glyphosate exposure can affect the immune system by disrupting its natural functions. These include the ability of immune cells to fight off infections. Animal studies have linked glyphosate exposure to fewer immune cells and increased infections.
Glyphosate and the Gut
Emerging research suggests that glyphosate may disrupt the digestive tract and the gut microbiome, the community of bacteria and microbes that live in the gut. The effects of glyphosate on intestinal health have also been observed in animal studies, including increased inflammation in the small intestine.
Glyphosate and Cancer
The relationship between glyphosate and cancer is a subject of ongoing research and debate. Currently the World Health Organization ranks glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” One study in mice indicated an increased incidence of malignant lymphoma with a high dose of glyphosate. However, it is difficult to conclude that glyphosate poses a cancer risk due to the complex causes of lymphoma and the extremely high dose used in the study.
However, in a 2019 research review, scientists assessed the relationship between exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). They found that individuals with the highest levels of exposure had a 41% increased risk of developing NHL. These findings support previous evidence from animal research, which shows a strong connection between glyphosate-based herbicide exposure and a higher NHL risk.
How to Avoid Glyphosate in Your Diet
As concerns about the potential health risks of glyphosate exposure grow, many consumers seek ways to avoid this herbicide. While it may be challenging to completely avoid glyphosate due to its widespread use, there are strategies to minimize its consumption.
Glyphosate levels in food vary from product to product and also country of origin. But studies have found that adopting an organic diet can lead to a significant decrease in glyphosate in the body, as much as 70% in five days.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a list of the top 12 conventionally produced foods to avoid because of their likelihood of being contaminated with glyphosate and other chemicals. The EWG uses up-to-date data provided by the FDA. The DIRTY DOZEN™ foods to avoid for 2023, unless grown organically, were strawberries, spinach, greens (kale, collard, and mustard greens), peaches, pears, nectarines, apples, grapes, bell and hot peppers, blueberries, and green beans.
Additionally, the EWG creates a list of foods that consistently show low levels of glyphosate and other pesticides, regardless of whether they are organic or not. The CLEAN FIFTEEN™ for 2023 consists of avocado, sweet corn, pineapple, onions, papaya, frozen sweet peas, asparagus, honeydew melon, kiwi, cabbage, mushroom, mango, sweet potato, watermelon, and carrot.
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs), are toxic chemicals that do not break down easily and negatively affect human health and the environment. They include aldrin, chlordane, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, HCB, mirex, toxaphene, PCBs, DDT, dioxins, and PCDFs.
POPs were outlawed in many countries in the early 2000s. However, they’re still found in some pesticides, industrial chemicals, and pharmaceuticals. Some farmers and manufacturers continue to use POPs illegally or due to a lack of financially viable alternatives.
What are Health Concerns Related to POPs?
The body’s endocrine system regulates hormones that contribute to metabolism, reproductive health, and brain function. POPs are considered endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). That’s because the shape of an EDC molecule is similar to hormones in the human body, and this allows EDCs to alter and disrupt normal hormonal responses.
POPs and the Reproductive System
POPs can interfere with pregnancy and cause negative health impacts for both the mother and fetus. They are able to cross the placental barrier and accumulate in fetal tissues.
Studies have shown that prenatal exposure to POPs is linked to a range of adverse fetal effects, including disruptions in growth and development, impaired brain development, and an increased risk of certain birth defects.
Certain POPs have also been linked to delayed puberty, early onset of menstruation, infertility, and endometriosis due to their hormonal impact.
POPs have also been associated with:
- An increased risk of breast cancer
- More aggressive forms of breast cancer
- An increase in tumor growth and spread
POPs and Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes (T1D) may also be triggered by exposure to POPs. Some studies have linked the presence of certain POPs in the blood with T1D and disruptions in blood sugar metabolism and insulin effectiveness.
POPs and Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is the presence of multiple health concerns that raise chronic disease risk. POPs have been associated with many metabolic conditions, such as a higher body mass index (BMI), high blood pressure, poor insulin effectiveness, and high “bad” LDL cholesterol. POPs are suspected to disrupt cell function, and in turn promote inflammation and increase fat tissue.
POPs and Liver Disease
Some POPs may also be related to the progression of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This could potentially be due to the ability of POPs to interfere with how liver cells regulate fat metabolism and breakdown.
Dietary Sources of POPs and How to Reduce Your Exposure
POPs can be found in fruits and vegetables in varying levels. However, a larger source of concern is animal products. The majority of dietary POPs come from fatty fish, meat, and dairy. In fact, POPs are some of the most frequently detected chemicals found in meat. Even meat labeled organic can still be contaminated with similar or higher amounts of POPs.
POPs are somewhat difficult to avoid since they easily accumulate in animal tissue, plants, and humans. The best ways to reduce your exposure are to:
- Avoid high-fat animal foods
- Opt for organic produce when possible
- Eat fresh foods as opposed to processed or canned foods, since the packaging may contain POPs
Aluminum is found in products sold across the globe, from cookware to personal care goods. However, recent scientific studies have shed light on potential concerns regarding the use of aluminum and its impact on health. In this article we’ll explore where aluminum is found, its potential risks, and how to decrease your exposure.
Aluminum in Personal Care Products
Aluminum salts are often added to antiperspirants to block sweat from forming at the pores. This is concerning, since aluminum can cause DNA damage and impact the endocrine system, which controls hormones that affect mood, metabolism, and reproduction.
Aluminum can be absorbed through the skin, including the armpit, and its absorption is six times greater when skin has recently been shaved. Due to the location of armpits in relation to breasts, aluminum antiperspirants raise questions about potential implications for breast cancer. Research suggests that aluminum can affect how genes interact with the hormone estrogen, particularly within breast cancer tumors. In addition, studies have revealed significantly higher levels of aluminum in the breasts of breast cancer patients.
Aluminum in the Kitchen
Aluminum foil is commonly used for cooking or wrapping leftovers. Studies have shown a significant increase in aluminum concentrations in food when foil is used in cooking, especially when food is seasoned. However, some research shows that cooking at lower temperatures (below 160ºC or 320ºF) is safer, as it leads to less foil degradation.
Aluminum-Related Health Risks
While no immediate dangers of dietary aluminum have been identified, there is growing concern that prolonged exposure to aluminum may contribute to the development of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and Multiple Sclerosis.
Aluminum has been labeled as a neurotoxin, and while the precise understanding of how it affects the body is limited, it may impact how genes are expressed in the brain. Aluminum is thought to change the activity of certain proteins and enzymes in the brain by binding to them and altering their shape or structure. This can cause an unwinding of DNA and disrupt the DNA replication process, which can trigger inflammation and cell death. Some studies have found aluminum-associated inflammation in parts of the brain, which may contribute to a neurodegenerative effect, but aluminum’s potential role isn’t fully understood.
How to Decrease Your Aluminum Exposure
Given the research regarding the risks of aluminum, there has been an uptick in aluminum alternatives. For example, there are now many aluminum-free antiperspirants on the market. If you’re unsure if a deodorant is aluminum-free, look for ingredients like aluminum chlorohydrate, aluminum ziroconium, or any other chemical name containing the word aluminum.
To decrease aluminum in your kitchen, consider switching to stainless steel or cast-iron cookware to avoid the leaching of toxic metals into your food. In place of aluminum foil when baking, look for reusable tray liners or parchment paper. And instead of wrapping leftovers in aluminum foil, use reusable food storage containers made from glass.
What is incense?
Burning incense is a common practice used in many cultures, tied to tranquility and spirituality. Historically incense has also been used as a mosquito repellent and air purifier. Incense is typically made from a combination of plant materials, such as dried herbs, flowers, resins, and essential oils, which release fragrant smoke when burned. While incense may bring a feeling of serenity and peace, burning it indoors can cause potential health hazards. This article will explore what incense is, its potential risks, and an alternative option.
What chemicals are found in burned incense?
The dangers of incense are primarily tied to the release of toxic compounds when incense is burned. In fact, chemical exposure from incense may be four times greater than that from cigarettes.
Harmful emissions from incense smoke are tied to a range of toxic compounds, including carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitric oxides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene, and formaldehyde. These substances, when inhaled, can have detrimental effects on your health.
- Carbon monoxide reduces the blood’s ability to transport oxygen, which can lead to dizziness, headaches, weakness, and nausea, or even severe illness with a higher exposure.
- Sulfur dioxide is associated with reduced work capacity, heart and lung complications, and impaired immune function.
- PAHs are cancer-promoting, particularly when released indoors.
- Benzene can cause eye inflammation, nose and throat irritation, nausea, vomiting, headaches, asthma exacerbation, and dizziness. Prolonged exposure can result in serious conditions, such as cancer, liver damage, and harm to the central nervous system.
- Formaldehyde is associated with an increased risk of cancer, specifically nasal cancer, and can impair the natural clearance of mucus from the respiratory system, and thereby worsen health issues.
What are the health risks of burning incense indoors?
When burning incense indoors, the small particle size within smoke can have negative health effects, regardless of the chemicals it contains. That’s because tiny particles remain in the air for extended periods of time, which makes it easier for them to enter the lungs.
Research shows that air pollution is a strong risk factor for heart disease and death. This may explain why studies indicate that an increased exposure to small pollutant particles from incense smoke increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
In children, incense burning has been shown to raise the risk of bronchitis, pneumonia, and wheezing. In adolescents, studies have linked reduced overall lung function and other respiratory problems, like asthma, to indoor incense burning.
What can I do to reduce my health risks?
To emit aromas without generating significant levels of potentially hazardous substances, consider candles in place of incense. Scented candles seem to pose much lower risks compared to burning incense, including no known heart or lung issues.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are one of the many types of toxins you’ll encounter in everyday life. Fortunately, there are ways to minimize your exposure to PFAS and reduce their potential health impact. This article will explain what PFAS are, risks associated with them, where they’re found, and how to avoid them.
What are PFAS?
PFAS are human-made chemicals found in cooking pans, seafood, and even drinking water. In kitchen pans PFAS are used for their non-stick properties and their ability to withstand heat without melting. While they’re helpful in some ways, PFAS have also been linked to negative health effects.
What are the Risks of PFAS Exposure?
PFAS have been associated with several health issues, including cancer, reproductive risks, and immune system damage, even at low levels of exposure. Recent research has suggested that PFAS can negatively affect hormones, weaken the immune system, and cause cell damage. PFAS have also been shown to disrupt the effects of certain vaccines, which can lead to potential immune system weaknesses.
In addition, studies show that a higher exposure to PFAS during pregnancy can cause lower infant birth weights and higher thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels, which can cause negative birth outcomes.
How to Avoid PFAS
PFAS in Water
While the government has taken steps to regulate PFAS contamination, you can also take action to protect your health. For example, The Environmental Working Group (EWG) website allows you to look up your municipality’s water report for various contaminants, including PFAS.
If you’re in an area with high PFAS, we recommend using a water filter. Studies have shown that activated carbon household filters can remove 21% – 99% of 14 different kinds of PFAS. Options include reusable water filtering pitchers or a whole house filter connected via plumbing.
PFAS in Food
PFAS can also be found in food. Research has found fish, dairy products, and meats to be high sources of PFAS. While we recommend a plant-based diet at Love.Life, we recognize that you may choose to include animal products. If so, take caution to limit PFAS, particularly in seafood. One study found the highest PFAS concentrations in clams and crabs, followed by cod, tuna, pollock, tilapia, salmon, and shrimp.
PFAS in Cookware
PFAS are found in many cookware items and may lead to exposure if used incorrectly. Generally speaking, if your cookware is labeled as “non-stick” or “Teflon,” it likely contains PFAS. Cast-iron and stainless-steel pots and pans are highly unlikely to contain PFAS and are a safer alternative.
If you use non-stick pans, avoid scratching them with sharp utensils, such as metal spatulas or forks, as doing so can add PFAS to your food. Opt for a rubber spatula or plastic tongs to avoid damaging the pan’s coating. Some research also suggests that PFAS can be released at temperatures of 350°F or greater. To avoid this risk, don’t preheat your non-stick cookware on a burner without food in the pan.
Phthalates are a commonly used group of chemicals known to pose health risks, including hormone disruption. They’re often used as additives in plastic products, nail polish, cosmetics, and food packaging. You can be exposed to phthalates through items that have come into contact with phthalate-containing materials and through the air. This article covers health risks associated with phthalates and how to reduce your exposure.
Impact on Hormones and Reproductive Health
Your body’s endocrine system regulates your hormones. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which include phthalates, can disrupt this system and impact growth, development, metabolism, reproduction, and behavior. Phthalates have been found to specifically affect reproduction hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone.
In men this can lead to decreased sperm concentrations, reduced sperm motility (movement), and overall infertility. Research has even linked phthalates to testicular defects when a mother is exposed during pregnancy. In addition, maternal and paternal exposure to phthalates before conception can increase the risk of preterm birth.
In women, phthalates have also been tied to a higher infertility risk as well as pregnancy disruptions and breast tumor development.
Phthalates in Food
Food is a significant source of phthalate exposure. Some research shows that vegetarian diets are associated with lower urine phthalate levels, even after eliminating meat for a short time. Phthalates are consistently found in high concentrations in foods like dairy products and meats, especially chicken and fish.
Unfortunately consuming an all-organic diet may not decrease phthalate levels. While research is somewhat conflicting on the highest sources of phthalates in the diet, we recommend a mostly plant-based diet at Love.Life, to potentially limit phthalate exposure and minimize its risks.