Our fear of fire has led us to douse everything from PJs to couches in fire-retardant chemicals – mostly PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) and chlorinated Tris. Now those chemicals are in the bloodstream of up to 97 percent of North Americans. It’s true, they reduce the risk of injury in a fire, and that’s good, but we’re also more likely to see decreased fertility in women, learning and coordination disabilities in kids, and lower birth weights in newborns.
It seems that as the chemicals leach out of household products, such as electronics, carpets and fabrics and foam used in upholstered furniture, they can be inhaled or ingested. But you can do a lot to remove the peril from your home and protect your family:
• Discard dry, disintegrating foam cushions. And repair tears in upholstery that can allow chemicals from cushions to drift into the air.
• Eighty percent of baby and kids’ clothes have fire-retardant chemicals in them, but you can avoid them by buying untreated, natural fabrics, not highly flammable synthetics.
• Control household dust; vacuum and damp-mop regularly.
Bottom line: Read all labels, and say no to carpets, carpet pads, furniture, bedding and fabrics with fire retardants. Say yes to naturally fire-resistant materials, including wool, cotton and hemp.
Don’t let eating insects bug you
More than 1,400 species of insects and arachnids are eaten by millions of your fellow Earthlings. Tarantulas, scorpions (fangs and stingers removed), bamboo worms, grasshoppers and water bugs are an everyday part of the diet – and an important source of nutrients – in many cultures. And if these critters are commercially raised so they’re pesticide- and germ-free (no picking them out of the local field), you’ll get nutrition and flavor.
In China, bee larvae and fried silkworm are considered delicacies, and they deliver a good dose of copper, iron, riboflavin, thiamin and zinc. Water bugs have four times the iron of beef. A 3 1/2 ounce portion of caterpillars delivers 350 calories and a bit more protein than the same amount of chicken. When you compare hamburger, which is 18 percent protein and 18 percent or more saturated fat, to cooked grasshopper, which is 60 percent protein and 6 percent unsaturated fat, grasshopper wins. Plus, it has a nutty crunch.
Scorpions taste like crab.
And if you think you’ve never eaten a bug, think again. In our mass-produced food world, everything from spices to canned soups have "allowable" insect content, set by the Food and Drug Administration.
Wash dog paws after slushy walk
Aunt Sophie is coming over, and you’ve salted the walk to make sure she won’t slip on a patch of ice. Suddenly Fido has that look on his face: "Gotta go! Now!" So you grab the leash and head down the walk, through the slush and around the block, scooper and plastic bag in hand.
Along the way, Fido’s paws probably are going to pick up a good dose of that rock salt you just threw down, along with de-icer residue from the slush on the roadways. That slush can contain chemicals, such as potassium chloride, magnesium chloride, calcium carbonate and calcium magnesium acetate – they’re toxic when in a concentrated form. If Fido steps in or ingests such chemicals, skin ulcers, nausea or vomiting can follow.
And be alert to another potential winter hazard: antifreeze. If it leaks onto the driveway, pets can lick up the sweet-tasting ethylene glycol; even a little bit can be lethal.
Here’s how to keep your pet safe this winter.
1. Get him boots for his paws if he’ll wear them.
2. Wash your pooch’s paws with warm water immediately after a winter walk.
3. Remove all ice and snow from his feet and coat before he starts cleaning himself.
4. Use nontoxic gravel and sand on walkways. They don’t taste good enough for Fido to eat, but wash his paws anyway. That way, when grooming, he won’t ingest whatever he’s walked through. And inspect your driveway regularly for signs of antifreeze leaks.
New ways to make your heart healthier
Science fiction came a little closer to reality in 2012 when scientists learned how the heart uses its existing cells to make new ones after some are damaged in a heart attack. They’ve also discovered a host of new steps you can take to make sure your ticker keeps producing these healthy new heart cells.
Prevent collateral damage: Stopping sleep apnea and snoring can prevent heart damage. Your best moves: Lose weight if you need to; stay away from alcohol and tobacco; and use a nighttime breathing assist, called CPAP. Other surprising ways to avoid heart disease? Brush, floss and get regular checkups from a dental professional. (You’ll also protect yourself from diabetes and erectile dysfunction – particularly for men 30 to 40 years old.)
Get proactive: A new study shows that when you add a healthy diet (low in saturated fats, no trans fats, lots of veggies and fruits, lean protein and 100 percent whole grain) to an optimal medication regimen (most likely, statins and managing blood pressure), you increase your protection from cardiac events significantly – particularly if you already have cardiovascular disease or diabetes. Habitual physical activity also lowers the risk of heart-damaging metabolic syndrome and diabetes, and keeps your heart cells healthy. Get your heart rate up to 85 percent of your age-adjusted max for 20 minutes, three times a week. Walk 10,000 steps a day – no excuses. And lift weights for 30 minutes a week.