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Alternatives For Healing


by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss

Dear EarthTalk: My hairdresser was just diagnosed with leukemia and I wonder if there is a link between the chemicals in hair dye and cancer? -- Cyndi B., Tallahassee, FL

The short answer is...maybe. Scientists have found links between certain types of cancer and repeated exposure to so-called “permanent” hair dyes (that is, the kind you would get in the hair salon that would stay put until the hair is replaced by new growth).

These dyes contain a cocktail of potentially harmful substances, including formaldehyde (linked to cancer and fetal damage in utero), p-Phenylenediamine (lung and kidney problems, bladder cancer), DMDM Hydantoin (an immunotoxin restricted in other countries but not the U.S.), ammonia (respiratory problems and asthma), coal tar (a known carcinogen), resorcinol (a hormone disruptor) and eugenol (cancer, allergies, and immune and neurological issues). These dyes penetrate and bind with hair shafts; darker dyes require more of the potentially harmful coloring agents and are therefore more dangerous.

Three-quarters of adult women in the U.S. color their hair, but it’s the hair care workers, exposed to noxious chemicals daily, who are most at risk. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), some studies have shown that hairdressers, stylists and barbers who work with these dyes do indeed have a slightly elevated risk of developing bladder cancer, leukemia or non-Hodgkin lymphoma, while others proved inconclusive. If working with hair is your job, you might want to consider limiting your exposure to permanent hair dyes, or at least look for and offer safer alternatives, even if they don’t last as long.

A good place to start is the “Hair Color & Bleaching” section of the free online Skin Deep database, launched in 2004 by the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) to provide information on the ingredients of common household cleaning and health and beauty products—and to highlight potential hazards and health concerns. The database contains listings for hundreds of hair color products, both for at-home use and in salons, that won’t make you sick. Some favorite all-natural, non-toxic brands to try include EcoColors, Hairprint, Organic & Mineral, Logona, Good Dye Young and Naturigin.

According to Nicole Cothrun Venables, a Hollywood-based stylist, there are many all-natural ways to enhance, brighten or alter your existing hair color without subjecting your locks to carcinogenic chemicals. “Fruit, vegetable, and herb restorative color cocktails are excellent rinses that can be applied once per week to refresh your color,” she reports. “Tea, coffee and wine hair stains are also gentle ways to add subtle hints of opaque color, depth, highlights and shine.” Check out her DIY hair color treatment recipes and techniques in her HuffPost article “7 Non-Toxic Solutions to Healthy Hair Color.”

Another way to avoid potentially dangerous hair color treatments is to just get over your misplaced vanity and accept your natural hair color—even if it’s gray—as a beautiful expression of who you are and what you stand for in the increasingly manicured, colorized and fabricated world we now inhabit.

CONTACTS: ACS’s “Hair Dye,” cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/hair-dyes.html; EWG, ewg.org/skindeep/browse/hair+color+and+bleaching/; EcoColors, www.ecocolors.net; Hairprint, www.myhairprint.com; Organic & Mineral, originalmineral.com/cct-color/; Logona, logona.de/de/haare/pflanzen-haarfarben.html; Sante, sante.de/en/hair/herbal-hair-colors.html; Good Dye Young, gooddyeyoung.com/#colors; Naturigin, naturigin.com/natural-hair-colours/; HuffPost, www.huffpost.com/entry/nontoxic-hair-dye_b_1005188.

Dear EarthTalk: A chef told me that our food choices are the major driver of climate change around the world, but it seems to me that electricity generation and transportation are really more the problem, no? -- Melanie G., Moodus, CT

It depends how you slice it. Producing electricity (power plants) and getting ourselves and our stuff around (transportation) do generate the majority of greenhouse gas emissions around the world. But while the agriculture sector in and of itself is only responsible for about 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, the impact of our food choices ripples throughout other sectors as well, with the untold transport miles devoted to shipping food within and between continents, driving to and from restaurants and the grocery store—and all the disposable packaging food is wrapped in that gets tossed into landfills.

Meanwhile, we all use lots of electricity and gas to cook and prepare our food and to keep it cool in the fridge until we’re ready for it. And since we throw away some 30 percent of the food we buy, much of the carbon emitted to produce and transport it is for naught. No doubt, our food choices are an important factor in moving society away from our profligate use of fossil fuels and toward a greener future.

Whether or not you’ve already taken steps to reduce your carbon footprint by driving or flying less and boosting the efficiency of the buildings and appliances where you live and work, you can do a lot more by changing your diet. The UK office of the non-profit WWF has teamed up with Knorr Foods, one of the largest food brands globally, to launch a new initiative called The Future 50 Foods which encourages people to diversify their diets beyond the carbon-intensive staples so many of us rely on day-to-day.

“Greater diversity in our diets is essential, as the lack of variety in agriculture is both bad for nature and a threat to food security,” reports WWF. “Currently 75 percent of the world’s food comes from just 12 plant and five animal species.”

This so-called dietary monotony is not just bad for our bodies, given the lack of diversity and limited consumption of some vitamins and minerals, it is also linked to a decline in the diversity of plants and animals used in and around agriculture. According to WWF, we’ve lost some 75 percent of the genetic plant diversity in agriculture since 1900.

Some of the “future 50 foods” that WWF and Knorr would like us to eat more of include some familiar ingredients—lentils, kale, wild rice— as well as others that you’ve probably never heard of let alone considered eating, like pumpkin flowers, cactus and fonio, a nutrition-rich, ancient West African grain that Cooking Light magazine calls “the new super grain that could replace quinoa.”

“Many of these have higher yields than the crops we currently rely on and several are tolerant of challenging weather and environmental conditions, meaning they could not only reduce the land required for crops, but also prove invaluable in the face of growing climate uncertainty,” says WWF. “It’s essential that we change our eating habits to ensure we protect our planet whilst feeding the growing global population.”

CONTACTS: WWF, www.wwf.org.uk; Knorr’s Future 50 Foods Report, www.knorr.com/uk/future50report.html; Cooking Light, www.cookinglight.com/cooking-101/what-is-fonio

Dear EarthTalk: Earth Day (April 22) is coming around again soon. What is the theme for this year’s festivities? How can I find events or celebrations near me? -- J. P., Columbus, OH

Each year upwards of 500 million people in 174 countries celebrate Earth Day, the largest secular holiday in the world. Earth Day is a great reminder for everyone otherwise just going about their daily lives that we should all be doing more to protect ecosystems, fight climate change and live greener lifestyles.

According to Earth Day Network (EDN), the non-profit that has been organizing and overseeing Earth Day every year since its inception in 1970, this year’s focus is on species protection. The group reports that we’re losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the normal rate. “Many species will disappear before we learn about them or the benefits they bring to our ecosystems and our planet,” says EDN. “The loss is so great that the welfare and future of the human species are threatened.”

EDN is using the platform of Earth Day to raise awareness about the accelerating rate of extinction of countless numbers of species and why this speed-up is happening now. They hope to activate a global movement that values nature in and of itself, and to encourage individual actions that help fight climate change, one of the most serious threats not only to humans but also animal and plant species.

The group has also enlisted the help of thousands of partner organizations around the world to advance and protect laws, policies, regulations and international agreements to prevent species loss and preserve as much biodiversity on the planet as possible. Here in the U.S., EDN is focusing on saving the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act from the deregulatory sword of the Trump administration.

“The good news is that the rate of extinctions can still be slowed, and many of our declining, threatened and endangered species can still recover if we work together now to build a united global movement of consumers, voters, educators, faith leaders and scientists to demand immediate action,” says EDN president Kathleen Rogers.

You can show your support for the cause by showing up at an Earth Day event near you. Chiff.com provides links to Earth Day events in various major cities across North America including Boston, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Jacksonville, Houston, New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Seattle, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, Ottawa and Quebec. If you live elsewhere, check out Everfest’s Earth Day page which lists events in 40 different metro regions across the U.S. Or if you can’t get to an event, just do something good for the planet: plant a tree, bike to work, go meatless. Even better, check out U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ideas for community service projects, from watershed restoration of local waterways to waste reduction at school


With so many options, you can easily be a part of the solution to our environmental woes in 2019. And if you’re not already respecting the Earth on a daily basis, Earth Day is a great time to start.

CONTACTS: EDN, earthday.org; Chiff.com, chiff.com/home_life/holiday/earth-day.htm; Everfest, everfest.com/lists/seasonal-earth-day; EPA, epa.gov/students/community-service-environmental-project-ideas-students-and-educators.

Dear EarthTalk: Do all the Democratic contenders for President in 2020 agree on the need to battle climate change? Which ones have demonstrated the most leadership on environmental issues?

-- Joe Bradley, Minneapolis, MN

With 18 Democrats already declared as running for president in 2020 (Pete Buttigieg, Eric Swalwell, Tim Ryan, Kristen Gillibrand, Beto O’Rourke, John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Julian Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, John Delaney, Wayne Messam, Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang), and several more likely to officially join the fray, there is no shortage of ideas on ways to beat Donald Trump. Besides their common desire to unseat Trump, all of these White House hopefuls agree on the need to address climate change before it’s too late.

A recent New York Times survey of the field found that each candidate favors bringing back Obama-era regulations designed to curb power plant and automotive emissions and curtail coal leasing on federal lands. Likewise, all 18 say the U.S. should recommit to the Paris climate agreement despite Trump’s efforts to pull out. But less than half (Castro, Gabbard, Gillibrand, Hickenlooper, Inslee, O’Rourke, Sanders, Warren and Williamson) are for even stronger new regulations to push us further faster on transitioning to a green economy.

Meanwhile, the non-profit 350 Action recently published the results of its 2020 Climate Test, a scorecard rating each candidate’s climate cred based on whether they support the Green New Deal or similar legislation, have taken actions to keep fossil fuels in the ground, and have pledged to refuse campaign financing from petrochemical interests. Gillibrand, Inslee, Sanders, Swalwell, Warren and Williamson scored 3/3 on the test, while Booker, Buttigieg, Gabbard and Yang each scored 2/3. (Delaney and Hickenlooper failed all three tests, despite acknowledging that climate change is a serious issue.)

Perhaps the candidate with the most climate skin in the game is Washington governor Jay Inslee, who has declared solving the climate crisis the primary focus of his White House bid. His 2007 book Apollo’s Fire: Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy laid out a plan for solving the climate crisis via a rapid transition to renewable energy sources with massive investments in clean energy jobs that would benefit Americans from all walks of life—much like the Green New Deal proposal released earlier this year by New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Harris, Booker, Gillibrand, Sanders and Warren each served as co-sponsors for the Green New Deal’s introduction in the Senate.

Warren, a longtime sympathizer with environmental causes, recently released her plan to boost renewable energy production and protect public lands if she becomes president. The crux of her proposal calls for banning the extraction of fossil fuels on public lands (and off-shore in domestic waters) and replacing it with renewable energy production so as to meet 10 percent of the nation’s overall electricity supply.

If any of the Democrats can take control of the White House in 2020, environmental advocates will no doubt breathe a sigh of relief.

CONTACTS: “We Asked The 2020 Democrats About Climate Change,” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/18/us/politics/climate-change-democrats.html; 2020 Climate Test, https://350action.org/2020-tracker/.


Dear EarthTalk: I’m looking for ideas for healthy, green snacks to have around the house and for packing with the kids’ lunches. Any ideas? -- Mickey P., Salt Lake City, UT

There are so many healthy, green food options out there today that the work is no longer in finding them but is instead in choosing between them. One favorite for kids’ lunch boxes is gimMe Snacks roasted seaweed. Some 15 to 100 times more volume of seaweed can grow on the same footprint as lettuce. And while seaweed requires no water to produce, lettuce needs 15 gallons per pound. The entire gimMe product line is made with organic, non-GMO seaweed sustainably grown in South Korea.

Forager Project takes the skin, seeds and pulp that other food companies toss and rehydrates it into veggie chips that are like eco-friendly Doritos. Cheezy and Wasabi are among the company's signature flavors. You won’t feel like a bad parent when your kids pull Forager Project chips out of their lunch boxes.

If you’re beyond milk, Modest Mylk could be just what you’re looking for. Purchasing just one (recyclable glass) jar gives you 42 servings of nut mylk and saves 11 milk cartons from going to the landfill. When blended for just 60 seconds with water, the shelf-stable base creates fresh homemade nut mylk—free from carrageenan, gums, emulsifiers, preservatives, and artificial ingredients.

Another favorite non-dairy treat is Nuttzo, which makes nut butters without using antibiotics, growth hormones, pesticides or fertilizers—and with ingredients farmed under national standards of renewable resources and soil and water conservation. It's Organic Power Fuel Chocolate spread has cashews, brazil nuts, almonds, flax seeds, chia seeds, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, chocolate and sea salt—and no palm oil.

Stonyfield Organic, which started as an organic farming school before adding on yogurt production some 35 years ago, still supports the planet through renewable energy and packaging its products in plant-made material instead of plastic. Snack lovers young and old still love their organic string cheese, fruity cows, graham crackers and cookies, not to mention the New Hampshire company's signature yogurt.

Since its beginnings at an Austin, Texas farmers market in 2009, GoodPop’s frozen pops have always been made with non-GMO, Fair Trade Certified, rBST-free, organic and locally sourced ingredients. We like Cookies N’ Cream and Banana Cinnamon, but you might be more the Chocolate Milk or Watermelon Agave type. GoodPops are made with whole foods and never concentrates, extracts or artificial flavors.

Alter Eco's tagline “Enlightened Indulgence” perfectly describes this green-minded chocolate company's ethos. Whether you like truffles, caramels, smothered almonds or just good old-fashioned chocolates, Alter Eco lets you enjoy without the environmental guilt, as their Swiss-made chocolate is crafted from organic cacao by farmers who are replanting South American rainforests.

There are plenty of other ideas out there. Just browse the aisles of Whole Foods and you’ll find lots of other choices. And don’t forget about good old-fashioned fruit and veggies. Crunchy carrots, juicy apples and tart blueberries never go out of style on the kitchen counter or in the lunch box.

CONTACTS: gimMe, gimmesnacks.com; Forager Project, foragerproject.com; Modest Mylk, modestmylk.com; Nuttzo, nuttzo.com; Stonyfield, stonyfield.com; GoodPop, goodpops.com; Alter Eco, alterecofoods.com.

EarthTalk® is produced by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss for the 501(c)3 nonprofit EarthTalk. To read more, check out https://emagazine.com. To donate, visit https://earthtalk.org. Send questions to: question@earthtalk.org.


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