The scary truth about toxic chemicals

Updated 17 June 2016
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The scary truth about toxic chemicals

The Toxic Consumer’ sheds light on the correlation between the rise of non-infectious health problems and the increase in our exposure to synthetic chemicals. Our confrontation with man-made chemicals is relatively recent. The first synthetic chemicals were created in the late nineteenth century; however the chemical industry really took off after the Second World War. Researchers working on chemical weapons for combat use understood that the lethal poisons they had created could fight against the damages caused by insects on the crops. Soon after, chemists were able to produce man-made chemicals which would improve our way of life. In other words, synthetic chemicals are used to make consumer products more attractive, easier to use and longer lasting.
“This book is concerned with toxic chemicals having either proven or strongly implicated effects on our health, but which we are often exposed to without any choice. They are chemicals that we don’t even know are there.”
Recently, the French consumer magazine, “Que Choisir” created an uproar by publishing a list of 185 cosmetic products containing undesirable substances. Most of the listed products (toothpastes, shampoos, creams, deodorants, etc.) are manufactured by well-known brands such as Nivea, Colgate, Sisley, Eucerin, Dove, Garnier and L’Oreal to name but a few.
The idea behind this list is to force the manufacturers to stop using potentially dangerous substances in many cosmetic products and to inform consumers about the presence of these health hazardous chemicals in products we use on a daily basis to brush our teeth, wash our hair and moisturize our face. The only way to deal with the unacceptable lack of labeling is to enhance our awareness of potentially dangerous products to minimize exposure to chemicals that might be harmful to us.
The authors give us a detailed list of some of the most common toxic chemicals to watch. There is growing evidence that certain chemicals found in everyday products can be disruptive to neurological function, cause cancer and finally compromise fertility.
“What is more, many of these chemicals are bioaccumulative: that is, they build up in our body fat and never leave.”
Musk is a very popular scent but real musk is extremely expensive. Only about 700 pounds of natural musk are produced per year and it costs approximately three times its weight in gold. The musk deer is now a protected species but chemists succeeded in isolating its main odorous element, muscone in 1926, thus giving birth to synthetic musk.
Synthetic musk is mostly used as fixative rather than a scent. As a fixative it makes smell last longer. It has the magical property to enhance and prolong the smell of whatever it is added to, which explains its success in the cosmetic industry.
To conclude it can be said that wherever there is fragrance, there is usually synthetic musk. Synthetic musk is found in shampoos, conditioners, shaving foams, body washes, detergents, air-fresheners, children’s toys, scented candles, toothpaste and almost any product that can be made more appealing by adding fragrance. The healthful alternative is to purchase all-natural cosmetics and prefer the fragrance-free versions.
Parabens should also be watched very carefully. They have been used since the 1920s, to prevent the growth of bacteria in foods and facial and body cosmetics. Their rapid excretion from the body led to a general assumption that parabens were not toxic but new scientific studies indicate that parabens have been found in breast tumors and may be implicated in breast cancer. A number of manufacturers are now responding to consumer concerns and developing products free of parabens.
The authors also focus on indoor pollutants and explain how to reduce indoor pollution. If there are obvious energy-saving benefits to tightly sealed windows and high levels of home insulation, it is essential to have outdoor air flowing into the home to reduce the concentrations of any airborne contaminants. Living in a house filled with chemically laden fixtures, furnishings, and products in a near-airtight environment makes for a very unhealthful living situation.
Furthermore, the presence in house dust of most of the toxic chemicals mentioned in this book is a clear indicator of the indoor level of contaminants.
Dust in the home represents a particular threat to children. Carpeting is a case in point since it can hold up to eight times its own weight in dirt, so the deeper the pile, the more toxic it can be. Similarly, vinyl (PVC} flooring is particularly toxic and has been associated with increased risk of asthma and allergies.
There are various alternative and healthful flooring options such as rugs or carpets made with vegetable fiber content such as sisal or even sea grass. Natural linoleum made from renewable materials is long-lasting, low-maintenance and made from renewable materials.
Another good renewable material is natural rubber as long as it does not have chlorinated content.
“Modern technology has given us a vast array of electronic devices to entertain ourselves with and to use to communicate with other’s while at home. TVs, DVD players, stereo systems, plasma screens, laptop and desktop computers, cordless and cell phones are popular domestic gadgets. They consist of plastic casings, semi-conductors, and quantities of toxic chemicals.
Make sure you turn electrical goods off when they are not in use. You must not let them overheat and finally you must check that the rooms where they are electrical goods remain at all times, well ventilated.
If you want to avoid chemical cleaners, you can use white vinegar mixed with water. It doesn’t smell and it cleans windows, glass and tiled surfaces.
It is also interesting to know that baking soda mixed with water turns into an all-purpose cleaner for sinks and baths. This mixture can also be sprinkled over carpets as a deodorizer. Finally, salt can be used to scour pots and pans and olive oil mixed with vinegar may be used to polish furniture.
The publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson in 1962 was a powerful wake up call to the world about the impact of synthetic chemicals on nature. Yet more than 60 years later, the regulatory systems are still floundering in the face of past mistakes and a flourishing chemical industry.
To reduce our dependence on common toxic products we need stringent laws requiring chemical companies to be responsible for their products’ effects on health and the environment. We also require a greater public awareness. Consumers must put pressure on the manufacturers to produce toxic free products.
“We know exactly how to change the ways of the world for a sustainable future, but we don’t,” write the authors.
Yet it is possible to dramatically reduce exposure to common toxic chemicals. We are consumers and have the power to question our retailers, product manufacturers and politicians. We must ask questions and demand answers.
This straightforward guide informs us about the presence of toxic chemicals in our food, cosmetic products, flooring, clothing and bedding. It helps us make the right choices to minimize the risks of being exposed to harmful substances.

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Evolution of coffee culture in KSA

Original local cafes are working hard to maintain their reputation for serving authentic coffee. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 09 December 2018
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Evolution of coffee culture in KSA

  • The growing number of cafes has helped people share their passion for coffee, proving that it is much more than a beverage

JEDDAH: Coffee has always been a major part of Arab culture, a traditional companion at gatherings, weddings and a wide variety of social events.
In Arab households, there is never an occasion where the “dallah” — the Arabic traditional coffee pot — is unavailable. Coffee is served over and over again in small Arabic cups.
Recently, however, there has been a rise in another branch of coffee culture, “specialty coffee.”
Western coffee culture has spread rapidly in Saudi Arabia, with local cafes popping up on the streets and in shopping malls. Their growing popularity is well deserved.
Original local cafes such as Brew 92, meddcoffee, Cup and Couch and others have worked hard to grow their reputation for serving authentic coffee, rather than using sugar and other elements to change the taste of the beverage.
The growing number of cafes has helped people share their passion for coffee, proving that it is much more than a beverage.
Atheer Al-Dhari, a barista at Ekleel cafe, said: “I love coffee. After four years’ experience in coffee, it is not just a career or a job but my biggest passion. My husband encouraged me to be more than a home barista.
“A couple of years ago, modern coffee was not popular,” the 26-year-old barista said. “But, then, as people observed the complexity of coffee they became curious. It was our responsibility to show them how coffee worked and that it was more than just a beverage. It takes years to even grow the coffee tree, so it is a lot of work and effort. There are farmers, roasteries, training, lots of money and so much more involved in serving a cup of coffee.”
Abbas Anwar Khan, a marketing specialist at Qatarat cafe, said: “We work on introducing a variety of coffee to the public, to familiarize them with the many flavors and textures.”
Rawan Jambi, a partner in the Rico Coast Lounge, said: “We are looking to introduce ourselves in many different areas, such as Riyadh and Dammam. Recently people have been following the trend of drinking coffee, and they try to include it in their routine from day to night.
“Back in the day, there was just Arabic coffee, but gradually Americanos, cappuccino and other types of hot coffee were introduced. Also due to the hot weather, cold coffees were introduced, which is a big change,” she said.
Recent events have been held to highlight the history and development of coffee in Jeddah. In November, two major events promoted different cafes and offered people a chance to taste their offerings.
“It is very significant for us. The coffee business is growing quickly and competition is strong. It is like a wildfire,” said 19-year-old barista Abdullah Babouk from Beyond Coffee.
“What I like about being a barista is that people who drink coffee have a routine where they come to us every day. Rather than it being a customer-provider relationship, we are a community. Every cafe should open with a vision to stand out and not just make money. Coffee should be treated like gold and that is our mission.”
Although coffee consumption has few health risks and considerable benefits, “anything and everything is harmful when we abuse it,” said dietician Dr. Ruwaida Idrees.
“Coffee bears some risks, and high consumption of unfiltered coffee has been associated with mild elevations in cholesterol levels,” she said.
“More than two cups of coffee a day can increase the risk of heart disease in people with a specific and fairly common genetic mutation that slows the breakdown of caffeine in the body.”
Caffeine addiction can be a serious problem for some people, including students and office employees who sacrifice sleep and drink coffee to stay alert.
“The first step is admitting you have a problem with coffee, then start to work on solving the problem,” Idrees said. “Drinking half-caffeinated or decaffeinated versions can help, as can walking around the office or getting other physical activity when you feel sleepy.”
As long as it is not consumed in large quantities, coffee is something to be cherished and each cup enjoyed.