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August 20, 2008 Why am I getting this?
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Dear Reader,

Dreamy piano music, floating images of fresh fruit, flowers, and seaside vistas that's what you'll be greeted with when you visit the website of one of the world's largest air freshener producers.

But if you want to get past the fragrances (and the scented oils, the wickless candles, the plug-ins, the plug-ins with light show, etc.) and find some information about exactly what chemicals are in these products, you'll have to dig deep, and you won't find much.

Enter Anne C. Steinemann, Ph.D., of the University of Washington. She'll take us on a tour of the contents of a few air fresheners and laundry products.

Caution: This tour smells sweet, but protective facemasks are recommended.

Less than the very minimum

Dr. Steinemann's specialty is environmental engineering, so she became interested in air fresheners and other household products after hearing numerous reports from people who believed these items made them feel sick.

When she conducted a chemical analysis of three best-selling air fresheners and three laundry products, she says, "I was surprised by both the number and the potential toxicity of the chemicals that were found." To avoid legal issues, Dr. Steinemann didn't reveal any brand names of the products tested.

  • In six products, Dr. Steinemann found nearly 100 volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • 10 of the VOCs are regulated as either toxic or hazardous
  • Three are classified as carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants, which have no safe exposure level according to the EPA
  • One of the VOCs was methyl chloride, linked to nervous system, liver, and kidney damage in animals
  • Each of the six products contained at least one of the 10 toxic or hazardous VOCs
None of the product labels listed any of these VOCs. No surprise there because U.S. laws don't require manufacturers of household products to list contents.

Reacting to this study, one toxicologist told the Baltimore Sun: "At the very minimum, we should have a right to know what is in these products."

Gradual accumulation

So what's the real danger in getting an occasional whiff of laundry detergent, shampoo, or air freshener?

In the e-Alert "Something in the Air" (2/14/05), I told you about a UK study in which researchers monitored VOC levels for one year in 170 homes where mothers spent their days at home with children.

  • In homes where air fresheners were used daily, mothers averaged nearly 10 percent more frequent headaches than mothers in homes where air fresheners were used once a week or less
  • In the "daily" homes, mothers had more than 25 percent higher risk of depression
  • In the "daily" homes, infants were 32 percent more likely to suffer from diarrhea
  • Infants in the "daily" homes had a significantly higher rate of earaches than infants in "once a week" homes
Researchers noted that the daily use of air fresheners and other aerosol products created a gradual accumulation of VOCs.

Dr. Steinemann suggests that consumers avoid air fresheners and choose fragrance-free products. But beware some manufacturers simply use a "masking fragrance" to neutralize the aroma of scented products.


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....and another thing

Patients with mild type 2 diabetes might help control blood sugar levels with an Indian herb known as Coccinia indica.

Because C. indica has been used for centuries in traditional Indian healing to treat diabetes, researchers at the National Academy of Health Sciences in Bangalore tested the botanical in a 90-day, placebo-controlled trial.

The Bangalore team recruited 60 subjects between the ages of 35 and 60 all recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. None of the subjects were taking drugs to control blood sugar levels. Split into two groups, half took one gram of C. indica daily, and half took a placebo. Blood tests were taken at baseline, 45 days, and again at the end of the study

In the journal Diabetes Care, researchers wrote: "There was a significant decrease in the fasting, postprandial blood glucose and A1C of the experimental group compared with that of the placebo group."

The A1C result is particularly impressive because this test reveals blood sugar fluctuations that occur over the period of 60 to 90 days prior to blood being drawn.

A free HSI report titled "Diabetes Defeated" offers more information about using botanical extracts to control blood sugar levels.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson

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Tap into the minds of other health-conscious readers like yourself at the new HSI health forum:

"Fragranced Consumer Products and Undisclosed Ingredients" Environmental Impact Assessment Review, Published online ahead of print 7/10/08,
"Toxic Chemicals Found in Fresheners" Sandi Doughton, The Baltimore Sun, 7/24/08,
"Symptoms of Mothers and Infants Related to Total Volatile Organic Compounds in Household Products" Archives of Environmental Health, Vol. 58, No. 18, October 2003,
"Effect of Supplementation of Coccinia cordifolia Extract on Newly Detected Diabetic Patients" Diabetes Care, Published online 11/13/08,

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