Krya

  • Let it bleed: The Yang of reusable menstrual products

    I can’t seem to get the phrase “Let it bleed “out of my head for the past few days. I was reading about the 1969 Rolling Stones album called Let it bleed” and shortly afterwards read the Ian Rankin novel of the same name, inspired by the album. And then, all through July my partner Preethi has been reading, researching, blogging and advocating the cause of re-usable cloth napkins, as opposed to disposable sanitary napkins.

    I share an office with her and obviously I cannot help being surrounded by excited discussion around periods, menstruation and how women can green their periods by switching to cloth napkins. It was an important cause for us at Krya and I was happy to observe from the sidelines and carry on with my own work. And then suddenly, out of the blue, Preethi asked me to write an article, the man’s perspective on menstruation and re-usable napkins. I should have seen it coming though, given my special background.

    Where it all began : a class project on the sanitary napkin industry

    It all started in college, at IIM-Bangalore in 2000. I obviously knew nothing about menstruation, beyond the two periods in the biology class that dealt with the female reproductive system. What little I learnt in those biology classes, could have been written on the side of a tampon. Of devices to manage menstrual flow, like sanitary napkins, I knew nothing at all.

    In a marketing course we were a group of five, four lads and a girl. Our project was to take a particular product category, and analyze how disruptive marketing strategies turned the category on its head, or something to that effect. We were just a few days from the deadline and had no clue about the project and not much inclination either.

    Then the sole girl in our group decided to take matters into her own hands and started work on writing a project report on the sanitary napkin category in India. Obviously she had some knowledge of the industry as a consumer and to her credit; it had a lot of potential for the marketing academic to work with. Needless to say she toiled alone for a few days with the other four lads clapping and encouraging her from the sidelines.

    Then on the very last evening before the big project presentation, she gave up the lone crusade. And decided it was time to take help. I was the first group member that she could locate and with a massive number of grade points on the line, I decided to do my share of the project work. This close to the deadline I could not start work on a new category and so I decided to man up and learn all about sanitary napkins. Soon I found myself sitting in the night canteen , quizzing a couple of girls about their periods, their choice of sanitary protection and a quick download on belted and beltless napkins, ultra-thin and cottony napkins. Needless to say, the next morning, in front of a class of sixty colleagues and an embarrassed, middle-aged marketing professor, I gave a profound lecture on the Indian sanitary napkin industry.

    And it didn't stop there: I went on to join a sanitary napkin company

    That little marketing project was just the beginning.  A year later, by an extremely convoluted, twisted turn of events, I found myself working in a company that also happened to be India’s largest manufacturer of sanitary napkins. Then I drew the short straw and got assigned to the marketing team responsible for sanitary napkins. On my first day as the product manager of the ultra-thin napkin brand, I remembered my marketing project in college and like Wooster, emitted a hollow, mirthless, laugh.

    The company was bleeding market share and miracles were expected of my ultra-thin brand. As a first step, I remember writing a detailed newsletter to the entire sales force, on why gel-based ultra-thin napkins were the future, how they offered superior, discreet protection to women even on heavy flow days. I just couldn’t believe what I was writing at that time and restore my sanity, I heavily referenced a favorite Jimi Hendrix song and threw in a Superman comics reference. I even branded all my monthly newsletters as Purple Haze.

    The surreal world of sanitary product sales

    For the next couple of years I found myself daily in an increasingly surreal set of situations. I have held P&L responsibility for belted napkins, ultra-thin napkins, beltess cottony napkins, tampons (with and without digital applicator) and even liners.

    For a brief period (the fifth pun so far, for those keeping count) I was the only man in a five member marketing team and battled several “what would you know” type of arguments. I have written a detailed research report on why belted napkins were crucial to the mother-ship and had a future. For a few weeks, with some key teammates on leave, I had responsibility for the brands customer care cell. I have no doubt that the hundreds of consumers writing to the brand with their period problems pictured a middle aged gynecologist at the other end.

    Someone got the idea that women executives in MNC banks were well suited to receive marketing messages about tampons and I found myself in a bank in Delhi one day distributing free samples of tampons to the unsuspecting women in a bank at lunchtime. In return for the samples, we requested product feedback. During a call back a month later, one lady said that she had no use for our tampons as she had reached menopause.

    Connecting the dots at Krya

    However more than a decade later, as I type this article at my office in Krya , one experience stands out and has a whole lot of relevance to our discussion on re-usable cloth napkins. In my first job, I had the primary responsibility to execute a massive pan-India program to educate school girls on menstrual hygiene and of course distribute a free sample of a wood-pulp based napkin at the end of the lecture. This was conducted with the blessing of the local health authorities and focused on government girls schools in the smaller districts.

    The entire program was a well oiled machine and all that was required of me was to travel once every other month for a field visit to check out the execution. In a girls school in Nasik district, I was waiting outside the class full girls who were receiving information about how cloth rags were unhygienic and why napkins were crucial to women’s health. For obvious reasons I never entered the hall during these lectures, but on this occasion I was asked by a teacher to respond to a very specific question by one of the girls. She simply asked me that that it was all very well to receive the free sample, but come the next month she had no hope that her parents could afford to buy her a pack of napkins. So what’s a girl to do? I gave her a brief answer on price versus value and the importance of health.

    Looking back I have been responsible in a small way, for distributing millions of wood-pulp based disposable napkins along with a subtle message that cloth was an inferior, unhygienic solution.

    But cloth napkins are not inferior

    I am glad today that at Krya I have a fantastic opportunity to set right some wrongs of days past. For one, there is no question that disposable napkins of any stripe are an environmental disaster. They present a huge landfill and public health problem. Period.

    Secondly, I am reliably told that re-usable cloth pads are way better for the user, no weird dioxins or fragrances. In my career as a product manager I depended completely on Preethi’ s wisdom for consumer behavior and was rather successful too. Once again with her direct, profound experiences on using re-usable cloth napkins, I can recommend that they good for the environment and good for you too.

    To this I will add the man’s perspective. Switching to re-usable cloth pads from disposables needs some serious support. Sometimes there can be weird smells in the bathroom as they get washed. A few stray drops of blood on floor. I am acutely aware that a few disapproving comments from the partner can add immensely to the existing mental barrier around re-usable cloth pads.

    So here are my 5 reasons why men should encourage their wives/partners to switch to re-usable cloth napkins.

    1. No more emergency, late night runs to the pharmacy to bring back a black plastic bag.
    2. Do it for the environment, disposables are an environmental headache.
    3. Do it for the woman in your life. My reliable source tells me that re-usable cloth pads are more comfortable, work really well and are safer too.
    4. There is no weirdness around menstrual blood, it is natural and at the right times, a sign of good health. In our home, soiled cloth napkins are kept in a separate bucket and rinsed first to remove the blood. Then after a wash with Krya detergent they are good to go. They are washed in the same machine, laundered along with all of our regular laundry and they are absolutely clean and hygienic.
    5. Re-usable cloth pads are quite sturdy and long lasting, so over a few years they will prove to be more economical than disposables.

    So to all the husbands & boyfriends, if you have some ickiniess around the switch from disposables to re-usable cloths pads – Be a Man, let her bleed.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Worry-free: 5 reasons to ditch your disposable napkins

    Aunt Flo, Chums, Time, That time of the month, “Dhooram” (in Tamil) : these are just some of the veiled terms used to describe a woman’s period.

    Our monthly cycle is so taboo that we can’t even bring ourselves to refer to it by name. And it is in this veil of secrecy, that an ecosystem of products have grown to help us “cope” with our monthly friend.

    The sanitary napkin industry started out in 1895, but it began coming into its own after the First World War After the war, spurred by the excess capacity of cloth and gauze bandages available, a whole new industry started a range of products to help women absorb their menstrual flow.

    Unlike what the manufacturers of sanitary napkins would have you believe, this is not the first time a sanitary napkin was “invented”.

    The Museum of Menstruation, started by Department of Defence worker, Harry Finley is listed as one of the 10 most unique museums in the world. Mr. Finley’s collection of artefacts range from 18th century Norwegian handmade cloth sanitary pads, to research papers on what ancient Egyptian women used to collect their menstrual flow at their time of the month.

    Egyptologists surmise that ancient Egyptian women used a cotton and flax tampon like device to absorb menstrual flow. Donations to MUM’s archives show 18th and 19th century pattern books which give its readers different patterns and cuts to sew your own sanitary napkin.

    Norwegian knit pads from the 19th century

    So sanitary napkins and products are not new. But what changed once manufacturers jumped into the fray was what they began to be made from.

    The first napkins were made from cotton and gauze. But as availability of these materials shrank after the wars, there was a need to find a low cost, easily available material to absorb menstrual flow.

     

    Wood pulp was chosen as an absorption medium. Wood pulp is sourced from mature trees and is manufactured from the cellulose found in tree bark. Wood pulp comes from softwood trees like spruce, pine, fir, larch and hemlock and hardwood trees like eucalyptus, aspen and birch.

    The plastics revolution has further changed the very nature of disposable sanitary napkins. Now apart from bleached pulp or rayon from wood cellulose, a sanitary napkin also contains a super absorbent acrylic polymer (SAAP), with a waterproof backing made up of LDPE or polyethylene (PE) film, and the stay dry outer cover is made up of polypropylene (PP) non woven material.

    This then is the chief difference between sanitary products created by women for themselves and used throughout history and what is available today.

    Today’s sanitary napkin is a child of the fossil fuel industry and is almost entirely derived from plastic. A very small part of the sanitary napkin is natural, which is the part derived from wood pulp.

    But this part is derived from forestry sources. Apart from using up potential carbon sinks and oxygen creators for using pulp, the wood pulp industry has been accused in many countries of not having responsible forest managed. Even in cases where the pulp is sourced from responsibly managed forests, wood harvesting reduces the natural forest biodiversity.

    And to absorb our monthly menstrual fluid, we have elected to use up pulp from old mature trees, which act as a carbon sink keeping global warming at bay. Today’s sanitary napkin has an extremely large carbon and environmental footprint.

    Here are 5 reasons why you should consider switching out of disposable sanitary napkins and look at greening your period:

    1. Impact on forests: 12 trees produce roughly 1 tonne of wood pulp which can be used from applications like making toilet paper rolls and writing paper to sanitary napkins. A non gel napkin uses roughly 10 gm of wood pulp per napkin. A menstruating woman in India consumes about 5000 napkins in her reproductive years. Which means that every woman using non gel, wood pulp based napkins is responsible for decimating nearly 1 tree in her menstruating life time.
    2. Fossil fuel footprint of conventional napkins: The super absorbent polyacrylate gel layer, the stay dry non woven PP layer and the LDPE backing sheet are all plastic derivatives which are in turn petrochemical derivatives. In fact research indicates that the amount of plastic found in one disposable sanitary napkin is the equivalent of 4 carry bags.
    3. Presence of harmful chemicals in commercial synthetic pads: Dioxins, rayon, artificial fragrances and odour neutralisers, are just some of the toxins you would encounter every month in your pads.Naturally harvested cotton is a creamy white colour. But in order to give your pads and tampons that “pristine” white look, these cotton fibres must be bleached. The by product of this process is dioxins like trihalomethane which can give off gas from your napkins and be absorbed by your body. Once absorbed, dioxin is stored by your fatty tissue.                                                                                                                                                                                          The US EPA classifies dioxin as a serious public health threat and further states that there is no safe dose of dioxin. Published research reports show that even low or trace amounts of dioxin may be linked to abnormal tissue growth in the abdomen and reproductive organs, abnormal cell growth throughout the body, immune system suppression and hormonal and endocrine system disruption.  The odour neutralisers, fragrances and dyes in the release paper and adhesives add to this  toxic soup of ingredients that should not be worn so intimately with your body – and definitely not before a huge battery of tests conclusively rules out both short and long term damage and ill effects.                                                                
    4. Soil health and solid waste management issues: As there is no safe mechanism to dispose a used disposable sanitary napkin, they are usually dumped in the nearest landfill. This toxic concoction of menstrual blood, wood pulp, plastic, dioxin and fragrance is left to sit on the land where it slowly degrades polluting the soil and the water reservoirs below. Blood matter can carry with it viruses, and bacteria like E Coli, salmonella, etc which can continue to linger on for many days after the pad has been thrown away. Any contact with this can help spread infections or disease.
    5. Human dignity and conservancy workers: This is a problem unique to India, where despite the Supreme Court directive, manual scavenging continues to exist. Many of us living in cities, would have seen conservancy workers diving into clogged sewer drains when machines cannot do the job and unclogging the drains by hand. Disposable sanitary napkins affect conservancy workers in 2 ways:
      1. No disposal mechanism in place: With the lack of proper disposal mechanisms in place, and no widespread efforts on the part of companies to educate consumers about how pads should be disposed after use, many Indian consumers continue to flush used sanitary napkins or throw then into drains. As these products travel downstream along the sewage line, the SAAP gel in them continues to absorb external sewage fluid and expands until it balloons out and manually blocks the sewage pipes. At this point manual intervention is needed to unblock the pipes
      2. No facility to separately mark and dispose used napkins: If used napkins are not flushed or thrown into drains, they are routinely mixed up with household waste, compostable waste and recyclable waste and thrown out. In an effort to segregate recyclable waste, conservancy workers and rag pickers end up manually handling bloody, used sanitary napkins at great danger to their health and great danger to their dignity.

     

    So what is my option, you would do well to ask? The next part of our series describes sustainable sanitary options and interviews 3 interesting teams who are creating a quiet hygiene revolution across India.

    Credits:

    Thank you Mr.Harry Finley of Mum.org, for kindly giving us permission to use some of your archived material from your wonderful and culturally significant Museum of Menstruation. You could see some of Mr.Finely's carefully archived work on the history of menstruation at www.mum.org .

  • Red is the warmest colour

    Bright red is the colour of my bindi. And the colour of my menstrual blood.

    I grew up at a time when buying pads was so taboo that I would point to the brand I wanted. I brought my pads home in a newspaper bag, and imagined everyone who saw me along the way “knew” what I was carrying.

    Then I grew up more and went to work, at a company that created disposable sanitary napkins. I was posted in Jalandhar as a Management Trainee, and went to work as one of the few Women sales reps in those parts. I knocked on nearly 30 retailers doors every day and sold the different brands of feminine hygiene products we had, even helping out their consumer with the brand they should choose to buy.

    We heralded the arrival of the “thin” sanitary napkin with great fanfare. I tried using it and found it revolutionary: it was thinner and more discreet compared to a regular sanitary napkin and extremely compact workhorse that absorbed a huge amount of menstrual fluid.

    The future was here: or so I thought.

    When we became parents, and actually saw our future in front of us, all toothless, soft, plump cheeked and trusting, we started out looking for environmental and human friendly alternatives to all the products we were gifted to use on her.

    We started by choosing to cloth diaper. The transition was painful. It was sometimes messy, sometimes inconvenient. And it meant that we had to face our fears: a ginourmous amount of poop and pee that we could see. That we had to deal with. That we couldn’t bundle away and hope someone else would take care of it.

    And we started to see it work. We didn’t have to rush for an emergency pharmacy trip. Our daughter got very few rashes. And most importantly, we were not creating a landfill problem, but were dealing with our waste ourselves.

    You can read more about the environmental problems of disposable diapers here and explore reusable options here.

    Starting with one reusable led to an exploration of many more reusables.

    The reusable we are going to be focussing on this week is the reusable sanitary pad. I am going to be blogging in greater depth about the massive environmental problems associated with disposable sanitary napkins, the several possible issues on your health and safety, the massive carbon footprint of a disposable which is almost entirely derived from fossil fuel, and the options you have in the form of reusable sanitary pads.

    Menstrual cups are also a great option which is popular across the world and is slowly growing in India as well: but as I am not a user, I am going to be focussing on exploring the world of reusable cloth pads.

    This series will also see me introducing 3 amazing companies and their teams who are hard at work manufacturing reusable cloth pads in India. Their stories and the work they do are inspiring, and having tried most of their products, I can vouch for the quality of their pads as well.

    Maintaining and caring for a reusable is something that is on top of everyone’s priority before they decide to adopt one into their lives. So this series will have us publish an eBook on reusable cloth pads, and how they need to be laundered. As with cloth diapers, cloth pads are intimates and should be laundered only with an extremely gentle, natural option, which makes the Krya detergent an ideal companion to your cloth pads. Our guide will focus on how you can use the Krya detergent to launder your cloth pads. But, in case you have a different brand of detergent, and you would like some help on modifying this care routine for your brand, please do write to me and I will be happy to help you make this important transition.

    I end this post, with a beautiful video by Menstrupedia. Menstrupedia is a home grown user resource with fantastic comic style guides and reliable information, designed to provide young girls and women with safe, reliable information on feminine hygiene.

    This is a video created by them to encourage a healthy dialogue around Menstruation and bring it out in the open.

    To make sure you don't miss any of our upcoming posts, do connect with us on facebook or subscribe to the Krya blog.

    Happy thursday to you!

  • 11.5 reasons to choose organic - and why we do

    Curious consumers and retailers often ask us why we choose to use only certified organic ingredients in our products. The debate on using organic ingredients in our food is of course far less today.

    We have heard and read enough about the dubious effects of pesticides, and fertilisers on our food. We have seen examples of the devastating effects on human beings and the environment whenever synthetic substances are sprayed on our food.

    No one I speak to today debates the merit of organic food - there continues to be some murmurs on its availability, perceived premium pricing and some musings on whether it has been priced to target an elite crowd.

    The debate on using organic non-food products is only just beginning in India. For one, the certification standards for non food products are less clear. It is easily possible to certify a potato which has been  grown using organic methods. But certifying a detergent, or a cosmetic product that uses organic ingredients is less clear. In my research I have found these standards often to be surprisingly lax, as certifiers struggle to balance the known (how an organic ingredient is grown), with the unknown (using other chemical additives in combination with these natural ingredients).

    A longer post on certifying organic non-food products is part of my blog list, and is something I would like to write about soon. But until then, I would simply like to state that we have given this a great deal of thought at Krya, and opted for the easier / more difficult route.

    All our products so far and in pipeline products use upto 98% certified organic ingredients. The balance 2 - 3% is usually food grade dessicants which are allowed under the most stringent organic certification standards. By following a unique, chemical and water free manufacturing and product creation process, our non-food products meet our own, very stringent standards for what constitutes an organic product.

    But that still doesn't answer the question this blog post started with. Why choose organic at all? Isn't natural just good enough?

    To answer this question, and the many questions we continue to hear on choosing organic food, I've put together a presentation on the 11 and a half reasons We choose organic ingredients for the products we create at Krya and in our home for our family.

    Through this post, I hope to inspire more heated enquiry on what goes into your plate, and on and in your body. Perhaps you too, like me, will decide to step off the cliff and dive into the delicious, nourishing, and sustainable world of organic food and products.

    Here's the link: http://www.slideshare.net/kryagoodies/115-reasons-why-krya-and-we-are-organic-29282266

    As always, do read, reflect and drop in your comments.

  • The Holiday Eco Spring Cleaning series - Part 2 : The 3P Purge

    Part 1 of the holiday spring cleaning series outlined the travails of the urban environmentalist as she or he navigates through the toxic nasties present around the home. Besides seriously affecting human health, our air and water, these synthetics also place a heavy burden on the environment. Read more here.

    This post is going to focus on the 3 Nasty Ps that are insidiously present in our homes entering innocuously through the food or products we buy.

    1.     PTFE ( most common brand name is Teflon)

    Polytetrafluroethylene (PTFE) is a synthetic polymer used in many applications including non-stick coatings applied on kitchenware. This was developed by DuPont and patented in 1941. Used initially to coat valves and seals in pipes that held very reactive chemicals like uranium hexafluoride, Teflon (as PTFE was commonly called), soon graduated into kitchenware and a French cookware company introduced its first non stick pan in 1954.

    Using PTFE (Teflon) coated cookware comes with some serious health hazards:

    Pyrolysis at temperatures at or above 200 deg C :

    Teflon which is stable at low temperatures starts to degrade at temperatures around 250 deg C and decomposes at 350 deg C. The by-products that emanate during this degradation can give you flu-like polymer fume fever - . This makes frying of certain food groups like meat (usually between 200 – 260 deg C) extremely hazardous in non-stick cookware.

    Certain oils like safflower oil and olive oil have a high smoke point, which means that if these oils are used for frying / cooking in a non stick dish, you would unknowingly be exposing yourself to a much greater health risk.

    Rapid thermal degradation  at lower temperatures :

    Tests conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) estimate a Teflon coated pan can exceed the safe temperature in just 2 – 5 minutes on a conventional stove top. A Teflon pan reaches 383 deg C in just over 3 minutes on a stove top. Studies from DuPont, the maker of Teflon show that Teflon releases toxic particulate gases at 240 deg C. At 360 deg C, Teflon coated pans release atleast 6 toxic gases including 2 carcinogens, 2 global pollutants and MFA (a compound lethal to human beings even in low doses).

    At 538 deg C, a temperature DuPont scientists admit are reached on conventional stove tops, non stick coatings break down to a chemical warfare agent known as PFIB and an analogue of Phosgene, used in WW2 as nerve gas.

    Thermal degradation of Teflon across temperatures

     

    This is an incomplete list of the toxic gases and particulate matter generated during the thermal degradation of Teflon:

     

    1. TFE (Tetraflouroethylene)
    2. HFP (Hexa Flouropropene)
    3. OFCB – Octaflourocyclobutane
    4. PFIB – Perflouroisobutane – a chemical agent 10 times more toxic than Phosgene
    5. Carbonyl Fluoride – The fluorine analogue of Phosgene
    6. TFA – Triflouroacetic acid
    7. Triflouroacetic acid fluoride
    8. Perflouro butane
    9. SiF4 (Silicon tetra fluoride)
    10. HF Hydrofluoric acid – a very corrosive gas
    11. Monoflouro acetic Acid – MFA – can kill human beings at low doses

    Human beings exposed to these Teflon origin fumes develop what is called “Polymer Fume fever” – a flu like illness especially in poorly ventilated areas. Typical symptoms include fever, chills, nausea, headaches, muscle and joint pain and fatigue.

    Health fallouts of using or working in factories that manufacture Teflon coated products:

    Six studies point to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes on exposure to the Teflon chemical. A study also showed that workers exposed to Teflon showed a higher risk of elevated cholesterol.

    In more than one study, Teflon has been linked to multiple cancers in male and female mice with statistical significance and relevance for human beings.

    Mammary tumours were found to have a significant increase in animal studies where the group given a high dose of Teflon had more than double of these rates.

    Testicular and pancreatic cancers also showed a statistically significant, elevated risk from exposure to Teflon.

    A series of studies show that Teflon tends to suppress the immune system response – in this, there is NO KNOWN SAFE DOSE of Teflon.

    Environmental degradation

    These by-products of Thermal degradation of teflon are extremely persistent in the environment and some of these have no known degradation methods.

    Who makes PTFE (brand name Teflon) and where can I find it around my home?

    The DuPont company owns the registered trademark , Teflon, and has co-branded products across industries that use Teflon. Besides DuPont, a huge list of manufacturers exist that produce PTFE right in India and across the world. PTFE is found in a wide and bewildering array of products including:

    1. Non stick cookware
    2. Nail polish – to achieve a smooth surface that does not crack
    3. Hair styling equipment – hair straighteners and curling irons
    4. Windshield wiper blades – to help the surface stay smooth enough to glide across the windshield
    5. Fabric and carpet protection that is labelled as stain / spill resistant
    6. Chemical and steel industries – used to coat machine parts that commonly come in contact with highly corrosive materials

     

    2. PFOA

    Perflurooctanoic acid (PFOA) is used as a surfactant in the polymerisation of many polymers including the above mentioned PTFE (Teflon) and Gore-Tex.

    PFOA is a super villain even for those resigned to the Lex Luthor that is PTFE. Besides persisting indefinitely in the environment, and being both toxic and carcinogenic to animals, it has been universally found in extremely low trace amounts in the blood of atleast 98% of the US population and in 100% of the US newborn population.

    Exposure to PFOA has been associated with increased cholesterol and uric acid levels and there has been a correlation between elevated PFOA levels in the blood and increased risk of chronic kidney disease.

    Because of its widespread applications, PFOA has been used in many applications which need water or oil repellent properties – for example in wax coated paper that is used to wrap French fries , pizza boxes, sweets , sandwiches or coated paper used in microwave popcorn bags. Besides this it is used in dental floss, apparel or fabric that are sold on a “stain guard” claim, floor wax and wax removers, sealants used for stone, tile or wood, and non stick cookware.

    There are currently no labelling requirements that manufacturers need to follow to declare the presence of PFOA in their packaging.

    PFOA is part of a broad stream of chemicals called PFCs or Perflourocarbons – When PFCs are heated, they break down into compounds which are assimilated into the bloodstream through the food we eat.

    Health hazards of PFOA

    PFOA is a suspect carcinogen, liver, immune system and developmental toxin, and also alters hormones in our body like the thyroid hormone.

    The developmental toxicity effects seen in animal studies include low birth weight, developmental delays, endocrine disruption and neo natal mortality.

    Blood serum levels of PFOA were associated with an increased risk of infertility in human beings. It is also associated with ADHD in a study among US children aged between 12 – 15.

    Attempted Ban on carcinogenic food packaging

    An attempt was made in 2008 in California to regulate PFOA in food packaging. If approved, this would have banned PFOA, PFOD, and seven or more related fluorinated suspect carcinogenic compounds form food packing from 2010.

    Unfortunately, severe lobbying from the industry led to this bill being shelved.

    Phase out of PFOA

    In 2006, eight companies including DuPont, agreed to eliminate PFOA from the Teflon manufacturing process. The voluntary pact, drafted by EPA, asked companies to reduce manufacturing emissions of PFOA by 95% by 2010, and to reduce the amounts present in consumer products by atleast 95% by 2015.

    However, several environmental groups including EWG feel this voluntary pact is insufficient. This pact does not apply to Chinese companies, for example, which are among the leading manufacturers of food packaging.

    Also, despite agreeing to phase out PFOA, several of the companies who have signed the pact, like DuPont, continue to maintain that PFOA is safe and does not pose any health risk to the general public.

    As a part of their move to replace PFOA, the industry is lobbying to use C6 or Perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHA). This contains 6 carbon atoms to PFOA’s 8 carbon atoms.

    Unfortunately, C6 also has several health and environmental concerns:

    Like its predecessor PFOA, C6 is a very persistent chemical in the environment. It is potentially much more toxic to marine organisms than PFOA, and like PFOA, crosses the placenta to contaminate children before birth, according to an EWG study of umbilical cord blood.

    The limited number of studies on C6 is in itself a cause for concern – PFOA because of its long history of use, has had a lot of independent and industry funded studies. But C6 in comparison is a newbie – very little scientific data exists on its safety and whatever exists points to potential alarm bells.

    Who makes PFOA and where can I find it around my home?

    Worldwide, DuPont, Clariant, Asahi and Daikin are the big manufacturers of PFOA.

    In your home, PFOA can be found as an enabler to create non stick cookware. Apart from this, it could also be found in the following products:

    1. Microwave popcorn bags
    2. Frozen pizza boxes
    3. Gore-tex clothing
    4. Packaging for French fries in popular fast food chains
    5. Any other food packaging with a coating that repeals oil and water 

    1.  

    3.   PFOS – Per flouro octanesulfonic acid

    Per flourooctanesulfonic acid was produced by 3M in 1949. It was a key ingredient in Scotchgard a patented stain repellent produced by 3M and other stain repellent products.

    PFOS, its salts and its precursors were used historically to repeal water, oil, soil, and grease for carpets, fabrics and upholster. Additionally they have also been used in food packaging and as surfactants in specialised applications like fire fighting foam, aviation hydraulic fluids and fume suppressants for metal plating.

    Apart from this, derivatives of PFOA and PFOS are also used as inert substances in pesticides – inerts can sometime form upto 99% of a pesticide product! As per US EPA guidelines, inerts are not required to be public information on the pesticide package, so most consumers would be unaware that their already toxic pesticide contains even more lethal substances.

    PFOS is characterised by very widespread prolific use, and is little understood in terms of its pathways into sentient beings.

    PFOS threat to human health and wild life

    PFOS is now widely seen across wildlife, being resistant to environmental breakdown, and is found right from polar bears in the arctic to dolphins in Florida, and seals and otters in Canada. Traditional scans did not detect PFOS earlier, because unlike other POPs (persistent organic pollutants); PFOS binds to protein in the body and not to fat.

    PFOS is a persistent, bio accumulative global pollutant that is toxic to mammalian species. In addition to its industrial production, PFOS can also accumulate from the degradation of its chemical precursors in the environment.

    There are species related differences in how long PFOS persists in animal and human bodies – its half life in rats is 100 days, whereas its estimated half life in human beings is 4 years. Repeated exposure results in hepatoxicity and mortality across animals especially in infants and children within the womb.

    PFOS is persistent in the environment and has been known to bio-accumulate in fish. It is acutely toxic to honey bees.

    PFOS levels in pregnant women have been associated with preeclampsia. It has also been associated with altered thyroid hormone values, an increased risk of high cholesterol and an increased risk of ADHs among early teens.

    Regulatory status of PFOS

    The Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants (POP) in 2009 included PFOS in Annex B which is a schedule that asks for restricted use on the chemical. It is worth noting that PFOS joins DDT in this list suggesting restricted use!

    Who manufactures PFOS and where can I find it in India

    Used as the key ingredient in Scotchgard, created by 3M, PFOS has been around for 40 years or more. In 2000, 3M announced they would eliminate their line of PFOS based products in 2002 citing precautionary concerns due to the chemicals widespread absorption by human and animal life and its bio accumulative properties. 3M however disclaimed any health threats form the chemical citing over 700 studies that established the chemical’s safety.

    But, with any such confident claim, lurks the spectre of unshared information, as did here as well. The U.S. EPA’s assessment of 3M ‘s own documents shared a different story.

    PFOS was found to cause postnatal deaths in the offspring of a 3M run study PFOS on rats in the second generation. Monkeys exposed to PFOS were found to exhibit loss of appetite, excessive salivation, laboured breathing, depressed activity levels, among other symptoms.

    After the Stockholm convention PFOS was labelled as a restricted use POP and put into annex B with 2 types of uses – acceptable uses for which no phasing out was necessary, and restricted uses which were supposed to be phased out in 5 years or less.

    Among its acceptable uses, PFOS has been agreed to be used indefinitely in photo imaging, coatings for semi conductors, aviation hydraulic fluids, metal plating, medical devices and fire fighting foam.

    Among its permitted restricted use, In India, PFOS has been allowed either directly or as an intermediate in the production of chemicals for the following uses:

    1. Carpets
    2. Leather and apparel
    3. Textiles and upholstery
    4. Paper and packaging
    5. Coatings and coating additives
    6. Rubber and Plastics

    In short, in India, PFOS will be present either directly or as an intermediary in every single one of its applications so consumers of these products are directly at risk.

    The first step towards a healthy home - the home audit

    Please start by doing a home audit to identify products in your home that contain PTFE, PFOA, and PFOS, and make a list. 

    A home audit is especially useful when you want to make a dramatic behaviour change : I've used it quite successfully to purge my kitchen of plastics, and to start my recycling bin.

    The home audit almost always points out behavioral excesses: too much take away food leading to loads of un-recyclable plastic containers, for example, or an excessive dependence on non-stick dishes leading to a dangerous level of PTFE at home.

    Keep this list in hand and wait for part 3 of the series, where I will discuss alternatives to the nasty Ps and how you can create the ideal healthy, eco kitchen.

    Until next time, watch out for the nasty Ps and happy auditing and purging!

  • The Holiday Eco Spring cleaning series - Part 1

    This blog is dedicated to helping everyone lead a more environmentally sustainable life, no matter where they are. We choose to in this blog, focus on the unique travails of the environmental enthusiast who lives in a crowded urban city. Perhaps we sympathise more with the urban environmentalists given that we are part of this group as well!

    BeFunky_Crowded urban space - Chennai resized.jpg

     

    Urban dwellers face many challenges on the road to environmental sustainability: they are severely time poor, live in overcrowded spaces, and have to compete fiercely for what I term the most basic of resources like clean water, clean air and good quality food and pleasant, natural urban spaces.

    For the past few months I have been writing a fortnightly column in The Hindu’s habitat supplement on environmental issues that affect the urban home. This writing work has further driven home for us the task at hand for the Krya blog. The hundreds of queries we have now answered from readers of my column, Krya consumers and everyone else who wants to lead a cleaner life points to the escalating concern of the urban citizen on the state of their lives.

    I do not believe the answer is to abandon these urban spaces we have created, Frankensteinian monsters though they may seem to be. The answer is to stand our ground, take a good hard look at our lives and begin to reclaim our life. The many urban oases we continue to seek for inspiration like a neighbourhood park or the beach tell us that a better life is possible. With some focus and determination.

    On this note, I would like to begin the holiday spring cleaning series. The months between mid October to early March is pleasant all over India not just for the change in weather and the pleasant rains, but also for the many opportunities given to us to re-connect with our culture and our roots. And the festival season is a perfect time to throw out old ingrained practices and usher in some new, safe natural and eco friendly practices around your home.

    Why is this critical?

    David Suzuki, a Canadian scientist is one of prominent leaders of the worldwide movement fighting climate change and environmental hazards. His foundation has published an important study of the dangerous chemicals found in everyday cosmetics and cleaning products. The study, evocatively called the “dirty dozen” lists twelve chemicals and sheds light on the harmful effects of the “dirty dozen” to the environment and human health. A disturbing statistic of that study conducted in Canada tells us that more than 80% of the commonly used cosmetics contained the “dirty dozen” in various combinations.

    What is the relevance of this study for Indian citizens? The entire “dirty dozen” group of chemicals are also commonly found in products sold in India. This is a direct result of globalization where companies use the same chemicals in their operations across the world. Indians however are at a distinct disadvantage due to the lack of strict government regulations on the composition of cosmetic products which is not the case in Europe or North America. For example a category of frequently used preservatives called “parabens “are limited in Europe to a maximum of 0.8% of the product. There is also a debate towards a complete ban on parabens in cosmetics sold in Europe. No such public debate is happening in India and the same companies that cannot use parabens in Europe are free to do so in India.

    The Toxic Three

    Monitoring a list of 12 ingredients every time you visit the supermarket is utterly impractical. Therefore, I have created a quick check –list of chemicals to be wary of, called the “toxic three” for easy reference. These are commonly found across many products used daily and there is steadily growing body of research that is unearthing the potential harm caused by them. The “toxic three” for our discussion are

    1)    Triclosan 2) Sodium Lauryl Sulphate 3) Parabens

    Triclosan is an anti-bacterial agent and will find its way into your home in a surprising number of products. Triclosan is an endocrine disruptor and is also being linked to cancer. A new concern is also looming. Due to the uncontrolled use of Triclosan, several strains of bacteria are developing resistance to it causing new “super-bugs”.

    Sodium Lauryl Sulphate commonly called SLS is an extremely common surfactant used in cosmetics and cleaning products to remove stains and create lather. A closely related compound is Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLeS). Several studies have linked SLS to eye and skin irritation, reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption and even cancer.

    Final in the “toxic three” are Parabens. They are a group of compounds like ethyl parabens, methyl parabens, used for anti-bacterial and anti-fungal actions. They have a property of mimicking the female sex hormone oestrogen thereby interfering with hormone function. In an English study between 2005 and 2008 on 40 breast cancer tumour samples, 99% of them contained at least one type of paraben.

    Where are the toxic three lurking in my home?

    Triclosan is likely to be found in a product claiming anti-bacterial properties and is found in over 140 products like mattresses, toilet seat cover, toothpaste, soap, moisturizers, rain-coats etc. Many personal care products now advertise an anti bacterial active, so our list expands to include many products that you use on a daily basis like soaps, toothpastes, cosmetics, hand washes, detergents and dish-washes.

    SLS or its variant can be found in any synthetic product that foams in your home. This includes personal care products like shampoos, face wash, shower gels, toothpastes and any liquid cleaning product like liquid detergent, liquid dishwash, hand wash, etc.

    Parabens are typically used as preservatives in synthetic products and so can be found in a whole host of products from shampoos, to moisturizers, shaving creams and gels, toothpastes, and even makeup.

    The toxic three are not just potentially harmful to you and your family, they also create dangerous consequences for our water bodies as they travel downstream.

    What happens to your cleaning water as it travels downstream?

    Triclosan resistant bacteria and cyanobacteria

    Triclosan which was invented in the 1960s for surgeons slows down the growth of bacteria, fungi and mildew. As it is now commonly used in consumer products, it enters streams, and other water bodies through domestic waste water, sewer lines (which in India are rarely treated separately), with Triclosan residues commonly being found in water bodies in the U.S.

    A new study published in the Environmental science and Technology journal, says that this constant flow of Triclosan into our water bodies is triggering the development of Triclosan resistant bacteria in water bodies – this alters the natural diversity of existing bacteria in the water bodies, introducing a relatively unknown and drug resistant species, increasing the composition of cyanobacteria by nearly 6 times, besides killing off the algae.

    The increase in cyanobacteria which is a side effect of Triclosan entering our water bodies is extremely worrying – some cyanobacteria produce toxins called cyanotoxins which are toxic and dangerous to human, animal and marine life.

    We have seen how the products we use around our home not only threaten our health and safety, but multiply their effect as they are released downstream to create dangerous, previously unthought-of of consequences.

    What are my options?

    At Krya, we tirelessly advocate the cause of using natural ingredients, close to their natural state and processed in a minimal manner.

    In our experiments in our home, and the thousands of consumer emails and phone calls we have received show us how holistically effective substituting simple natural ingredients around the home can be.

    A simple ingredient like the Soapberry, which finds its way into all our cleaning products can be safely used in formulations for a natural toothpowder, as a safe cleansing agent for hair which does not strip the hair of its acid mantle or its natural oils, to effectively clean clothes while continuing to maintain their colour and texture and even de-grease and clean your dirty dishes.

    BeFunky_Tea_tree_plant.jpg

    Natural ingredients are not just safe, they can also be extremely powerful in their actions – tea tree essential oil, for instance is nearly 100 times more effective as an antibacterial agent than carbolic acid

    In the next few parts of the Holiday spring cleaning series, we will explore in greater depth several easily available natural alternatives for the home and also look at simple recipes that can be created to substitute synthetic products at home.

  • A Convenient Diaper

    Last fortnight we looked at the horrors of disposable diapers for the baby and mother earth.

    A quick summary of the inconvenient facts are:

    Krya Infographic 3 - disposable diapers and pulp and crude oil

     

    and

    Krya Infographic 4 - dangers from disposable diapers

     

    For the longer version, please read the original blog post here.

    For those struck with a mixture of guilt and hopelessness, hope still waits, in the form of cloth diapers, both ancient and modern.

    In a cradle to grave study sponsored by the National Association of Diaper Services (U.S), it was found that disposable diapers produce seven times more solid waste when discarded and three times more solid waste during the manufacturing process, when compared modern cloth diapers (MCD).

    When MCDs are used for the baby, solid waste (poop) is flushed down the toilet and not dumped in a landfill, waste is being sent down the right channel preventing water and earth contamination.

    The health benefits for a baby put on cloth diapers are numerous.

    Cloth diapering depends only on the absorbency of the material used to contain the baby’s waste output and not on uninvestigated, potentially hazardous substances like Sodium Polyacrylate ( the super absorbent polymer , SAP) used in disposable diapers.

    Cloth diapers are said to facilitate early toilet training as compared to disposables by achieving the right balance between keeping the baby dry and letting him / her know when it is time to change the diaper. Unlike a disposable, a cloth diaper is never completely dry when full. The feeling of dampness alerts the baby, who becomes sensitized to the idea of a diaper change,

    By avoiding all the hazardous substances that go into a disposable diaper which can trigger contact dermatitis and rashes and by alerting the baby’s caregiver to a nappy change, cloth diapered babies are in general less rash prone.

    Continue reading

  • An Inconvenient Diaper

    We are parents to a wonderful 13 month old. And not ashamed to admit that we were queasy about the prospect of diaper changes before the arrival of our daughter. As adults we live in a sanitised world with zero tolerance for weird smells of any stripe. We are always reaching for fragrant products (in our case a pure natural essential oil, of course) to banish the smells in our life.

    Therefore as new parents, we did not even consider an alternative to disposable diapers. We are conditioned to treat anything poop related as gross and disgusting and disposable diapers presented the least messy solution. (for the parents that is!)

    In the first month we went through an alarming number of disposable diapers. And we simply had to do some research to see if we were doing the right thing; to see if there was anything out there beyond disposable diapers.

    With the wisdom of hindsight, I could have told my early parent self that of course we were not doing the right thing. Any product that is used so ephemerally and has to be thrown out simply cannot be good for the environment. And anything that works so eerily well to contain a natural bodily function cannot be great for the baby.

    So here are the facts:

    Calculating our diaper usage, our daughter, assuming toilet training by 2 (which is no longer the norm), would go through 5000 disposable diapers at a conservative estimate by the time she turns two.

    We dispose these diapers without flushing solid waste down the toilet as it is supposed to be done. As a result, the diaper sits in a landfill slowly leaching human excreta and bacteria apart from heavy metals, dioxins, and solvents (from the diaper), into the ground contaminating the earth and the water.

    What goes into a disposable diaper?

    Disposable diapers sandwich an absorbent layer made of wood pulp and a super absorbent polymer (SAP) like Sodium Poly acrylate between two water proof layers of Poly ethylene and Poly propylene. Many brands also have fragrances embedded into the diapers and dyes for the printing.

    Crude oil is the basic start for creating the outer water proof layers in disposable diapers.

    It takes one cup of crude oil (approx 236 ml) to produce enough plastic for one disposable diaper. 

    So according to my estimate, despite using public transport, walking and not owning a car, as parents we would have been responsible for burning up 1180 litres of crude oil just to manage poop and pee!

    The middle layer of the diaper, which really what us parents depend upon is the absorbent layer which uses wood pulp and SAP. The wood pulp used in disposable diapers is a kind of chemical pulp which is produced by combining wood chips and chemicals in large vessels called digesters. In this process the heat and chemicals break down the lignin in the wood without damaging the cellulose fibre. The chemical pulp process is followed for applications like disposable diapers and sanitary napkins where a high absorbency and strength is required.

    Continue reading

  • Mosquito Monogatari.

    I live in mosquito land.

    Every monsoon evening, clouds of DDT swirl around the air sprayed diligently by the corporation workers to stem the mosquito population. Every store I go to has a new product being launched that guarantees a reduction in mosquitoes. Electric bats are used by the security folks in every apartment complex, to nuke the mosquitoes which bite them in their lonely sojourn at night.

    It does not surprise me that one of the most popular queries received at Krya is a fervent demand for a natural mosquito repellent product. I get this from both consumers and retailers who are alarmed and appalled by the toxic load around their homes, especially of an insecticide nature.

    And alarmed we should be.

    DDT and DEET are the 2 primary chemical weapons of choice in our war against mosquitoes. DDT is used by city corporations in India, especially in Chennai as a mass fumigant to spray over large dense urban settlements and on stagnant urban water bodies with a hope to kill mosquitoes. It is not used inside homes or applied on the skin.

    DEET is used inside homes in synthetic mosquito repellent products like coils and mats.

    1.      DDT ( Dangerous, Don’t Touch)

    DDT is an insecticide, first synthesized in 1874 was used to control malaria and typhus during the Second World War, after its insecticidal properties were discovered by Pauly Mueller, the Swiss chemist who received a Nobel Prize for this work.

    After the world war ended companies that manufactured DDT were forced to find a use for it in peacetime. DDT was re-purposed as an broad spectrum insecticide with two main applications

    1) Agriculture and

    2) Mosquito control.

    DDT usage skyrocketed. Shortly however, scientists in the U.S started expressing concerns about the possible problems associated with the use of DDT.

    In 1962, Rachael Carson’s seminal environmental book, “the Silent Spring”, which documented evidence against the indiscriminate use of pesticides, especially DDT, sounded the death knell for DDT

    The overwhelming public reaction to the “Silent spring”, led to the beginning of the environmental movement and a widespread outcry which finally led to the U.S government banning the use of DDT in 1972. However, by this time the U.S had already used close to 1.3 million pounds of DDT.

    Why are we talking about DDT today, if it was banned in the U.S in 1972?

    Continue reading

  • Jaws 4: Swish, brush, massage and rinse (for great teeth)

    A graphic photo of animal testing by an oral care brand prompted an impassioned plea on my part to my network. I have given up commercial toothpastes and toothbrushes for over a year now and make my own toothpowder. I find animal testing for toothpastes incomprehensible, yet it continues to exist as a standard practice for toothpaste manufacturers.

    Srini and I have been primarily using a toothpowder that I formulated and which can be made at home. We have also experimented with two traditional Ayurvedic brands of toothpowders for oral care. In this experimental year we have found that our teeth feel stronger, we have no tooth aches and our breath feels distinctly fresher.

    I got a staggering response to my impassioned plea– so many messages asking me to share my toothpowder formulation that I felt that it required a detailed blog post to provide the scientific context to the formulation.

    Viva Voce

    Until 5 years ago I was a fanatical brusher – I brushed atleast twice a day, used mouth wash and had even started flossing on the advice of my dentist. All this attention did no good to my teeth – my gums bled every time I flossed, I started developing cavities in my molar, and my dentist told me that the enamel of my teeth had actually begun to wear out. I had also started developing sensitivity in my teeth and was asked to switch to special toothpaste.

    During this era of enthusiastic brushing, Srini and I were also part of an advanced martial arts class in our quest for better fitness. One of our classmates was Dr B, a senior dental surgeon from Nair Hospital, Mumbai. A chat with him after yet another visit to the dentist proved rather insightful.

    After venting my dental frustration to Dr.B, he told me , rather casually, if I had considered that my teeth were getting worse because of and not inspite of all my brushing, rinsing, flossing ? He said that the combination of the strong toothpastes, frequent brushing and hard toothbrush bristles were probably wearing down my enamel, exposing the nerves of my teeth and making them more sensitive and prone to more cavities.

    That day I asked myself ,"what is exactly the problem with brushing twice a day with regular toothpaste?" and 5 years later I am still unravelling the puzzle. I have relentlessly researched literature on all manner of natural dental care regimes. I have bought and brushed with Babool twigs (which were purportedly from Arabia), I have made my own mouthwashes and rinses, and have experimented with toothpastes that were fluoride-free, for sensitive teeth and toothpowders to arrive at a sound oral care framework to protect  my teeth and gums.

    In the beginning there was plaque.

    People who can summon the courage to visit their dentist regularly would have discussed plaque. The rest of us who rely on television to fill the gaps in our education have seen advertising calling it that “unsightly yellowish cement like substance” that forms on teeth. Toothpastes have graduated from merely promising fresh breath to a determined war to end plaque. They now have added the promise of sparkling white teeth with whitening and micro polishing variants.

    Dentists disagree – they believe a quarterly cleanup is the only way to eliminate plaque. I have endured several bouts of rather painful plaque cleaning wishing I was elsewhere.

    Plaque is also touted as the cause of tooth decay and alarming images of teeth crumbling add to people and dentists hating it even more.

    But whether you use an anti-plaque toothpaste or meet your dentist religiously , plaque always returns. Why? Do we even need to eliminate plaque ?

    What is plaque?

    Plaque is a bio-film formed by communities of oral bacteria that try to attach themselves to the smooth surface i.e. enamel of teeth.

    Oral microbiologists like Philip D Marsh, have hypothesised on the little known nature of dental plaque. Dental plaque is a bio-film, an aggregate of micro-organisms where the cells adhere to each other and any living or non-living surface like teeth (in the case of plaque), and other natural, industrial or hospital settings. These cells are embedded on a self-produced bio medium composed of DNA, polysaccharides and proteins.

    This bio film is a matrix of polymers which are partly contributed by the host (the human being) and partly by the bacterial community.

    This dental bio-film contributes to the normal development of the host’s defence mechanism and physiology.

    To summarize, plaque by itself is a natural formation and not harmful. It is our response to plaque and other factors like what we eat ( explained below) that wrongly frames plaque as the villain of piece.

    The “Whiteness” Epidemic

    Plaque, in western or allopathic dentistry is seen as a contaminating substance and un-aesthetic, so cosmetic dentistry procedures like teeth bleaching and “whitening” exist to remove this “unsightly cement like growth” from the teeth.

    Popular advertising furthers this notion encouraging people to find “white” teeth attractive – the modern toothpaste has also been designed on this principle. Half the contents of the modern toothpaste are abrasive particles used to dislodge plaque from the teeth and “micro polish” the enamel. Frequent brushing with this can itself lead to enamel wear and tear, causing increased sensitivity in teeth.

    Watch what you eat

    In a normal, healthy oral cavity, plaque forms in a stable and orderly fashion comprising of a diverse microbial composition – upto 25,000 different species of bacteria, which remains stable over time. When dental caries ( dentist speak for cavities) arise, it is found that the balanced bacterial community has shifted in favour of the acidogenic and acid tolerating bacterial species like mutans streptococci and lactobacilli.

    This increase of acidogenic and acid tolerating bacteria in the oral cavity is linked to 2 eating habits:

    1. Food that is hurriedly swallowed without chewing.

    When food is eaten quickly without enough chewing, there is not enough saliva produced in the mouth. The composition of human saliva is a biochemical marvel that contains besides water, enzymes that are essential in starting the process of digestion of starches and fat. These enzymes, also more pertinently to this post, help break down food particles trapped within the crevices of the teeth, helping prevent tooth decay.

    2. Increased eating of sweet, fatty, acidic and processed food

    Increase in sweet, acidic and fatty food (read processed food, Maida, cola, biscuits, and mostly anything that you’ve bought in a supermarket) creates a highly acidic environment in the mouth, promoting the growth of only acid tolerating bacteria in the plaque film. Simply put, eating the wrong food makes the mouth toxic for all the “good bacteria” to survive and makes it a place where only acidic species survive.

    Therefore the law of tooth decay can be summarized as:

    Hurried eating + No Chewing + Wrong food = tooth decay

    After a visit to the dentist, everyone usually comes back with a recommendation of the brand of toothpaste to use. Supermarket shelves are full of sparkly packaging with different flavours each promising different benefits. A closer look at the ingredients however, makes for some disturbing reading.

    What’s in my synthetic toothpaste and why I need to look for a better option

    Toothpastes are made up of abrasives (up to 50%), fluoride, surfactants or detergents and water (20 – 40%).

    The abrasive elements in toothpaste are mostly mini particles of Aluminium hydroxide, calcium carbonate or silicas, zeolites  to help remove dental plaque.

    The best description of caring for your teeth I have ever read advised that teeth should be gently and finely cleaned like cleaning a fine piece of muslin, and not scrubbed like dirty vessels.

    So teeth should be cleaned using a fine paste or powder and should not contain the the high amount of abrasives as in most modern toothpastes. These abrasives remove the enamel layer of the teeth very quickly exposing the sensitive nerves underneath.

    Apart from abrasives, surfactants or detergents are the next big part of toothpaste.

    One of the most common ingredients that you will find in toothpaste is SLS – sodium Lauryl sulphate, or its cousin SLES (Sodium Laureth sulphate). Both of these are surfactants that are derived from coconut and palm oil, and are used across a variety of products like shampoos, face washes and toothpastes.

    SLS is a cheap surfactant that foams and acts as a degreasing agent which is used in garages to remove grease from car engines. In the same way, it removes oil from skin leaving it dry. It also denatures skin protein thinning down the skin barrier, making way for the possible entry of other contaminants into the deeper layers of the skin.

    SLS is especially worrying in toothpastes. The oral mucosa layer is much thinner than skin on your face or head – and has a rich network of blood vessels immediately behind the layer of mucosa. This is why sub lingual tablets are so effective – because of the thinness of the skin, and the dense blood vessels behind the skin, medicines get absorbed extremely quickly into the blood stream.

    Therefore, using toothpaste that contains SLS, a known skin protein denaturer, and dryer is extremely worrying. Tests show a statistically significant correlation between mouth ulcers / canker sores when using a toothpaste containing SLS.

    To make things worse, SLS, once it enters the bloodstream is an estrogen mimicker – which has many other health implications.

    Brush aside the toothbrush

    Apart from the worrying properties of toothpastes, the act of using them with a toothbrush is the last straw for those troubled with cavity prone or sensitive teeth.

    The bristles of the toothbrush are not sensitive in themselves and depend upon the user to control the pressure of the bristles on the teeth and gums. Brushing the teeth is usually a mechanical action, when the brusher is barely awake and is mostly done in a hurry.

    In this scenario, it is possible to brush fast and hard, treating the teeth like dirty vessels instead of a piece of fine muslin cloth.

    Dentists are aware of this too – they usually recommend using a toothbrush with soft bristles to reduce enamel wear and tear. But even this is not enough to arrest this wear and tear. A thinner enamel makes it easier for cavities to develop as well.

    Toothbrushes are also an ecological nightmare to manufacture and dispose. The nylon bristles are almost impossible to re-use / recycle given their size and consumers are advised to replace their toothbrushes every 3 months leading to a huge pile of toothbrushes our landfills.

    What does native medicine and Ayurveda advice?

    The mouth and tongue are considered a gateway to diagnosis in Ayurveda. Ayurvedic Vaidyars say that the state of the mouth reflects the state of the body and advise eating the right food in moderation along with taking good care of the mouth, teeth, gums. This is very close to the idea behind our law of tooth decay discussed earlier

    The first change I made was to use my finger for brushing my teeth (as it was traditionally done) instead of a toothbrush. The benefits of this are many: The finger is softer on the teeth compared to a brush. The finger is also more mobile and sensitive and can navigate the whole mouth including difficult to reach places like the back of the molars.

    Gums also need a massage as they hold the teeth together, and the finger is ideally suited to give the gums a massage as well.

    After this, I added to the start of my oral care routine the practise of swishing with a tablespoon of cold-pressed, organic, sesame oil.  This routine has been prescribed in the Ayurvedic texts as not just helpful for removing the toxins accumulated in the body, but to also strengthen the vocal chords. Singers and Orators have been especially advised to gargle with sesame oil.

    While it does add a step to oral care, swishing with sesame oil as soon as one wakes up does not feel as weird as it sounds. You would need just a heaped table spoon of oil to do this. Try and swirl the oil vigorously around your entire mouth, concentrating on areas that feel sore or tender . Continue to swish until you can feel the oil becoming less viscous and watery in your mouth and then spit it out . If you have swished properly and for the right time, the colour and texture of the oil changes after being in the mouth – it turns yellow, soapy and watery.

    After this, I then proceed to “brush” my teeth with my index finger with a natural / Ayurvedic toothpowder. I pay attention to my gums and teeth, and after the whole exercise is done, I spend another 2 minutes massaging my gums with my thumb and index finger and finish up by rinsing in plain water after cleaning my tongue with a tongue scraper.

    Scraping the tongue is again a very important part of oral care according to Ayurveda. The amount of deposition on the tongue gives you an idea of the toxins the body was able to trap - when you eat clean, whole food, you will have little to no deposition on the tongue. So the act of tongue scraping every morning is like a mini check - up / diagnosis.

    You can make your own natural toothpowder with ingredients available in your kitchen with a little care and patience (a recipe is given below in a downloadable guide).

    Do think about all of what I’ve written and try switching a little at a time to a more natural way of caring for your teeth and gums – I would love to hear from you about the positive impact this has had.

    The forumlation / recipe to make your own natural toothpowder can be downloaded here - do read, try out and share freely.

     

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