Cleaner Living: Toxin #12- Nitrosamines

Well, we have made it to the 12th day… But no Partridge in a Pear Tree here, we are learning about Nitrosamines today!

Nitrosamines are not actually an ingredient.  They are a compound created when nitrites and amino acids (which often occur from proteins) are combined.  This combination can occur in very acidic settings, such as the human stomach, or in high temperature settings found in manufacturing and cooking processes.  It can also be found as in impurity in 54 ingredients listed on the Skin Deep database.

Nitrosamines are considered a possible carcinogen by the EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).  They are banned from being used in cosmetics in Canada and the EU.

Nitrosamines are not just an impurity found in cosmetic ingredients, they can be found in the foods we eat, especially ones very popular with finicky eaters, aka, our kids.

Sodium Nitrite is added to many foods as a preservative and to correct color (to make products more visually appealing).  They are found as additives in virtually all cured meats (hot dogs, processed meats, bacon), cured fishes, and even some canned soups.

I should mention that nitrItes are related to naturally occurring nitrAtes that are found in green leafy and root vegetables.  However related, they are not necessarily the same.  When we eat nitrates a small amount gets converted to nitrites in our bodies which have the potential to react with proteins to create nitrosamines.  However, vegetables are also very high in anti-oxidants (particularly vitamins C, D, and E) which reduce the risk of nitrosamine formation.  (Note: a higher pH level in stomach acids results in more conversion of nitrates to nitrites.  To that end, infants generally have a higher pH level in their stomachs, and precautions should be taken more seriously)

What can you do?

In our personal care products:

Because Nitrosamines are considered an impurity and not an ingredient, they are not required to be listed on labels.  The list of ingredients with the possible impurity is long and exhausting and the components of creating nitrosamines are not always clearly labeled.  You can try to avoid products that contain them, but the best thing we can do is to demand that companies use safe ingredients in their products.

Right now the FDA cannot require safety testing of products before they are sold, and does not assess the safety of ingredients. Instead, the cosmetic industry polices itself and the safety of its own products through a safety panel that is run and funded by the industry’s trade association.

Encourage your legislator to sign on and pass the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011.  Right now it has been ‘referred to committee.”  However, the majority of bills and resolution never make it out of committee, so contact these members of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee.  Tell them you want to see this legislation become a reality!

In our food:

It is easier to avoid nitrosamines in food, by looking for sodium nitrite on the label.

  • Look for products that are labeled ‘no added nitrites or nitrates,” as they are usually cured with vegetable nitrates (Boar’s Head All- Natural meats, Hormel Natural Choice, and Applegate Farms are a few commonly found in the grocery stores)
  • Eat more vegetables and fresh produce.  You can offset the formation of nitrosamines in foods by eating a diet that contains anti-oxidant rich nutrients such as Vitamin C, D, and E.
  • Take special precautions with the consumption of sodium nitrite by infants and children.  If they only eat hot dogs, make sure they are as free of sodium nitrite as possible!

That concludes our 12 Days of Toxins!  Tomorrow I will be compiling a list of all of the ingredients we have talked about so you can take it with you to the store or just as a guide for the products you already own.

Also, look for some product reviews and recipes for home/personal care items that I have personally tested in the next coming weeks!

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