I’ve written a good bit over the years about the dangers of herbicides, such as glyphosate (Roundup®), which commercial farmers spray on crops. But insect repellants sprayed directly onto your clothing or into the air to control mosquitoes, ticks, and other pests can also cause serious health problems.
In fact, according to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, one common and supposedly “safe” insecticide can triple your likelihood of dying from heart disease.
The good news is…
There are plenty of chemical-free alternatives for deterring these pests. Plus, they’re safe for your health, children’s health, pets’ health, and for the planet. So, in a moment, I’ll tell you all about them.
But first, let’s take a closer look at the history of chemical insecticides…
The hunt for insecticides began decades ago
Synthetic insecticides known as organophosphates (OP) first entered the market in the 1930s. Early on, they were celebrated as a way to thwart the spread of insect-borne diseases like malaria and typhus.
But over time, we learned more about these chemicals and the acute harm they can cause—including cancer. By 1972, the evidence was so overwhelming that the U.S. banned the use of the most notorious and dangerous OP—a chemical called dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (more commonly known as DDT).
At that point, the world started looking for “safer” options. And manufacturers began looking at pyrethin, a compound found in some chrysanthemum flowers (commonly referred to as mums) that naturally repels insects. (Of course, many types of flowers and plants produce natural compounds to repel insect predators.)
But instead of just using natural pyrethin, manufacturers started making a synthetic version called pyrethroid. And, today, there are more than 1,000 different pyrethroids on the market—accounting for almost one-third of all insecticides used worldwide.
Amazingly, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) actually encourages the use of pyrethroids, as they’re thought to be less harmful to wildlife than other OPs still on the market.
One type of pyrethroid—called permethrin—is the most common chemical used to kill mosquitos in the U.S. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) even recommends treating clothing with it to repel ticks that cause Lyme disease.
But we’re now learning much more about these supposedly “safe,” second-generation, synthetic insecticides…
Pyrethroids do cause short-term and long-term harm
According to the CDC, short-term exposure to pyrethroids can cause irritation and itching on the skin. Inhalation can cause dizziness, headaches, muscle spasms, nausea, and vomiting—even loss of consciousness.
These synthetic insecticides can also damage DNA as well as cause oxidative stress and inflammation. Plus, epidemiologic studies link them to Type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease (CVD), Parkinson disease, and interference with reproduction and neurodevelopment.
Of course, the new study I mentioned at the beginning of this Dispatch looked at the long-term effects of chronic insecticide exposure on the heart and even mortality rate…
For that study, researchers with the University of Iowa analyzed data on more than 2,000 adults involved in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). As a part of NHANES, participants provided urine samples between 1999 and 2002. And the Iowa researchers tested these samples for chemicals that indicate exposure to pyrethroids.
Then, they took that data and compared it to death rates for all the participants.
It turns out, those with higher exposure to pyrethroids were more likely to die from any cause compared to those with lower exposures. Plus, they were three times more likely to die from heart disease than the others.
Seven natural, toxin-free ways to repel pests
The fact of the matter is, these toxic chemicals are all around us. But you can reduce—and minimize—your exposure to harmful pesticides by making some simple changes to your routines.
Start by safely disposing of any spray cans or bottles of insecticide you may have in your house or outdoor shed. Even if they don’t contain pyrethroids, you can bet they contain something else that can harm your health and the planet!
Here are seven additional steps you can take to keep the bugs away, without resorting to toxic chemicals…
- Wear long sleeves, pants, and socks when you think you might be exposed to mosquitos or ticks, such as sitting out on the patio in the evening or when going for a hike.
- When going on a hike or spending time outdoors in Nature, you can also apply essential plant oils directly onto your skin and clothing. After all, the original purpose of these plant chemicals was to protect the plants themselves from insect predators. Essential oils, including lemon or eucalyptus, are pleasant, safe, and effective. (You can learn more about essential oils in the April 2020 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter [“April showers bring pain-relieving plant oils”]. If you’re not yet a subscriber, now’s the perfect time to get started.) I’ll tell you more about safe ways to take a hike in my Daily Dispatch later this week.
- Around your home, drain off or dry out any standing water, which attracts mosquitoes.
- Keep compost heaps and piles, which also attract bugs, far away from the house.
- Plant these 12 insect-repelling plants around outdoor seating areas. (These five specifically repel mosquitoes.)
- Consider hosting other wildlife—such as birds, reptiles, turtles, and dragon files—which eat mosquitoes. You can even build or buy a bat box shelter, as just one bat eats 6,000 to 8,000 mosquitoes each night!
- Burn citronella candles and torches at dusk and when it’s dark out.
Just remember—you have many effective options for keeping bugs away this spring and summer without resorting to toxic, chemical pesticides, insecticides, and repellants. Not to mention, many of these recommended plants and oils are useful in the kitchen, medicine cabinet, and linen closet. And that’s the beauty of natural remedies—they have many invaluable uses and can be found right in your own backyard!
In addition, you can learn more about the dangers of pyrethroids and other environmental toxins in the May 2020 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter (“SHOCKING NEW RESEARCH: Common chemicals increase risk of heart attack and stroke by up to 45 percent”). If you haven’t signed up yet, all it takes is one click!
“Association Between Exposure to Pyrethroid Insecticides and Risk of All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality in the General US Adult Population.” JAMA Intern Med. 2019 Dec 30. doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.6019.
“Common Pesticides Linked to Heart Disease Risks in New Study.” Consumer Reports, 12/31/19. (consumerreports.org/pesticides-herbicides/common-pesticides-linked-to-heart-disease-risks-in-new-study/)
“Pyrethroid Exposure Increases Risk for Death.” Medscape, 12/31/20. (medscape.com/viewarticle/923256)