Super Search

Submitted questions will be posted with my response by the following Tuesday or before.
Submitted comments will be moderated and approved within 24 hours.

Is there formaldehyde in gelatin capsules?

Question from T. S.

I have recently heard that the capsules used to package vitamins and herbs are not good for you. Is this true? if so, what is a good alternative to getting the benefits of the these nutrients if not in pill form. It seems difficult when most of us have neither the time or resources for growing our own food.

Debra’s Answer

The capsules used to package vitamins and herbs come in different types.

A standard gelatin capsule is made from animal gelatin. This is a by-product of cooking the meat and bones. If you have ever made meat stock for soup, when you chill it, you will notice that it gels. Gelatin, whether sold plain, mixed with fruit flavoring and sugar to make a popular dessert, or made into gel caps is this same gelatin.

There are also vegetarian capsules with are made from plant based cellulose.

Both of these geletins are safe to eat.

The problem with gel caps is they may contain formaldehyde as a preservative.

The Organic Materials Review Institute–an organization that provides certifiers, growers, manufacturers and suppliers an independent review of products intended for use in certified organic production, handling, and processing–has a whole twenty-five page review of gelatin that tells everything you would ever want to know about what gelatin and gel caps are made of and how they are made, written in 2002.

Add Comment

Lead on Power Cords

Question from M. M.

I just purchased a new laptop computer, made by Toshiba. In the “Resource Guide”, on both the first page and on page 29, it says

I don’t want to consider returning it because it has good quality speakers through which I, hard-of-hearing, may be able to hear. I am housebound so didn’t personally go to stores to look at computers before ordering this. Also, I already have high levels of arsenic and cadmium according to my hair analysis, so I don’t need to add lead.

Even if I could find a different cord or chose a different computer, how would I know whether or not the new cord cord contains lead? Is the lead mixed somehow combined with something in such a way that it is not readily dispersed? Why would there be lead in a plastic cord?

I suppose I could wrap it with duct tape. I can wear gloves when I handle it, but do I want this cord sitting on my desk 2 !/2 feet from my nose?

Toshiba’s corporate office seems to be in California, so maybe notifying customers was simply a legal requirement.

What can I do to protect myself from this exposure to lead?

Debra’s Answer

First, I just want to remind everyone that there is NO safe level for lead, except “none.” Zero.

I don’t think there is a danger from airborne lead dust, but I don’t know for sure. Lead is a heavy metal–a particle not a vapor, so it is unlikely that it would be released into the air from plastic but I don’t know everything!. Lead is considered to not be dangerous in paint on a wall, for example, as long as it is on the wall. But when the paint begins to peel or it is sanded or otherwise disturbed, then lead dust is released.

My husband and I discussed this and came up with two solutions. One is to wrap the cord with some other material. He said not electrical tape because it is made from PVC too. He didn’t like this idea because he thought the tape wouldn’t be flexible enough. My idea was to wrap the cord with strips of cotton cloth. I actually have a cord on a lamp that I had clamped to a shelf a few years ago. It had a black cord I didn’t like. So I had wrapped it with purple wire-reinforced ribbon and that worked just fine.

My husband preferred wearing gloves when handling the cords, but I think that is impractical.

But first, I would recommend that you test the cord to see if it actually has lead in it. There is a movement toward phasing out lead in PVC, but there is still lead in most cords. One survey found lead in 23 out of 27 cords tested. After handling the cords for only 10 seconds, fingers also tested positive for lead. To test for the presence of lead on your cables, use Lead Check swabs.

More about the warning label from Harvard University.

Nontoxic Carpet Cleaner

Question from P. A.

Due to a lack of time and energy, I’d like to hire someone to clean our carpets for us; however, I have serious concerns about the toxicity of the products used.

Do you have any suggestions? Do you know anything about ChemDry? Their website says they use “hot water extraction with the power of carbonation.” Do you know what this means?

Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

Debra’s Answer

Carbonation is what makes the bubbles in club soda or any soft drink. It occurs naturally in some spring waters. To make carbonated beverages, liquid carbon dioxide is injected under pressure beneath the water in a sealed container. Each of us exhales carbon dioxide into the surrounding air every time we breathe.

Using carbonated water as a cleaning solution has been around for a long time. Once I was having lunch with my literary agent and a big New York editor at a fancy restaurant in San Francisco. I ordered an ice cream dessert that came in a pool of chocolate sauce. I put my spoon in the ice cream and the whole scoop slipped off the plate into my lap! My agent immediately ordered a bottle of club soda and the chocolate stain came right out.

ChemDry is applying this same method on a larger scale. Their website says:

Add Comment

Silicone baking mats vs parchment paper

Question from S. T.

Why do you recommend silicone baking mats? Isn’t cooking parchment safer?

Debra’s Answer

Cooking parchment also called parchment paper, kitchen parchment, greaseproof paper and cooking paper is a sheet of paper impregnated with silicone, which makes the paper grease- and moisture-resistant as well as relatively heat-resistant. It is commonly used to eliminate the need to grease baking pans–allowing, for example, repeated batches of cookies to be baked without regreasing the pans–and it can also be folded to make moisture-proof packages in which foods can cooked or steamed.

Parchment is made with bleached white and unbleached brown paper. Since the bleached paper might contain toxic dioxin, it’s better to use the unbleached parchment paper if you use it.

Silicone baking sheets are a sheet of silicone that can be reused over and over again.

Silcone is safe to use for baking and cooking, whether impregnated in paper or in a sheet by itself. Silicones are made chemically by creating a “backbone” of silicon from common sand, the same stuff from which glass is made and oxygen molecules, a combination that does not occur in nature. Then various other synthetic molecules are added branching off of the main silicon-oxygen line to create hundreds of different silicones that range from liquids to rubbery solids. Though this is a completely manmade product, it is completely inert and will not transfer to foods (more at Q&A: Is silicone cookware safe?).

I use both silicone baking sheets and parchment paper. I use my silicone baking sheets to line pans whenever I bake something which might stick. They have saved much time, effort and water from clean-up, and are much safer overall than using baking pans with other non-stick surfaces. I use parchment paper now only when I want to specifically use the cooking technique of baking in parchment, as when I make a recipe such as Fruits Baked in Parchment, or as a substitute for waxed paper waxed paper is covered with paraffin, a petrochemical wax.

The advantage I see to using silicone baking sheets over parchment is that they can be reused up to 2000 times. Though the mats cost more than parchment paper, there is a great savings overall. A box of unbleached parchment paper costs $5 and a silicone baking sheet costs $20, but a box of unbleached parchment paper will cover only 32 baking sheets, and a silicone baking mat will cover 2000 baking sheets. It would cost $310 to buy enough parchment paper to replace one silicone baking mat.

Add Comment

Unscented Talcum Powder

Question from N.M.

I have MCS, and have been unable to find unscented, fragrance-free talcum powder Note the apparent redundancy, since many products that are labeled “unscented” actually contain fragrance, sometimes appearing in the Ingredients list only as a chemical name. I would like to find a source for a safe no mica talcum that has no added fragrance. Can you help?

Debra’s Answer

I could only find unscented talcum powder one place: Birch Hill Happenings. The owner says that it is “100% pure” to the best of her knowledge. It is imported from Australia.

Talc is considered safe enough to be used as an ingredient in nearly one thousand cosmetic and bodycare products. In the past, there has been some question about its safety. It is often stated that talc contains traces of asbestos, however, eighty-five samples of talcum powder studied from 15 countries found that the main detectable mineral impurities were chlorite, mica, carbonates, quartz, and feldspars. Purity varied from 47% to 93%, with powders from Germany and USA having the highest quality. Products from Chile, France, Andorra, Portugal and Colombia were the lowest.

Dr. Hauschka products website FAQ states:

Also, you can just purchase plain cornstarch or arrowroot powder and use that.

Add Comment

Pesticide residues in fabrics

Question from P. G.

I have all three of your books, and thoroughly enjoy your newsletters! Thank you for all you do, and for sharing it all with us out here!

I am very committed to a healthy environment–organic beds, bedding, carpet, foods–just about everything. I spend a lot of money for it. However, for my clothing, I do purchase natural fiber cotton, linen, and silk clothing, but I don’t buy it organically. And there is my dilemma. I am aware of all the pesticide use on growing cotton, but does that residue REALLY end up transferring to our bodies when we wear it as clothing? Has any conclusive study or proof of this been made?

I understand the need to pre-wash new clothing of the residues from sizing and any other “new” fabric treatments before wearing (I wash my clothes with Whole Foods brand laundry detergent along with baking soda, and use vinegar in the rinse cycle), and appreciated your advice on avoiding non-wrinkle, stain-resistant clothing (which I now do–thanks!), but haven’t completely resolved this organic cotton clothing issue.

I ordered some swatches of organic fabrics to purchase to sew (I used to sew all my clothes) and may consider that. The prices of the fabric are very reasonable. But then I just wonder: is it really a valid concern????

Debra’s Answer

I’ve already partially answered this question in Q&A: Conventional vs Organic Cotton Clothing, but I wanted to specifically answer the question “Has any conclusive study or proof of this been made?”

My experience wearing non-organic cotton clothing is that I don’t feel any residues of pesticides present. But that’s not a scientific test.

So I asked Home Environmental Consultant and Certified Bau-Biologist Mary Cordaro to comment on this, because she has experience with product testing done by laboratories in Germany that are far more sophisticated than the laboratories we have available here in the USA. Mary said, “German fabric tests on conventional cotton fabric have shown that, unlike cotton batting, pesticides are not usually present in cotton fabric. The fabric milling and production process removes the pesticides.”

I’m not concerned about health effects from pesticide residues in cotton fabrics (though they are present in cotton batting, so it would be important to get organic cotton in a mattress or pillows). We all should be concerned about the pesticides from the growing of cotton making their way into the environment (which then come back to us in soil, air, and water). But as I said before, at this time there just isn’t enough organic cotton for all of us to wear it 100% of the time. At the same time, we should each take every opportunity available to us to purchase organic cotton to support the continued growth of the industry.

Add Comment

Clean Salad Spinner With Baking Soda

Question from J. B-G

I want to tell you how fantastic baking soda cleans up the salad spinner “cage”!

This salad spinner of mine has been in regular use for about 25 years; periodically it gets hand washed with warm soapy water and after being rinsed, put out in the California sun to be sanitized; but this winter it suddenly got grey looking, sort of like what can happen to laundry sometimes.

Upon closer inspection, I recognized the signs of encroaching mold. Out came the old toothbrush and on came the baking soda, just sprinkled lightly on the bottom at first. After I scrubbed that part inside and out, I rinsed it, then turned the cage on its side and dusted the inside all around before working with the toothbrush inside and out again.

After rinsing, the whole cage looked and sparkled like brand new!

Debra’s Answer

Thanks for your tip!

Add Comment

Sodium Laureth Sulfate

Question from J. P.

Can you tell me about Sodium Laureth Sulfate? I know labels often say it is “derived from coconut”, but is it really a natural ingredient?

Debra’s Answer

To answer your question, here is an excerpt from my book Home Safe Home about natural ingredients bold added.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate is also produced via ethoxylation. Ethoxylated surfactants may be contaminated with carcinogenic 1,4- Dioxane dioxin, as a by-product of the manufacturing process. Carcinogens are considered cause for concern even at very low levels.

I’m not going to comment on whether or not one should or shouldn’t use products containing Sodium Laureth Sulfate. There is a lot of controversy about this which you can read by typing “Sodium Laureth Sulfate” into any seach engine.

My only point here is that even though Sodium Laureth Sulfate is “derived from coconut oil”, it’s not what I would consider to be natural in the sense that it is in the state in which it occurs in nature.

Add Comment

Liver and Kidney Detox

Question from B. K.

Do you have any special natural remedies to detox the body……the liver and kidneys??? I think sometimes feeling fatigue all leads to a good cleansing of the liver….getting it to be strong and flushing out all the toxins! Thanks!

Debra’s Answer

I’ve used the Kidney Rejuvenator and Liver Rejuvenator products from Peter Gillham’s Natural Vitality and they were very effective.

I started taking them after I read an article by Peter Gillham called “The Body’s Filter” (this is not posted on their website, but I think they would send you a copy if you asked). It tells how our bodies have specific organs whose purpose is to purify the blood and organs to keep toxins of all kinds from building up in the body and causing disease.

The kidneys, among other functions, are one of the main organs that filter toxins out of our blood. But I suspect that for most of us, our kidneys are not doing their job. Kidneys can be damaged by poor diet, stress, and chemical expsosure, reducing their efficiency. When our kidneys are damaged, they can’t filter out the chemicals we are exposed to and they build up in our bodies. So one of the best things we can do to help our bodies withstand the chemicals we are exposed to is to have strong, well-functioning kidneys. The kidneys and liver work together to remove toxic chemicals from the body, so both need to be supported.

When I read this, it was like a light bulb went off in my head. Of course! If we want our bodies to better tolerate the chemicals in our environment, we should strengthen those functions in our bodies that process them. So I started taking Kidney Rejuvenator and Liver Rejuvenator and they made a big difference in my body. My husband took them too and they helped him. They are completely natural, made of a blend of herbs (not organically grown).

There may be other similar products on the market. I know these worked for me. And other vitamins I have taken from them were effective too.

Both kidneys and liver process toxins and need to be cleansed for good health. I definately think you are on the right track with this.

Add Comment

Green Bathtubs

Question from C. H.

I am looking for an airjet tub that would be safe. One company [name deleted] said that their urethane tubs are the only green product around. My HVAC guy says that 100% acrylic tubs are inert. However, as far as I can see, the acrylic tubs have a fiberglass and resin shell which is where the problem mostly lies. Any info?

Also, do you know how to construct a tiled bathtub where the bathtub itself is made of tile?

Debra’s Answer

I contacted the company that is making the claim that their urethane bathtub is “green.” Here’s what I found out.

Acrylic-lined tubs have a shell of fiberglass. So it’s fiberglass on the outside and acrylic on the inside.

The toxic element in fiberglass is polyester resin. Polyester resin has a styrene carrier which outgasses VOCs.

This company replaces the polyester resin in the fiberglass with urethane, which does not outgas, so there are zero VOCs. That’s the green claim–that it has zero VOCs.

However, the fiberglass is on the outside of the tub, which usually is completely sealed against a wall or within a tile surround. So whatever VOCs do outgas probably are not going into the room once the tub is installed.

Still I am concerned about the acrylic liner being a plastic and that none of these materials are renewable or biodegradable. Certainly I would call this a less toxic tub, but I would still stay away from any plastic tubs. A standard porcelain tub would still come out ahead.

Add Comment


Visitor site map


Organic and Healthy





Toxic Products Don’t Always Have Warning Labels. Find Out About 3 Hidden Toxic Products That You Can Remove From Your Home Right Now.