Murrysville physician's book examines in-home toxins
A series of unexpected nosebleeds got Dr. Rob Brown looking more closely at whole-home health.
"I was painting my living room at the time, and I started getting these nosebleeds," Brown said.
Eventually he was forced to go to the emergency room, but doctors could not find a specific cause. Brown ultimately traced it to the volatile organic compounds in the fresh paint.
"I aired out the house and waited two weeks before sleeping in my bedroom near the living room," he said. "I haven't had any nosebleeds since."
Brown, of Murrysville, began looking at other potentially unhealthy areas of his home and eventually wrote and published his first book, "Toxic Home/Conscious Home: A Mindful Approach to Wellness at Home."
"My mother was very health-conscious about food and healthy living, and it really led me to be very aware of how I feel in the presence of different things in my environment," he said.
During a tour of a Tribune-Review staff writer's home to identify potential toxins, Brown touched on some of the areas covered in his book.
The volatile organic compounds that led to Brown's nosebleeds are difficult to pin down.
"There are long-term effects," he said. "They can affect our immune systems, they can cause cancer and the chronic effect is very hard to assess."
In order to remove particulates from the air, Brown recommended purchasing home-furnace air filters with a minimum efficiency reporting value, or MERV rating, between 5 and 12.
"Those are usually the pleated type of filters," he said.
Houseplants also have been shown to absorb several types of VOC, and Brown said putting one in as many rooms as possible goes a long way.
Too much energy?
Brown swept the house with a meter designed to pick up electromagnetic fields, or EMFs, which are far more prevalent in daily life thanks to modern conveniences like microwaves, cellphones and wireless routers.
The trade-off for convenience is that the body is constantly being bombarded by low- to mid-frequency radiation.
"They say modern microwaves don't leak radiation," Brown said as his EMF meter buzzed angrily and maxed out while standing up to 15 feet away from a running microwave. "But I haven't found one yet that doesn't. I got rid of my microwave several years ago."
When a cellphone emitted a pulse to check things like email and text messages, it registered as a spike on the EMF meter, and a wi-fi router constantly emits radiation as its sends its signal to all corners of the house.
Brown recommended keeping such routers in the basement, and if they must be kept in a bedroom or living area, that they be set on a timer, "to give your body a break, at least during the night."
The National Institutes of Health website defines this type of non-ionizing radiation as "generally perceived as harmless due to its lack of potency."
Brown is not so certain.
"You can see the EMF reading on the phone," he said. "I tell people to use their speaker-phone as much as possible. Don't hold it to your head."
In the kitchen
Brown's first piece of advice for the average kitchen: don't trust the water company.
"There are just too many things that can happen between the water treatment plant and your faucet," he said, recommending a counter-top water filter as well as ridding the kitchen of plastic water bottles (he prefers glass).
When it came to cleaning, Brown said chemical cleaners are not only hazardous, but many go too far in killing bacteria.
"You don't need to kill 99.9 percent of all bacteria," he said.
Online health forums are awash with combinations of vinegar, baking soda and lemon that can be used for cleaning.
"Vinegar is really good for you," he said. "It works a good alternative to Lysol and other cleaners."
Consuming vinegar is another healthy habit, he said, whether it's in the form of fermented foods like pickles, or simply adding a splash of apple cider vinegar to a salad.
One step at a time
All of Brown's warnings can seem a little overwhelming, especially when they are all pointed out at once.
He advised taking things one step at time.
"Make one small change," he said. "See if you notice a difference. Then make another, and another, and eventually you find it's not that difficult to eliminate potentially unhealthy things from your home."
For more on Brown, see RobBrownMD.com .
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.