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One Mom’s Campaign to Save the Swimmers

Health + Wellness

By Stacy Malkan

"I want grandkids one day, so sperm is important to me because I've got three young boys," said mom, author and social media genius Leah Segedie in a video introducing her "Save the Swimmers" campaign.

"This is where my youngest rolls his eyes at me and says, 'I know Mom. Avoiding plastics can help save my swimmers, oooh kay.' But to me this is no laughing matter. Over 25 years of studies have demonstrated that these little sperm are crying out for help."

In her new book, out now from Rodale Books, Segedie explains what the science is saying about the impact of hormone-disrupting chemicals on male fertility. As she puts it, she drops science, along with truth bombs about how the government is failing to ensure the safety of toxic-chemical-laden products and food, and many practical tips about how to protect our families without going bonkers. The book is called Green Enough: Eat Better, Live Cleaner, Be Happier (All Without Driving Your Family Crazy).

As the founder of Mamavation.com, a mom-focused social media community devoted to practical conversations about healthy living, Segedie doesn't let eye rolls stop her from delivering her message in the most straightforward and relatable way she can, cuss words and all. One headline in the book describes the food safety system in the U.S. as, "Generally Recognized as Safe Bullshit."

So what do Moms need to know about toxic chemicals in our homes and how to protect our loved ones and their swimmers? I asked Leah Segedie to share some of the takeaway messages from her book.

Stacy Malkan: You spent a lot of time studying up on endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs)—chemicals that can mimic or block our body's natural hormones—and one of the pioneering scientists in the field, Pete Myers, was your science advisor for your book. Tell us what the research on EDCs is saying.

Leah Segedie: The most important part of what I've learned is simple—dose doesn't equal the poison when it comes to hormone disrupting chemicals. Smaller amounts can have a more detrimental impact on pregnant women and children than larger ones. And chemicals do unpredictable things at low doses, which has been demonstrated in tons of studies. The scariest part is how regulators ignore low-dose effects. Lots of products contain low doses of these hormone-disrupting chemicals. In Green Enough I tell you exactly what those chemicals are and how you can avoid most of them. The most vulnerable of the population are pregnant women and small children. But those aren't the only people at risk. Hormone disruption is more likely to happen when you are going through a hormonal change, so in addition to considering this for pregnant women and children, the same is true for adolescents going through puberty and women going through menopause.

And then there is the toxic soup environment to consider. We don't know the impact of what happens when different chemicals mix together in our bodies. So with the 85,000 chemicals in commerce, we actually have no idea what they are doing and how they are impacting our health. Long story short, we are not protected the way everyone thinks. Chemicals are evaluated based on old and outdated technology and techniques. And we need to update how we treat and evaluate chemicals in this country. But I say don't wait for them to get their act together. It's your life and your family—take control of your own home environment.

Malkan: What are your top tips for saving the swimmers?

Segedie: When I talk about the Save the Swimmers campaign in my home, I'm referring to how I got my husband and young boys on board with all the changes I needed to make. And it was simple. I explained to them what is happening to sperm health in the United States. About 90 percent of young men have some degree of unhealthy sperm. Did they want unhealthy sperm that could prevent them from having children one day? Well then, we need to make some change in this house to dumb down the amount of hormone disrupting chemicals we have everywhere. I involved them in the process and was clear why it was happening. It was about as simple as that.

My top tips for avoiding hormone-disrupting chemicals:

1. Stop eating or drinking from plastic.

2. Stop using synthetic fragrances in the home, especially ones that don't list their ingredients.

3. Pay attention to what's in your personal care products.

4, Notice what your food is wrapped in.

5. When you make changes, make them slowly so they stick and are accepted by your family. When things happen to quickly, it creates a mutiny.

I'd say that starting with food would be the most important part, not just what ingredients you chose, but also the chemicals coming from packaging, cookware, storage containers and cans. Getting a handle on these "indirect additives" is the quickest way to get toxic chemicals out of the food you eat. In Green Enough, I discuss how to purge your kitchen of these chemicals, what to do when you find them and what products are safer solutions.

Malkan: What has been the biggest challenge in getting your family on board?

Segedie: I'm very honest with my family about why I'm doing things and I involve them in those decisions all the time. In the beginning, I sat them down and explained I wanted to have grandkids one day and there were chemicals inside our home that have the potential to prevent that from happening. And I needed their help to ensure they had healthy sperm. It seems that boys care a great deal about how virile they are, even when they are young, so that worked to my advantage. So when I have to make adjustments, I tell them "I want grandkids one day ... do you want kids? Okay then do you agree this is wise?" and I get a yes and possibly an eye roll. But that's really all I need.

My biggest challenges are not my two youngest but my oldest son and my husband. My husband is more set in his ways and we aren't planning on having more children so he joked with me for a time that he could do whatever he wanted and his sperm could become green with mutation and it would be fine. My oldest son is just starting go through puberty so all he wants to do is things his friends are doing. But he's very much a thinker and prides himself on being smart so I blow up his ego by saying he knows more about endocrine disruption than most adults and he gets a kick out of that part. For those two I just have to reward them more. The younger two are fine with me giving them a hug and me telling them how proud I am of them. But you'd be surprised how far they got in a couple of years ... even with eye rolling.

Malkan: A recent study found high levels of endocrine disrupting chemicals called phthalates in macaroni and cheese. As the mom of a toddler who loves mac and cheese, this one is a real challenge. What's your 'green enough' guidance?

Segedie: Phthalates (said "Thal-8s") are in all dairy products at varying levels, including organic dairy. But the rule about dairy is simple: the more processing the dairy goes through the higher the phthalate level. And this is why powdered cheese has the highest level of phthalate contamination. We still enjoy dairy in my home, so I find other places to lessen the amount we are exposed to. I end up purchasing low fat versions of yogurt and string cheese because it's hiding inside the fat. I know fat is all the rage right now, but fat from animal products is also a very efficient delivery method for these chemicals.

As for the solution to your mac and cheese problem, I would recommend instead of using the powdered cheese, make your own mac and cheese with milk and cheese you grated yourself. That will cut down on the phthalate level instantly. And if you are really worried about phthalate contamination, start paying more attention to other places where phthalates are hiding. The final two chapters of Green Enough will help you lessen phthalate contamination inside each room of your home and your personal care products. These complicated scenarios were a primary focus of the book.

Malkan: The green path can be a lonely one. What's your best advice for having the green enough conversation with reluctant loved ones?

Segedie: I would say that if they don't live inside your home don't lecture them. Just live your life the way you need to and eventually they will ask you why you do things the way you do and that is your opportunity to tell them. Wait until they ask you. That's when they are more likely to accept what you have to say.

Malkan: You have been sparking discussions on social media about the role of women in the food industry. Do you think the natural products industry has a gender inequity problem?

Segedie: Yes, I do believe the natural industry could use more women and people of color in charge. It's ironic that women are their primary customers and yet decisions that impact them don't involve them. And it's typical of industries that are growing and seeing a bull market, so to speak. Not only would I like to see more female CEOs and people of color, but I'd also like to see them sitting on the boards of directors. For an industry that prides itself on being "better," in this case they really are not.

I wrote about this the other day after having a very unpleasant experience with someone very powerful in the industry. And I think the solution is really simple: as women we need to start using our voices more and supporting brands that respect us and give us a seat at the table. Now there are so many organic brands to choose from, we can start getting picky. I'm starting to create a list of these brands and I encourage other women to start sharing their stories to create more awareness around this issue. We deserve this!

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