Did you know that your home directly impacts your health? & not just on a psychological level. Your home includes the air you and your family breathe, the materials your skin comes into contact with, & even what you ingest. Luckily, we can exert some control over all of these!
In my early days as a designer, I started a journey into functional medicine, using food & my environment to create greater health and wellness in my life. Spoiler Alert: It worked. Much of this choice was because of the knowledge I gained from today’s guest, Dr. Christine Maren.
We met WAY back (I won’t tell you how long), when Dr. Maren was still in med school and our husbands were doing their residency at the same hospital. We hit it off right away and she has been a friend ever since!
Today, I’m thrilled to have Dr. Maren joining us to talk about some practical ways to create your own healthy home. But first, let’s meet this power woman…
(Psst! — Just looking for tips? Scroll to the bottom to get Dr. Maren’s lists!)
Meet Dr. Christine Maren: Physician, Entrepreneur & Mother of Three
I can personally tell you that Dr. Maren is smart, compassionate, and a joy to be around, but let’s face it — she worked hard for her credentials, so let’s give them the attention they deserve!
Dr. Maren has a Doctorate in Osteopathic Medicine, is a board-certified physician (by the American Board of a Family Medicine), and is an Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner (IFMCP).
She’s also the founder of her virtual functional medicine practice in Colorado, Michigan, and Texas and the co-founder of Hey Mami, a platform dedicated to helping women navigate a healthy and happy motherhood. In case she wasn’t busy enough, Dr. Maren is also a mother herself, raising three beautiful children with her husband.
Believe me, someone who does this much work & study has a passion for helping others, and I hope you will get as many great takeaways from our conversation as I did. Let’s dive in…
Creating a Healthy Home with Dr. Christine Maren
SP: Hi, Dr. Maren! Thanks so much for agreeing to chat with me today. To start, why don’t you share a bit about who you are and what you do?
DM: In my professional life, I’m a board-certified physician and the founder of a virtual functional medicine practice in Colorado, Michigan, and Texas. I work with a lot of patients who are looking to address the root cause of problems like hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s (an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid), chronic digestive issues or IBS, hormone imbalances, and unexplained infertility.
In my personal life, I’m the mother of three, wife to a surgeon (we have this in common), and also someone who has had my own health challenges. In all of those roles I’m an advocate for a healthier home. Much of my focus is on environmental health and lifestyle, and I really do believe that health starts at home.
SP: That’s amazing. I know the answer to this, but for those who don’t know you, how did you get into functional medicine in the beginning?
DM: You knew me in the days when I could eat and drink anything! I had a distinct change/decline in my health after moving away from San Antonio. In short, I had a bunch of health issues creeping in (like skin problems, digestive issues, inflammation, food sensitivities, etc.) and at the same time was trying to conceive.
“After recurrent pregnancy loss, I took time to focus on my own health. I was introduced to functional medicine to address my own health concerns associated with gut infections, hypothyroidism and hormone imbalance. I also took a deep dive into mold toxicity.”
I eventually had another baby (and a third!) and regained my health. At that point there was no turning back and my professional and personal life really collided.
SP: Have you seen the industry change since you started?
DM: Yes! I think it’s just continued to grow, to answer the call of the many people out there (like me) who are trying to understand the root cause of their health issues — like hormone imbalance, thyroid problems, food sensitivities, chronic digestive issues, autoimmune disease, etc.
One thing all of these problems have in common (a focus for most practitioners in this space) is the importance of low-tox living. It’s been that way from the start. But I think what’s new is that there is more awareness around mold toxicity, in particular.
SP: What are some ways a home plays a role in our health? Or maybe the flipside of that, what are some areas of the home that can be common culprits for harming health?
DM: We spend a lot of time at home, and the everyday, persistent exposures to household toxins really do matter and add up over time. We are really starting to understand and appreciate that our environment has a huge impact on our health.
“According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ‘Americans, on average, spend approximately 90% of their time indoors, where the concentrations of some pollutants are often 2 to 5 times higher than typical outdoor concentrations.’”
Part of the reasons for indoor air pollution, according to the EPA, include lack of ventilation, increased use of synthetic materials and furnishings, and chemicals in personal care products, pesticides, and household cleaners.
When we bring in new building materials, carpets, flooring, glues, solvents, furniture, etc., all of those can “off gas” — basically leach their chemical vapor into the air for years to come. We inadvertently bring in other chemicals on everyday products, like cleaning supplies, candles, perfumes, and personal care products.
Unfortunately, many of the common household toxins are proven lung irritants and endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), known to interfere with hormone systems. EDCs can cause obesity, cancer, birth defects, and other developmental disorders.
And back to energy efficiency and poor ventilation — this is a huge part of the problem with indoor air quality. With the advent of modern building techniques, natural ventilation has suffered. Our homes are now built so tight and sometimes there is hardly any air exchange. When the same air sits in an enclosed space for a long time, the buildup of all of those chemicals, dust, mold, bacteria, etc. can lead to indoor air pollution and uncontrolled humidity.
And lastly, any uncontrolled humidity, excess moisture, leaks, and water penetration (often hidden behind the walls) can lead to mold and microbial overgrowth. This may be the most underappreciated threat to our indoor air quality. I learned the hard way that molds have the potential to cause health problems. They produce allergens, irritants, and in some cases, potentially toxic substances called mycotoxins.
SP: Wow, that’s a lot to consider. And I know it can feel overwhelming to look at these problems all at once. What are your suggestions for making sure a home contributes to better health and wellness? Are there small things we can do to make improvements?
CM: Absolutely. This is a loaded topic, but to keep it really simple: clean air, clean food, clean water. Let’s focus on clean air…
The easy stuff:
- Avoid bringing synthetic fragrances into your home, like candles, cleaning or laundry products, personal care products, plug-ins, potpourri, air fresheners, etc.
- Avoid spraying your home and lawn with pesticides.
- Swap out chemical cleaners for all-natural and fragrance-free ones, like Branch Basics.
- Open windows daily, assuming the outdoor air quality is not an issue.
- Use the vent hood when cooking.
- Use the bathroom fan when showering.
- Take off your shoes at the door. They track in all kinds of nasty pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, etc.
- Vacuum and dust regularly, ideally with a HEPA vacuum (many of these troublemakers, like heavy metals, ride in on dust).
- Change out your HVAC filter often, and use a high-quality filter rated for allergens.
- Let new furnishing products off-gas outside for a couple days.
If you can take it a step further, I also recommend:
- Filter your shower and bath water to reduce chlorine inhalation. We have a whole house filter.
- Use an air purifier that removes specific contaminants, this is especially important in your bedroom. I like AustinAir, Air Doctor, IQ Air, and Intellipure.
- Talk to your HVAC professional to see if installing an air exchange unit makes sense. An HRV or ERV can help bring fresh air into your home and push out the stale air.
- If you suspect a mold issue (musty basement, leak in the attic, etc.), have your home tested and inspected by a healthy home professional or building biologist. Mold remediation is no DIY project — you need the right professionals to help here. Check out ISEAI.org for referrals in your area.
And when it comes to a home remodel, consider the following:
- Choose low-tox or toxin-free building materials when it’s an option.
- Do your best to opt for natural fibers when it comes to rugs, carpeting, and upholstery. No need to go nuts if you already have what you have, but just keep it in mind when it’s time to update or upgrade your floor, furniture, etc.
- Work with a skilled designer and contractor, who can help guide you through important decisions, especially when it comes to wet areas like the kitchen and bath. I’ve learned that this investment usually pays off, and skimping here can cost a lot in the long run.
SP: This is all great info! And I couldn’t agree more about the remodeling points. There is a lot we can do on this front nowadays, thankfully. Okay, last question… If you were to advise someone to make just one tactical change to create a healthier home right now, what would your suggestion be?
DM: Don’t drive yourself crazy — chronic stress is also a toxin! Remember the 80:20 rule, and know that this is about progress versus perfection. These changes need not happen all at once and should be fun and empowering. My advice is to knock a few off the list every week based on your goals, means, and needs.
Okay, are you as blown away as I am? I told you Dr. Maren was great! I hope these tips have given you some great starting points when creating your own healthy home.
If you’re working with us now or in the future, we will absolutely ask if this is an important consideration for you. We want to create a home that you love AND that contributes to your daily and long-term wellness. Entering a home and exhaling is a feeling… & also your peace of mind. 😉
Until next time,
Styleberry Creative Interiors specializes in fresh, relaxed design crafted in a meaningful way. With a team, process, and done-for-you Design Kits you can trust, we’ll help you create soul-soothing spaces that inspire you to unwind, connect, and finally… exhale. Our studio is based in downtown San Antonio, Texas and serves clients in the Alamo Heights, Olmos Park, and greater San Antonio Metropolitan areas, as well as Nationwide.