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Are Yoga Pants and Cozy Clothes Destroying Our Oceans?

In a world awash in cheap clothes, certain staple items seem to form the backbone of many people’s wardrobes. One of these items is yoga pants. Beloved by women for their comfort and versatility, these form fitting pants were designed to facilitate movement, stretching and exercise. They have long since left the yoga studio and are now worn as casual dress by millions of women. 

Is there a dark side to comfortable and cozy clothes that were designed for an active and ostensibly healthful lifestyle? According to U.S. News and World Report, the answer is yes. They recently featured a study that shows the plastic that makes yoga pants and cozy clothing so stretchy is ending up in the oceans and then entering the food chain. Women's pants are not the only culprit. Patagonia coats, sweat-wicking athletic wear and other synthetic items are also serious threats to marine life and the environment. 

Are the mindful principles of yoga compatible with the ocean polluting materials found in most yoga pants? Yoga pants made from sustainable materials are available, but the vast majority of these pants are made from genetically engineered cotton combined with stretchy and suspect synthetic materials. Lycra and polyester are far removed from the natural materials which our ancestors wore. To make matters worse, synthetic clothing items frequently contain microfibers. When laundered, these particulates are flushed into the waterways and make their way into the food chain. 

As grim as this news may seem, the fact that synthetic materials can be hazardous is hardly breaking news. Synthetic fibers are more likely to trap foul odors and as a result are often treated with chemicals. One antimicrobial often added to yoga pants is triclosan. Research has shown that triclosan can alter hormone regulation and may interfere with fetal development.

Animal studies have also raised concerns about triclosan’s ability to affect fertility, and bacteria exposed to triclosan may also become resistant to antibiotics. Even an increased cancer risk has been suggested. Triclosan is one chemical that you certainly don’t want to risk more exposure to, so it’s wise to avoid all antibacterial fabrics.

Wearing natural cotton clothing would seem to be an obvious solution to this issue. What needs to be understood is that cotton is considered the world’s dirtiest crop due to the cotton industry’s heavy use of hazardous herbicides and insecticides. Monsanto Bt cotton only adds to the toxicity issues and ethical dilemmas posed by this material. For this reason, I recommend organic cotton although hemp may be another viable option.

If body odor is the concern, taking a holistic approach that addresses the underlying cause may be the best approach. Improving your diet is the best starting point. If you're living a "clean" lifestyle, meaning a lifestyle in which you're minimally exposed to dietary and environmental toxins and therefore have a low toxic burden, your sweat will be close to odorless. My nutrition plan outlines how to embrace a healthy and nourishing diet free from processed foods.