Darin Olien Wants You to Wake Up to the Reality of Toxic Chemicals in Your Daily Life
Darin Olien knows that his upcoming book, Fatal Conveniences, isn’t a feel-good read. And after reading hundreds of pages about why my clothes, food, personal care products, and cell phone might be making me sick and shortening my lifespan, I’m prone to agree.
The Down to Earth With Zac Efron star swears that exposing the dangers of the “chemical soup” we’re exposed to 24/7 doesn’t come from a place of doom and gloom.
“I’m all for conveniences,” he says. “It’s extraordinary that I can come into my house and regulate the temperature and turn on the faucet and have water come out, and pick up a cell phone and call anyone in the world. But as uncomfortable as it is, I don’t think that we can change anything if we pretend this stuff is not affecting us.”
“One study found that on a daily basis, we’re getting hit with 85 known either carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting chemicals just by living a normal day,” Olien told me. These are compounds that lurk in our water bottles, our homes, and our environments, where they can lower testosterone levels, decrease fertility, and cause cancer.
Olein’s mission is to personally empower us to shop, live, and act smarter.
“I think people are stronger when they have the knowledge to make informed choices,” he continues. “If we can just start to slowly improve our microclimates, it will transform our lives. This stuff may seem annoying and small, but it is massive. It steps us out of this clear and present danger that we as Americans are suffering.”
We chatted with Olien about which chemicals are most damning to men’s health, why he’s obsessed with educating people about the harmful chemicals in our clothing, food, and homes, simple things you can to do curb your own exposure, and why he tests his hormones.
The Edge: Why did you write this book now?
Olien: In the 90s, my father started to suffer from chemical sensitivities. Personal care products gave him near-debilitating brain fog. He was a professor and he went into teaching mode, telling people how harmful this stuff was. When I used the products he sent me a care package of stuff to use before visiting him I realized, “Wow, this stuff does affect me.”
That experience opened my eyes. And in the 30 years since, working in the food and supplement world and talking to researchers, I realized that all these conveniences that we enjoy are full of harmful substances. We’re being bathed in them all day every day, and nothing is being done to regulate it, even though we know how dangerous it is. It’s the invisible neutering of our society.
Which chemicals are most harmful to men?
Phthalates, which are used to make plastics more flexible, have been tied to declines in testosterone and cardiovascular disease. They show up in water bottles, food packaging, and even medical devices. The more squishy the container is, the more phthalates are in there.
Another big one is PFAS, which are “forever chemicals” that make surfaces slick and frictionless. They’re a class of endocrine disruptors that is also carcinogenic—they’ve been linked to testicular cancer and kidney cancer. You’ll never see “PFAS” on a label but they’re found in stain-resistant clothing, bedding, and waterproof outdoor gear. Whatever you put on your body in some form goes into your body.
What are some easy ways to limit exposure to these chemicals?
For phthalates, eliminate food that’s wrapped in plastic. Especially hot food. When you have a hot soup in a plastic tub, the heat pulls more of the phthalates in.
Don’t drink from plastic water bottles. Glass, ceramic, metal, wood, or bamboo are all safe alternatives.
Anything you wear that’s stain resistant—T-shirts, jeans—probably has PFAS in it. Every active guy has got a waterproof jacket, and most of that is all PFAS. That’s where you’re just walking into an endocrine-disrupting hell for yourself. These things are directly connected to lowering testosterone. You can find waterproof gear without PFAS—Patagonia is going back to wax to create a waterproof barrier, for example. And Nudie Jeans don’t use PFAS either.
You have to be careful with stretchy workout shorts and compression sorts, too. Those are mostly petroleum derivatives, which are absolutely connected to endocrine disruption. The less stretchy your gym clothes are, the better, if you’re worried about toxins.
And filter your damn water. Our tap water is contaminated with pesticides, herbicides, BPA, and PFAS.
What was the most surprising thing you learned in writing this book?
Electromagnetic radiation. Preliminary data suggests low-level radiation from cell phones, microwaves, and wireless devices might be dangerous in ways that we don’t understand yet. The research around electromagnetic radiation is very similar to phthalates, parabens, PFAS. It hurts the immune system so it doesn’t function normally. It increases oxygen reactive species, so free radicals are increased within the body. It’s been shown to lower sperm. It scares the shit out of me. I have a cell phone, of course, but I don’t hold it up to my head.
What fatal convenience has been the hardest for you to give up?
Caffeine. Coffee doesn’t feel good to me, but I love green tea and Guarana from the Amazon. And I love cacao.
This incredible stem cell godfather, Dr. Henry Young, told me that coffee and higher amounts of green tea destroy and inhibit the totipotent—the top stem cell that can turn itself into any tissue or any organ. I still do caffeine, but I also stimulate my totipotent stem cells in some other ways naturally.
But that one sucks. I still wrestle with that.
What do you say to guys who say it’s just too hard to avoid everything harmful?
I mean, it can be overwhelming, but life is intense. But if you’re a victim of this neutering and a hijacking of your overwhelmed master endocrine system, how the hell can you have the proper resilience to just life in general? You just have to start making changes. Just reorient yourself to another choice instead of that shampoo or that laundry detergent.
The impacts of these toxins can show up in lab testing. Do you get your hormones tested?
Yeah, I do. I just got mine tested and my testosterone was 800 or 900, which is pretty good for my age (52).
I think that’s down to a lot of things. I minimize my chemical exposure. I eat really well—I’ve been plant-based for 15 years and I know where most of my food’s coming from. I grow a lot of it. And I work out like crazy. I’ve been obsessed with going body weight all the way to failure on every set.
Finding My Edge: The One Thing…
What’s the one thing you wish you knew about staying healthy in your 40s?
I’ve never said this, but I wish I would’ve put on a clean sunscreen on my face, at least a little bit. Something with zinc oxide. I literally never put on sunscreen for 25 years, just coconut oil, which has a low natural SPF. Now I wear more hats and I have some zinc oxide that I put on my face.
What’s the one thing you always have to do when you’re working out?
I have to go to that place of being uncomfortable. You know where every set you go to failure and you feel like, “This sucks, but I know I can recover.” I’m friends with that place, I’m friends with pain. It’s just such a hormonal hack and I don’t think people understand it. I can feel the chemical change so profoundly when I go there. It’s unbelievable.
What’s one thing that you always have in your fridge?
Something fermented, like kimchi or kombucha.
What’s one thing you have every day?
Whole plants for salads. Just a colorful amount of vegetables. That’s a staple.