There’s been increasing media attention recently to the ways in which environmental toxins affect our health. This article connects neurotoxins to low IQ, cognitive and behavioural problems. Dr. David Bellinger, a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School determined that Americans have collectively forfeited forty-one million IQ points as a result of exposure to lead, mercury, and organophosphate pesticides.
And the best-selling author and researcher Joseph Pizzorno, ND recently shared well-known data showing that our present chronic disease epidemics – including obesity, diabetes, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), cardiovascular, cancer and kidney disease – are temporally associated with a parallel rise in environmental pollutants. Conclusion? Toxicity is the primary driver of disease and this article in The Huffington Post gives you the lowdown on it.
As a homotoxicologist, I can only welcome such media attention to this often ignored problem and my article is another attempt to educate the public about the health consequences of these insidious environmental toxins we are exposed to every day.
As you very well know, over the last century, the environment has become increasingly contaminated with industrially-produced synthetic substances. It is estimated that at present there are around 100,000 such toxic contaminants in our air, food and water. These bioaccumulate in our bodies and studies show that the average person has around 700 synthetic chemicals in their body. Even people in isolated parts of the world, such as the Arctic, are affected due to weather patterns spreading these chemicals everywhere.
What this means is that even if you eat the healthiest organic diet and get the right amount of exercise, one thing you can’t avoid is this ongoing onslaught of modern toxicity and pollution that our distant ancestors never faced. Thus, experts and clinicians worldwide draw attention to the need to detoxify regularly as a key prevention strategy, however most people are in total denial about this intervention and hope that their body will handle this toxic load on its own.
While it is true that our bodies are capable of handling internally-generated toxicity, such as the free radicals that are created during energy production in the mitochondria, we’re not evolutionarily equipped to handle the extraordinary toxic burden we face today.
Are you toxic? Here’s a quick toxicity questionnaire that will give you the answer:
Do you live in a city?
Do you drive a car/ride a bike?
Do you eat processed foods? Do you eat out?
Do you drink tap water, diet coke and/or soda drinks?
Do you use conventional beauty products?
Do you use conventional cleaning products?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, the likelihood is that you’ve already accumulated a considerable amount of toxic chemicals in your tissues and it’s only a matter of time before they start creating symptoms.
Another thing to consider is that, due to our unique genetic make-up, we vary greatly in our detoxification ability. This means we all have different thresholds of tolerance for these chemicals. Once the toxic load goes over this threshold, our bodies are no longer able to defend themselves or work properly. This is when symptoms start to creep in: fatigue, headaches, digestive discomfort, weight gain, irritability, depressive states etc.
So where do you get your toxins from? Here’s some of the major sources of toxicity:
- living in a city: outdoor air contains the harshest toxins, generated by car exhaust and industrial manufacturing and we’re constantly breathing in low levels of such toxic compounds that are circulating in the air: emissions from petrol and diesel combustion, especially particulate matter (PM10, PM2.5 and PM0.1), oxides of nitrogen (NOx: NO, NO2 and N2 O4), volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) and the secondary photochemical production of ozone (O3), carbon dioxide, methane, benzene, toluene, mercury, xylene, n-hexane
- indoor air: you must have heard of toxic building syndrome which stands to show that indoor air can be even more toxic than outdoor air
- handling toxic substances directly, when you gas up your car for instance: if you can smell the fumes it means that the benzene and other chemicals in gasoline are entering your body. Benzene is known to damage DNA and increase your risk of cancer.
- dental amalgam (silver) fillings: these are typically 55% mercury and each filling releases about 1mcg of Hg every day. Mercury is ubiquitous in air, water, certain types of fish such as tuna and swordfish, vaccines, flu shots, contact lens solution, blood pressure lowering medications, bleached flour, some Chinese herbs, cleaners including Ajax, Lysol, Comet, Derma Scrub, Dove Soap, Ivory Liquid, some bleaches, some cosmetics, dyes, paints, inks, engraving supplies, exhaust fumes, fabric softeners, feeding tubes, felt, fertilisers etc.
- pesticides and herbicides in non-organic plant foods
- antibiotics and hormones in non-organic animal products, such as meat and dairy (it takes approximately 5 to 8 pounds of chemically sprayed grain to produce 1 pound of beef, therefore you will ingest considerably more cancer causing chemicals from meat than from fruit and vegetables)
- junk foods: four common food additives (aspartame, MSG, and two colouring chemicals) interact synergistically to produce nerve damage. These additives were even found in foods marketed to children.
- pharmaceuticals, including over the counter drugs that damage the liver such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) that a lot of people take regularly; chemotherapy drugs (mechlorethamine, procarbazine, and chlorambucil)
- smoking: there are over 4,000 toxic chemicals in cigarettes, including arsenic and cadmium. Arsenic is a powerful nerve and enzyme poison associated with fatigue, vague aches and pains, weakness, dizziness and neurological symptoms.
- alcohol: in excess (and depending on the person, excess can be anything over 3-4 drinks per week), alcohol negatively affects the liver
Here’s some sources of everyday toxicity you probably never suspected:
- mattresses and sofas are coated with flame-retardant chemicals emitting formaldehyde gas and a carcinogenic brominated substance, which your body readily absorbs all night. These are known to react with the thyroid receptors, decreasing your metabolism.
- synthetic carpets: these contain flame-retardant chemicals, benzene, styrene, and several other cancer-causing chemicals used to treat the carpet. These are released in the indoor air or absorbed through the skin. These block your thyroid function and make you tired and fat
- paint, wood-floor finishes, coolants
- tightly insulated rooms – this creates a greater outgas collection of chemicals from your furniture, paint, rugs and carpeting, with a greater impact on your brain resulting in symptoms like mood swings, feelings of spaciness, headaches, and an inability to concentrate
- electronics often contain flame retardants
- many manufactured products contain PFCs (perfluorochemicals), these make objects more resistant to stains, grease, and water: non-stick cookware, stain-resistant sofas and carpets, waterproof clothes, food packaging (pizza boxes,takeout containers)
- work/office environment – same as your home environment but possibly much worse due to toxicity from printers, plastics, other office materials, cheap carpets, lack of ventilation etc
- showers/baths: in most countries around the world, municipal water is treated with fluoride and chlorine, both carcinogens to the human body
- fluoride toothpaste – full of all kinds of toxic ingredients including titanium dioxide, aspartame, and artificial coloring
- deodorants: conventional deodorants or anti-perspirants contain seven chemicals, including aluminum, parabens (a hormone-disrupting preservative), propylene glycol (a lubricant and suspected cancer agent)
- perfume: carcinogenic phthalates are used to hold fragrance and colour
- fragrance in scented candles, soaps, body sprays and air fresheners etc: a hundred different chemicals are disguised under the name ‘fragrance’, these contain phthalates, one of the most common pollutants in our bodies.
- body lotions : these contain penetration-enhancing chemicals that can drive toxins from other toiletries deeper into your flesh. According to the FDA, we use on average nine personal-care products daily, containing about 126 chemical ingredients.
- dry-cleaning – this process imbues clothes with residues of trichloroethylene and n-hexane, chemicals known to cause nerve cell damage, memory loss, cardiac abnormalities and cancer
- your dishwasher exposes you to a cloud of chlorine fumes
- synthetic clothes – the plastic fibers in your clothes expose you to plasticiser fumes and also flame-retardant chemicals that are notorious releasers of toxic bromine fumes
- plastic wrap contains vinyl chloride, one of the deadliest man-made materials, a carcinogen known to cause liver, brain, and lung cancers
- plastic water bottles: drinking water from a plastic bottles leads to ingestion of phthalates that cause cancer and infertility, and also bisphenol A (BPA) which disrupts your endocrine system, resulting in low thyroid function and increased rate of ageing. BPA acts like the sex hormone estrogen and is linked to cancer and reproductive problems. Having a BPA level above 5mcg/L in your urine doubles your risk of diabetes since this toxin blocks insulin receptor sites. It also leads to hypertension.
- food cans and plastic packaging: bisphenol A
- aluminum cookware, cooking with aluminum foil, drinking soda in aluminum cans
- your morning bowl of cereal – most supermarket cereal brands contain genetically modified corn or soy, high fructose corn syrup, which contains heavy metals, and nearly a dozen synthetic chemical food additives
- your lunchtime sandwich – if made with processed meat, it will contain nitrates, synthetic hormones, and antibiotics; if made with cheese, it will contain the same synthetic hormones, antibiotics plus other endocrine disrupters such as dioxins that are usually stored in fat
- pastries, bread & pasta: products made with bleached flour, sugar and salt contain aluminum which is used as an anti-caking agent; they also contain cadmium which displaces the essential mineral zinc; they also contain bromine, as potassium bromate, a maturing agent that promotes gluten development in dough and a potential carcinogen
- milk: a study found perchlorate, a toxic component of rocket fuel, in store-bought milk from various locations around the US. Perchlorate leaches into groundwater from various military facilities. In excess, the chemical can interfere with iodide uptake in the thyroid gland, disrupting adult metabolism and childhood development
- rice/sushi: arsenic is used as a pesticide on rice, especially in Asia. Do you know how to cook rice to get rid of arsenic?
- tap water: perchlorate, chlorine + fluoride (depending on country) and other toxic metal residues such as arsenic, mercury, cadmium, lead
- diet coke or other soda drinks – these contain the deadly sweetener aspartame — linked to cancer, headaches, allergies and seizures
This is why following a healthy diet is not enough. Many people become vegetarian or vegan thinking that this will improve their health but ironically, this can create more health problems: while avoiding toxins found in meats and fish, vegans and vegetarians may have a problem detoxing toxic metals since these diets are too low in the sulfur-containing amino acids and other nutrients that are needed to detox.
While a plant-based diet should be the foundation of every healthy eating plan, I definitely recommend adding organic meat and eggs to assist the liver in detoxification. The ideal amount of animal produce to consume every week depends on the person’s general state of health: if energetic and robust, a lower intake would be recommended, if feeling tired and weak most of the time, a higher intake is recommended.
Fortunately, there are a number of strategies you can implement in order to rid your body of toxic chemicals, from infrared saunas to increasing fiber intake to consuming specific foods that act as chelators for toxic metals and stimulate their release from cells. Vitamin C, glutathione and R-lipoic acid are some key nutrients used in detoxification. Without these nutrients, your detoxification efforts can result in toxins and heavy metals building up in your liver, intestines, and kidneys with no means of exit, causing illness and organ dysfunction.
In a future article, I’ll put together a basic detox protocol for you to use whenever you feel you need a boost. Please bear in mind that a proper detox is not your 3-day juice fast as it takes time to mobilise toxins from cells and tissues and trigger their elimination from the body.