Toxins, Toxins, Everywhere

What is a toxin?

Simply put, a toxin is something that can cause harm to the body.  More specifically, toxins are poisons, either foreign chemicals or even substances that are made by living cells or organisms that cause health problems when they are absorbed by the body.  Toxins damage the body by increasing oxidative stress, poisoning the body’s enzymes, directly damaging DNA or cellular membranes, and/or disrupting the endocrine system.   Certain forms of toxicity, especially environmental toxicity, have been linked to chronic degenerative diseases, including chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, atherosclerosis, as well as too many forms of cancer.  Environmental toxicity has also been linked to many clinical symptoms and conditions like headaches, fertility problems, dermatitis, learning disorders, panic attacks, memory loss, mood swings, yeast infections, tinnitus, and muscle weakness, just to name a few!

But what does all this really mean?   Well, there is some good news and some bad news.  Toxins are all around us: in the air we breathe, in our food, and in the water we drink.  This is what we mean by “environmental toxicity.”  The good news is that our bodies are marvelous detoxifiers.  This is what they were made to do and they do it well, unless our detox mechanisms become overloaded.   When this happens, the whole process is slowed down and inefficient detoxification may lead to a whole variety of less desirable symptoms and conditions.

In order to keep our detoxification systems going at full speed there are several things we should know and do.  For example, what are the major environmental toxins? How do we avoid them?  And what do we do to support the body’s detoxification processes to rid ourselves of the toxins that we are going to encounter, no matter how much we try to avoid them?  Like I said, the good news is that there are many things we can do to minimize the risk of toxicity and to avoid the clinical symptoms and conditions associated with environmental toxicity.

Many toxins are found in industrial chemicals and pollutants. These include Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBS), which are nearly impossible to avoid, and volatile organic toxicants (VOC). VOCs are emitted from paints and protective coatings, solvents, cleaning supplies, plastics, resins, among other things. These are worrisome because of their ability to become airborne and their tendency to become trapped inside our homes, offices and public spaces.  In fact, some scientists have identified sick building syndrome when a certain level of VOCs are found in elevated amounts. This often results from new furnishings, wall coverings and office equipment.

Another source of toxicity is the pesticides that farmers use and that work their way into our food supply.  Similarly, synthetic steroids and elevated levels of hormones are found in much of our meat and dairy products.  In fact, the greatest toxin exposure (by far) is through what we put into our mouths.   Pesticides and steroids, along with the myriad food additives and preservatives added by food processors are easily transmitted through the intestinal system where they are readily absorbed into the bloodstream.

There has been much ado about metal toxicity in the media as well in recent years.  There are well-founded concerns about the levels of heavy metals that are showing up in our bodies.  The most common heavy metal toxicity includes elevated amounts of lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic, and these can have significant consequences for health as they are accumulated in the body.  For example, elevated levels of mercury alone have been linked to dementia, autism, ADHD, insomnia, depression and anxiety as well as muscle pain and fatigue.  Lead toxicity can lead to DNA damage, depressed immune systems, hypertension, kidney disease, and even tooth decay.

So, what do we do?  Well, there are many things we can do to avoid toxins in the first place.  For example, always choose to eat organic produce whenever available. Similarly, search out organic meat and poultry that has been grass-fed and is hormone free.  Fish is wonderful, but it should be wild caught and not farm fed. And, as a general rule, the larger the fish the more likely it is to have higher levels of toxins.  For this reason, the smaller fishes (sardines, herring, etc.) are better choices for lowering exposure to toxins.  And, I think it goes without saying, everyone should invest in a good water filter.

It also pays to be aware of your surroundings and your environment.  Avoid places with lots of fumes in the air.  This is a bit tricky for those of us who live in Utah, or other places, with a lot of air pollution, but try to get out of the inversion whenever possible.  Pay attention to the cleaning products that you use.  Choose products with organic materials. Similarly, many of the chemicals found in sunscreens and cosmetics can be quite toxic–and those products are often not required to list all of their ingredients on their labels.  A safer choice is to look for labels on products that guarantee all natural ingredients.

Obviously, we will never be able to avoid all the toxins in our environment, and luckily, our bodies were made so that we don’t have to. However, environmental toxicity is on the rise as toxins are becoming more prevalent in our environment each year.  So, let’s help our bodies stay as healthy as possible by doing the things we can to help our bodies avoid the bad stuff in the first place.