When we hear the expression environmental toxins most of us think of smoking chimneys, toxic chemicals, or the story of Erin Brockovich. Yet our lives are full of possible encounters with everyday toxins we might not even be aware of.
Household cleaners, food additives, fumes off furniture, pesticides or cosmetic ingredients can all contribute to an accumulation of toxins in our bodies which can weaken our immune system, throw off our hormonal balance, or threaten our mental health. A so-called toxic overload may cause inflammation, allergies, or eczema. It exhausts the livers natural ability to detoxify your body and potentially leads to severe health issues such as cancer and neuro-degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Even the most vulnerable, our newborns, arrive on earth with a stunning amount of chemicals in their blood. Several studies carried out in the USA and Canada found more than137 chemicals overall in the blood of the umbilical cord. The number of toxins ranged from 55 to 121. Among these were flame retardants and PFCs which can be found in the non-stick coating of pans. Even long-time banned chemicals like PCBs and DDT have been detected.
Where can we be exposed to environmental toxins:
· in the air we breathe
· in our food and water
· in our personal care products
· in household cleaners and gardening products
· in clothes, bedding, and furniture
What happens in the body when we are exposed to toxins?
Our first line of defense is the skin, which consists of several layers, topped by a protective acid mantel to defend us against harmful bacteria and chemicals. The functionality of that acid mantel and the healthy bacteria on our skin rely on a PH-balance of 5.5. Harsh chemicals can destroy the acid mantel of our skin, resulting in inflammation or eczema.
Whatever we ingest is dealt with by our digestive system. If a harmful substance is identified, it will try to get rid of it by elimination. As with food poisoning you might experience vomiting or diarrhea. Toxins which have been absorbed will be transported to the liver which acts as our detoxifying plant. Our liver filters our blood constantly to remove toxins, chemicals, caffeine, alcohol, and waste products like unneeded hormones. It will try to dispose of it by mixing it into the bile or transform those compounds to make them water-soluble to be excreted via the kidneys. If all that fails, the liver will get rid of toxins by storing it in our body fat. The more we can avoid common toxins the higher are the chances for your hard-working liver and your immune system to succeed in eliminating any kind of invader.
What to watch for in food and beverages?
· Mercury – high levels of Mercury are associated with an impaired function of the central and the peripheral nervous system. It is relatively high in certain sea fish. Therefore, Health Canada suggests limiting the consumption of tuna, shark, swordfish, and marlin. Whereas salmon and rainbow trout are recommended.
· Arsenic – is related to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. It can be found in rice and its products. Consumer Reports found worrisome levels in many products in their latest test. To minimize exposure, you should wash rice thoroughly with water before cooking.
· Nitrate and Nitrite which are commonly used to cure meats like Salami or ham are linked to an increased risk of cancer, especially stomach cancer.
Many fruits and vegetables are still heavily sprayed with pesticides, not only putting the health of the farm workers and the existence of pollinators severely at risk. Glyphosate for instance is classified as probably carcinogenic to humans by WHO’s International Agency for Cancer Research. Additionally, it has several harmful effects on our ecosystem such as eradicating milkweed, which is the sole food for monarch larvae, endangering the whole species. According to the Canadian food inspection agency nearly one third of our food contains glyphosate.
Additionally, we should keep an eye on Bisphenol-A (BPA) which is used to make water bottles and can be found in the lining of cans, as well as Phthalates used to soften plastic products. They can be found in shower curtains, baby toys as well as in shampoos or nail polish. Both compounds are so- called Xenoestrogens, which can disrupt hormonal balance. They have been associated with early puberty in girls, an increased risk of obesity and diabetes as well as thyroid disorders in children. For women they are a significant risk factor for breast cancer.
What can we do?
· Learn to read labels and identify harmful ingredients
· Avoid the so-called “dirty dozen”, the twelve most polluted conventionally grown vegetables and fruits (EWG, the Environmental Working Group does a yearly test on pesticides in produce, available on their website)
· Whenever you can afford choose organic or non genetically modified foods.
How about personal care products?
As what we put on our skin is absorbed by it, harmful ingredients can trigger a cascade of health issues from allergies to cancer. For example, Parabens which are most widely used as preservatives in cosmetics are suspected to interfere with hormonal function as they can mimic estrogen, whereas coal tar dyes like P-Phenylenediamine which can be found in hair dyes have been identified as carcinogens in laboratory tests by the US National Cancer Institute. Aluminium, which is commonly used in deodorants, is linked to breast cancer and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
According to a survey by the David Suzuki Foundation in Canada, 80% of the reported cosmetic products contained at least one harmful chemical. More than half contained multiple harmful substances. In the US neither the law nor the FDA require specific tests to demonstrate the safety of individual products or ingredients. Decorative cosmetics are even more commonly containing harmful ingredients such as heavy metals.
You can find a detailed list of harmful ingredients at davidsuzuki.org. or you choose products which are organic or tested and labeled by the EWG. An easy way to start is to replace a used-up product with a cleaner alternative, that way slowly turning over your whole beauty regimen.
When it comes to cleaning our kitchens and bathrooms many people tend to grab harsh chemical-based cleaners to make sure no harmful microbe can survive but underestimate the danger they imply for their health. For instance, bleach combined with an ammonia-based cleaner can produce toxic gas which can irritate your lungs and even lead to pneumonia. Toilet bowl or drain cleaners can cause severe burns. If you have an infectious family member in the house or work in a hospital it is obviously inevitable to use disinfectants and strong cleaners, especially in times of Covid-19. Yet everyday household cleaning could be done safely with non-toxic products like castile soap, white vinegar and baking soda, rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide.
Further recommendations for a healthy home to consider:
· Be aware what you wear – many clothes are treated with harsh dyes, artificial colors, chemicals to soften and to repel moths. Wash new clothes at least once before wearing. If you have a little one, consider used clothes, which is good for babies’ delicate skin - and your wallet.
· Avoid food containers and bottles made of plastic. As discussed, they contain Phthalates and BPA which can harm your hormonal balance and may contribute to obesity and cancer.
· If buying a new piece of furniture, e.g. a new couch, or a matrass keep in mind it might have been treated with flame retardants and chemicals which produce harmful fumes. If you can, unpack it and leave it in your garage to air, alternatively ventilate the room for a while.
· Ventilation is also a great weapon against mold. Undetected mold can be responsible for allergies, aggravate asthma and irritate your eyes, skin, nose, and lungs.
· Get your house tested for Radon. Radon is a naturally occurring, radioactive, invisible, and odorless gas. Outside it is diluted and should not be a concern. Yet if it gets into your house, for instance through cracks in the floor or gaps around service pipes, it can accumulate and become a health risk for you and your family. You can get a radon test at most hardware stores in Canada.
· Consider a no pesticides strategy for your garden. Not only will the little feet of your children and grandchildren on your grass stay free from undefined chemicals, but you will also support a healthy wildlife attracting much needed pollinators like hummingbirds and bees into your garden.
I am aware that the above compilation on toxins in our environment is not at all complete but still might be quite overwhelming. I truly hope that I did not scare you but encouraged you to further do some research, to make your own well-informed decisions. Maybe tomorrow when you go grocery shopping, you take along the list of the dirty dozen or check the ingredients of your shampoo… It doesn’t matter where you start, pick the area what resonates with you. You will be surprised how good your hair can look with an all-natural product.
If you would prefer some personal recommendations or support in picking the appropriate products in the store, I will be happy to accompany you or provide you with further advice.
Please feel free to give me a call at 905-580-9946 or check-out my website www.4yourhealthonly.com
I will be there for you,
The information on this page is NOT intended as medical advice, nor is it intended to replace the care of a qualified health care professional. This content is not intended to diagnose or treat any diseases. Always consult with your primary care physician or licensed healthcare provider for all diagnosis and treatment of any diseases or
conditions, for medications or medical advice as well as before changing your health care regimen.