We are constantly exposed to toxins through our food and the products we use on our skin and bodies.
Toxins in the body can lead to various diseases and make us ill.
For example, high toxin levels have been associated with metabolic syndrome, diabetes and Alzheimer’s dementia among other conditions.
Toxins in our environment have various different names such as PCBS, phthalates, and also include heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic, and lead.
We are also exposed to a lot of pesticides and herbicides in the food we eat including fruits, vegetables, and grains and these toxins can also have detrimental effects on our bodies.
At Vermont Integrative MD, I teach patients about how to be aware of potential toxin exposures and how to limit these exposures in one’s daily life.
How do toxins make us sick?
Toxins can make us sick by disrupting our gut health and interfering with the activities of our hormones and other chemical reactions in our body that are necessary for our bodies to function optimally. When toxins get into our bloodstream they can get deposited in various tissues (such as our joints) and cause inflammation.
What are examples of toxins in our environment and how do they affect our body?
Arsenic is a heavy metal which disrupts thyroid hormone receptors on cells so that the cells don’t get the message from the thyroid hormones that tell them to increase their metabolism. This results in fatigue and other symptoms of low thyroid. Arsenic has been found in food such as chicken.
PCBs, polychlorinated biphenyls, were banned in 1979 but continue to be in a lot of products: plastics contain them, food, water supplies are contaminated w/ them, lubricants, carbonless copy paper.
It is also found in pigments, dyes, thermal insulation material including fiberglass, felt, foam and cork, adhesives and tapes, oil-based pain, caulking, floor finishes.
These toxins accumulate with age and are a problem especially as we get older (contributing to more insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome)
We worry about cumulative exposure to these chemicals over time which affect not only adults but also children. Women excrete PCBs in their breast milk and can pass it on therefore to their children.
Like Arsenic, PCBs can affect thyroid function. They inhibit production of thyroid hormones
Ex. of food exposure: Fish contain a lot of PCBs
Investing in a reverse osmosis water filter for your kitchen sink can remove most chemicals like PCBs
What are Phthalates?
They are chemicals that solubilize and stabilize fragrances in cosmetics
Found in foods that have been packaged or stored in plastic containers – fatty foods like milk, butter, meats readily absorb these chemicals
Cosmetics contain a lot of phthalates:
Fragrances, aftershave, cologne, deodorant body washes
Why is exposure to phthalates a health risk?
Phthalates are endocrine disruptors which means they disrupt hormones by interacting with endocrine receptor sites on every cell in the body. So they can affect our reproductive hormones like estrogen and testosterone, thyroid hormones and other important hormones.
They also decrease the production of important molecule in the brain that is necessary for our brain cells to grow and help them make neuronal connections.
Decrease your exposure to phthalates by limiting the types of beauty and skin products you use and check to make sure the products you’re using are safe (see below).
What foods are potentially contaminated with toxins?
As mentioned above, farm-raised fish contain PCBs and DDT.
Large fish such as swordfish and mackerel have high levels of mercury so best to avoid these types of fish. Fish and shellfish with much lower levels of mercury include halibut, crab, scallops, shrimp and oysters.
Chicken contains high levels of arsenic due to the drugs and chemicals used in their production
What about beef? Cows get pellets placed behind their ears that release hormones (androgens, estrogen, and progesterones).
Also, if the cows are corn fed, their meat gets rich in fatty omega-6 Fatty acids which promotes inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids are healthier for our bodies and this is what grass-fed beef contains.
Many fruits and vegetables like spinach, apples and tomatoes contain high levels of pesticides. Know which produce you should buy organic by checking out the “Dirty Dozen” app from the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
Is Wheat bad for you?
Many people are going gluten-free nowadays. You may be wondering, why is that?
Are more and more people really developing a gluten allergy?
Researchers are now finding it’s not necessarily that people are allergic to wheat, but it’s the chemicals that wheat is exposed to during its harvest that wreaks havoc on our gut.
Wheat contains Glyphosate, a herbicide that interrupts the gut lining and causes leaky gut. Leaky gut is when our intestinal lining which is supposed to protect us from outside dangers such as pathogenic bacteria, viruses, food toxins is compromised allowing these dangerous molecules to enter into our bloodstream leading to damage our tissues.
Recommendation: Either cut out all wheat flour or buy organic, but remember wheat bread still gets directly broken down to simple sugars which can still lead to insulin resistance and weight gain.
Other food recommendations:
Fiber in our diet is necessary to absorb toxins in our gut. If we don’t have a high fiber diet (fruits, vegetables, whole grains), then toxins in the gut get reabsorbed and circulate back to our liver to be processed and excreted from the body either by our kidneys or the intestines.
Over time, this barrage of toxins taxes the liver causing it to become overwhelmed and unable to keep up with detoxification.
This means more and more toxins end up accumulating in our body without us having the ability to excrete them, and we end up getting sick from the accumulation of toxins.
You should aim to have 6-8 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
Other chemical exposures:
Did you know lead has been found in makeup, in lipsticks in particular?
Read more about it at http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/regulations/us-laws/lead-in-lipstick/.
Check your lipstick brand, makeup products, skin and body products like soaps and shampoos using either the Skin Deep app or Think Dirty app which you can download directly onto your phone to see how safe the products you are using are and to switch to healthier products if needed.
“Skin Deep” app from EWG (Environmental working group to see what’s in your products)
Think Dirty app (www.thinkdirtyapp.com)
Want to learn more about how to protect yourself and decrease your toxin exposure? Come see Dr. Sepi Bazel at Vermont Integrative MD!