How Toxins Impact Health

Toxins are being talked about now more than ever, especially in the health and beauty world. As they should be! The exposure to toxins is ever increasing. Due to factors like the overall increase in the number of chemicals, the worsening pollution in the water and air, even radiation and nuclear power. Toxins have also now been around enough years (some of them decades) where the harmful effects are being realized.

This is not meant to be an alarming or fear-inducing article, it is simply meant to openly discuss an important health topic that is often overlooked and not understood.

There are currently an estimated 85,000 chemicals registered in the United States (1).

The majority of toxic chemicals have never been tested for their effects on humans (2).

What is a toxin?

A toxin is any substance that is dangerous to the human body. The environmental toxins we are exposed to are primarily fat-soluble. This means that they get stored in our fat cells if the body does not properly get rid of them.

Toxins can impact our body in 3 ways

Toxicologically: think of the nervous system

Immunologically: related to the immune system

Pathophysiologically: impacting body’s processes

Types of toxins

Toxins can be classified into several groups: heavy metals, petrochemicals, xenoestrogens, and pesticides.

Heavy Metals

Heavy metal toxins function as oxidant catalysts. That means they produce free radicals in the body and promote oxidative stress (damage) in our cell membranes, tissues, and organs. As you can imagine, this is not good. Oxidative stress goes hand in hand with inflammation, which we know is the root cause of many of our chronic diseases.

Examples of highly toxic metals include arsenic, mercury, lead, and cadmium. Where do we get exposed?

  • Arsenic: water, soil, and contaminated agricultural (i.e. rice) and fish products.
  • Mercury: seafood, dental amalgams (even more exposure with teeth grinding), and old thermometers/thermostats.
  • Lead: paint (especially in homes and furniture built pre-1970s), brightly colored plastic from China, drinking water, etc.
  • Cadmium: industrial workplaces, paints, batteries, and phosphate fertilizers.

Petrochemicals

Petrochemicals come from fossil fuels like petroleum, natural gas, and coal. Superficial exposure to these toxins can cause a hypersensitivity reaction (rashes, hives, etc.). Being exposed to the particle-filled gases can also cause an immune activation! Meaning, our immune system gets activated when it should not be.

  • Fluorocarbons: lubricants, flame and heat resistant substances, refrigerants, aerosols, etc.
  • Perfluorochemicals (PFCs): non-stick cookware, stain-resistant carpet/fabrics, the coating on food packaging, etc.
  • Latex: gloves, balloons, headsets, pacifiers, face masks, etc.
  • Solvents: vinyl, tars, toxic waxes/oils, hydrocarbon-based solvents (cleaning products), etc.
  • Formaldehydes: personal care products (nail polish, shampoo/hair products, baby soap, body wash, eyelash glue, etc.), laminated flooring, etc.

Xenoestrogens

Xenoestrogens (“endocrine disruptors”) are toxins that actually mimic hormones. They are synthetic compounds that can act like estrogen and can alter hormone’s effects in the body. AKA xenoestrogens can disrupt our hormones in a major, major way. So women in particular (but everyone else too), listen up because this is important!

The negative health impacts of xenoestrogens are so concerning, that the Environmental Working Group (EWG) even made a “Dirty Dozen” list of the top endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals. You can access the full article and list here.

Atrazine was found in 94% of the drinking water tested by the USDA. Atrazine is one of the most widely used pesticides in the United States (its use is currently undergoing review by the EPA).

  • Bisphenol A (BPA): canned foods (including canned liquid infant formula), paper receipts, baby bottles, reusable cups, etc.
  • Dioxin: conventional tampons, bleached coffee filters (AKA the white ones we see everywhere!), etc.
  • Atrazine: herbicide (used in corn, sugar cane, sorghum crops), drinking water, residential lawns, golf courses, etc.
  • Phthalates: personal care products (often listed as “fragrance”), plastic wrap made from PVC, plastic food containers, children’s toys, etc.
  • Perchlorate: in drinking water, in foods (PS this is also a component in rocket fuel!)
  • Lead: see above “Heavy Metal” section.
  • Arsenic: see above “Heavy Metal” section.
  • Mercury: see above “Heavy Metal” section.
  • Organophosphate pesticides: still one of the most common pesticides used in the US. Found in conventional fruits and vegetables.
  • Glycol ethers: cosmetics, solvents in paints, cleaning products, brake fluid.
  • Fire retardants (or polybrominated diphenyl ethers/PBDEs): most have been phased out but are very persistent. Can be found in old carpets and old furniture upholstery.
  • PFCs: see above “Petrochemicals” section.

Government tests have shown that 93% of Americans have BPA in  their bodies! BPA is linked to cancers, reproductive  problems, obesity, early puberty, and heart disease (4).

It is good to note that xenoestrogens are different than phytoestrogens, which are naturally occurring estrogenic substances that are produced by living organisms.

Pesticides

Pesticides are the toxins used in agriculture, the ones we find on our conventional produce. The word itself, pesticides, is common to hear. But how about the harmful health effects they’re linked to? Think about the reason why pesticides are used in the first place – to keep insects and other pests away. How do they work? Usually by attacking the nervous system of the bug or killing them. So if pesticides do that to bugs, why would we even want to mess with consuming them ourselves? Pesticides are discussed further in this post “The Dirty Dozen & Clean Fifteen of 2018“.

What do toxins do though?

Living in the United States means exposure to toxins all day, every day. In our homes, in the air, in the soil, in public places, and so on. Unfortunately, that’s just a fact. But before panic sets in, it is important to understand that it is not just about how many toxins we are exposed to. It is about how well the body “digests” and eliminates the toxins! The body’s ability to “detoxify the toxins” is impacted by several factors like genetics, age, gender, supplement use, intestinal health, diet, lifestyle and of course – the environmental exposure to toxins. Getting down to the nitty-gritty of how the body detoxifies is for another time!

If the body cannot detox properly or cannot keep up with the amount of toxins it is exposed to, it increases what is referred to as the “toxic burden”. As toxic burden goes up, the risk for developing toxicity-related diseases increases.

It’s believed that the combination of our toxin exposure, the enormous intake of refined foods and sugar, and the surge in drug use have all contributed to the incidence of toxicity related diseases increasing. This includes diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, obesity, along with issues like arthritis and skin problems. To name a few!

Signs & Symptoms of Toxicity

Headaches

Joint pains

Cough

Wheezing

Sore throat

Anxiety

Dizziness

Insomnia

Depression

Fatigue

Hives

Nausea

Backaches

Itchy nose

Sleepiness

Irritated eyes

Immune weakness

Mood changes

Sinus congestion

Fever

Skin rashes

Bad breath

Runny nose

Nervousness

Frequent colds

Circulatory deficits

Angina pectoris (heart pain)

Environmental sensitivities

Tight/stiff neck

High amount of fat in the blood

Anorexia

Indigestion

Constipation

Keep in mind that each of the signs and symptoms listed above can be related to other issues aside from toxic burden or toxin exposure. Just because you have bad breath it does not mean you automatically should be concerned! What to look for is a clustering of symptoms, along with consideration for medical history and current diseased state. Find a health provider who is knowledgeable about toxins and can properly assess and guide you through a protocol if necessary.

Detoxing Your Life – How to Get Started

Although all of our toxin exposure cannot be eliminated, there is control over what is in your personal environment. The key is to not get overwhelmed and start small. Choose an area of your home or life to focus on first. Unless you are experiencing hormone issues such as insulin resistance, PCOS, PMS, or other similar conditions. In that case, I encourage removal (or decrease) in xenoestrogen exposure first. Ideally, all people (especially women!) should consider the amount of xenoestrogens they’re exposed to on a daily basis.

There are incredible resources when starting the transition to a more non-toxic life. These are some of my favorites to help get started:

  • The EWG’s Consumer Guides to all of the topics you would have questions about while making the transition.
  • The EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database with all of the top non-toxic beauty, makeup, and hygienic products.
  • The EWG’s free phone app called Healthy Living. It scans food and personal care products to give you the toxic rating – and the names of the best alternatives.
  • My personal favorite, Think Dirty the free phone app similar to Healthy Living. It scans, rates, and reviewed food and personal care products similarly. It also has options for a subscription box to “clean” beauty products and gives you the ability to purchase the alternatives in the same app.
  • For the book reader, check out “The Toxin Solution”. An incredible book written by integrative medicine pioneer Dr. Joe Pizzorno. He has contributed incredible research and time in the field of toxins and their impact on health.

Should I do future posts with specific tips on how to start decreasing toxic burden? One for detoxing the kitchen, another for beauty products, the home, etc. Let me know by commenting, sharing, or sending me an email!


Resources

  1. The United States Environmental Protection Agency. About the TSCA Chemical Substance Inventory. 14 September 2016. Web. 9 January 2019.
  2. Silins, I. “Combined Toxic Exposures and Human Health: Biomarkers of Exposure and Effect.” International Journey of Environmental Research and Public Health 8.3 (2011): 629-647. PubMed Central. Web. 9 January 2019.
  3. Hong, YS. “Health Effects of Chronic Arsenic Exposure.” Journal of Preventive Medicine and Public Health 47.5 (2014): 245-252. PubMed Central. Web. 10 January 2019.
  4. The Environmental Working Group. Dirty Dozen Endocrine Disruptors. 28 October 2013. Web. 29 January 2019.

5 Tips to Make 2019 a Healthy Year

Do you want to make 2019 a healthy year? Did you or someone you know make a health-related goal or intention for 2019? I imagine the answer is most likely a yes! Let me give you a Registered Dietitian’s perspective and define what being healthy means to me. I will also give you my top 5 tips for how to begin working towards your health intentions.

Healthy means you are at an optimally-functioning physical, mental, biochemical, and spiritual level. Naturally translating to a life where your quality of life is not inhibited due to an ailment and you are feelin’ good!

#1. Pay attention to your blood sugar

Paying attention to blood sugar levels is vital for weight management, energy maintenance, avoiding (or managing) blood sugar diseases, and more. It is a foundation for health that is so often overlooked or misunderstood. All carbohydrates (carbs) turn into sugar in the blood. Whether it is an apple, a sweet potato, a donut, soda, or beans – it provides sugar to the body. This is not necessarily a bad thing, every body needs sugar (glucose) for energy. The key is avoiding major spikes or drops in blood sugar, maintaining steady levels, and understanding which foods impact blood sugar levels.

This topic is quite expansive, but the following are major takeaways to keeping blood sugars stable:

  • Do not eat carbohydrate foods alone. Always pair with healthy fat and/or protein.
  • Choose fiber-filled and nutrient-rich options over the refined and processed counterparts.
  • Eat every 4-6 hours, especially if sensitive to hypoglycemia (blood sugar drops).

#2. Listen to (and move!) your body

Move your body every single day. If there are tips that all health practitioners could agree on it would include the importance of daily body movement. Whether it is a 10 minute morning stretch, a 30 minute lunch walk, or a sweat-drenched workout at Orange Theory Fitness – it all adds up to a more active lifestyle. The key is finding a form of exercise that is actually enjoyable. If you are looking at the clock every 2 minutes, that may be a sign to keep searching for “the one”.

It is also important to honor what your body is trying to tell you, which begins with listening to it. I know what it’s like to talk yourself into going to a spin class when your body is yelling at you “please don’t go”! Ladies in particular, listen up! The reason you could be feeling that way is due to where you are in your menstrual cycle (aka where your hormones levels are at). And it works against you to workout in a way that goes against the body’s natural response during that time. For example, there’s a part of the cycle where hormone levels are pushing the body into fatstoring mode. Therefore engaging in high-intensity workouts is actually counter-productive to your health goals during this time. It would be more beneficial during those days to engage in something lighter like an easy hike, a low intensity yoga class, or a walk outside.

#3. Mentally cleanse

Take notice of what thoughts take up the majority of your mental space. Pay attention to which ones are negative or bring you down. Those have got to go! Whatever the process may be, mine is by writing them down. Writing down thoughts can reduce the mental chatter, or what is referred to as “monkey mind” in yoga. By taking them out of your head you’re able to categorize and come up with actionable steps to soothe or eliminate the negativity or worry. Go into 2019 with a healthy mind!

#4. Transform your taste buds

Did you know you can train your taste buds? Like most things, taste buds are adaptable. And absolutely in our control! Due to the sugar overload in the food market, the perception of what is “sweet” is very different for each person. On average it takes a couple of weeks for the taste buds to transition. Keep this in mind if letting go of sweets or reducing sugar consumption are intentions for the new year. Whether you go “cold turkey” or slowly transition, the taste buds will adapt. It just takes some time so be patient with yourself.

#5. Eat more plants

Vegetables, fruits, legumes oh my! Having a plant-forward diet means including more plant-based foods. It does not necessarily mean vegan or vegetarian. Plants contain so many natural and powerful health tools! To name a few of the best: fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins. By adding more into the diet it is an automatic way of boosting your health status.

Everyone has a different “starting point”. For some a good starting point would be finding a vegetable that is palatable and enjoyable to eat. Others may be ready to experiment with at least 1 entirely plant based meal per day.

Regardless of where you’re starting from, here are some tips to including more vegetables into the diet:

  • Include more greens (arugula, spinach, kale, lettuce, swiss chard, etc.)
    • In smoothies
    • As a salad
    • Into sauces
  • Mix non-starchy vegetables into (or replace) grains
    • Cauliflower rice
    • Zucchini noodles
    • Beet chips
  • Many people enjoy crunchy snacks, replace your chips with a crisp alternative. Add a dip to make it more palatable!
    • Bell pepper strips
    • Carrot “chips”
    • Cucumber slices

In conclusion

Although I think that health intentions can (and should be) made year-round, the beginning of a new year does ignite a sense of “cleansing” or “new” for many. An excuse to start fresh. This article was meant to show smaller and actionable steps to take towards larger and broader health goals. What are things you’ve started doing in 2019 to better your health?