We are surrounded by
environmental toxins. Substances that may cause distress
or disease to our bodies can be found in everything
that we eat, in everything that we drink and even in
the air we breathe. Some of these compounds are a by-product
of an industrialized world. Heavy metals like lead and
cadmium are released from factories or are produced
as waste substances in the industry. We are also exposed
to many naturally-occurring toxic substances.
For example, volcanic eruptions release much of the
free mercury that can be found in the environment. Our
bodies have a variety of mechanisms for dealing with
this toxicity, but the current total load exceeds the
body's ability to adapt. When our bodies fail to break
down or remove these toxins, the only other way to deal
with them is through sequestration.
The body will try to deposit these compounds into
tissue to minimize their potential damage. For example,
lead may be sequestered into bone, displacing calcium
and increasing the risk of osteoporosis. The overall
load of these toxins is sometimes called our "Body
A high body burden has been implicated in: Immunotoxicity
- leading to asthma, allergies, cancers and chronic
disease; Neurotoxicity - leading to cognition impairment,
memory loss as well as sensory and motor dysfunction;
and Endocrine toxicity - leading to reproductive issues,
loss of libido and metabolic impairment.
In research published in 2005, New York University
School of Medicine researchers provided some of the
most compelling evidence yet that long-term exposure
to air pollution-even at levels within federal standards-causes
heart disease. Previous studies have linked air pollution
to cardiovascular disease but until now it was poorly
understood how pollution damaged the body's blood vessels.
Environmental toxicity is a global concern. These
pollutants don't recognize national or political boundaries.
As an example, Japan has experienced a phenomenon known
as "yellow sands" over the past several years.
This is caused by pollution blowing in from Chinese
factories across the Sea of Japan.
In the air.
There are now 1460 metric tons of airborne toxins that
travel on the jet stream around the world. Because of
this there is no place on the planet that can be considered
a pristine environment. Facilities in the United States
released 4.7 Billion pounds of toxins into the air in
2005- 72 Million pounds are known carcinogens.In 2005
the city of Chicago experienced 68 days when the air
quality was too unhealthy for children, elderly and
the ill. Coal-fired power plants spew sulfates, nitrates
and mercury into the air. These compounds have been
linked to more than 20,000 premature deaths each year.
In the Water.
There are an estimated 7 Million illnesses and 1000
deaths each year in the United States from waterborne
microbes. Chlorinated chemicals in drinking water from
pesticides, herbicides and refrigerants have been linked
to increased risk of breast cancer. Cyanobacterial toxins
in municipal water have been linked to illness and disease
worldwide. Sewage treatment plant workers are at much
higher risk of respiratory illness, skin rashes, headaches
and body aches.
What about our food.
Environmental toxins work their way into the food chain.
As of late 2005, 47 states have advisories to limit
intake of freshwater fish due to mercury contamination.
In 2005, the FDA reported finding chlorinated pesticides,
like DDE (dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene - a breakdown
product of DDT), in 63% of foods surveyed. Pesticides
and Herbicides in food have been linked to many cancers.
The most surprising thing about our body burden is
that we are at risk even before we are born. A study
conducted in 2005 by the Environmental Working Group
in cooperation with the American Red Cross examined
the umbilical cord blood of newborns. They found that
the average newborn has 200 different industrial chemicals,
pollutants and pesticides in their blood. These included
over 70 known carcinogens (toxins that may cause cancer).
Other studies have found high levels of the metals cadmium
and mercury in the breast milk of nursing mothers.
As we grow up we are exposed to seemingly benign compounds
that are even meant to benefit us but have been shown
to have long-term negative consequences. For example,
Fluoride in our drinking water has been linked to Osteosarcoma
and Hypothyroidism. Additionally, vaccinations which
undoubtedly prevent disease may contain the mercury
compound Thimerosal which has been linked to the rise
of autism in children.
What can be done? We need to look at both prevention
of toxicity and dealing with the inherent rise in body
burden that has occurred since birth. A healthy diet
high in raw foods has been shown to be beneficial. Of
course, make sure that you wash these foods to remove
pesticides and herbicides that cling to the surface
of fruits and vegetables. Air purifiers may remove particulate
matter and lower your exposure to some of the airborne
toxins. Lastly, avoid seafood which has been shown to
have higher mercury levels - like tuna steak, marlin
and sea bass.
Aside from limiting our exposure we should all be
actively aiding our bodies in the elimination of these
toxins. Most programs for systemic detoxification begin
in the digestive tract with products that act either
as laxatives or diuretics. These include the ubiquitous
colon cleanse products. By helping our bodies to remove
waste quickly, it may aid in lowering body burden over
For more information on the toxic environment
see the following: