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
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 Burden."
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
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
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
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 time.
For more information on the toxic environment
see the following: