The Obvious Toxins: Lethal But Avoidable
You can begin to win freedom from toxins by making a detailed listing of the toxins in your everyday environment. Begin with a self-assessment: do you smoke? If you do, be aware that smoking is responsible for more than 80 percent of all cases of lung cancer and increases the risk of heart and other circulatory diseases by at least 400 percent. One puff of cigarette smoke contains 100,000,000,000,000 (10 to the power of 14) free radicals. Almost as bad, do you live with someone who smokes? If you do, be aware that the smoke coming off the end of the cigarette is likely to be more toxic than what the smoker inhales because the carcinogens coming off the end are less thoroughly burned away.
How much alcohol do you drink? If your answer is more than one glass of wine or one beer each day, you’re probably drinking too much. Don’t be influenced by the studies industry lobbies cite about alcohol being good for health. For the highly touted French Red Wine Paradox independent scientific support is shaky. In any case, lots of other drinks (teas, for example, and fruit juices) carry more protective antioxidants and no potentially toxic alcohol. Cigarette smoke and alcohol are the greatest obvious toxic threats to human health, yet they are the easiest for committed individuals to control.
Among the drugs, whether legal or illegal, none is fully and unconditionally safe to take. Whether the legal drug Tylenol®, the semi-legal marijuana, or the illegal MDMA (“Ecstasy”), drugs drain the body’s energy and deplete its nutrients. Many of them burn away our protective antioxidants.
Watch out for the household cleaners. Bleach, ammonia, other constituents of high-strength cleaners all can irritate the lungs and initiate tissue breakdown, contributing to hypersensitivity and asthma. Bug sprays typically are toxic to the human nervous system just as they are to the bug’s nervous system. Learn to read every single label of every single chemical product you use in your everyday life; check ingredients you don’t know against online lists of known toxins. If you can’t pronounce the name of the chemical, it’s probably synthetic and more than likely to be toxic. This brings up the topic of the not so obvious, hidden toxins.
The Hidden Toxins: Hard to Eliminate
Some toxins are insidious: though known to be toxic by specialists they can be obscured from public knowledge due to political pressures by corporations that profit from their use. Heavy metals, solvents, pesticides and other synthetic chemicals fall into this category. The hundreds—no, thousands—of substances in these categories are negatively impacting the health of all of us.
According to the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, authored by Drs. M. T. Murray and J. T. Pizzorno, up to 25 percent of the U.S. population suffers from some degree of heavy metal poisoning. They have stated that probably at least 600,000 tons of lead are released into the U.S. atmosphere each year. Numerous human studies have shown a strong relationship between learning disabilities or criminal behavior and the toxic load of lead and other heavy metals.
Mercury, cadmium and aluminum are toxic metals also common in the human experience. Cadmium comes mainly from cigarette smoke; aluminum comes from cookware and deodorants and is even used as flow agents in table salt. Cadmium has been linked to neurological diseases and aluminum to degeneration of the kidneys, bones, and possibly also the brain. Mercury is still being used in dental fillings (inaccurately known as silver fillings), even though it is known to vaporize from the fillings during chewing and enter the general circulation to threaten the brain and other organs. It’s so weird that the regulators now require the dental technicians who handle and dispose of the dental filling materials to wear protective clothing while they do so, yet the very same material is allowed to stay in people’s mouths for decades.
Among the most toxic and carcinogenic substances are the organic solvents. These are widely used industrially and find their way into the air, the water, the soils, and our foods. In a now-classic scientific review, Dr. Walter Crinnion documented that every single person in the U.S. carries deposits of xylene, dichlorobenzene, ethylphenol and styrene in their fatty tissues (Alternative Medicine Review, 2000, Vol. 5, pages 133–43). These are so-called VOCs (volatile organic compounds), all toxic and linked to life-threatening diseases. The story gets worse: a 1985 study by the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency established that breath samples consistently contained not just these four VOCs but also seven others (see sidebar). And where do these toxins come from? Most often, the home and the workplace.
The indoor home and workplace environment carries a hodgepodge of VOCs, organic by-products of combustion, breathable particles of molds, cigarette smoke, and infectious agents, along with allergenic animal dander, bio-aerosols and countless other contaminants generated by human (and pet) activity. Building materials are known to emit many VOCs, and new carpeting is often a vehicle for toxins.
Talk about total toxic load! The EPA itself was once picketed by its own workers and forced to replace 27,000 square yards of toxin-filled carpet. Dr. Crinnion published a list of 40 toxic chemicals present in new carpet. Toddlers can be playing in carpet dust that frequently carries 11 pesticides: DDT, aldrin, dieldrin, chlordane, atrazine, carbaryl, heptachlor, chlorpyrifos, o-phenylphenol, proxopur and diazinon. All these are immune system toxins and some are known carcinogens as well. What to do about these toxins? Ask lots of questions about your building and the materials in it.
Sometimes a building is so contaminated that the carpets and/or other materials will have to be ripped out and replaced. This is called SBS (sick building syndrome). Buildings ought to always be well ventilated and not draw their air from garages or through contaminated HEPA air filters (which can harbor infectious organisms such as the lethal Legionella). Air cleaners can be set up to help remove VOCs, pesticides, cigarette smoke and other chemicals outgassing from the walls and carpets. Indoor houseplants may help—some are particularly adept at removing organic pollutants from indoor air. It may be necessary to set up precautions against tracking in outdoor soil from chemically sprayed fields or lawns. Golf courses should be checked out—some of their groundskeepers believe in better grass through chemicals.
Food Toxicities: Highly Underrated
Among the most insidious sources of toxins are in the foods we eat. It’s no secret that today’s food supplies are adulterated, impotent and contaminated beyond reasonable expectation, but most of us don’t know just how badly we’re being hurt by foods that we trust. Most egregious is that slaughtered cows are often found to be contaminated with a disease causing strain of Escherichia coli bacterium. We tend to think of food toxicity on this level, but just as much toxicity is occurring on the more subtle level of allergies and intolerances to foods.
Food allergy reactions (more accurately, food intolerances) are difficult to manage because they involve complex biochemical cascades that trigger wide-ranging symptoms. Often these set in motion inflammatory cascades that can lead to more serious illness. Also once begun, the food intolerance reactions can develop and continue over a period of days to weeks, making it harder to identify the foods that are the actual reaction triggers. As a rule, the foods to which we are most drawn are those to which we are most likely intolerant.
Elson M. Haas, MD has written a number of books on eliminating allergenic and otherwise toxic foods from the daily diet. Most people, sometimes even trained health professionals, fail to recognize their own food intolerances, allergies and addictions. Decades of experience have taught Dr. Haas that negative reactions to foods can cause tissue swelling, bloating, weight gain, low energy, depressed mood and numerous other metabolic disturbances, including the dangerous leaky gut syndrome. Food toxicities can intensify virtually any coexisting health problem, including asthma, chronic pain, memory impairment, hyperactivity disorders in children. Antioxidants and antioxidant cofactor nutrients are central to food detoxication.
Our children are perhaps the most victimized by the deterioration of modern foods. Many of the middle ear infections seen in children are linked to inflammatory reactions initiated by allergies to dairy and other common foods. Artificial colorings, MSG (monosodium glutamate) and preservatives in processed foods can cause headaches, abdominal pain, even fits, in sensitive children. Aspartame is still underrated for its potential toxic effects. Sugar can be toxic for many children: among hyperactive kids as many as three-quarters have abnormal blood sugar responses to a sugary meal. Hyperactive kids also commonly have allergies to foods containing soybean and chocolate. Children not diagnosed hyperactive also can have food intolerances that affect their learning and mental vigilance and their susceptibility to infections.
“Overactive” children have been estimated to number 10 percent or more of the U.S. school age population. It may not be a coincidence that the incidence of hyperactive “ADD” kids has been steadily increasing as the food supply becomes more processed and chemicalized. So has the incidence of children with learning disorders and autism. Children who are raised to consciously avoid toxic foods are likely to develop better, learn better and be less susceptible to asthma and allergy in adulthood.
Supporting the Liver for Everyday Cleansing
The liver is our main resource for detoxication—clearing the body of toxins. The liver detoxifies potential toxins produced by our own metabolism, as well as the xenobiotics—substances foreign to the body. Although all the other organs take part in detoxication, the buck really stops with the liver. To be proactive in reducing your toxic load, you have to help your liver through taking the relevant dietary supplements.
The liver is the body’s metabolic workhorse, being the main organ responsible for more than 500 metabolic processes. One of its top priorities is the processing of newly-absorbed food molecules, which come to the liver directly from the intestine. These must be further processed and then stored as necessary, or repackaged for transport to the tissues. As newly digested proteins, carbohydrates and fats reach the liver, together with vitamins and minerals, it further modifies them into biochemically active nutrient units suitable to support crucial metabolic pathways.
Hormones regulate and coordinate the body’s integrated activities. The recycling or excretion of the many human hormones is handled mainly by the liver, as is the recycling of cholesterol. Pharmaceutical drugs can deplete the body of essential nutrients and liver failure can be the result (here acetaminophen/Tylenol® is the classic example). Illegal drugs can be just as tough on the liver—witness cocaine’s toxicity. Chronic viral infections also contribute to total toxic load, and for millions of people carrying viruses in their livers, nutritional support for the liver is crucial.
Synthetic substances—substances made by man—by their very nature are difficult for the liver to clear. Thousands of different synthetics can enter the body on a daily basis. As if this weren’t bad enough, even the most organically grown foods can naturally carry potentially-toxic constituents. When we think in terms of total toxic load, we can understand why optimal functioning of the liver’s detoxication systems is fundamental to our health and wellness.
Detoxication capacity varies widely between individuals, and a toxic exposure that one person can effectively detoxify may cause liver damage or cancer in another. Fortunately the liver is tough, maintaining itself well and working hard to recover from injury. But to function at its best the liver must have generous nutritional support.
The physical foundation for the thousands of liver enzymes is provided by the cell membrane systems of the liver cells. PC (phosphatidylcholine) is a critical nutrient building block for this intricate molecular system. The liver relies heavily on antioxidants and antioxidant cofactors for its crucial detoxication work, so supplementation with vitamins B, C, E and glutathione precursors has top priority. The herbal milk thistle extract help conserve the liver’s antioxidant supplies, but is poorly absorbed unless in the phytosome form. S-adenosyl methionine is important for methylation reactions that facilitate healthy gene-level metabolic regulation.
For effective liver detoxication support these supplements should be part of your personal nutritional program:
- B complex vitamins, 100 mg/day
- Vitamins C (2–4 grams/day) and E (800 IU/day)
- Glutathione precursors: R alpha-lipoic acid (minimum 100mg/day), N-acetylcysteine (NAC, minimum 600 mg/day)
- Taurine, minimum 500 mg/day
- PhosphatidylCholine (PC), minimum 800 mg/day
- Milk thistle extract, standardized, phytosome form, 200 - 400 mg/day
- SAMe (S-adenosyl methionine), minimum 100 mg/day.
Liver support always should be in concert with intestinal support, including good choices of water-soluble fiber and especially the repletion of probiotic (“friendly”) bacteria. The importance of probiotics for intestinal health and detoxication cannot be overemphasized. Exercise helps improve circulation to the liver and intestines to speed detoxication, and sweating helps move fat-soluble toxins such as organochlorines and some heavy metals out via the skin. Make sure that any plan for fasting you develop is discussed in advance with your physician, because extreme fasting can exacerbate toxic damage.
Freedom From Toxins: Individual and Community
As you learn how to go about freeing yourself from toxins, remember that any level of exposure to a toxin can be harmful. Just as cigarette smoke can be avoided, so can bug sprays, artificial scents applied to the body and used around the home, pesticides and household cleaners with solvents, typing correction fluids, artificial fingernails glued on with acrylics, solvent-based paints. Any one of these categories of toxins can pose a major challenge to health and none can be too minor to ignore because they all contribute to the total toxic load.
Working on your own, you can do a lot to minimize your exposures to lifestyle toxins or toxins coming from your home or workplace. But you also must be aware of what’s going on in your community. After all, you can work hard to be toxin-free in your tidy little home but then what happens when it is invaded by toxic influences from somewhere else? The clothes you pick up at the dry cleaner may be carrying highly toxic tetrachloroethylene. The water supplies from your community utility may be contaminated. Your friendly neighbor with his immaculate lawn may not know that those unpronounceable words on the label of his lawn and garden killer stand for chemicals that are highly toxic to all living things.
Toxins Don’t Have Borders
No community (or country) is an island. Unscrupulous chemical companies often pick on poor communities to dump their wastes, but those same wastes can migrate into rich communities. The same can happen between countries. DDT was banned in the U.S. in the 1970s but is still sprayed on crops in certain other countries. It poisons their people first, then it travels on fruits and vegetables to poison us in our homes. As this article goes to press, there is high drama attached to the huge earthquake and tsunami that severely damaged nuclear reactors and caused radiation releases in Japan. Higher radiation has been found in California and Massachusetts. But did you know that much more dangerous toxic releases are already coming into the U.S. via the atmosphere?
The April 2011 issue of Discover magazine carried an article titled “Ill Wind Blowing.” This article described intensive scientific investigations that led to the discovery that hundreds of tons of mercury, toxic sulfates, ozone, carbon soot, even dust carrying avian flu virus, are carried into U.S. communities from Asia each year. Mercury alone has been linked to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), and it’s very likely that more mercury enters the U.S. from other countries than is emitted by American industry (though American emissions are still a significant problem).
Mercury and other highly toxic pollutants, along with the radiation from Japan, actually seem to have a global circulation, which means that we’re all sharing the toxins made anywhere on the planet. Total toxic load for sure! We really need a strong international body to enforce zero tolerance of toxic emissions, because industry and government still don’t understand or care about total toxic load. In my community, nearby oil refineries release toxic gases then report to local government that the release was “below the levels recognized as toxic.”
To achieve true freedom from toxins, we have to be conscious of the threat they pose, be educated about this threat, and actively work to eliminate them. To effectively protect ourselves and our families we have to protect the earth as a whole. As the debates proceed on oil dependency, alternative fuels, and nuclear power versus other power sources, we need to band together against the local and planetary total toxic load. Humanity around the world must band together to rid the planet of toxins.