20 Feb, 2020
This informal CPD article on Environmental Toxins was provided by Pocket Nutrition, a nutrition and health focused company combining innovative technology and learning methods to deliver substantive educational experiences that are truly rewarding.
Modern society provides an almost unavoidable continual supply of toxic chemicals and metals; industrial processes release hundreds of thousands of tons of pollution into the atmosphere. The vast majority of these toxins are ingested: we inhale, eat and drink these toxins from various sources.
Concerns with Environmental Toxins
Often, the problem is that toxins are inevitable by-products of industrial processing and once formed, these toxins cannot be destroyed and are simply passed from one area to another climbing up the food chain. Humans are at the end of the food chain and these toxins accumulate within our bodies mainly in our fat stores. For example, the highly toxic pesticide DDT, has been largely banned from use across the globe, but it remains in the food chain.
Natural lifecycles in animals have recently become heavily manipulated; using genetically engineered hormones to promote growth and increase milk production, to satisfy the need for a large-scale supply of uniform animals and animal products. These interventions have huge implications to our health, as in the use of the hormone IGF-1 (used to quicken the maturation of cows) is linked with tumour growth.
Sources and features of environmental toxins:
Air quality is compromised by various factors including smoke, release of chemicals and gases. The large scale and indiscriminate usage of cleaning products in the home and work release large amounts of contaminants into the air, such as acetones, benzene and benzyl alcohol.
The perfect medium for distributing heavy metals and toxins that are driven into the environment by industrial processes such as pesticide usage, fossil fuel burning, etc. Irrespective of sanitation methods, drinking water invariably contains potent pollutants such as fluorine. Furthermore, water is also host to various micro-organisms, including coliform bacteria.
These are easily absorbed pollutants and often ubiquitous in our everyday lives.
- Lead in paint and tap water
- Aluminium in personal hygiene products such as deodorants cosmetics and hair products
- Fluorine in toothpaste, mouthwash and water
- Cadmium in cigarettes
- Arsenic in drinking water
- Mercury in amalgam dental fillings
Theories of ‘tight building syndrome’ and ‘sick building syndrome’ for homes and workplaces may explain the rise of increased toxicity in people and the subsequent greater incidence of unexplained illnesses.
Health Consequences of Environmental Toxins
The health consequences are vast and without a satisfactory means of analysis and control. Many toxins are anti- nutrients, depleting key protective nutrients. Some of the effects of toxins within the body include:
Immune system function
May be compromised and altered by the effects of environmental chemicals, giving rise to allergic reactions and inflammatory conditions such as asthma. Asthma is often triggered by toxins, such as insecticides found on fruits and chemicals used for preservation, such as sulphites.
Hormonal imbalances: pesticides are stored in fatty tissue and accumulate there. Often these chemicals mimic oestrogen, initiating the growth of tumours.
Heavy metals such as aluminium also increase cancer risk; there is a link between aluminium exposure from underarm deodorants and breast tumours.
Nervous system damage
The major pesticides are neurotoxins by design – they kill pests by attacking the nervous system. These effects may be on a smaller scale but these pesticides are known to be deleterious to humans.
Cadmium, lead and mercury can exert detrimental effects on the nervous system; for example exposure to lead can cause impaired learning and behavioural problems in children.
High levels of these toxins can lead to tremor, memory loss, headaches, loss or coordination, slurred speech and intellectual impairment.
Toxic chemicals initiate a proliferation of free radicals, which are responsible for much of the damage. Free radicals, in their quest for electronic balance, injure cells and tissue; thus with high toxic exposure free-radical production proceeds. Without an adequate antioxidant defence mechanism, this causes degenerative diseases.
Some toxins, particularly pesticides, heavy metals and additives attack DNA structure and replication, disrupting function, leading to chronic diseases development and cancer formation.
Dietary, Lifestyle and Nutritional Factors / Recommendations
Complete avoidance of environmental toxins is not possible; however, there are many ways of ensuring that exposure to these toxins is limited.
Diet and Lifestyle
1. Non- toxic cleaning products
These have less irritants/ contaminants
2. Stainless steel, glass or iron cookware
Using these prevents exposure from other cookware that leach heavy metals
3. Cosmetics without aluminium
These help to reduce exposure to aluminium
4. Safe removal of mercury fillings
This may help with some health concerns
5. Reduce time in exposed to fumes from vehicles
E.g. keep windows of car closed when sitting in traffic, or use barrier methods such as facemasks when cycling
6. Wrap food in paper
E.g. pack in lunches wrapped in baking paper instead of cling film (pthalates) or foil (aluminium).
Consider employing a detoxification diet.
Under a healthcare professional’s supervision, a detoxification diet can to rid the body of stores of toxins and help support the liver in its role in detoxification.
7. Organic food
These have low levels of pollutants; otherwise, peel fruit or wash using a natural vegetable and fruit detergent, to remove some residual heavy metals and pesticides
8. Whole foods
These have significantly less of the sources of contamination found in processed foods. Whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, pulses, nut and seeds are great sources of: minerals and antioxidants that assist the body in defending itself from pollutants
9. Loose fruits and vegetable
These do not have contamination from plastics and preservative.
10. Increase water intake
Water is a required to dilute and excrete toxins and to support the kidneys. The kidneys are largely responsible for elimination of waste products from protein catabolism, such as ammonia and urea.
Go for filtered or bottled water, which contain less lead, chlorine and fluorine.
1. Increase fibre
Fibre is a natural and potent detoxifier. Water-soluble fibres are vital for clearing toxins: pectin chelates heavy metals, binding with the toxic metal and this promotes their excretion. Chelating agents are compounds that can chemically bond with toxic elements and eliminate them through the urine or faeces. There are many chelating foods such as garlic, chlorella, vitamin C, kelp, pectin and sulphur containing foods (such as eggs, lentils, onions and beans).
Minerals such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, copper and chromium, which are important for general support, detoxification and opposing heavy metals; these can be found cheilfy in whole grains, nuts and seeds.
These form a natural defence system that protects the body from the damage caused by free radicals. Key antioxidants include vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene, selenium, and lipoic acid are found mainly in bright coloured fruit and vegetables.
4. Consider herbal detoxifiers such as milk thistle
These aid in the removal of toxin and help to restore liver function. Consult a qualified health practitioner for further advice.