How Toxic Are You?
Toxins are everywhere and are now considered the number one cause of all chronic diseases.
Since World War II, at least 80,000 novel chemicals have been registered for use, but the vast majority have never been tested for human health or environmental effects. Consider as well that none of these chemicals have been tested in combination to see what results from their interaction. We are living in an experiment where we only get to find out after-the-fact when something is indeed a concern.
Being informed and taking an active role in your health is important and also serves as the stepping stone to larger community changes. No one is going to bother with the air freshener being pumped in the office bathroom or the toxic hand soap until someone speaks up. We can all influence healthful change:
A few years ago when I was playing in a rec hockey league, I was the first person to decide to leave the ice and head to the changeroom after only a minute or two of play. The ice machine must have had some sort of an issue as there were strong fumes in the arena and there was no way I was subjecting my body and brain to that. In less than a minute, the rest of the team began trickling into the room and the game was cancelled! Here are some of the key sources of toxins:
TOXIC ELEMENTS - Like cadmium, lead, mercury, fluoride, aluminum, uranium, arsenic typically found in foods, drinking water, dental amalgams, certain fish, dust, consumer products and old pesticides
NATURALLY OCCURRING TOXINS - Like mold mycotoxins, as well as plant and food allergens, such as reacting to lectins or gluten or dairy proteins
PESTICIDES - Like insecticides, herbicides and fungicides - the reason for sourcing organic products
PERSISTENT ORGANIC POLLUTANTS (POPs) - Like teflon, flame retardants, anti-wrinkle compounds, old pesticides (like DDT), incineration products
VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS (VOCs) - Like formaldehyde, benzene, synthetic musks and some fragrance ingredients; these commonly off-gas from flooring (particularly anything new) like laminate or carpet, couches, paints, cleaning agents, varnishes, as well as cosmetic products
PLASTICS - Including vinyls and plasticizers that release Phthalates, Benzoates, Bisphenol A (BPA), found not only in your Tupperware but also lining most canned food products, plasticized receipts, kids toys, traveler coffee tops
And here are the various effects different toxins can have on the body:
Skeletal fragility (when toxic elements get into bone)
Immune system impairment
What can you do about it? The first and most important thing to do is limit exposure wherever possible. Consider everything that you put in or on your body -- this means anything that goes on your skin, or that you inhale, drink or eat.
This list could go on and on but here are some suggestions:
Use clean, non-toxic household products, there are many available
Check out the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to help determine what products are cleaner than others
Use mineral based makeup products
Use good old vinegar and baking soda for cleaning and Norwex or Enjo cloths
Get rid of anything that is designed to fragrance something, including dryer sheets, perfumes/colognes, air-fresheners, etc
Use diffusers and/or essential oils to safely add nice aromas to things or places
Eat organically (search for "The Dirty Dozen" annually to know which ones are most important to get organic)
Avoid plastic wherever possible (for environmental and health reasons) - do not store food in plastic and NEVER heat food in plastic (including plastic wrap)
Look to drink clean water -- investing in a water system like reverse osmosis has become much more affordable but anything that helps to clean it is a step in the right direction
Do not purchase or drink from plastic water bottles! (SO BAD for our planet and our health)
Use glass or stainless steel bottles for drinking water
Keep windows open for fresh air when possible (indoor air is far more toxic, except when there are forest fires or other major air pollutents)
Immediately address any water leaks or mold issues as these can create terrible health consequences (even if it seems like it's just a "small" issue)
Allow new products to off gas in a garage, shed or outside
Look for as low VOC paints as possible and keep as much fresh air moving as possible when painting
Wear a paint and pesticide spray respirator when sanding anything that has had a chemical put on it as well as when painting (the neighbours would stare a little when I was in the garage painting the kitchen cabinets with a full "gas mask" on, but I didn't mind and my lungs were happy I did!)
Try to purchase natural, non-toxic products especially when being exposed to the item for a long time (like a mattress); if not possible be sure to let it off-gas as long as possible -- if you can smell anything, it's still off-gassing
Apart from limiting exposure, it's important to support the body's ability to detox. In medical literature and research, "detox" is called "biotransformation", because the body must transform the chemical compounds so they can be excreted by the body. So if you want to dig into the scientific details online, "biotransformation" is the search term to use.
If the body naturally detoxes, is a "detox" necessary?
At no time in our evolutionary history were we ever bombarded by so many chemicals and compounds. If we imagine the body is like a bucket collecting toxins, our buckets are far more full now than they were thousands of years ago, and our genetics have changed little in that time. Our environments, lifestyles and genetics determine just how filled up that bucket becomes and how we will respond to it. When the bucket begins to overflow, we get symptoms, often beginning with fatigue or brain fog, but it could also be just a skin rash or a myriad of other ways the body can respond.
The most familiar toxin people can relate to is alcohol. Two people can be the same body size but respond very differently to the same amount of alcohol. Similarly, two people living in the same moldy house can have completely different responses -- one can become very unwell while the other has no symptoms at all. Genetics can play a significant role in our ability to detox.
But just because someone is not presenting with symptoms, does not mean someone does not have a significant body burden of toxins. They may in fact be near the tipping point where their bucket overflows.
Environmental toxins are considered the leading cause of chronic disease today. It is well documented that various chemicals can function as endocrine disruptors, and may cause things like infertility, obesity, diabetes, cancer, and ADHD.
A 2004 study on newborns in the mainstream U.S. population found 287 different industrial chemicals and pollutants in babies’ cord blood. Imagine what we must accumulate across our lives, considering as well the hundreds of thousands of new chemicals released to market place every year, and without any safety testing.
And while there are some toxins we can measure in the body, the vast majority we cannot. Environmental medicine is an expanding field and we're learning more about how the body responds when exposed to different chemicals.
So do I think we need to "detox"? Yes I do, but I think most importantly, we need to make sure we are supporting our body's ability to do so on a daily basis, to try to prevent our buckets from overflowing.
How is it done?
Because the detoxification/biotransformation process requires various vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in order to function, a proper medical detox is NOT a water fast or "juice cleanse", especially if a person is in a suboptimal state of health. Once in an optimal state of health, water fasting can be very therapeutic.
A proper medical detox supports liver and kidney function, is tailored to the individual, and lasts at least 3 weeks. In more severe cases of toxicity (particularly those involving heavy metals and/or mold mycotoxins) the detox process will take months or years sometimes, and is highly personalized. Vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are always included alongside dietary recommendations and sometimes other supplementary products.
A 3 week detox is in no way going to eliminate all the toxins in the body (researchers are still trying to figure out what they are and how they might be excreted, assuming we can). What it's doing is giving the body a break, significantly reducing the inflammation load, reducing antibody production towards any pro-inflammatory foods/drinks you've been consuming, supporting cellular health and elimination pathways, promoting lymph flow, and mobilizing fat and the toxins contained in it (most toxins are fat soluble).
I consider it a "Body Reset", and is the first of the 3 pillars in my THRIVE Energy Reset Method. We cannot improve our health and energy without first pressing the "reset" button on the body. At the end of a 3 week reset, patients are feeling more energized, clear headed, and typically lose weight and sleep better. I have seen hot flashes resolve, acne improve, joint pain resolve, rosacae and skin rashes go away...it never ceases to amaze me.
I suggest a detox/reset at least once a year, and especially any time someone is feeling sluggish, slowed down, foggy, or just a general feeling like health has slide backwards (maybe sleep is worse, energy is down, skin is flared up, etc).
You may think that you're functioning just fine, but the thing is, you can't know how good you can feel until you get there. The body is so remarkably adaptable, even feeling crummy can feel normal.
As an example, I once had a husband come in to do the Reset, simply in support of his wife who was doing it. His intake form was the emptiest I'd ever seen and he said he eats well and exercises and doesn't have any complaints. I nonetheless asked my questions about sleep, energy, digestion, etc and all his answers were "I feel good". Needless to say, after the 3 weeks, we reviewed progress and he was excited to share how fantastic his sleep was and how his energy and mood had improved. The body will always adapt.
The bottom line is: we're all toxic, just in varying degrees and with varying genetics and nutrients to deal with it.
See below for the infographic explaining how effective and ineffective detox impacts the body.
Infographic produced by Metagenics
Sears ME, Genuis SJ. Environmental determinants of chronic disease and medical approaches: recognition, avoidance, supportive therapy, and detoxification. J Environ Public Health. 2012;2012:356798. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3270432/