We hear a lot in the news about the effects of plastic pollution in our oceans with microplastics making their way into our foods. But what about toxicity on a broader level? We talk to Nutritional Therapist Tracy Tredoux about how toxins are seemingly in everything and what we can do to tackle the problem.

Today, we are exposed to more environmental toxins than ever before. Toxins are in the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink. In fact, according to Dr Mark Hyman – American physician and the medical director of UltraWellness Centre – the average new-born has around 287 chemicals in its umbilical cord blood, 217 of which are neurotoxic. And according to Dr Tom O’ Bryan, known as the “‘Sherlock Holmes’ of chronic disease and metabolic disorders,” in the USA, every day, every person is exposed to 102kgs of toxins as trillions of toxins are imported into, or manufactured in, the USA annually. Almost all of these chemicals are not being tested for their impact on human health, making it to the market on the assumption that they are ‘innocent’ until proven ‘guilty.’ However, many of these newer compounds should be ‘guilty’ until proven ‘innocent.’ There are countless examples of industry putting forth a new chemical or compound, only years later to be found to be a toxin. With a myriad of chronic illnesses rising and, sadly, many experts failing to connect the dots between toxicity and chronic disease, healthcare practitioners should be teaching their patients how to reduce their toxic exposure, not only in food, but in their homes, in their beauty products and in the environment.

Impact of toxins on human health

More and more scientific studies are finding correlations between exposure to toxins (especially heavy metals such as lead, mercury, aluminium, cadmium, arsenic etc.) and neurological diseases such as:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Parkinson’s
  • Autism
  • ALS
  • ADHD
  • Depression
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Anxiety
  • Brain fog
  • Problems with concentrating, learning and memory.

In addition, research has shown that heavy metals, air pollution and other toxins affect gut health by negatively impacting the gut microbiome.

Toxic exposure

Here are some of the many ways we are being exposed to heavy metals and other toxins:

  • Amalgams (silver fillings)
  • Arsenic from rice
  • Silicone and saline implants
  • Lead from broths cooked with bones from conventionally raised animals
  • Cadmium in e-cigarettes
  • Tattoo ink
  • Contrast from MRIs
  • Old copper water pipes
  • Mercury exposure from broken thermometers and light bulbs
  • Antibiotics
  • Vaccines
  • Mercury from seafood
  • Foods cooked in aluminium pots and foil
  • Chemicals in food such as pesticides and herbicides, with exposure to the herbicide glyphosate being more and more linked to cancer
  • Exposure to polluted air, especially in cities, breathing in the toxic fumes. It is not necessarily better in the country, often surrounded by conventional farmland and bombarded with toxic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers
  • Body care products on your skin such as lotions, creams, makeup, toners etc., are absorbed into your bloodstream. The ingredients in personal-care products are largely unregulated and can contain known toxins and cancer-causers like formaldehyde, and endocrine disrupting chemicals like parabens and phalates. There is no way to test the cumulative effects of putting all these chemical soaps, lotions, shampoos, conditioners moisturisers, perfumes and deodorants on your skin and into your bloodstream every day for decades.

In addition to the above, the more recent contributor to toxin exposure is electromagnetic pollution. For the first time in history, in the last 20/30 years, humans are being exposed to very toxic and ever increasing levels of electromagnetic energy which do not necessarily make you sick feel sick in a day, but which can trigger inflammation in the body, causing or contributing to a myriad of chronic illnesses. The EMFs coming from phones, laptops, tablets and other electronics are all around us and are becoming an important consideration as our dependence on technology gets deeper and deeper and as we expand WiFi and 5G availability. The electronics and cell phone industry have done studies painting the story that all these devices with their concomitant EMF exposure are 100% safe. However, there are an increasing number of INDEPENDENT studies that show a strong link between the radiation from these devices and various health concerns, including tumours that harm the brain.

What determines ‘toxicity?’

The extent to which we are susceptible to toxicity is highly individual and depends on our individual level of exposure and our ability to breakdown the toxins in our body and excrete them through detoxification. It becomes important, in today’s world, for each person to become more knowledgeable and to assess their toxic exposure. In terms of remaining healthy, or regaining health, limiting exposure on the one hand is as important as eliminating accumulated toxins on the other. With toxins from our environment being ubiquitous and impossible to avoid completely, decreasing the body’s toxic burden is crucial. 

How to reduce toxic exposure

Although some exposure is out of our control, there are certainly many ways we can reduce our exposure. These include:

  • Choosing organic foods free of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and other harmful additives
  • Eating antibiotic and hormone-free meats, fish and dairy
  • Using a whole house water filtration system
  • Using a high-quality air purifier in the home or office and opening windows as much as possible
  • Avoiding alcohol, smoking and illegal drugs
  • Avoiding plastics – particularly plastic wraps and plastic-lined cans
  • Being aware of the chemicals in your personal care products such as parabens, formaldehyde, benzophenone, ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, ethanolamines, petrochemicals derived from crude oil etc. Opt rather for the wonderful increasing number of beauty products made from essential oils and other more natural ingredients that are harmless, without toxic preservatives and additives
  • Replacing your take away coffee cup, full of endocrine disrupting phalates (which are released into your coffee by the heat of the steam accumulating on the plastic lid). Buy yourself a reusable and much safer glass coffee cup, available to purchase on Amazon or at many of the coffee shops
  • Swapping out chemical housecleaners, soaps and antibacterial products for all-natural brands
  • Switching off WiFi at night and making sure you do not put your mobile phone to your head, opting for safer, EMF-free air tube headsets.

How to eliminate toxins on a regular basis

  • Improve liver detoxification. For liver detoxification to work properly a wide variety of micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals and other cofactors are required. It may be necessary to work with a healthcare practitioner to help you optimize your detoxification pathways with supplements and a targeted detox programme
  • Improve overall nutrition by avoiding refined sugars and processed foods which can increase inflammation and thus your susceptibility toxins
  • Include detox foods in your diet that help flush out heavy metals such as;
    • Cilantro (coriander) that contains strong chelating properties that bind with heavy metals and flush them out the body
    • Spirulina which is an excellent source of folic acid and touted for its efficacy in removing heavy metals from the nervous system and the liver
    • Probiotic foods which contain high levels of lactic acid capable of binding to metal atoms
    • Ginger which supports kidney health which in turn promotes the body’s elimination process
    • Chlorella which is a type of beneficial algae known to bind with metal deposits in the body
    • Garlic which is highly effective in keeping the harmful effects of heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury at bay
    • Asparagus which has one of the highest glutathione levels of any food and, as an antioxidant, having a strong ability to remove toxins from the body.
    • Alpha lipoic acids – foods rich in alpha lipoic acids such as peas, Brussel sprouts and broccoli as well as spinach and rice bran, are believed to have the capacity to cross the blood brain barrier and take out heavy metals from the brain
  • Aim to drink 6-8 glasses of water a day to help flush out water soluble toxins. Silicon- rich mineral waters are believed to help remove aluminium from the body and brain because they are rich in soluble silicon which binds to the aluminium, excreted in your urine
  • Sweat a few times a week by taking saunas or exercising; toxins that the kidneys and liver fail to detox are often expelled through sweat
  •  Get enough sleep as research indicates it is while we sleep that neurotoxic waste products are eliminated from the brain, pointing to the important role of sleep in the detoxification process.

Always consult a healthcare professional if embarking on a detox programme. Moving toxins from one place in the body to another without efficiently eliminating them can cause numerous debilitating symptoms and possible health issues. Remember also that fat-soluble toxins are stored in fat cells and losing too much weight too quickly can result in a surge of harmful toxins being released from the fat cells and circulating the body.

Tracy Tredoux is a fully qualified Nutritional Therapist, living and working in London. When not giving talks or consulting with clients, she writes health and nutrition articles, tips and recipes which you can find at @TracyTredoux

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