You know that a poor diet, lack of exercise, too much
stress, and poor sleep habits can lead to heart disease, cancer, obesity,
diabetes and a bunch of other health issues. But, so does exposure to toxic
Unfortunately, living a toxic free life is impossible. You’re exposed to multiple types of toxic chemicals every day. You have no control over this exposure.
That doesn't mean there is nothing you can do to protect your health. You do have control over the toxins you introduce into your life in the products you use.
And that’s important. Because although your body is a marvel of design, it was not designed to handle the amount and kinds of synthetic chemicals that you are exposed to every day.
Your liver, which has the important job of breaking down toxins so that you can safely eliminate them, becomes overburdened and damaged. This allows toxins to build up in your body, especially in body fat, and damage cellular and organ function.
So although a toxic free life is impossible, less toxic living is not. But you’ll need to shed your toxic products habit to reduce your toxin exposure.
But what exactly is a toxin? How does your body deal with toxic chemical exposure and how does toxin exposure damage your health?
First, everything is made up of chemicals. So what makes a chemical toxic to your body?
The Environmental Protection Agency defines a toxin as “any chemical or mixture that may be harmful to the environment and to human health if inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed through the skin. There are naturally occurring toxins (poisonous substances coming from living organisms) found in certain plants like poinsettias and even some wild mushrooms and berries. However, the toxic substances contained in most everyday household products are synthetic, which means they are man-made. The opposite of toxics substances are called non-toxic substances. Non-toxic substances are safe to use, and do not harm humans and the environment.”
Toxins are in your air, water, soil and even the dust in our houses. That means toxins enter your body through the food and water you drink, the air you breathe, especially indoor air, and the products that you put on your skin. For example, your morning routine - shampoo, conditioner, soap and body lotion - contains dozens of different chemicals that can mess with your hormones.
You might be thinking, doesn’t somebody, somewhere, test these chemicals to make sure they aren’t toxic? Nope, usually not until people start getting sick.
It is, however, supposed to be the role of the FDA and the EPA to protect us from the toxins in food, water, personal care products, pesticides, building products and much more.
Even when a chemical is tested and determined to be safe for use in products, the testing is not done in the context of the chemical’s use. In other words, let’s say that a safe exposure level was determined for chemical A. Chemical A is added to a lotion and a soap that you use daily. You have now been exposed to double the amount that is considered safe.
Also, different toxins can interact with each other to add to or magnify each chemicals toxic effects. This is called synergy, a process where the combined action of two things is greater than the sum of their effects individually.
An example of this is the chemical cocamide DEA, used as a foaming agent in cosmetic products. It is a toxic chemical that is thought to cause cancer, which is bad enough.
What’s worse is when it is combined with other chemicals common in cosmetic products it also produces another type of toxin, cancer-causing nitrosamines.
So what happens to the chemical toxins that enter your body every day? Well, once you inhale, absorb and ingest toxins they are distributed throughout your body.
Your body’s detoxification machine, the liver, then starts the process of breaking down these harmful substances by a complex series of chemical reactions.
Detoxification by the liver is a two-step process. In the first step, the chemical make-up of the toxin is changed (it can become more or less toxic) using many different enzymes. Enzymes are proteins made by your body to start or speed up chemical reactions.
If the toxin is changed to a form that easily dissolves in water, it is excreted by the kidneys. In the second step, fat-soluble (dissolve in fat) products made during the first step are further processed into new water-soluble substances. These substances are then excreted.
In other words, the liver takes nasty things and turns them into a form you can get out of your body. That doesn’t mean that it’s a less-toxic form, but just a form that the body can get rid of. In fact, in some cases the new form is more toxic than the original toxin.
Body burden is the toxic chemical load you store in your body. Scientists estimate that everyone alive today carries within her or his body at least 700 contaminants.
Studies on the cord blood of newborns in the U.S. and Canada found the presence of 200 different synthetic chemicals in their blood. This represents the body burden passed on from mother to child during pregnancy.
The toxins you are exposed to can accumulate in your body, usually in your body fat, for many different reasons. One reason is that some chemical toxins resist breakdown.
These toxins are called persistent organic pollutants (POPs). They can take decades to break down so they move through the environment, in soil and water and the bodies of animals. When we eat animals or vegetables contaminated with POPs we store them along with the POPs we are exposed to from other sources.
An example of a POP that you’ve probably heard of is DDT, a pesticide that was banned in the U.S. in the 1970s. Yet DDT, or its toxic breakdown product DDE, still shows up in your vegetables, meat and dairy, and still hangs out in your body.
POPs are eliminated from your body at different rates because some take a long time to breakdown. This is usually measured as the toxic substance half-life.
In your body, the half-life is the time it takes for half the original amount of the toxin to disappear, either by being changed to another substance or by leaving your body.
At one end of the spectrum are toxins that are expelled within hours of exposure, like alcohol. At the opposite end would be lead, with a half-life of 25 years if stored in your bones.
In between are perflourinated chemicals (PFCs), which make things nonstick and stain resistant, with half-lives of 4-5 years. Not only are these chemicals slowly eliminated, but they are also stored in the liver and blood and not just in body fat.
This means that the PFCs absorbed by your body today from cooking in a nonstick pan, may hang out in your liver for the next 5 years!
When your body stores toxins it creates a toxic burden that can make you sick and be passed on to your children during your pregnancy and through breastfeeding. In addition to storing toxins because they resist breakdown, you also store them when your liver becomes overwhelmed by toxin exposure.
Because of the amount and kinds of synthetic chemicals that you’re exposed to every day. Your liver becomes less efficient at breaking down toxins. Also the enzymes needed for detoxification become depleted.
When this happens your body stores toxins, usually in body fat, increasing your body burden and causing damage to body cells and organs. The longer that toxins remain in your body the more opportunities they have to impact your health.
Chronic diseases are on the rise. And while we may be living longer, we are not living healthier. Diseases are caused by a variety of things.
And mounting evidence suggests a major player in chronic disease is exposure to environmental toxins. One of the earliest examples of the link between toxins and disease was smoking.
If you’ve chosen a path to a healthier lifestyle it’s probably mystifying to you that people voluntarily choose to smoke and risk their health. However, before you judge too harshly consider this – you are voluntarily exposing yourself to hundreds of toxic chemicals in the products you use every day.
Many toxic chemicals are endocrine disruptors (EDs). Exposure to EDs like BPA and phthalates have multiple health effects because they mess with your hormones. The list includes obesity, diabetes, hypothyroidism and reproductive problems.
Chronic diseases, Parkinson’s disease and heart disease are also all linked to chemical toxins that are in products that you use all the time.
And there’s the emerging threat to your health from exposure to nanoparticles. Some types of nanos are EDs, some affect your gut health, some damage your organs and some can accumulate in your brain.
But exposure to toxic chemicals doesn’t mean you’ll get sick. How toxin exposure affects you depends on many things, including:
Researchers and medical doctors are finally beginning to stress the importance of reducing your exposure to toxic chemicals to prevent disease. Because there’s no denying the scientific evidence on toxins and your health. Plus, your less toxic living efforts will make a difference.
Numerous studies over the years have reported that avoiding toxic products will reduce the toxins in your body. Plus, it's the most effective way to detox your body.
Dietary intervention studies are a great example of this. One well known one, the Harvard School of Public Health study in 2011, compared BPA levels in study participants who ate canned soup versus homemade soup. They found that the volunteers who ate a single serving of canned soup a day for five days had ten times the amount of BPA in their bodies as when they ate fresh soup daily.
In another study, participants who normally used canned and packaged food and beverages ate their usual diet, followed by 3 days of “fresh foods” that were not canned or packaged in plastic, and then returned to their usual diet. The study found that after 3 days of eating fresh foods BPA (66%) and DEHP (53–56%) exposures were substantially reduced.
Several studies have also looked at the change in pesticide levels in people who switch from eating conventionally grown produce to organic produce. These studies report an organic diet does reduce the levels of insecticides and herbicides in your body.
Using less toxic personal care products can also reduce your toxin exposure. In a 2016 study, 100 girls switched to personal care products that were free of fragrance, parabens, phthalates and benzophenone-3 (BP-3).
After only 3 days using these products Urinary concentrations of mono-ethyl phthalate (MEP), a breakdown product of DEP, decreased by 27.4%. Methyl and propyl paraben concentrations decreased by 43.9% and BP-3 concentrations decreased by 36.0%.
Toxin exposure is linked to many serious health problems. Some exposure you can't control. But some you can.
Become your own health advocate. Be proactive. Because reducing your exposure to toxins will help you Be Healthy and Stay Healthy.