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Detox Made Simple: Part 2

Last week I introduced our detox series with a look at the body’s natural detoxification processes. Today, I’ll discuss how a buildup of toxins can damage our overall health and metabolic balance. I’ll also share ways you can assist your body’s natural defenses to best “keep up” with the incoming load of everyday toxin exposures.

The twentieth century promised us “better living through chemistry.” We’ve come to understand, however, that with the convenience of chemical inventions come risks for a host of toxin-related illnesses. To understand how toxins impact our health, it’s important to know how chemical exposure can damage the body. Common chemicals have been found to impact the nervous, immune, endocrine, dermatological, gastrointestinal, genitourinary, respiratory, musculoskeletal, and cardiological systems.[i] [ii]  That pretty much covers it all, doesn’t it?

I’ll focus today on a few systems most at risk from environmental toxins: the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems. Most environmental toxins are neurotoxins by design. For example, pesticides were designed to kill pests by attacking their nervous systems.[iii] [iv] These substances specifically damage the body’s neurons or communication between neurons. Neurons are our impulse-conducting cells housed in the brain, spinal cord, and other areas of the nervous system. Conditions associated with neurological damage include mood disruption (depression), cognitive decline (dementia, Alzheimer’s), and Parkinson’s disease. [v] 

Environmental chemicals also widely impact immune function, increasing our risk for asthma, allergies, cancer, and autoimmune conditions.[vi] [vii] Indoor air contamination with chemicals such as solvents and formaldehyde (found in upholstery fabrics, building materials, and insulation) are closely associated with an increased risk of asthma, chronic bronchitis, sinusitis, pharyngitis, and persistent flu-like symptoms.[viii] When it comes to cancer risk, three studies have measured elevated levels of chemicals in the fat tissue of breast cancer patients. In fact, the studies showed the presence of chemicals in breast tissue resulted in a four-fold increase in the risk of breast cancer![ix] Other studies have found a significant association between brain cancer risk in children and the use of home pesticide bombs, termite treatment, pet flea collars, and home garden use of insecticides and herbicides.[x] Many studies have confirmed a strong association between the use of a specific herbicide 2,4-D and an increased risk of lung or stomach cancer, leukemia, Hodgkin’s or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and soft tissue sarcomas.[xi] This herbicide, also known as Agent Orange, is still found in retail lawn care products and is routinely applied by lawn care companies and by cities and states to prevent weed growth on roadways.  

Among the chemicals that impact the endocrine system, organochlorine compounds (OCCs) disrupts key endocrine functions. They have an estrogenic effect on our hormones and have been strongly linked to infertility (decreased sperm counts in males), stillbirths and miscarriages.[xii] [xiii] The primary endocrine gland responsible for metabolism (weight) and energy production is the thyroid, which may be among the most toxin sensitive glands. Many chemicals, such as lead, PCBs and carbon disulfide have been found to decrease our levels of the hormones Tand T3, which regulate our thyroid function.[xiv] In addition to the above, disrupted thyroid function can also cause disturbances in sleep, energy, and mood as well as changes in weight, appetite, and bowel function.[xv]

Now that we see how damaging toxins are to our bodies, let’s explore some ways we can defend ourselves against the damaging effects of these substances. First, you can decrease your exposure to the household and yard based toxins listed in part one and two of this series. Invest in water and air filtration systems for your home and office. Limit or forgo the use of any chemical pesticides in your home or yard. Practice the “no shoes” rule by asking family members and guests to leave their shoes (and the toxins they track in!) at the door. Choose naturally based cleaning and personal care products, and select organically raised produce and meat sources when you can. To support the two phases of liver detoxification (not too fast or too slow), make sure you eat a clean diet. Eat adequate protein and minerals, and include garlic, onions and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage) in your diet. Limit or eliminate alcohol, caffeine, processed foods with sugar and hydrogenated oils. [xvi] [xvii]

The good news is there are many ways we can limit our toxin exposure and support our body’s detoxification capacity. I’ll go into more depth on detoxification program options, including Life Time’s very own D.TOX, in next week’s Part 3 of our detoxification series.

Written by Cindi Lockhart - Sr. Program Manager of Health and Nutrition Coaching

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

[i] Luster MI, Rosenthal GJ. Chemical agents and the immune response.  Environ Health Perspect 1993; 100: 219-226.

[ii] Rea WJ. Chemical Sensitivity Vol 3. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1996.

[iii] Chambers JE, Levi PE, ed.  Organophosphates, Chemistry, Fate, and Effects.  San Diego, CA: Academic Press; 1992.

[iv] Arlien-Soberg .  Solvent Neurotoxicity. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1992.

[v] Synder SH, D’Amato RJ. Predicting Parkinson’s disease. Nature 1985; 317: 198-199.        

[vi] Vial T, Nicolas B, Descotes, J. Clinical immunotoxicity of pesticides. J Toxicol Environ Health 1996; 48: 215-229.

[vii] Hascheck WM, Rousseaux GG. Handbook of Toxicological Pathology.  San Diego, CA. Academic Press. 1991.

[viii]  Krzyzanowski M, Quackenboss JJ, Lebowitz MD. Chronic respiratory effects of indoor formaldehyde exposure.  Environ Res 1990; 52: 117-125.

[ix] Wolff MS, Toniolo PG, Lee EW, et al.  Blood levels of organochlorine residues and risk of breast cancer.  J Natl Cancer Inst 1993; 85: 648-652.

[x] Davis JR, Brownson RC, Garcia R, et al.  Family pesticide use and childhood brain cancer. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 1993; 24: 87-92.

[xi] Claggett S. 2,4-D Information Packet.  Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides. 1990.

[xii] Leoni V, Fabiani L, Marinelli G, et al.  PCB and other organochlorine compounds in blood of women with or without miscarriage: a hypothesis of correlation.  Ecotoxicol Environ Saf 1989; 17: 1-11.

[xiii]  Carlsen E, Givercman A, Skakkebaek NE, Evidence for decreasing quality of semen during past 50 years.  BMJ 1992; 305: 609-613.

[xiv] Porterfield SP, Hendry LB. Impact of PCBs on thyroid hormone directed brain development.  Toxicol Ind Health 1998; 14: 103-120.

[xv] Crinnion WJ. Environmental Medicine, Part 1: The Human Burden of Environmental Toxins and Their Common Health Effects. Alternative Medicine Review, Vol 5, no 1.  2000.

[xvi] Meydani M. Dietary effects on detoxification processes. In: Hathcock JN, ed. Nutritional Toxicology Vol 2. San Diego, CA: Academic Press; 1987: 1-40.

[xvii] Smith TJ, Yang CS. Effects of food phytochemicals on xenobiotic metabolism and tumorigenesis. In: Food Phytochemicals I: Fruits and Vegetables. Washington, DC: American Chemical Society Press; 1994: 17-48.

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