Are Toxins Really a Cause of Poor Health?

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Most folks are familiar with OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. This body, which was formed in the 1970s by President Richard Nixon, was designed to provide for safe conditions for employees by setting standards for workplace exposure to toxicants. This noble venture established workplace limits for 188 compounds, assessing exposure below the standards set by the organization as “safe” and those that fall above the set limit as “unsafe exposure.”[1]

This is the traditional way that many people view toxicity and it is the foundational principle of toxicology- pollutants are examined individually to see if they are at toxic levels or not. The classic saying in industry (occupational, healthcare, pharmacy)— “the solution to pollution is dilution”– embodies this way of thinking and how limited it is. In other words, if you have been exposed to high levels of toxins, simply dilute it down to non-toxic levels and you will be fine.
But this type of thinking is limited to looking at the toxin in only an acute (immediate) poisoning situation. The thing that is important to recognize is that toxicologists consider several things when looking at an acutely poisoned person- they look at the interaction of other chemicals in the person’s system and asking these question:
Do those chemicals make the toxin stronger or weaker?
Do the other chemicals prolong its affect or shorten the effect of the toxin?[2]

They also look to see if the person affected has normal working biotransformation processes: are their detox pathways working effectively? Toxicologists also rely on measurable chemicals, meaning, chemicals that can be found in the blood and serum. This is a limitation as many chemicals are fat soluble, finding storage in the tissues so you won’t detect them in the serum.

But, what happens when we have chronic low-level exposures to chemicals in our air, food, and water, beauty products, cleaning products, etc?

What happens when that chronic exposure has caused the detox pathways to become overburdened so that they no longer can do the chemistry needed to clear those chronic low-level chemicals that bodies are constantly being exposed to?

What happens when the chemicals stored in the body begin exerting negative effects on the normal function of organ systems?

In the environmental medicine world, we call the level of stored toxins in the body the “total toxicant body burden,” but I usually simplify it down to “overall toxic load.” We have mountains of evidence to support the fact that our bodies are burdened with toxin, including data from the CDC itself through the NHANES survey (2017) which established mean values for 120 chemicals.[3]

What that means is this: when they are establishing mean values, those chemicals were so commonly found among the participants (serum, urine, blood samples), that they had to establish a lab mean for what is common. This does not mean that those chemicals are safe or naturally occurring, it just means they are ubiquitously found in humans.

What about the effect of the maternal (pregnant mamas) “total toxicant body burden” of chemicals on fetal development? The Environmental working group (EWG) demonstrated 200 different chemicals present in the cord blood of newborns, many of which are potent toxins to the immune system, neurological system, and endocrine system.[4] Why do you see so many kids with allergies, neurological issues and elevated serum glucose levels and many more health conditions at such early ages? Just because it’s commonly seen does not mean that it is normal or “good health.”

Without quoting the WHO (World Health Organization) statistics on all the increasing health problems present particularly in industrialized nations, (like the US), I simply encourage you to look around you and see how many people in your personal circle struggle with some form of chronic health issue. Or just google your health concern in relation to toxins.

When I began medical practice in 2004, PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) was uncommon enough that they made an episode on TLC’s Medical Mysteries show about it. Now, it is among the top causes of infertility and common enough that those outside of the medical field are quite familiar with it.

Childhood cancer continues to be the number one cause of death in children. Childhood cancer, not accidents or drownings, but cancer. How many people do you know that struggle with thyroid illness? Lyme disease, which seemed almost an academic disease to me when I studied in school, has touched two close family members in my own life, dozens of friends, and seems to be increasing in incidence WORLDWIDE. Lyme Clinics routinely have months-long wait-lists. How many people do you know with an autoimmune disease or early neuro cognitive decline?

Though disease onset is complex, it is my strong scientific stance (and that of a large body of holistic and functional medicine practitioners) that all disease has its basis in toxic insults either with our genetic parents, or ourselves, but usually both. (More about this later when we discuss epigenetics).

The progression of disease has everything to do with how well we inherently detoxify our bodies and the level of ongoing exposure to toxins that we have. How well we detoxify our bodies depends on the interactions of your genes, your nutrition and diet, the amount of parasite intrusion in the body and infections, emotional/mental/spiritual stressors, sleep, microbiome and EMF exposure.

We will explore the effects of a wide variety of toxins throughout this blog, but my goal is not to make your brains hurt with a ton of scientific info, but to help provide solutions to the issue. I hope you will learn and embrace a lifestyle that involves active routine detoxification as one of your regular healthy habits, no different than exercise, eating a healthy diet, etc..

The world leaders know there’s a problem

The problem of environmental toxins is not a figment of a few people’s imagination anymore; the global community is even raising the flag for concern on this issue. According to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Pollutants, the United Nations Environment Programme has defined persistent organic pollutants as “chemical substances that persist in the environment, bioaccumulate in the food web, and pose a risk of causing adverse effects on human health and environment.” They go on to say, “ with evidence of long-range transport of these substances to regions where they have never been used or produced and the consequent threats they pose to the global environment, the international community has now, on several occasions, called for urgent global action to reduce and eliminate release of these chemicals.”[5]

We are a long way away from seeing a reduction in the production and release of chemicals from industries, though, no matter how loudly the global community raises the alarm. Considering the fact that we all face an exposure to persistent organic pollutants (POPs), what can an individual even begin to do?

When I first began to study this subject in depth a decade ago, it was so overwhelming to me and I honestly felt helpless. I recognized that I couldn’t control the environment around me perfectly. (This was also very frustrating for me, since my biggest struggle is that I believed the lie that I am in control of everything and I must be in order for things to go well– please tell me that I’m not alone here..).

Of course, it is true that we can and should control some things- yes, we can limit exposure to chemicals by choosing cleaner products, organic food, and filter our water, but this does not deal with the “total toxicant body burden” that you have already accumulated. To deal with this, you have to actively work to detoxify the substances from your body. But how? My hope is that this website will provide you with the resources to understand how to embrace a lifestyle of detoxification and learn to actively detox your body without injuring it further.

The Detox buzzword and our love for convenience

Detox is a buzzword these days and there are many products available to be able to do a “quick detox.” Folks are waking up to the fact that poison surrounds them and they need to do something about it, but we still fall prey to the thinking that everything must be convenient and quick.

This same thinking drives people to just pick up that Tylenol for the headache rather than learning a natural solution and looking to understand and treat the root cause of it. Learning to pay attention to your body, learning a new way to manage it, buying new products, being sure that products you buy are truly as pure and natural as they claim to be, and then teaching yourself to use said products, is far less convenient than grabbing that Tylenol.

But Tylenol (and all drugs, really) comes with a trade off- the headache is quickly gone, but by taking it, you have disrupted the enzyme function of the liver that is responsible for detoxification! [6] (Insert frustrated emoji here) We need all our enzymes to work at 100% in order to even keep up with our daily exposure to toxic chemicals.

The Bottomline

What you need to know now is this: our bodies are ordered and complex, you need only to examine the perfection found inside a basic human cell. The way we detoxify our bodies is also ORDERED and complex, but not impossible. The order in which you detoxify the body matters, so we will spend a good deal of time on this and you will likely see me repeat that phrase a lot in order to help you to remember 🙂

Lastly, I hope I can help you with the likely burden you feel about having to learn everything about everything. I have done a lot of the leg work, but I still have lots to learn. Hopefully by introducing you to a few trusted and quality tools and teaching you some of the fundamentals, you will feel more confident to step into the lifestyle of clean living with the basics.

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References
[1] Castleman, B.,&Zeim, G. (1988). Corporate influence on threshold limit values. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 13, 51-59. Pubmed: 3280906
[2] Rea, W.J. (1992). Chemical Sensitivity, Vol 1 (17-21). Boca Raton, Fl :CRC Press.
[3]From Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. Retrieved from www.cdc.gov/exposurereport (Accessed June 2021)
[4] http://www.ewg.org/research/body-burden-pollution-newborns. (Accessed June 2021)
[5] http://chm.pops.int/TheConvention/Overview/tabid/3351/ (accessed June 2021)
[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4913076/
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