There are over 80,000 chemicals currently recognized by the EPA, yet less than 2000 of these have actually been evaluated for safety.
Toxins have been linked to nearly every chronic illness out there, including autoimmune illnesses, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, toxins are still commonly dismissed as a cause of illness by many physicians and by our healthcare system at large.
This is the first of a 5-part series on detoxification. First I’ll discuss why the detoxification process is so important and how your body removes toxins. In parts 3 and 4, I’ll lay out a detoxification plan that can help you to improve your body’s ability to rid itself of toxins, reduce toxic burden, and improve your health. In the final post, I’ll talk about detoxification related to specific conditions.
Environmental Toxins are All Around Us
In modern life, we are exposed to environmental toxins in various ways.
Toxins are in our food. Many “foods” that are sold today are more manufactured than real. Take bread, for example, which really should only have 4 ingredients. Most breads sold in supermarkets today have 20 to 30 ingredients, many of which are not food.
Toxins are in our water. Our drinking water can contain chloromethane, chloroform, and other byproducts. Solvents, used to cl????
ean water treatment facilities, can actually get into our water. Chemicals like hexavalent chromium have even been found here in our water system in Richmond.
Toxins are in our air. The air we breathe can have small amounts of mercury and other pollutants anywhere near the combustion of fuels or waste.
Toxins are in our homes. Due to energy efficiency standards set in the 1970s, our homes are now more airtight. This is great for fuel efficiency, but terrible for allowing fresh air into our homes. Now there is a phenomenon called Sick Building Syndrome, when toxins and poor air quality are actually making us sick.
Are Your Health Issues Related to Toxins?
I was not taught about the relationship between toxins and illness in medical school in the ’90s. So one might conclude that toxins are not related to health issues.
However, the reason that we have the EPA, water quality standards, air quality standards, and even standards for children’s clothing and furniture, is to prevent us from becoming sick from the exposure to toxins and chemicals.
What is Toxic Load?
The great news is that our bodies were designed to remove toxins as we’re exposed to them. So for example, when you ingest mercury from shellfish, your body removes it – you pee it out and poop it out. When you breathe in toxins from the air, your body coughs it out and your kidneys filter it out.
The problems begin when we are chronically exposed, and these toxins build up over time faster than our bodies can remove them. Once we get to that threshold, it can spill over and causes chronic health issues. One of the most common health issues related to toxic load is autoimmune disease.
How Do Toxins Cause Disease?
As these chemicals in our bodies attach to our cell walls, they can actually change the structure of the cells and cause something called toxin induced loss of tolerance or TILT syndrome.
When toxic load spills over, it can sometimes cause your body to actually starts to attack itself with auto antibodies. We see this in mold illness, for example, when mold exposure causes people to make auto antibodies. We also see this related to lupus and celiac disease.
Toxic overload can also affect our nervous system, causing dysfunctional neurons. Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, for example, are both characterized by the accumulation of toxic protein clumps.
Peripheral neuropathy, which is very common right now, is related to toxicity from elevated glucose in diabetes, but can also be related to heavy metals and environmental chemicals as well.
Our reproductive system is also affected by toxins. Low testosterone and infertility in men is becoming all too common. We are learning that certain chemicals, called neuroendocrine disruptors, act like hormones and, for women, can cause estrogen dominance and infertility. For men, these neuroendocrine disrupters can lower their sperm count. One of the most commonly known neuroendocrine disruptors is BPA or Bisphenol A, which actually acts like estrogen and can both feminize men and cause infertility issues in women.
Toxins can also affect your cardiovascular system. Heavy metals, especially lead, have been associated with heart disease. Even though we no longer have lead in gas, there is still residual lead from old paints, petroleum fuels, and other things being burned. Other metals, like mercury, are commonly found in seafood, but are also residual in our environment.
Addressing Toxic Overload
When I see a patient with an autoimmune issue, chronic mold, Lyme, or cardiovascular disease, I routinely check for heavy metals and other toxins. I look at their toxic burden to see if these things can be contributing to their illnesses.
So what can you do?
There are many things we can do to reduce our toxic burden and support our bodies in detoxification. First, we must get curious and discover the source(s) of the exposure. Once we know the source, we are able to minimize that exposure. Then we can do other things to support the body’s natural detoxification abilities. We’ll take a deep dive in this series to cover specific steps you can take to reduce your toxic load.
Coming Up Next
In the coming weeks, we’ll talk more about things you can do to ease your body’s toxic load in order to prevent chronic illness or better manage one that already exists. Next week, I’ll talk more about how your body detoxifies itself and what you can do to support your body’s natural ability to get rid of toxins.
In the meantime, you can check out our previous in-depth blog series on detoxification. In addition, you can check out Dr. Pizzorno’s book The Toxin Solution. Dr. Pizzorno, who started Bastyr University, is one of the best-known medical educators on toxicity.
At RIFM, we’re working to provide usable, reliable, dependable information to help people change the trajectory of their health.
Take care and be well.
Since 2010, Richmond Integrative and Functional Medicine has been helping people to restore their health and hope with an integrative approach to conventional and alternative medicine that’s entirely science-backed. We at RIFM believe everyone is made for health. We offer a comprehensive, in-person patient membership program to ensure you get access to the care you need to thrive.
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