The following is a list of the top twenty everyday environmental toxins and means of combating them:
1. Insecticides and pesticides: Eat WASHED organic produce as much as possible as well as organic dairy products, eggs, and meat; remember that the higher up the chain your food is, the greater it’s potential toxicity. Avoid walking barefoot (and walking your pets) on chemically-sprayed lawns.
2. Prescription drugs: Cause nutritional deficiencies and other negative side effects. Consider alternatives such as mind-body medicine, nutritional supplementation, and other diet and lifestyle changes to help lower your dosage of, or even substitute, prescription drugs; always consult your doctor before changing your dosage.
3. Alcohol: While moderate intake, i.e. a glass or two, may have therapeutic value, less truly is more with alcohol. Too much alcohol causes nutritional deficiencies and oxidative stress through excess insulin release.
4. Indoor and outdoor pollution: Control the lighting and sounds around you: opt for natural or full-spectrum lighting and peaceful music. Obtain an air purifier or surround yourself with plants, and drink pure, filtered water (avoid plastic bottles – see below). Try to avoid city jogging or biking during rush hour.
5. Cigarette smoke: Quit and ask the people around you who smoke to do so too for your health, if not their own. Cigarettes contain cadmium, a toxic heavy metal and can contribute to heart disease. Still not ready? Cut down: each cigarette you don’t smoke will better everyone’s environment.
6. Formaldehyde: Make sure your home is formaldehyde-free. Formaldehyde can irritate the skin, throat, nose, and eyes; high-level exposure is linked to some cancers. Sources include smog, cigarettes, open fires, some foods (as a preservative) and household products, as well as carpets, floors, cabinetry, new upholstery and furniture.1
7. Soft drinks: Sodas contain phosphoric acid, which can deplete calcium from bones, and an abundance of refined sugar that can spike insulin levels when consumed in excess. Chronic excess insulin release can lead to diabetes and obesity as well as heart disease and other illnesses. Drink sodas sparingly, if at all.
8. Trans-fats: Causing free-radical stress and higher LDL levels, which together create a strong cardiovascular risk, trans fats are found in most packaged and processed foods. These are polyunsaturated fats with an extra hydrogen atom added to increase shelf-life of foods. Due to national efforts to halt the rise of obesity in the U.S., food manufacturers are now required to list trans fats on nutrition food labels, giving you some added food for thought at the market.
9. Charcoal-broiled meats: Charring or blackening meats can catalyze the production of chemicals which can increase your cancer risk. Trim the fat and eat grilled meat with plenty of fruits and vegetables. If you believe chicken is healthier for you, think again; beef and lamb are lesser evils on the grill.2
10. Personal hygiene products: Because porous skin so readily absorbs toxins, choose natural perfumes, deodorants, and shampoos. Most deodorants contain aluminum to prevent perspiration; aluminum is known to cause DNA alterations and daily dermal exposure may lead to breast cancer.3 Read product labels and also look for phthalates (see Toxin #20).
11. Petrochemicals: Avoid xenoestrogens from hormone-fed animals, which can play a role in breast, prostate and other cancers; choose to eat natural range-fed beef or poultry and organic dairy products. Xenobiotics, found in dry cleaning, plastic wrap, gasoline vapors, and household cleaners, to mention a few, can also lead to breast cancer. Consuming unheated olive oil, rich in squalene, can help neutralize their effects.
12. Heavy metals: Lead from paints, batteries, and even water flowing through lead-lined pipes can increase your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and other illnesses. Cadmium and mercury (see “toxic fish” below), together with lead, can cause chronic medical problems. Eating herbs such as parsley and cilantro, and taking supplements like selenium can help you chelate, if not neutralize the effects of, heavy metals.
13. Processed meats: Consumption of sausages, bacon, and lunch meats, usually processed with nitrates, is associated with higher colon cancer risk. Eat these foods in moderation and be sure to accompany them with plenty of fiber-filled whole grains, fruits and veggies.4
14. Radon gas: The U.S. Surgeon General and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommend the testing of all homes for radon gas, a radioactive gas generated through the breakdown of granite. Radon gas, which you cannot smell, taste, or see, is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. You can obtaining a radon test kit from the National Safety Council or your State Radon contact (see http://www.epa.gov/radon/whereyoulive.html).5
15. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS): Commonly used to replace sugars in processed foods such as sodas, breads, and cereals, HFCS can create hormonal imbalances, especially through excess insulin production, as well as interfere with the body’s metabolism of essential minerals. Unlike other sugars, HFCS is processed in the liver and converted into fats that circulate through the bloodstream; consuming large amounts of it regularly may lead to possible liver and cardiovascular damage.
16. Chlorinated water: The EPA has recognized the potential association of chlorinated water with bladder, colon, and rectal cancers, as well as the potential health concern and need for public protection about chlorine-related reproductive and development health effects.6 Chlorine ingestion or absorption is also associated with thyroid dysfunction.
17. Toxic fish: Methyl mercury, an organic mercury compound, is released from the burning of coal and progressively infiltrates our food supply through rain, algae, and fish, especially those in fresh water. Mercury is a neurotoxin and affects the central nervous system; in fetuses, exposure can lead to blindness, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and other developmental effects.7
18. Vaccinations: Some vaccines, such as the tetanus, rabies, and influenza vaccines, contain thimerosal, a preservative containing approximately 49% ethyl mercury.8 Most vaccines recommended for children six and under, however, are now thimerosal-free. The influenza shot does contain thimerosal; a limited supply of the preservative-free version is available for infants, children, and pregnant women.9
19. Industrial cleaning products: Toxic manufactured chemicals like tetrachloroethylene, which is used in dry cleaning and metal degreasing, can enter the body through the lungs and the skin. According to the U.S. Dept. of Human Health and Human Services, acute exposure to tetrachloroethylene can affect the respiratory and renal systems.10
20. Phthalates: Chemicals usually found in plastic, which ensure flexibility and durability, phthalates are commonly found in personal products such as insect repellants, cosmetics, soaps, lotions, food packaging, and cleaning and building materials, and primarily affect the male reproductive organs, especially when exposed prenatally.11
See Spa Medicine and Reverse Heart Disease Now for more detailed information about environmental toxicity and health.
1. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. ToxFAQ’s, available at http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/tfacts111.html.
2. American Cancer Society. Barbequing Made Healthy, available at www.cancer.org
3. Darbre PD. Aluminum, Antiperspirants and Breast Cancer. J Inorg Biochem.2005 Sep;99(9):1912-9.
4. Chao A, et al. Meat Consumption and Risk of Colorectal Cancer. JAMA. 2005;293:172-182.
5. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Radon, available at http://www.epa.gov/radon/.
6. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Conclusions Regarding the Potential Health Effects of Chlorinated Drinking Water, available at http://safewater.custhelp.com/cgi-bin/safewater.cfg/php/enduser/std_adp.php?p_faqid=2666.
7. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Mercury Compounds: Hazard Summary, available at http://www.epa.gov/ttn/atw/hlthef/mercury.html.
8. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Table of Products that May Contain Mercury and Recommended Management Options, available at http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/hazard/tsd/mercury/con-prod.htm; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thimerosal in Seasonal Influenza Vaccine, available at http://www.cdc.gov/FLU/ABOUT/QA/thimerosal.htm.
9. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Thimerosal in Vaccines, available at http://www.fda.gov/BiologicsBloodVaccines/SafetyAvailability/VaccineSafety/UCM096228.
10. Dept. of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. ToxFAQ, available at http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/tfacts18.html.
11. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Phthalates and Cumulative Risk Assessment, available at http://dels.nas.edu/dels/rpt_briefs/phthalates_final.pdf.
12. Vastag, B. CDC Unveils First Report on Toxins in People, JAMA 2001; 285:1827-28.
13. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Phthalates and Cumulative Risk Assessment, available at http://dels.nas.edu/dels/rpt_briefs/phthalates_final.pdf.
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