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Toxins – Why Should We Care?

If we are already living in a polluted environment with all kinds of toxins, and if we can even find microplastics in Antarctica, does it still matter if we try to eat and live “clean”?


The answer is a definite yes!


Health problems usually arise when our body’s toxin burden gets high and starts to affect our metabolic function and organ systems. Keeping the toxin burden low can help prevent or slow the manifestation and progression of numerous health conditions.


While living in a 100% toxin free environment is not possible, trying our best to avoid toxin exposure and optimize detox organs will still benefit our health significantly.



Types of environmental toxins

Toxins are harmful or poisonous substances to a living organism and one major source of exposure is via the environment. Environmental toxins can be produced during human agricultural and industrial activities and examples of environmental toxins are environmental hormones, heavy metals, pesticides, and herbicides. Environmental toxins also include toxins produced by plants and animals, one common example being mycotoxins (toxins secreted by mold).


Environmental toxins can be present in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the cosmetics or skin care products we use and the house we live in. These toxins usually enter our body through skin contact, inhalation, ingestion and occupational exposure.


In this post we are going to discuss some of the most commonly seen environmental toxins and their health impacts.


Environmental hormones

Environmental hormones can act like hormones in our body, and as you can imagine, their presence can disrupt the balance of our naturally produced hormones. Majority of our hormones are produced by the endocrine glands (thyroid, adrenal and reproductive glands) and therefore environmental hormones are also endocrine disruptors, disrupting the normal function of these glands.


One of the common category of environmental hormones are xenoestrogens (xeno means foreign). These are foreign substances mimicking estrogens and exhibiting estrogenic like effects in our body.


Examples of environmental hormones include BPA (bisphenol-A), phthalates, and paraben.


Common sources of exposure (besides occupational exposure) include:

  • Plastics, food packaging materials

  • Cosmetic, bath and beauty products, toothpaste

  • Perfume

  • Electronics

  • Groundwater contamination

  • Consuming animal products (toxins bioaccumulate in animal fats)

  • Gasoline and its vapors, exhaust fumes

  • Paint, cleaning agents, dry cleaning

  • Pesticides, herbicides, insect repellents, fungicides

  • Cigarette smoke



Heavy metals

Heavy metals are metallic elements with a high atomic weight and density. Unlike essential metals (e.g. iron, copper, zinc, manganese) which are vital for normal cellular and metabolic functions, heavy metals are non-essential metals like lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic and aluminum which can be harmful to our health. Heavy metals can cause damage to our cells and organs even at low dose.


Common sources of exposure (besides occupational exposure) include:

  • Consuming vegetables, rice, fish, herbal remedies, and water contaminated by heavy metals

  • Dental amalgams

  • Cigarette smoke


After entering our body, heavy metals can be stored in our bones, kidney, liver and brain. They affect our cell membranes, mitochondrial function and enzymes involved in metabolism, detoxification, and damage repair. Chronic exposure of heavy metals (even at low dose) has been shown to relate to a list of health problems, like chronic infections, allergy, autoimmunity, and neurological disorders. Some of the heavy metals also contribute to the development of cancer through generating oxidative stress and causing DNA damage.





Pesticides, herbicides

Pesticides and herbicides are widely used in agriculture for the purpose of killing and controlling pests and unwanted vegetation.


There are a few categories of pesticides and herbicides including organochlorine pesticides (e.g. DDT), organophosphorus pesticides (e.g. glyphosate), carbamate pesticides, pyrethroid insecticides, and neonicotinoid pesticides, etc.


Once entering our body, these chemicals can be stored in the body fat of animals and human body. Because they can bioaccumulate in animals, consumption of animal products is also one common route of exposure. Health impacts from pesticides and herbicides vary depend on the type of pesticides/herbicides exposed to, duration of exposure and individual health status. However, what they share in common is negative health effects to our dermatological, gastrointestinal, neurological, respiratory, endocrine and reproductive systems. They are also carcinogens capable of contributing to the development of cancers.



Mycotoxins

Mycotoxins are toxic chemicals secreted by mold. Exposure to mycotoxin is usually from living or spending time in a water damaged building/car or a moldy environment.


Health impact of mycotoxins is widespread and involves all organs and systems. They are endocrine disruptors, and they are toxic to the nervous system, kidneys, liver, gastrointestinal tract, skin and muscles. They can suppress our immune function and damage our respiratory tract.


Fatigue, brain fog, memory loss, anxiety, allergy, respiratory issues, skin/vaginal/intestinal fungal infections are common symptoms of mycotoxin illnesses.


Like chronic infections and other environmental toxins, mold and mycotoxin illnesses is one of the common underlying causes of a variety of chronic health conditions, yet they can be missed quite often.



Common Health Problems Related to Environmental Toxins

Health impacts from chronic, low dose environmental toxins are often mild and gradual, until more organs and systems are affected and more "dis-ease" are shown. Common health consequences from environmental toxin exposure include:


Endocrine dysfunctions

  • E.g.: hypothyroidism, adrenal dysfunction (functional adrenal insufficiency or excess), and reproductive problems.

  • Increase the risk of women's health conditions like breast cancer, endometriosis, PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), and uterine fibroid.

  • Decrease both male and female fertility and affect pregnancy outcome by disrupting the endocrine function, damaging male and female reproductive systems and impairing fetus' ability to survive.


Digestive problems

  • Bad breath, indigestion, dysbiosis, leaky gut, etc.

  • Environmental toxins can decrease beneficial bacteria count and increase harmful bacteria in our gut, causing an imbalance in the gut microbiome (aka. dysbiosis).

  • Dysbiosis can further contributes to metabolic, inflammatory and immune diseases like atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, malnutrition and increased risk of pathogen invasion.


Immune dysfunction

  • Poor immunity (resulting in frequent infections or chronic infections), autoimmunity and allergy.

  • Environmental toxins can trigger the development of autoimmune conditions by:

  • Binding to human tissue proteins and trigger productions of antibodies against the chemicals and the tissue proteins, thereby resulting in our immune system attacking our own cells.

  • Inducing inflammatory cytokine production, which increases overall inflammation and aggravates autoimmune diseases. (Cytokines are proteins produced by immune cells)


Psychological and neurological issues

  • Anxiety, depression, brain fog, poor memory, and neurodegenerative symptoms and diseases.

  • Environmental toxins can affect our psychological and neurological health by affecting the central nervous system (CNS) through the gut-brain axis, or through inducing neuroinflammation (inflammation of the CNS). (Refer to: Neuroinflammation - When the Brain is on Fire)

  • Glyphosate has been shown to be associated with anxiety, depression, autism, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.


Cardiovascular and metabolic diseases

  • Environmental toxins have been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases by exhibiting oxidative stress and inflammation, and disrupting endocrine and mitochondrial function.

  • Cardiovascular and metabolic diseases related to environmental toxins include coronary artery disease, stroke, arrhythmia, heart failure, heart attack, hypertension, diabetes and obesity.


For a better quality of life

In people who are chronically ill, high toxin burden is often an underlying cause or contributor, besides other common factors like chronic infections, poor diet and psychological stress. Avoiding toxins and optimizing the body’s detoxification ability are therefore crucial in preventing and managing various chronic health conditions.


Even if we’re not suffering from any specific health problem, adapting an eco-friendly lifestyle and minimizing the exposure of toxins through changes in daily activity can help optimize our physical and mental emotional health, improve our quality of life and create a more friendly environment for our future generations.



References:

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