Today, toxins are everywhere – in the environment, our food and our homes. The list of toxins is extensive, such as the plethora of man-made chemicals used in personal care products, homewares and furnishings, to the toxic by-products released every day by agriculture, transport, mining, and other big industries.
Unfortunately, a lot of toxins do not break down and persist in our environment for decades to come, finding their way into our food and bodies (Gasnier et al 2009). The amount of toxins in our body at any given time is called our toxic load. When toxins accumulate in our body quicker than our ability to eliminate them, a high toxic load is likely. This burden to our detoxification system can disrupt normal physiological function, and thus wreak havoc on our health. Depending on the type, toxins can interfere with signalling pathways in the body, imitate and alter hormones, compete with essential nutrients for absorption and can even cause immature cell death(Xavier, Rekha, & Bairy, 2004). This can manifest as various symptoms of ill health, from brain fog to muscle weakness, and even contribute to some diseases.
Although we can’t control absolutely everything we are exposed to, the good news is that there are toxins we do have control over, and can eliminate, or reduce our exposure to. Here is a quick guide on the toxin exposures we CAN control:
1. The food we buy and consume:
Conventionally grown and GMO produce: e.g., fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds are sprayed with pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. Not only are these disruptive to natural ecosystems and soil diversity, but they are disruptive to our health (Xavier, Rekha, & Bairy, 2004). For example, glyphosate-based herbicides are shown to cause oxidative damage to DNA, and are endocrine disruptors, influencing hormonal changes (Gasnier et al 2009).Another study links organophosphate pesticide exposure to ill effects on brain development, behaviour and fertility (Cohen, M 2007).
Conventional, grain-fed meat and dairy cattle are raised on sprayed, GMO grains and often prescribed antibiotics and hormones. Not surprisingly, the diet and lifestyle of these animals alters the nutritional quality of their produce. For example, eggs from free-range, pasture-raised chickens are higher in Omega-3, Vitamins A, D, E & K2, beta-carotene, folic acid, and B12 (Woginrich J 2011), and lower in cholesterol, saturated fat, and pro-inflammatory Omega-6 compared to eggs from chickens that are caged and grain-fed (Tolan A, Robertson J, Orton CR, et al. 1974).
What can you do:
- If it's viable for you, buying solely organic or biodynamic produce is the best way to reduce our exposure to pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. If you cannot buy everything organic, the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) ‘Dirty Dozen & Clean 15’ list is a great resource to help guide your selection of conventional and organic produce.
- Consuming meat and dairy from grass-fed cattle instead of grain-fed cattle and eggs from pasture-raised chickens instead of grain-fed or caged chickens will reduce your exposure to toxins passed down in the food chain and also means you will be eating meat, dairy and eggs with a higher nutrient profile.
2. The personal care products we put on our body:
Personal care products (e.g. deodorant, sunscreen, cosmetics etc) may contain a myriad of different man-made chemicals, sometimes hidden under the term “fragrance” in their ingredient list. Phthalates are just one class of chemical found in personal care products that signals premature cell death in the body. Phthalates are linked to hormone changes, lower sperm count, less mobile sperm, birth defects in the male reproductive system, obesity, diabetes and thyroid irregularities (Mima, Greenwald, & Ohlander 2018).
What can you do:
- Get familiar with looking at the 'Ingredient' list at the back of all products you consider buying. If you can’t pronounce it or don’t recognise an ingredient name, don’t put it on your body. Look at the products you already have at home and start removing and replacing products that are harmful with more natural alternatives.
- Buy ‘The Chemical Maze: Shopping Companion’ handbook or download the ‘Think Dirty’ App onto your smart phone, tablet or other device for help identifying which health and beauty products are safe, and which are not.
3. Homewares and products used around the home:
The toxins in common homewares are varied and extensive. For example,Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical that imitates oestrogen that is linked to breast and other cancers, reproductive problems, obesity, early puberty and heart disease (Sengupta et al, 2013). BPA can be found in plastic food-containers and bottles, the lining in canned goods, and thermal paper such as receipts. Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFC’s) is a chemical used to make non-stick cookware (e.g. Teflon) and stain/water-resistant coatings on clothing, furniture and carpets. PFC’s have been shown to affect sex hormones, decrease sperm quality, low birth weight in newborns, kidney disease, thyroid disease and high cholesterol (Ahmed, Moselhy, & Nabil 2015).
What can you do:
- Switch to homewares and products that are made from natural or inert materials, for example, glass and stainless steel instead of plastic containers and bottles, naturally treated, wood furniture (linseed oil is a great natural wood protector) instead of plastic or chemically treated furniture.
- Avoiding non-stick cookware and cooking meals from scratch instead of using canned or other packaged foods are other ways to avoid toxins.
It may seem overwhelming at first but taking small steps to reduce your toxin exposure, however you can, is better than doing nothing at all. If you would like to learn more about toxins, humans and the environment, some great books we recommend are The Toxin Solution by Dr Joseph Pizzorno, Chemical Free Kids by Sarah Lantz and Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.
Ahmed, W, Moselhy, W, & Nabil, T 2015. Bisphenol A toxicity in adult male rats: hematological, biochemical and histopathological approach. Global veterinaria, 14(2), 228-238.
Cohen, M 2007. Environmental toxins and health: the health impact of pesticides. Australian family physician, 36(12).
Gasnier, C, Dumont, C, Benachour, N, Clair, E, Chagnon, MC, & Séralini, GE 2009. Glyphosate-based herbicides are toxic and endocrine disruptors in human cell lines. Toxicology, 262(3), 184-191.
Mima, M., Greenwald, D., & Ohlander, S. (2018).Environmental toxins and male fertility. Current urology reports, 19(7),1-8.
Sengupta, S, Obiorah, I, Maximov, PY, Curpan, R, &Jordan, VC (2013). Molecular mechanism of action of bisphenol and bisphenol A mediated by oestrogen receptor alpha in growth and apoptosis of breast cancer cells. British journal of pharmacology, 169(1),167-178.
Tolan A, Robertson J, Orton CR, et al. (1974). Studies on the composition of food, the chemical composition of eggs produced under battery, deep litter and free-range conditions. Br J Nutr 1974, 31: 185
Woginrich, J (2011) Backyard chicken basics. Mother Earth NewsApril/May, 245: 44–48.
Xavier, R., Rekha, K., & Bairy, K. L. (2004). Health perspective of pesticide exposure and dietary management. MalaysianJournal of Nutrition, 10(1), 39-51.