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How do we reduce our exposure to toxins?

Posted by Dr. Junger

Hi everyone, Dr. Junger here. 

We live in a world filled with toxins. We hear about toxins in our food, water, and air, but we also hear about “toxic” relationships and “toxic” thoughts.

The cocktail of toxins we are exposed to everyday creates health issues that we are all experiencing to different degrees.

Commonplace complaints such as headaches, low energy, bowel irregularities, allergies, depression, skin issues, and more are largely caused by overloaded detox systems in our bodies.

But we can change this situation.

As our Director of Science and Research, Deanna Minich PhD says: “We need to take a holistic view about toxins in our lives that includes our air, water, and food, but also our thoughts, emotions, and relationships.”

Today, I’ll share with you how toxins affect our health and 5 ways we can reduce our exposure to them.

In a future newsletter, I’ll address the behavioral and psychological side of toxicity that includes our thoughts, emotions and relationships.

Here we go. Let’s start by getting clear on what a toxin is.

What are toxins?

There are internet articles and sceptics that contend that what we call toxins do not exist or that our emphasis on how many toxins we are exposed to is overstated. It’s just a way to scare people and sell products they say.

But a toxin is a very specific and real thing.

A toxin is something that interferes with normal physiology and negatively impacts bodily function. Toxins are of many different kinds, with totally different qualities, from a number of different sources; just as varied are the complex mechanisms by which they cause irritation and damage.

Some toxins, known as endotoxins, are waste products from the normal activity of cells. Uric acid, ammonia, lactic acid, and homocysteine fall in this category. When these toxins build up, they cause diseases. Some are very specific, for example, when uric acid lingers, it causes gout.

Exotoxins, or xenobiotics, are human-made toxins that we are exposed to intentionally or inadvertently. Thousands of chemicals are being invented every year. These chemicals, alone or in combination, may cause disruption of the normal cell function.

Let’s give some examples of where we are exposed to human-made toxins.

  • food
  • food packaging
  • prescription drugs
  • synthetic clothes
  • carpets (especially synthetic wall-to-wall carpet)
  • house paint
  • building materials in offices and homes
  • mattresses
  • vinyl shower curtains
  • air fresheners
  • household cleaning products
  • cosmetics
  • body-care products like shampoo and conditioner
  • perfumes and fragrances
  • consumer products like children's toys
  • emissions from cars and trucks
  • car interiors (that “new car smell” is chemical off-gassing from PVC)
  • tap water and shower water

It’s amazing to think that most of these items were not to be found 100 years ago. Now more than ever we need to bring honest awareness about the extent of our daily exposure and its effects.

We do know how some of these chemicals negatively affect the body. For example, in a recent newsletter, I spoke about how common chemicals in sunscreens are linked to hormone disruption, cell damage, and skin tumors. But we are still learning about the effects of many of these chemicals and their interactions with each other in the body.

While it’s impossible to exclude all toxins from our lives, it’s possible to reduce much of our exposure. Then we can use seasonal cleansing with a program like the Clean Cleanse to help us with the toxins we do come into contact with.

How toxins affect our health

Toxins have many ways of interfering with the normal physiology of life. They can do it in a unique and very specific way, like arsenic, a deadly poison that causes asphyxia by blocking the usage of oxygen needed for the full metabolism of glucose.

Toxins may block an enzyme needed for an important body function. Or they may stimulate a specific body function in such persistent ways that it begins to cause damage.

Other toxins kill the good bacteria in the intestinal tract, block oxygen from binding to red blood cells, interfere with DNA synthesis by switching genes on and off, or block the absorption of different vitamins.

That's some of the specific ways a toxin can affect us. But a toxin tends to cause more damage when it is in an environment with other toxins. There are two important concepts to help us understand how this works. 

Bioaccumulation and Synergy

The first is called bioaccumulation. This means that toxins build up in our tissues and cells more quickly than they are eliminated. The second concept is synergy. Toxins work alone but more often than not, they work in synergy with each other.

Scientists admit we are fundamentally ignorant of the way the thousands of chemicals we’re exposed to interact once inside our tissues or cells. But we know that synergy—two or more things coming together and creating an effect that is bigger than the sum of their parts—is happening.

This means that in this new world in which chemicals pervade our food, air, and water supplies, assurances of safety from official sources about one ingredient or another are almost useless. There is never a moment when we’re exposed to a single chemical in isolation. It is an orchestra, not a single instrument.

Multiple toxins are already combining in our bodies, altering and shifting our inner environments in ways that we’re only just starting to figure out.

The Ripple Effect

I like to use the analogy of the ripple effect to give a picture of how toxins affect our health.

Each toxic molecule creates a cascade of reactions that expands like the radiating ripples around a single drop of water on the surface of a calm lake.

You can follow the ripples as far as your eye can see. In the same way, you can follow the chemical footprint of each toxin long after the toxin itself initiated the chain of events.

But a tropical storm on that same lake is a very different picture. Millions of individual drops, each starting a ripple that collides with other ripples, make it impossible for an observer to distinguish one ripple from another.

In fact, when the storm gets real intense, there are no more ripples. It just becomes a new kind of general surface pattern.

And another word for that general surface pattern is toxicity.

Toxicity describes the wider, low-grade state that, to one degree or another, everyone who breathes today’s air, eats today’s food, and lives in today’s cities, suburbs, or rural areas is experiencing inside.

The effects of toxicity are many. Allergies, constipation,headaches, depression, skin issues, digestive problems, and many more.

To help support our body we need some strategies to reduce our exposure and help us cleanse.

Let’s jump into those now.

5 ways to reduce your toxic load

We want to find a balance between reducing our exposure without making ourselves crazy with anxiety. It’s true that we can’t remove all or even most of the toxins we are exposed to but we can make good progress to lessen the effects of them on our health.

The five I have listed below give you the biggest bang for your buck or what some people call “life hacks”. These are habits you put in place that once you start them, continue to give you more and more benefit with no additional effort.

They aren’t new, especially for regular readers of this newsletter, but they are the simplest ways for us to reduce our toxic-load.

1. Eat Whole foods.

The major source of chemicals and toxins comes from our food. So we'll repeat this until the cows come home: Look for whole foods free of preservatives, conservatives, and coloring agents. If available, choose chemical-free and organic varieties.

2. Find your toxic triggers.

Toxicity is not a new problem. Long before we added the burden of human-made chemicals to our bodies, toxic buildup could occur from eating too many of the foods that don’t work for you. The best way I know of to do this is to do a cleanse or read my past newsletter: How to test for your toxic triggers.

3. Use chemical-free cosmetics, body care, and cleaning products.

Over the last few years, this topic has been written about extensively. We now have lots of companies that are creating chemical-free products.

Yet, I can’t tell you how many of my patients still haven’t switched over. Perhaps, they just think it isn’t that important. But remember, a single toxin is often not the problem, it’s the symphony of them interacting together.

I always check how clean my products are at the Environmental Working Group's consumer guides here.

4. Filter your water.

Water is a major source of toxins today. A recent study showed that 41 million Americans drink water contaminated with antidepressants, hormones, heart medications, and other prescription and over-the-counter medications that have made it through the water-treatment system.

Add to that the chlorine, carcinogens from industrial and agricultural waste, and you’ve got some real messy stuff.

Filter your drinking water and shower water. The city-supplied water in our showers and bathtubs has equal potential to add to the toxic load, because we absorb more water through our skin via bathing and showering than through drinking.

Use the water-filter buying guide from the Environmental Working Group to help you find a filter that's a good fit for you.

5. Do a seasonal Cleanse.

Cleansing is not an afterthought of health, it’s essential in today’s chemical-laden society. Remember the word bioaccumulate above?

Toxins bioaccumulate in tissues faster than they can be eliminated. When toxins cannot be eliminated in a timely manner, they remain in circulation causing irritation and damage.

To support our body’s detoxification process, do a balanced cleanse like the Clean Cleanse or Clean Gut Cleanse that supports both the release and elimination of toxins 1-2 times a year. I also like to do some shorter 7-Day Cleanses a few times a year when time allows.

To your health,

Alejandro Junger, M.D.

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Topics: Clean Life

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