We’re increasingly surrounded by invisible dangers our great-grandparents could not have dreamed of. In fact, until recently most of us hardly dreamed of them ourselves. But what we once suspected or heard rumoured, we now know for certain: our air, our water, our food and many of the everyday objects we employ are a constant threat to our health and safety. A few decades ago, you rarely heard the word “toxin.” If something could poison you, you called it “poison.” Everyone knew what poisons were. They were the products labeled with a skull and crossbones: the caustic lye in the garage, the bleach in the laundry room, the bottle of iodine in the medicine cabinet.
HOW TO READ COSMETICS LABELS
Today, toxin is a word on everyone’s lips, perhaps literally! For example, it seems there are still many lipsticks that contain poisonous levels of lead among other things. So, when you go shopping for cosmetics or personal care products, read the labels and try to avoid these seven ingredients:
|Fragrance||Often contain phthalates, a group of man-made chemicals that disrupt hormones and can cause birth defects of male reproductive organs.|
|Triclosan||An antimicrobial/antibacterial agent that can weaken the immune system, disrupt the hormonal system, bioaccumulate, and convert to chemicals known to cause cancer when being used.|
|Sodium Lauryl Sulfate||A lathering agent that is a known skin irritant and suspected liver toxin.|
|DEA (Diethanolamine)||Suspected of causing cancer and being toxic to the respiratory and nervous systems.|
|Cyclomethicone and ingredients that include the word “siloxane” (e.g., cyclopentasiloxane)||These chemicals stick around in the environment for a long time, have the potential to accumulate in organisms up the food chain, and may cause cancer and reproductive toxicity.|
|Ingredients that include the word “paraben” (e.g.,methylparaben)||Can cause skin irritation, may cause cancer and disrupt hormones.|
|Ingredients that include the letter-combo “-eth-” (e.g., polyethylene glycol)||Means that the product likely contains 1,4-dioxane, a chemical that may cause cancer and is a suspected kidney toxicant, neurotoxicant and respiratory toxicant.|
Where federal governments may set strict limits on lead levels used in lipstick colours and where they supposedly analyze most commercially available products to ensure they are followed, we must take personal responsibility to double check. The cosmetic database is a great online consumer tool to do this: www.cosmeticsdatabase.com
FINDING OUR HUMAN THRESHOLD IN A TOXIC NATION
It’s no wonder that late-night infomercials (which, of course,none of us watch) deliver urgent, low-budget warnings about toxins and then offer us the miracle of detoxification. Most of us at least nod in recognition when toxins are mentioned and now most are quite familiar with the concept of detoxification being good for us. “Detox” as the health-store clerks cozily call it, is the latest fad that even top celebrities are some of the biggest advocates of. It’s a pain less process, this detoxification, normally requiring little more than following the product directions on a bottle and eating, say, beet and carrot juice, for a month. That is a tremendous value at $299.99 plus local taxes where applicable. Actually, most of those don’t work…sorry.
We’ve all splashed ourselves a few times with a corrosive cleaner while cleaning the toilet, and some may even share their neighbourhood with a nuclear reactor, while still others drink municipal tap water all our lives, and yet somehow we’re still here to read this article. So, why do we need to consider detoxification? At the end of the day it is easy for the topic of toxins and detoxification to sound like new-age vagary. The concept is often elevated to news status by a hungry media; bowel flushes and lymph cleanses sure seem like the brain hatchlings of tree-hugging vegans and fringe health fanatics. In the face of a flood of this information, what are we supposed to do, put on a radiation suit when someone walks into the office eating a non-organic apple? The idea is not to panic or become fanatical. The best reason I can give you to consider a valid routine detoxification is based on what I refer to as “the human health threshold.” It’s simple. Although you’ll be happy to learn that most of us detoxify ever second of every day – and quite well on our own, thanks to our liver, kidneys, and bowels – others don’t do so well. What is the unique difference? It’s our individual, personal threshold. Let me explain…
My experience with my patients has brought home to me that human health consists of an interplay of variables that include our genetics, our environment, our toxic load, our stress accumulation, our nutrition and emotional state, our exposure to microbes, our level of fitness, and a plethora of other factors. Each of us has an individual ability to cope with these factors. The limit of that ability – the point at which, if we exceed it, our health fails – is our human health thresh – old.
If we imagine a thermometer that registers the sum of all these interacting factors, our health threshold is the boiling point. By analogy then, like water, think of the human health threshold as 100 degrees Celsius. But the capacity for managing the various influences that affect our health is different for each of us because for some, stress, for example, accounts for 20 degrees, where for others, stress may account for 50 degrees at any given time. For some, diet may account for 30 degrees, and for others, it may be 70 degrees due to a genetic predisposition toward obesity. Nonetheless, when we are pushed past our individual thresholds, we are no more able to remain healthy than water can prevent itself from boiling when it’s heated to the boiling point. Today, many of us run so dangerously close to that threshold that we increase our probability of an early decline in the functioning of our bodies. We may be living longer than the generations who came before us, but we are living longer with chronic disease and discomfort. We are becoming “toxic.” Our health “temperature” constantly rises with our increasing levels of stress, poor diet, environmental burdens, and our exposure to toxins, just as the mercury in a thermometer slides up in response to an increase in temperature.
Since the Second World War, an estimated 85,000 synthetic chemicals have been registered in North America. Toxicological screening data are available for just 7 percent of these chemicals. This means that testing on humans can detect only one in 14 chemicals. In recent studies on toxins found in the umbilical cord blood of 10 newborns, 200 trace chemicals were found. Translation: we actually may be looking at 2,800 synthetic chemicals in one small body before it’s even born. Right from the get-go, we’re born into a toxic world already full of toxins.Shampoo, shaving cream, lip gloss, hand soap, dish detergents, laundry detergents, moisturizing creams, perfumes, air fresheners, cosmetics and deodorants – in our heart of hearts, we know these useful little additions to our daily lives start out as nasty raw materials, but we just don’t like to think about it. Dyes and pigments, rubber, the fabrics that make up our clothing, the paint on our houses, the tube of glue in the kitchen drawer – we know they started out in places with chimneys belching sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulphuric acid, carbon dioxide and dioxins. We know – but we don’t want to know.
ARE PLASTICS THE WAY OF THE FUTURE?
Plastics are another example. They are everywhere and we love them! We wear them, slip our feet into them, see through them. We sit on them, eat on them, eat from them, eat with them, walk on them, drive around in them, watch them and play with them. The synthetic polymer, a critical component of the chemical industry, has in many respects become the very substance of our material lives. And so dependent are we on plastics, even if it were proven tomorrow that they were directly linked to cancer, it might take decades – if ever – to find an alternative that would be accepted and mainstreamed. In 1945, annual plastic production in the U.S. had reached some 400,000 tons. In 1979, the annual volume of plastic manufactured overtook that of steel, the classic symbol of the industrial revolution. Today, there are over 50,000,000 tons of plastic produced annually in North America. By now most of us have heard of BPA (bisphenol A) and new moms are switching back to bottle-feeding their babies from glass. Thanks in part to Dr. Ana Soto.
Dr. Soto is an M.D. and a professor at Tufts Medical School. Her main research interest for the last 30 years has been breast cancer. In 1989, with Dr. Carlos Sonnenschein, she discovered that certain types of plastic – bisphenol A and epoxy resins – emit chemicals that mimic the female hormone estradiol and can cause breast cells to multiply in cancerous fashion. If you haven’t already, read the national bestselling book by Rick Smith and Bruce Lowrie, titled Slow Death By Rubber Duck.
TOXIC FOOD – PESTICIDES, THE DIRTY DOZEN, MERCURY AND MORE
It seems that headlines on the matter of toxins come and go and so with them our attention to them. We don’t want to be reminded that drinking out of a plastic bottle can be hazardous to our health. Shortly after the next health “fanatic” gallivants through town conjuring up new headlines about all the toxins in our food we typically lose attention to how eating organic is no longer a choice if we are to remain healthy.
Producing food on a mass scale in this day and age employs an array of pesticides, insecticides and herbicides to kill the insects and weeds that harm crops. New York Times bestselling author Michael Pollen, wrote The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, and the more recent Food Rules. His slogan resonates with me: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” However, in that vain, you want to be aware of “the dirty dozen.” The dirty dozen describes 12 fruits and veggies that are the most saturated in pesticides (more at www.ewg.org). It also lists the cleanest ones. The fact is that pesticides run off from fields and enter the water table; we’ve all heard about their effects on our collective health. I’m most shocked by the extremely strong correlation between pesticides and Parkinson’s disease. And where we can’t get away from them 100 percent of the time, then next time you pass the little organic produce counter at the supermarket (that are, incidentally, getting bigger), where a small number of worried souls (including myself) prefer to buy their food, you too may want to buy there. Paradoxically, as I contemplate the vast stocks of non-organic fresh produce elsewhere in the store, I’m compelled to wonder: if it weren’t for pesticides, would over 300 million North Americans even have access to these healthful, nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables?
Food, in general, was much more healthy in the “good ol’ days,” when most of it came from local farms. Now, aside from heavy use of pesticides, factory-made refined foods have also made chemical additives a significant part of our diet. We want food to look fresh, even if it isn’t. We want it to smell good, feel good and taste good. The food industry, to whom added preservativeshave always been important, continues to respond to our desires with an array of enhancers. Most people can’t properly pronounce the names of many of these chemicals found in their food (a good rule of thumb is if you can’t pronounce it, leave it alone). Serious studies have thrown the safety of many of food additives into doubt or condemned them altogether. I know that it can be hard to take warnings about additives too seriously. After all, they appear in famous products, brightly lit in the aisles of supermarkets.
Past the fresh produce, through the centre aisles of packaged food, and onto the fresh fish counter…Today, many experts advise us to eat more fish for good health. But there is a problem there too. There is a significant “bad in the good.” Mercury, arsenic, lead and cadmium are among the heavy metals known to have detrimental effects on humans. And recent research on the toxic effects of mercury found in seafood in particular has prompted Health Canada to advise Canadians to limit their consumption of certain fish – fresh and frozen tuna, shark, swordfish, escolar, marlin and orange roughy. You can find a very helpful pocket guide at www.edf.org. It guides you to know what seafood you can safely consume on a regular basis. Our very own University of Calgary’s Faculty of Medicine, Department of Physiology and Biophysics has published conclusive evidence that there is no safe level of mercury in the body.
RADON GAS – THE SILENT TOXIN
What about toxins lurking right within the confines of our homes? We try to improve our standard of living, and the new adhesives, carpets, and building materials all outgas volatile organic compounds. We sand away the pre-1960 paint, and so release lead into our homes. We tear down old ceilings in schools and offices, and invisible threads of asbestos insulation float out to lodge in lungs and produce mesothelioma, a usually incurable cancer. And as if all this wasn’t enough to worry about, just when you thought toxins are primarily of a chemical nature, and somehow tangible, enter in to the scene radon gas. Radon is a cancer-causing radioactive gas, the product of the radioactive decay of radium within the earth. The gas normally percolates upwards and escapes into the atmosphere. But radon can easily collect in our constructed environments: our water supply, basement crawl space, brick or rock walls, slab joints, sump pump or floor drain. You cannot see it, smell it or taste it, but inhaled, radon enters the lungs, where it undergoes further radioactive decay that can damage to your DNA. There are no immediate symptoms. It typically takes years of exposure before a fatal lung cancer may appear. The U.S. Surgeon General has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in North America today (second only to smoking). Testing for radon gas is widely available and inexpensive.
CELL PHONES – INVISIBLE TOXINS
In the wake of this disturbing evidence, I also can’t resist a report to you on the matter of cell phones and your health. More
than four billion people worldwide are using cell phones. Considering that you live in an urbanized world, you’re probably one of them. So am I. But though these findings are still being contested, a series of studies have indicated that cell phone wave emissions, called electromagnetic radiation (EMR), cause biological tissue destruction. And the tissue closest to hand when using a cell phone is brain tissue. The cell phone signal is called an “information carrying radio wave (ICRW)” and it is completely man-made. It is an invisible toxin. Since there’s nothing like it in nature, when vibration sensors on a cell membrane “feel” that radio wave, they interpret it as a foreign invader. The cell membrane closes down pathways known as active transport channels in an effort to protect the cell. These are the same pathways that allow your trillions of cells to exchange nutrients and rid you of toxins. Scientists suspect that when the ICRW is constant over a period of time, the cell goes into lockdown. When that happens, nutrients cannot enter the cell and waste products cannot leave.
This is not good news for any of us. I can only caution you as I caution myself. We are blessed with efficient landline telephone
systems in North America. Let’s significantly limit our use of cell phones and during that time use an earpiece. Learn more about how much radiation your brand of cell phone is emitting at: www.ewg.org/cellphone-radiation
The cell phone signal is called an “information carrying radio wave (ICRW)” and it is completely man-made. It is an invisible toxin. Since there’s nothing like it in nature, when vibration sensors on a cell membrane “feel” that radio wave, they interpret it as a foreign invader.
PRESCRIPTION MEDICATION NOT IMMUNE
Sheesh…and we haven’t yet discussed in detail the toxic burden
developed by the very means many of us attempt to recover from ill health: medication. Health for most is still reactive.
Many still believe that maintaining health is as simple as occasional restoration through a prescription written by our doctor
for a drug produced by the pharmaceutical industry. But guess what? Almost all medications, especially when taken long term,
are also – you guessed it: toxic! We don’t normally think of prescription drugs as toxic since our doctor has told us to take them to combat a malady. We believe that we can often achieve a quick and easy fix for something that is the result of a lifetime of poor choices.
Allow me to partially summarize by drawing on the work of Dr. Ray D. Strand, whose recent book, Death by Prescription: The Shocking Truth Behind an Overmedicated Nation, addresses this issue. He writes that the leading drug problem today is not the use of illegal drugs, but the use of legal prescription drugs. Strand argues that prescription drugs are five times more likely to kill you than an automobile accident, cancer, or AIDS. The fourth leading cause of death in the United States is properly prescribed and administered medication. Add improperly prescribed medication, and prescription drugs become the third leading cause of death. Dr. Strand cites over two million hospital admissions and 180,000 deaths each year in the U.S. alone due to adverse drug reactions. We’re a toxic nation. The important takeaway fact is this: a growing body of scientific evidence supports the idea that toxins are toxic because when toxins into our body exceed toxins out of our body we succumb to disease. For some, the amount of necessary toxin to create disease is far less than others (human health threshold – remember?). But if we know what we’re dealing with, we can act to use a powerful set of nutritional detoxification routines, change the way we live and eat, and effectively work to reduce
our personal toxin burden.
What about toxins lurking right within the confines of our homes? We try to improve our standard of living, and the new adhesives,
carpets, and building materials all outgas volatile organic compounds. We sand away the pre-1960 paint, and so release lead into our homes. We tear down old ceilings in schools and offices, and invisible threads of asbestos insulation float out to lodge in lungs and produce mesothelioma, a usually incurable cancer.
THE NATURAL DETOXIFIER – YOUR LIVER
Let me also share with you a scientifically validated method of detoxifying what impurities have stored up within you over your time here on earth. But first, let’s better understand the body’s natural detoxifier: the liver.
The liver detoxifies in two chemical phases, the first a collection phase. If your liver is functioning well, it takes those collected toxins and in phase two transforms them into water-soluble compounds that can be excreted through stool, urine or bile. We pee
them out, poop them out, sweat them out and breathe them out. If the liver isn’t functioning well and removing toxins effectively, the body will store them in your nervous system and fat tissue causing disease. Antioxidants, which are crucial in the process of ditching toxins, need to be replenished through dietary and supplementary sources. So, the very purpose behind “detoxing” is the optimization of these liver functions. New studies of the liver’s detoxification system suggest that even if you’re battling something as serious as cancer, you may decide with a professional’s help that a detoxification program is a prudent auxiliary strategy for your recovery.
The addition of a detoxification routine gets your body doing the things it does best to heal itself. Our bodies signal an overload
of toxic substances in many ways: headache; muscle and joint pain; fatigue; irritability; depression; mental confusion; gastrointestinal tract irregularities; cardiovascular irregularities; flu-like symptoms; or allergic reactions, including hives, stuffy or runny nose, sneezing and coughing. The liver, the central toxic-waste site of the body, works hard every second of the day and night
to sieve these toxins. It is also a metabolic factory where everything from the air we breathe to the food we eat to the medicines we take is transformed. It’s responsible for breaking down and packaging up proteins, carbohydrates and fats and, as if that isn’t
enough, it synthesizes bile and glycogen (the principal form in which sugar is stored) and the blood proteins that the body uses
for energy and metabolism. In the process, the liver is guilty of accumulating these toxins. Often, it stores a surplus of toxin in the fat of our body so as to get it safely out of general circulation. We can hardly expect a busy factory not to produce some waste. The liver is capable of healing and regenerating itself, but an overloaded liver leaks poisons into the bloodstream that can injure organs and diminish our health. We need to help it along with a routine, health-optimizing cleansing.
HOW SAFE IS YOUR CLEANSE?
You’ve probably heard about some cleansing routines – the water and juice fasts -which supposedly work on the principle that the body will heal itself when the “stress” of digestion is eliminated. Such cleanses may do more harm than good. Natural liver processes are not only energy intensive, but are also dependent on adequate levels of supporting nutrients. Water fasting that is
totally devoid of energy sources or supportive nutrients may in fact suppress detoxification rather than enhance it. A juice fast
may be effective since at least it provides some carbohydrates and other nutrients, but it’s still deficient in macro-nutirients (from protein and fats) vitamins, minerals and certain amino acids. For these reasons, I advise you to avoid “drastic measure” fasting.
Some popular cleansing protocols also recommend laxatives, enemas or colonic irrigation to speed up the process. Dozens
of books and hundreds of websites promote such “cleansing” regimens. Spas everywhere invite “cleansers” to spend thousands of dollars in exotic locations to expel their toxins in luxurious relaxation. These routines are often of little use and sometimes even dangerous. And, like other fads, cleansing regimens promise quick weight loss that is always unsustainable. They’re based on junk science rather than a true scientific understanding ofhow the body works. Worst of all, these extreme diets can cause serious side effects in vulnerable groups. Never do a cleanse of any kind, for instance, while pregnant. Never put a child on a cleanse without expert advice. Safe detoxification requires the use of therapeutic levels of well-researched antioxidants to facilitate and speed up the natural process. And, by the way, ionic foot baths that “detoxify” you are a load of malarkey.