Top Environmental Toxicants You Should be Avoiding
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine estimates that there are about 90,000 chemicals commonly circulating around us in the modern world. That translates to a lot of exposure to chemicals on a day to day basis!
It is true that of those 90,000 chemicals, not all are harmful. In fact, everything found in nature (like fresh water) is made up of chemicals. We evolved alongside the chemicals found in nature, and our body can handle at least occasional exposures to many of them. The problem starts when we are exposed to chemicals that our body doesn't know how to handle or in amounts that our body cannot detoxify from.
In this context these chemicals become toxins.
Exposure to toxins overstimulates the immune system leading to systemic inflammation and many other adverse health effects. Repeated exposure to chemicals can cause them to accumulate in our bodies and cause issues that may develop gradually.
If you believe you are suffering negative health effects from toxin exposure, speak to one of our physicians at Naturopathic Specialists about ways you can detoxify.
That being said, the best way to avoid environmental toxicants is to be aware of their existence and do what you can to limit your exposure. Here's our doctor compiled list of chemicals that you should avoid being exposed to.
This is a broad category of chemicals includes herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, disinfectants, and chemicals to kill rodents. Two common chemicals in this category are chlorpyrifos and glyphosate. These chemicals are used on most industrial crops to kill weeds and pests.
Research has consistently linked pesticides to developmental, behavioral, and fertility issues. In spite of those connections, they are still the most commonly used pesticides today. There is no telling the negative impact these chemicals have on both the environment and our bodies.
Endocrine disruptors such as BPA, Phthalates, and Parabens
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with the bodies endocrine system. They mimic endogenous hormones that the body produces and can bind to hormone receptors; effectively blocking our normal hormones from doing their job.
Scientists have estimated that 93% of Americans have BPA in their body. These chemicals have been linked to everything from reproductive issues, obesity, heart disease and cancer.
The best way to avoid exposure to these chemicals is to avoid the use of plastic products since many of them are used as plasticizers to make plastic more malleable.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
PCBs are human-made chemicals consisting of carbon, hydrogen and chlorine atoms. While now banned from being produced there are still countless PCBs in our environment. They are mainly used in industrial and commercial applications.
Perchlorates are both naturally occurring and man-made chemicals used predominantly in the aerospace industry. However, they may be found naturally in higher amounts in arid regions. It is highly soluble in water and can migrate quickly through soil and groundwater. It has been found in many different crops due to run off. Perchlorates compete with iodine which can negatively impact your thyroid.
Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs)
Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers are used as flame retardants in many different industries such as textiles, plastics, automobiles, and insulation. PBDEs bioaccumulate in our environment and have been found in both the animals and plants we eat. PBDE’s are so ubiquitous that they have been found in everything from breast milk to polar bears. These chemicals are toxic and mainly cause neurobehavioral issues in humans.
Toluene is a solvent that (in its largest use) is added to gasoline. Vehicle exhaust is the biggest contributor of toluene to the ambient air outdoors.
But to find the highest levels of toluene take a deep breath inside the average home.
Paints, paint thinners, adhesives, synthetic fragrances and nail polish (among many other things inside your home) all contain toluene. Packing all these products containing toluene inside a closed home means that indoor air may have up to three times the amount of toluene than outside 'city' air.
Even short-term exposure to toluene impacts the central nervous system negatively and can reduce resistance to respiratory infection. Long-term or cumulative exposure has an even more negative effect.
Volatile organic compounds
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are gases that are emitted from solids and liquids. Many people enjoy the smell of a new car or a new home. What you may not realize is that smell is caused by the off-gassing of chemicals. Even dry cleaned clothes are a culprit of VOC's. Breathing in these chemicals can have adverse effects on your health, and have been linked to organ damage and cancer.
Perfluorochemicals are so ubiquitous with modern life that 99% of Americans have them in their bodies. Certain PCFS are also resistant to biodegradation meaning they don’t break down in the environment. Research is still being done on the exact effects PCFS have on the human body.
The best way to avoid PCFS is to stop using non-stick pans as well as stain and water-resistant coatings.
Formaldehyde is a gas at room temperature and has a very distinct odor. It has many industrial and construction product uses; but is also found in household items such as cosmetics, dishwashing liquids and fabric softeners as a preservative. Formaldehyde can cause allergic reactions and at high doses is a known carcinogen.
Benzene can be found in the air due to its release from coal burning and automobile exhaust. It is a solvent found predominantly in gasoline. Exposure to benzene has been known to cause lung and central nervous system issues, as well as cancers of the blood.
Naturally occurring compounds
Lead is found naturally in the environment and can bioaccumulate in humans and cause severe effects, regardless of age.
For children, exposure to lead may result in behavior and learning problems, slowed growth, anemia, and a lower IQ, among other things. During pregnancy, exposure to lead can result in reduced growth of the fetus and premature birth. Lead exposure may cause adults cardiovascular problems, reduced kidney function, and reproductive issues.
The most common source of exposure to lead is through old paint or well water.
Arsenic is another chemical that can be found in your drinking water. Large doses of arsenic are fatal, but smaller doses are linked to the development of multiple forms of cancer.
Like arsenic and lead, fluoride is a chemical normally found in drinking water. Many governments add fluoride to the water because it helps harden tooth enamel. However, recent studies have shown that in large doses fluoride can cause neurotoxicity.
Mercury is a naturally occurring metal that affects the body as a neurotoxin. This was a toss-up to put in the man-made or naturally-occurring category because the primary way that it gets into both the air and ocean is through burning coal. Mercury then bioaccumulates in fish and ends up on our plates. The effect of mercury exposure on one's health depends on several factors such as the form, amount, and duration of exposure as well as the age and health of the person.
Radon is a radioactive gas that is created from the decay of uranium. It can seep into your home through cracks in your foundation or into well water. There is no safe level of exposure to radon (besides zero) and it is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.
Although it's a naturally occurring compound, our main exposure to cadmium is in the air from burning fossil fuels. It is also used to make batteries and is found in industrial waste. Exposure to cadmium causes a wide range of symptoms including respiratory illness, kidney disease, and cancer.
Research is discovering that exposure to mold can be even more dangerous than we thought. Exposure to toxicants produced by some molds can run a gambit of effects on a person's health and has been identified as a cause of systemic inflammatory effects. Mold likes to grow anywhere damp and warm. If you find mold in your home or work it needs to addressed immediately.
Tips to reduce toxins in your life
Rule of thumb- if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it. If you can’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin.
- Buy only organic fruits and vegetables that are free of pesticide residues.
- Buy grass-fed, hormone, and antibiotic free meats and dairy products.
- Buy fresh or frozen foods and avoid canned foods.
- Eat wild fish low in mercury, salmon, blue crab, flounder, haddock, Pollack, trout are all good options.
- Do not heat food in plastic containers - use glass.
- Avoid cooking in Teflon-coated or aluminum cookware. Stainless steel is best.
- Buy in bulk to decrease plastic packaging.
- Store food in glass jars when you get it home.
- Follow the environmental working groups dirty dozen list. Buy organic forms of the fruits and vegetables on the list. https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty_dozen_list.php
- Carry groceries in cloth bags and reuse them instead of plastic bags.
- Drink water out of glass containers rather than plastic.
- Avoid drinking tap water- purchase a high-quality drinking water and shower filter. (Learn about water filters. www.nsf.org).
- Filter your own water rather than drink filtered water out of plastic jugs.
- Know the quality of the water in your area. If you need to, get your water tested.
- Use a home air filter. Kenmore at Sears is a nice inexpensive place to start.
- Replace your furnace filters every 6 weeks with high-quality pleated filters (rated MERV 7-9).
- Consider getting an air purifier.
- Eliminate air fresheners. Use natural essential oils instead.
- Consider a personal air filter for the car or travel. www.ecoclean-az.com
- Use earth friendly, simple detergent, cleaners, and soap that have fewer chemicals.
- Use all natural cleaning agents like vinegar, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide as alternatives.
- Avoid synthetic chemicals.
- Rethink what 'looks beautiful', and avoid herbicides and pesticides.
- Use natural pest control instead of insecticides. www.pesticide.org
- Replace vinyl miniblinds, shower curtain, and placemats with fabric.
- If building a home or remodeling use earth-friendly non-toxic materials. (www.h3environmental.com www.thegreenguide.com www.akagreen.com).
- Use non-toxic dry cleaner or air out dry cleaning before bringing it into the home.
- NO new carpet, paints, pressboard furniture etc. If you need one of those things, get one specifically designed to limit off-gassing.
- Remove your shoes when you enter the home.
- Use natural organic non-bleached tampons without a plastic applicator.
- Avoid the use of fragrances and remember un-scented is not fragrance-free.
- Use only non-toxic cosmetics, lotions, shampoos, deodorant and other products.