There are an estimated 84,000 different chemicals in our environment and 700 new ones are released every year. The majority of these have never been tested for safety. Chemicals that are tested are done in isolation, yet in the real world are bodies are bombarded by hundreds of chemicals and it is the total toxic burden that overwhelms our body’s natural defences. These chemicals enter our bodies every day through food, water, air, health and beauty aids, furniture, clothing and more. Scientific evidence is pointing to chemical exposures as major contributors to cancer, reproductive problems, early puberty, autoimmune disease, Autism, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other neurological and metabolic disruptions.
Our bodies have not yet evolved the mechanisms to defend against the assault of modern chemicals. I had a patient who was a very tough military veteran. He had survived the unimaginable and was quite psychologically resilient. But the mosquito coils that he slept with for years in while posted in Germany emitted a potent neurotoxin intended to paralyze mosquitos. Unfortunately the mosquito coils also poisoned his nervous system and was the likely cause of the rare neuro-muscular disorder he developed, and eventually succumbed to. As tough as he was as a person, his physical systems had never evolved the mechanisms to withstand these toxins.
Canadians spend 90% of their time inside, which means we spend most of our daily lives exposed to chemicals found in common household items and dust. We all have of toxins stored in our body and are passing them to our children. Babies are being born with chemicals in their system. In a US study, there were an average of 287 chemicals detected in umbilical cord blood, 217 of which are toxic to the brain and nervous system. At Simon Fraser University, research showed that those babies whose mother’s had the highest concentration of chemicals had a lower IQ at age five.
Some chemical exposure is beyond our control, but we can choose which chemicals are entering our homes through the products we buy. Environmental Defence, a Canadian organization that promotes environmental health, has created a list of the chemicals in consumer products that cause the worst damage to human health. These “Toxic Ten” include flame retardants, parabens, phthalates, petrolatum, silicone (the latter four are commonly found in over the counter skin and hair care products), and perfluorinated compounds (PFC, PFAS – found in water resistant products such as Scotchguard, Gore-tex, Teflon, raincoats, food wrappers, and microwave popcorn bags).
According to Health Canada, flame retardants are found in many consumer products including foam in mattresses, pillows and stuffed toys, in fabrics such as clothing, tents, rugs, and upholstery, and other products like computers, plastics, paint, foam used in construction, glues and more. Health Canada states that the health effects of these chemicals may include effects on development, reproduction and increased risk of cancer. Research has shown that they are hormone disruptors, can alter thyroid function in pregnant women, and can cause neurodevelopmental problems in children (such as lowered IQ, Autism, and ADHD).
Parabens can easily be absorbed through the skin and are commonly found in lipstick and other make-up, skin care products and deodorant. Parabens are strong estrogen mimickers, androgen (male hormone) disruptors, blockers of detoxifying agents in the body, and more. For instance, they are known to disrupt five out of the seven mechanisms cells use to protect themselves from breast cancer.
BPA’s are found in plastic food and water containers, tin / soda can lining, cash register receipts and more. They are known hormone and immune system disruptors, and the newer BPA substitutes may be just as bad. Consumers have demanded the reduction of BPA’s in food packaging and are buying metal water bottles instead of drinking from plastic water bottles. Educated consumer using their buying power will be what moves our society from a toxic soup to a cleaner world.
These household toxins combine to create an unprecedented toxic burden to our bodies, and I haven’t even gotten started talking about pesticides in foods, chemicals in medicines, and the toxins we knowingly ingest in artificial sweeteners, cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. They all adds up. But you can make a difference. Knowledge is power.
Naturopathic doctors help their patients to prevent and address disease by engaging them in strategies to remove stresses on the body, including the build-up of chemical toxins. We can test you for toxic burden (“CORE” by Genova Diagnostics) and support you in a program to detoxify your home and your body. Next month we’ll talk about steps you can take to reduce your exposure to toxins in your home. Also check out the Toxic Ten Pocket Guide at environmentaldefence.ca.