Detoxing: How to avoid toxin exposure and support detoxification
Published April 13, 2021
What is detoxification?
Detoxification is a vital cellular task. The process of detoxification involves the mobilisation, biotransformation, and elimination of potentially harmful toxins.
What are toxins?
Toxins are chemical compounds the body absorbs from our environment or produces as a byproduct of natural processes in the body. Our body can absorb environmental toxins in several ways:
- Toxins we breathe — Common toxins you find in the air include cigarette smoke, car fumes, synthetic air fresheners and perfumes.
- What we eat and drink — Our body works to detox common we consume including, pesticide residue on produce, medications, excessive alcohol and food additives.
- What we put on our skin — Our skin absorbs synthetic compounds throughout the day including lotions, shampoos and perfumes and synthetics dyes from our clothing.
How does your body detoxify & eliminate these toxins?
Your body has well-developed channels of detoxification and elimination. These include:
- The skin —The skin helps provides a barrier against harmful substances, from bacteria and viruses to heavy metals and chemical toxins.
- The respiratory system — Fine hairs inside the nose trap dirt and large particles that may be inhaled. Smaller particles that make it to the lungs are expelled from the airways in mucus.
- The immune system —The immune system recognises foreign substances and eliminates them from the body.
- The intestines —The intestines screen out parasites and other foreign substances before nutrients are absorbed into the blood from the colon. The intestines also play a vital role in eliminating toxins from the bowel after they have been broken down by the liver.
- The liver —The liver neutralizes harmful metals like lead, cadmium, and mercury to prepare for their elimination from the body. Liver cells also produce groups of enzymes that regulate the metabolism of drugs, harmful chemicals and other toxins.
- The kidneys —The kidneys filter out waste substances and move them out of the body.
Can we help the body detoxify?
If you are wanting to support your body’s natural detoxification processes, recommendations include:
- Minimising exposure to environmental toxins
- Supporting the body’s natural processes of detoxification
Why minimise your exposure to environmental toxins
Exposure to toxins in our environment has been linked to several conditions. Some of the most common include exacerbation of asthma and allergy symptoms. Lung cancer from smoking and lung conditions associated with asbestos and silica dust exposure has had a major impact on the lives of many people.
Other emerging conditions are now being linked to what is known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). EDC’s are compounds that interfere with your hormones, and how they work. The chemicals classified as EDCs are very diverse. They include pesticides, fungicides, plastics, plasticisers, industrial solvents, heavy metals, and pharmaceutical agents.
EDCs may be found in many everyday products including plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics and pesticides.
While the debate continues about the effect of individual EDCs on human health, one thing that is emerging from the research is how the impact of exposure to EDC mixtures (multiple EDCs) throughout your lifespan may be more of any issue. This, coupled with the fact that EDCs can be stored in body fat and released slowly into the body, has Endocrinologists urging people to maintain a healthy weight and reduce further exposure to EDCs.
Sources of environmental toxins?
Understanding where environmental toxins are present in your life can help you reduce your exposure to toxins that may exacerbate respiratory conditions and prevent the build-up of EDC mixtures.
Indoor air pollutants
Indoor air pollutants can include moulds, pesticides, volatile organic compounds (often found in paint and adhesives), chemicals generated by cooking with gas or burning wood in a fireplace.
Outdoor air pollutants
Outdoor air pollutants include carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide (all chemicals from the combustion of fossil fuels) and particulate matter. Particulate matter is extremely small solid particles and liquid droplets suspended in the air. Particulate matter consists of a variety of components including nitrates, sulphates, organic chemicals, metals, soil or dust particles, pollens and mould spores. Particle pollution mainly comes from cars, wood-burning heaters and industry.
Heavy metals in the environment
Heavy metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium are common heavy metals we can be exposed to in the environment.
- Lead — Exposure to lead occurs mainly via inhalation of lead-contaminated dust particles or aerosols, and ingestion of lead-contaminated food and water.
- Mercury — People are exposed to mercury through accidents, environmental pollution, food contamination (especially seafood), dental care, preventive medical practices, industrial and agricultural operations, and occupational operations.
- Cadmium — The main route of exposure to cadmium is via inhalation of cigarette smoke.
- Arsenic — Diet, for most individuals, is the largest source of exposure, particularly if food is grown in an area with arsenic in the soil or where pesticides have been used. Workers may produce or use arsenic compounds in vineyards, ceramics, glass-making, smelting, metal refining, pesticide manufacturing and application, wood preservation and semiconductor manufacturing.
Pesticides & pesticide residues
Household and industry use of pesticides may lead to environmental exposure to toxins.
Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)
POPs are a diverse group of chemicals characterised by their longevity in the environment and the body. They include chemicals used in herbicides, old pesticides, flame retardants, stain repellants, antiwrinkle compounds in clothes and non-stick compounds in cookware.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
VOCs are a large group of chemicals characterized by their low molecular weight and volatility. They include solvents, fuels and synthetic fragrances. They have been shown to interfere with cellular membranes.
“Plasticisers” used to improve flexibility or resiliency in a product include endocrine-disrupting compounds called phthalates, and stabilisers and dyes may contain toxic metals such as lead or cadmium (leading to recalls of children’s items such as toys, etc.).
Tips to reduce exposure to environmental toxins
While we can’t escape chemicals in the environment, there are simple changes you can make to help prevent overexposure to a mixture of chemical compounds:
- Clean water — Using a water filter can help remove further chemicals from your water.
- Organic — Buy organic food to reduce the use of pesticides in the environment and to reduce exposure to chemical residue on food.
- Wash fresh produce — Wash all fresh produce before eating to reduce chemical residue.
- Grass-fed meat — Choose grass-fed meat, free-range poultry, and wild-caught seafood where possible.
- Buy Australian grown — Buy Australian grown food. Australia has different pesticide regulations than some other countries.
- Kitchen items — Buy food in glass or BPA-free containers. Use stainless steel, ceramic or cast-iron cookware rather than aluminium or non-stick cookware.
- Food storage — Swap plastic food storage for glass. Swap plastic wrap and aluminium foil for beeswax wraps. Use silicone tray liners for baking.
- Buy natural personal care products — Many personal care products contain synthetic ingredients. Try natural body lotions, shampoos, conditioners, hair dye, deodorants, moisturisers, perfumes and cosmetics.
- Sunscreen — Use sunscreens with physical blockers, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These sit on top of the skin, rather than being absorbed by it.
- Natural cleaning products — Use vinegar and bi-carb to clean or choose natural household cleaning products.
- Natural fibres — Wear natural fibres and avoid synthetic fabrics and dyes.
- Natural fragrances — Use natural fragrances based on essential oils instead of synthetic fragrances.
- Exercise & maintain a healthy weight — Exercising and maintaining a body fat percentage will help prevent the storing of EDCs in body fat and reduce your exposure to these chemicals over time.
- Renovating your home — When renovating your home, learn about what chemicals you could come in contact with. Could there be lead in your old paint? What chemicals will be in the new paint you use? Are you getting new furniture, carpets, bedding? Will they come with flame retardants or memory foam? What chemicals could you potentially be exposed too? Keeping your home well ventilated will help reduce your exposure as will an air purifier.
Detoxification is a vital cellular function and with the increase in environmental pollutants since the mid 20th century, our need to detoxify well to prevent chronic disease has never been more important. Minimising your exposure to environmental toxins will ease the burden on your detoxification pathways, helping them better metabolise endogenous toxins as well as prevent disease.
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