The Toxic World We Live In & The Dirty Little Secrets That Many Do Not Know
In the first part of this series, I started my discussion on why it is important to consider what our body is up against regarding exposures to toxins in our food supply and in our environment. I reviewed:
- The associations between environmental chemicals and various health conditions.
- How most food manufacturing practices harm the environment and lead to the depletion of vital nutrients in the global population by producing ultra-processed, chemicalized foods.
- Why organic foods and natural products can help mitigate the risks of toxic exposure, while acknowledging that there are socioeconomic factors in regard to their availability and accessibility.
- That the corruption of nutritional science and corporate capture of food is contributing to social injustice and health discrimination.
I also explored the controversies on the topic of cleansing and detoxing between integrative and naturopathic doctors and the anti-diet and HAES (Health at Every Size) community. I explained how to bridge the divide by offering solutions to shield the body from detrimental compounds while still honoring body diversity and nourishing individuals with sufficient, nutrient-rich foods.
In this post, I will outline in more detail how the prevalence of these harmful chemicals in our world are persistent and are resulting in the deterioration of the health of the planet, its people, and our economy.
For the faint of heart, and/or those tired of dreary news, I do want to assure you there are means to use this information for empowerment. As an educated consumer, it is my hope that you will become aware and motivated to take the necessary actions to avoid the exposures under your control and support your body naturally to mitigate their negative repercussions.
The Pervasive Pollutants That Persist in Our Environment and In Our Bodies
From the statistics I previously provided, it is evident that everyday exposures are unavoidable and unescapable. It would be nice if we could simply be exposed and excrete the chemicals quickly with no aftermath. Unfortunately, many of them stick around in our bodies for long periods of time and cause harm. One category, Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), bioaccumulate through the food chain and pass from one species to the next, adversely affecting human health and the environment around the world. They can be transported by wind and water; therefore, most POPs generated in one country affect people and wildlife far from where they are used and released. (source, source)
In a U.N. document, it was explained why the “dirty dozen” POP chemicals that were banned in an international treaty can harm humans and wildlife. According to an NBC news article, which lists these twelve chemicals, these POPs have many dangers:
- “Specific effects can include cancer, allergies and hypersensitivity, damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, reproductive disorders, and disruption of the immune system. Some POPs are also considered to be endocrine disrupters, which, by altering the hormonal system, can damage the reproductive and immune systems of exposed individuals as well as their offspring; they can also have developmental and carcinogenic effects.
- In addition, POPs concentrate in living organisms through another process called bioaccumulation. Though not soluble in water, POPs are readily absorbed in fatty tissue, where concentrations can become magnified by up to 70,000 times the background levels. Fish, predatory birds, mammals, and humans are high up the food chain and so absorb the greatest concentrations. When they travel, the POPs travel with them. As a result of these two processes, POPs can be found in people and animals living in regions such as the Arctic, thousands of miles from any major POPs source.”
A few years ago, I wrote a two-part series in Natural Path. In Psst…The Dirty Little Secret That May Kill You! Is There Hope for a “Cleaner” Future? I discussed how the chemical soup world we are living in has been surrounding us and infecting us for years, with many not being aware of it. These toxins are also pervasive, persistent, and expansive:
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Toxicology Program, there are over 80,000 chemicals that are registered for use in the United States. Furthermore, approximately 2000 new ones are being introduced every year.1 These ubiquitous substances are found in most of the products we purchase, from the foods we eat, to the water we drink, the air we breathe, and, even in the dust in our homes.1-9
Unfortunately, our bodies are serving as “chemical reservoirs.” In fact, in 2009, the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) issued their fourth report tracking results on human exposure from nationally representative samples. They found that the average volunteer had over 200 chemicals in their body. More concerning, was that many of them had never been seen in previous studies.2 This demonstrated the alarming rate of release of various new and potentially harmful compounds for our bodies to store.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit, non-partisan organization whose aim is to safeguard human health and the environment, reported the following results from their survey in 2012:
One of every 5 adults are potentially exposed every day to all of the top 7 carcinogenic impurities common to personal care product ingredients …. The average woman uses 12 products containing 168 unique ingredients every day. Men, on the other hand, use 6 products daily with 85 unique ingredients, on average.3
The Multigenerational Impact of Toxic Exposures
Concerningly, children are most at risk of harms from these chemicals due to their developing brains. This makes it more imperative for adults to decrease their own bioaccumulation.
In my article, Why Is Avoiding Such Small Chemicals Such a Big Topic in Health? I explained more about the connection to prenatal and early age exposure and the impact on long-term health. I also highlighted why organic foods are not necessarily a “dietary choice” for greater nutrient content. Rather, for those who can afford it, foods that have lower pesticide residues are a controllable means to avoid additional chemicals and toxins.
Although some may argue that there is inclusive evidence that chemicals affect our children’s and our own health, their arguments are becoming silenced by more science. The research is overwhelming supporting that environmental exposures are linked to negative health outcomes. Furthermore, results that previously reported no harmful associations are being revealed as flawed.
Internationally, organizations are voicing their concerns and highlighting heart-breaking evidence of what results when children are exposed. In fact, just recently the United Nations reported on their website that two of their experts were urging the phasing out of pesticides in farming. The article stated,
Chronic exposure to pesticides has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, hormone disruption, developmental disorders and sterility. Farmers and agricultural workers, communities living near plantations, indigenous communities and pregnant women and children are particularly vulnerable to pesticide exposure and require special protections.
The experts particularly emphasized the obligation of States to protect the rights of children from hazardous pesticides, also warning that certain pesticides can persist in the environment for decades and pose a threat to the entire ecological system on which food production depends.
In February (2017), the Harvard School of Public Health posted the findings of “A report prepared for the European Parliament, co-authored by Harvard Chan School’s Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health, which outlines the health benefits of eating organic food and practicing organic agriculture.” The article further states:
“The most important information in this report is about pesticides in food. In conventional food, there are pesticide residues that remain in the food even after it’s washed. Organic foods are produced virtually without pesticides.
Authorities in both the European Union and the United States insist that current limits on the amount of pesticides in conventional produce are adequate to ensure that it’s perfectly safe. But those limits are based on animal studies, looking at the effect of one pesticide at a time. The human brain is so much more complex than the rat brain, and our brain development is much more vulnerable because there are so many processes that have to happen at the right time and in the right sequence—you can’t go back and do them over.”
In a more recent peer-reviewed study from February 2021, “Neurotoxicity of Ortho-Phthalates: Recommendations for Critical Policy Reforms to Protect Brain Development in Children,” researchers reported how ortho-phthalates act as neurotoxic chemicals that increase children’s risks for learning, focus, and behavioral disorders. They specifically found a link between prenatal exposures to phthalates and attention problems. The review also detailed regulatory suggestions on how these abundant toxins found throughout the environment, in personal care products, food packaging, and building materials should be phased out and eliminated in order to protect our little ones’ brains.
This paper was one piece of research and information from a collaboration of scientists who belong to Project TENDR (Targeting Environmental Neuro-Development Risks). According to their website, “We came together in 2015 out of concern over the now substantial scientific evidence linking toxic environmental chemicals to neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder, attention deficits, hyperactivity, intellectual disability and learning disorders.”
With the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke recognizing the impact of environmental toxins contributing to neurotoxicity, we simply do not have the luxury to ignore that the environment we inhabit and what we do for ourselves as adults, parents, and parents-to-be echoes throughout generations.
Conclusion and Some Solutions
We are being impacted negatively by the chemicals and manufacturing byproducts in our environment and our household and personal care products. These substances can persist for years and often impact our health as under- detected factors that affect symptomology in a variety of ways. Unfortunately, the youngest are the most vulnerable.
Thankfully, there are solutions and options. Those who have the means to buy organic foods can increase demand by purchasing it, driving the prices down and crowding out harmful, chemicalized food products. We have seen this “trickle-down effect” in areas of lower socioeconomic means which now offer affordable organic and natural options that were previously not available.
Even for those who cannot afford to eat completely organic or buy green-based products, inexpensive ingredients from the kitchen can be used to make DIY green cleaning alternatives. There is also the option to decrease pesticide bioaccumulation found on produce by avoiding the dirty dozen.
As a naturopathic doctor, I feel we all must be aware that the impact of chemicals on health is often an overlooked contributor, and even causative, factor of cognitive, hormonal, digestive, reproductive, neurological, and other symptoms. By not addressing the chemical burden of our environment and the impact on our health, we are paying, big time, in our own medical bills, our children’s health, and in the destruction of our food supply and earth home.
In the next article, I review the economic and societal burdens of toxins. I discuss why cleansing and detoxifying by avoiding toxins are also social justice, environmental, and healthcare issues that need to be addressed by the individual and through governmental and manufacturing policies. The fact that it is economically infeasible for many to be able to significantly shift their risks due to the inability to afford safer foods, personal care products, and cleaning options is outrageous.
Finally, in another post, I will be concluding the series with other steps to take to “green your home and body.”
Mental Health Resources
*If you are experiencing a mental health crisis and/or are suicidal, please seek professional mental health support:
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (U.S.) — Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Crisis Text Line — Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor
- Lifeline Crisis Chat — Chat online with a specialist who can provide emotional support, crisis intervention and suicide prevention services at www.crisischat.org
Other Helpful Resources
Below are some of the highlights of the many free resources on this website:
- Four Essential Oils Blends for Supporting the Mind-Body and Easing Tension
- VIDEO: How Your Brain and Body Suffer with Too Much Stress & Naturopathic Medicine Tips for Calming the Mind and Relieving Overwhelm
- Video Recap: Essential Oils to Ease the Stress & Anxiety of Back to School
- The Importance of Fun, Music, & Play for Mental Health
- Video Recap: Essential Oils for Brain and Mental Health & Soothing Stress
- 10 Natural Ways to Relieve Stress and Calm the Mind-Body During Trying Times
- Video: A Naturopathic Doctor’s Approach to Thyroid Health Using Essential Oils: Video Recap & Additional Resources
Additional Supportive Techniques & Tools
- The Tapping Solution, A Technique to Lower Cortisol and Reduce Stress- Podcast interview by Dr. Kara Fitzgerald with Nick Ortner.
- Stress management tips and resources
Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
According to experts and the World Health Organization (WHO), there is no approved standard of care treatment, cure, or preventative for COVID-19. Supportive measures and containment are in full force as a result. Please see the CDC website and your state’s website for more information and updates. They also state when to contact your physician related to symptoms and travel history, exposures. Please read my more detailed article on this subject here.
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.