Navigating Through the Global Sea of Chemicals
In the past few articles, I’ve extensively discussed the links between chemicals and chronic diseases.
In the first post, I explored the concepts and controversies surrounding cleansing and detoxifying. I reviewed how using a naturopathic and functional medicine and HAES (Health at Every Size) perspective could help to nourish the body while also mitigating the risks associated with chemical exposures in our foods and personal care products. Additionally, I explained how our current climate and food manufacturing processes were contributing to nutrient deficiencies and associated disorders.
Next, I dived deeper into the connections between the ubiquitous and persevering toxins in our world and long-term health conditions. I explained how children are most at risk and that without intervention the wellness of our people, future generations, and our planet would continue to deteriorate.
In the third article, I kept up with the cheery statistics relating to how we do not have the luxury to assume what we purchase is safe. I gave several examples of this including how our water, baby food, cosmetics, and personal care products could be major sources of exposures that trump our wellness goals.
I feel that to truly create a caring system of health, we need to look at this issue from all angles, starting with the individual and moving to the global community. In this post, I will reveal how the chemicals that impact us at the cellular and personal level also negatively influence our healthcare system, economy, and society. I will also discuss that to create change to benefit everyone, we must analyze and amend the flaws in the current consumer and food safety regulations and create policies and educational opportunities that allow the world and its inhabitants to flourish.
How Chemicals Effect Our Cells and Lead to Disease
Previously, I have highlighted how chemicals and toxins impact our organ systems and are associated with chronic diseases. The mechanisms on how these substances interfere with optimal functioning are vast and begin at the cellular level. According to Medicalxpress:
A new review of existing evidence proposes eight hallmarks of environmental exposures that chart the biological pathways through which pollutants contribute to disease: oxidative stress and inflammation, genomic alterations and mutations, epigenetic alterations, mitochondrial dysfunction, endocrine disruption, altered intercellular communication, altered microbiome communities, and impaired nervous system function.
In other words, these compounds act to influence physiological pathways that lead to detrimental changes in our overall wellness. This concept is especially concerning during the critical prenatal, childhood, and adolescent periods, when cognitive and hormonal processes going smoothly are imperative for healthy development.
For example, the compound BPA (bisphenol A) is found in food, beverages, and many commercial products. It is believed to be estrogenic, mimicking the structure and function of estrogen, and is therefore classified as an endocrine disruptor. As a result, it has been linked to many health issues and has been associated with fertility problems, early development, thyroid imbalances, diabetes, and many other conditions. (source, source, source, source)
Unfortunately, BPA is just one example of thousands on how a single compound can act to modulate cellular function and lead to further dysregulation with multiple and harmful outcomes.
How Chemicals Harm Our Healthcare and Economy
Beyond these individual ramifications to wellness, our healthcare and economy is also being impacted by the prevalence of these persistent pollutants. A 2016 article in Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology assessed the population-based disease burden and cost analysis of EDCs in the United States and found very alarming conclusions:
The disease costs of EDCs were much higher in the USA than in Europe ($340 billion [2·33% of GDP] vs $217 billion [1·28%]). The difference was driven mainly by intelligence quotient (IQ) points loss and intellectual disability due to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (11 million IQ points lost and 43?000 cases costing $266 billion in the USA vs 873?000 IQ points lost and 3290 cases costing $12·6 billion in the European Union). Accounting for probability of causation, in the European Union, organophosphate pesticides were the largest contributor to costs associated with EDC exposure ($121 billion), whereas in the USA costs due to pesticides were much lower ($42 billion).
Interpretation: EDC exposure in the USA contributes to disease and dysfunction, with annual costs taking up more than 2% of the GDP. Differences from the European Union suggest the need for improved screening for chemical disruption to endocrine systems and proactive prevention.
As noted above, the European Union (EU) analysis also showed the high cost of these compounds to their economy. This was reported in the 2016 article in Andrology:
The Delphi method was used to make decisions on the strength of the data. Expert panels consensus was achieved for probable (>20%) endocrine disrupting chemical causation for IQ loss and associated intellectual disability; autism; attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; endometriosis; fibroids; childhood obesity; adult obesity; adult diabetes; cryptorchidism; male infertility, and mortality associated with reduced testosterone. Accounting for probability of causation, and using the midpoint of each range for probability of causation, Monte Carlo simulations produced a median annual cost of €163 billion (1.28% of EU Gross Domestic Product) across 1000 simulations. We conclude that endocrine disrupting chemical exposures in the EU are likely to contribute substantially to disease and dysfunction across the life course with costs in the hundreds of billions of Euros per year. These estimates represent only those endocrine disrupting chemicals with the highest probability of causation; a broader analysis would have produced greater estimates of burden of disease and costs.
Both studies that have been mentioned use modeling to obtain their results, which many experts claim have caveats and flaws for both underestimating and overestimating effects. Regardless, each came to the same, dreary conclusion that these chemicals are not only leading to chronic health deterioration, but they are also causing substantial financial burdens to the world economy.
A more recent 2020 review article, Endocrine-disrupting chemicals: economic, regulatory, and policy implications, defended the rigorous methodology used to estimate economic burdens in these two nations. The authors argued if anything, the impact is most likely to be underestimated:
The economic burdens (€163 in the EU and $340 billion in the USA, annually) derived from these approaches are certain to be underestimates as they examined only a small subset of EDCs and health outcomes likely to be affected by EDC exposures.30–32 These data demonstrate that improved regulations could improve citizens’ health via reduction or elimination of exposures and result in huge economic benefits.
The review further evaluates the differences in the regulations of these compounds in the EU and the US and why there is a need for improvement. The authors call for several changes which include (1) a global agreed upon definition of EDCs, (2) improved testing, (3) an establishment of global biomonitoring, (4) mandatory provisions to chemical composition labeling, (5) inclusion of economic cost in EDC-related morbidity, (6) a hazard-based approach to regulation, and (7) the establishment for an international regulatory agency.
The conclusion states:
In the past decades, regulatory efforts and policies to decrease human exposure to EDCs have been insufficient to minimise exposure to the vast majority of EDCs.120,121 Given the overwhelming scientific evidence of EDCs as a human health hazard and the economic costs of inaction, it is clear that improved regulations are needed. As we have described, the current approach to limiting exposure to EDCs in humans is dangerously slow and insufficient. Simply too few chemicals used in commerce have been thoroughly tested for endocrine-disrupting properties, with an ever-expanding list of chemicals requiring evaluation; other serious weaknesses persist in testing approaches. Although the EU has taken positive steps toward regulating EDCs, the approach taken in the USA (and other countries) is limited or altogether absent. Regulatory bodies that have applied risk-based evaluations of regulatory options have failed to consider the full cost of EDC-related health impacts to adequately protect health. To this end, we suggest expanded and comprehensive testing strategies to conclusively identify EDCs, and a shift from a flawed, risk-based paradigm to one that proactively excludes chemicals with some evidence of hazardous properties until further detailed reassuring testing data become available. An international initiative on EDCs, which would be supported by UN, could address the weaknesses related to hazard identification and provide much-needed guidance for policies globally.
In summary, things need to change regarding regulating these substances. If nothing is done, these disturbing outcomes will only compound over generations due to the increase in body burden and pollutants released into our world.
What Can We Do?!
Although swapping our grocery list for organic and green products helps, it doesn’t go far enough on the grand scale. Furthermore, those most effected by chemical exposure may have less ability to have this kind of purchase power. For this reason, functional medicine, naturopathic medicine, and integrative doctors have been working to raise awareness of this line of medicine that crosses politics and socioeconomics. Rather than condemning organics and natural products for their expense, perhaps a solution should be political reform for a safer world by making all companies reach these standards across the board.
For example, there was a federal bill introduced in 2019 that holds “cosmetic companies accountable for the safety of the ingredients in their products; requires supply chain transparency and industry sharing of safety data to help level the playing field for small, clean cosmetic companies; closes the federal labeling loophole that allows secret—often toxic fragrance chemicals—to hide in cosmetic products; bans most animal testing; and tackles the over-exposure to toxic chemicals experienced by communities of color and professional salon workers.” You can read more about this bill here and find action steps for endorsement.
In other good news, recently six members in congress demanded “federal regulators take steps to remove phthalates and other hormone-hijacking chemicals from medical products, especially IV bags and neonatal equipment.” According to Environmental News. The article goes further to state:
“Patients should not be exposed to phthalates and EDCs [endocrine-disrupting chemicals] when they seek medical treatment,” the representatives wrote in a letter to acting Food and Drug Administration chief Dr. Janet Woodcock. “It’s also not something parents should worry about when their infant is receiving critical treatment in the neonatal intensive care unit.”
The Congresswomen called on the FDA to create a “senior level” working group to do three things:
- Review and update FDA guidelines on the use of phthalates and other hormone-hijacking chemicals in IV bags and other medical equipment;
- Identify and recommend rules needed to protect patients from toxics exposure in medical products; and
- Establish an education program to build “clinician awareness” of the risks of using medical devices with toxic additives like DEHP.
“The time for action on this health risk is long overdue,” the lawmakers said.
I already touched on what could be done to protect ourselves and our families from chemicals on an individual level in a previous post. Since regulations may not always be as stringent as we would like, it is important to stay informed and be educated consumers. I will detail more on this topic in the next follow-up article.
As far as advocating for change on a larger scale, making phone calls to legislatures and paying attention to regulatory laws is one way we can all get involved. We could contact our reps on the local and national level regularly and ask that they sponsor more bills that lead to better regulations and fund quality food and manufacturing processes. After all, they are elected by the people and should be doing what’s best for their constituents.
More and more people are noticing what is good for our planet is good for us and future generations. We cannot continue to put short-term profits and conflicts of interest ahead of our long-term goals and health of the planet. (source, source, source) We must continue to make informed choices about what we put in our body, on it, and demand that the products we surround ourselves with are not harmful to our health.
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.