We are drowning in a sea of everyday chemicals! What can we do?

In my quest to understand the profound effects of toxins on our bodies, it became glaringly evident that unravelling the mystery required a dual exploration. Delving into the impact of chemicals is only half the story; the other half involves deciphering the intricate relationship between these toxins and our immune and endocrine systems. As I embarked on this journey of discovery, it became clear that our bodies possess a remarkable ability to respond to external threats, yet, the consequences of this constant battle are profound. The more I learned about the interplay between toxins and our body’s defences, the more I realised the need to comprehend the intricate mechanisms at play

We have two sides to our immune system

At the forefront of our body’s defences lies the immune system, a natural shield. Picture it as an army with two specialised divisions: the Innate and Adaptive immune systems. 

The Innate team, honed over millions of years, swiftly identifies common threats. Complement proteins, macrophages, and natural killer cells stand vigilant, ready to engage.

The Adaptive system, ever-evolving, guards against unfamiliar invaders. B-cells craft antibodies targeting specific foes, while T-cells wait for a precise presentation before springing into action. This dynamic interplay ensures a tailored defence, armed with both memory and adaptability.

Autoimmune Diseases: When Defences Turn Inward

Yet, even the most refined systems can falter. Autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, arise when the immune system mistakes ‘self’ for ‘foreign’. 

Studies have shown occupational exposures, like vinyl chloride and silica dust, can heighten the risk, but it’s not just workplaces – everyday products may also play a role. For example, BPA, a ubiquitous chemical found in canned goods and plastics. Beyond its known endocrine-disrupting effects, it can also activate immune pathways, potentially contributing to autoimmunity. 

This underscores the importance of informed choices in our chemical-laden world.

What is the endocrine system?

Moving beyond the immune system, we encounter the endocrine system. The Endocrine System is responsible for hormonal harmony.   Picture it as the body’s orchestra, conducting a symphony of hormones that regulate various bodily functions. These include growth, metabolism, reproduction, and stress response. Disruptors, known as Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs), can throw this delicate balance into disarray.

A landmark study conducted by the University of California found that exposure to endocrine disruptors, like BPA, led to significant hormonal changes in men, affecting testosterone levels and sperm quality. These disruptions have far-reaching implications, affecting not just reproductive health but also metabolic function.

What are Endocrine Disrupting chemicals (EDCs)?

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), is a class of environmental compounds with the ability to mimic or thwart our natural hormones. Imagine them as stealthy infiltrators, capable of triggering an array of unwanted changes. 

A notable case study in Puerto Rico unveiled the alarming impact of prenatal exposure to phthalates, a common EDC. Children born to mothers with higher phthalate exposure exhibited significant cognitive impairments. This underscores the urgency to address EDCs and their pervasive presence in our environment.

Some other examples of EDCS and how we are unconsciously interacting with them

  • Bisphenol A (BPA):
    • Found in some plastics, food and beverage can linings, and thermal paper receipts. BPA can leach into food and beverages, leading to exposure.
  • Phthalates:
    • These are a group of chemicals used to soften plastics and make them more flexible. They are often found in personal care products, including cosmetics, fragrances, and nail polishes.
  • Dioxins:
    • Environmental pollutants that can be produced during the combustion of waste, industrial processes, and certain chemical reactions. They can accumulate in the food chain, particularly in fatty tissues of animals.
  • Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS):
    • Found in some non-stick cookware, water-resistant fabrics, and firefighting foams. PFOA and PFOS are part of a larger group of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs):
    • A group of man-made chemicals that were once widely used in electrical equipment, hydraulic fluids, and plasticizers. Although banned in many countries, they persist in the environment and can accumulate in the food chain.
  • Organophosphate Pesticides:
    • Widely used in agriculture to control pests. Some organophosphate pesticides have been identified as potential endocrine disruptors.
  • Hexachlorobenzene (HCB):
    • A fungicide that has been used in agriculture. It can persist in the environment and accumulate in fatty tissues.
  • Triclosan:
    • An antimicrobial agent used in some personal care products, such as antibacterial soaps and toothpaste.
  • Parabens:
    • Commonly used as preservatives in cosmetics and personal care products. Examples include methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben.

Epigenetics: How Environment Shapes Genes

Here’s where it gets fascinating. Epigenetics, the unseen hand, shapes how our genes perform. It is the chemical modifications in DNA and its associated proteins that call the shots. Certain nutrients act as guardians, countering the negative effects of toxic chemicals on gene function.

A groundbreaking study conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health illuminated the potential of nutrients like folic acid and omega-3 fatty acids to offset the harmful effects of chemicals. It revealed that individuals with higher levels of these nutrients experienced significantly reduced adverse effects from chemical exposures.

What can we do to protect ourselves?

In just 200 years, we’ve witnessed an explosion of over 90,000 industrial, food, agricultural, and personal care chemicals. This avalanche has outpaced our body’s evolutionary capacity to adapt. The consequence? A staggering surge in chronic diseases. It’s an urgent call to action, a plea to reassess our approach to health.

Armed with this knowledge, how can we safeguard our health and that of generations to come? It begins with conscious choices.  

(Side Note: I am not a doctor, so I would recommend you consult with your health practitioner before making major changes to your diet, particularly if you have ongoing medical conditions.  The below recommendations are based on extensive internet research and studies referenced below).

  • Eat these superheroes of nutrition. Folic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, iodine, and antioxidants, they all wield the power to offset the harmful effects of chemicals. They ensure our genes continue to harmonise with our environment, offering a formidable defence against potential harm.
    • Folic acid, also known as folate or B9, is commonly found in green leafy vegetables and has been shown to offset the damaging effects of BPA in mice that were exposed to BPA in their mother’s womb
    • Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish, eggs, nuts, oils, chia and flax seeds, and leafy greens, have been shown to offset the toxic effects of BPA, lead, mercury, and dioxin (found in air pollution from trash incinerators), in both animal and human studies
    • Iodine intake (in appropriate amounts) during pregnancy and while nursing can offset the effects of various environmental pollutants, such as nitrates, thiocyanate, and perchlorate (found in rocket fuel and industrial-level produce washes), which can disrupt normal thyroid function and negatively affect fetal brain development. Please speak to your doctor before making changes to your diet
    • Quercetin, an antioxidant nutrient also known as a “flavonoid,” found under the skin of apples and onions, has been shown to be protective against polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), BPA, and methylmercury exposure in animal studies
    • Iron, calcium, and vitamin C intake, resulting in sufficient blood levels, have been shown to be protective in children exposed to lead, resulting in less lead absorption
    • Iron intake, ensuring adequate levels in the blood, helps to reduce absorption in children of cadmium, a metal that is toxic to the brain
    • Cruciferous vegetables, have a variety of vitamins, antioxidants, and sulphur-containing compounds that help detoxify the body, assisting in the breakdown of many environmental chemicals into less-harmful compounds
  • Prioritise Organic, Whole Foods: Opt for organic produce to minimise exposure to pesticides and herbicides. Embrace a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods to nourish your body and support its natural detoxification mechanisms.
  • Limit Plastic Use: Reduce your reliance on single-use plastics. Opt for glass or stainless steel containers for food storage and choose natural fiber clothing over synthetic materials.
  • Mindful Personal Care Products: Opt for personal care products with minimal chemical additives. Look for labels that boast natural, organic ingredients.
  • Support Advocacy for Chemical Safety: Stay informed about advocacy efforts to regulate and limit the use of harmful chemicals in consumer products. Support organisations working towards chemical safety.
  • Stay Engaged in Research: Stay updated on the latest scientific findings regarding environmental toxins and their impact on health. Knowledge empowers us to make informed choices.

Remember, each choice we make is a step towards a healthier, more vibrant future for ourselves and the generations to come.


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