Toxins in Everyday Life
We live in a sea of toxins. Worldwide, exposure to chemical pollutants continues to increase, resulting in increased contamination of our air, water and food supply. In the developed world wise laws have been passed and often even enforced which have led to reductions in air and water pollution of several known toxins, yet at the same time thousands of new and untested “bio-active” chemicals are being introduced. Likewise, science continues to discover new health threats from existing chemicals, such as endocrine system impairments from estrogen-mimicking pesticides.
The petrochemical industry has grown from isolated experimentation a hundred years ago to a multi-billion dollar industry today, from a handful of researchers to thousands of petrochemical producers making millions of tons of both old and new chemicals — most of which are toxic. Yet today even individuals who consider themselves generally well-informed are unaware of the many sources of toxins in their immediate environment and the threat they can pose to health.
One of the easiest ways to visualize the impact on your own health is to see yourself as a boat afloat in a sea of toxins. If a boat is trustworthy, it can carry a specified load without problem. Good News! If your general health is good, your body can process a certain amount of environmental and other toxins without any apparent problem. (See How the Body Detoxifies Itself, and to learn how to assist your body’s natural detoxification abilities, check out How to Detox).
But a craft may not be seaworthy, and no boat can keep afloat if it is simply overloaded. Similarly, even the strongest immune system can be swamped if overloaded with too many toxins.
In your day-to-day life, you are exposed to toxins on numerous levels, some within your control, some totally outside it, and others somewhere in between. Accordingly, it makes sense to learn something about the various kinds of exposure that you encounter daily, in order to make informed choices to reduce your overall level of toxic intake.
It may be helpful to think of yourself as standing on the bull’s eye in a series of concentric circles. The bull’s eye marks the area that lies within your control. Each ring radiating outward means less personal control in areas where you interface — your home, neighborhood, workplace, and your community.
Internal Metabolic Toxins
At the center of the target — the first level of toxic exposure — are internal bodily toxins. These are the natural byproducts of your metabolism, which the body’s natural detoxification processes are designed to handle. Those natural detoxification processes can be overwhelmed if the body generates an excess of internal toxins, for example when a prescription for antibiotics kills off the friendly intestinal flora, allowing unfriendly microbes such as Candida albicans — a yeast bacteria — to proliferate. The yeast generates high levels of toxins. The best way to deal with internal toxins is through a safe and natural detox program. You can learn the difference between a safe, effective natural detox program and a brainless fast to lose weight in our article: Why We Need to Detox.
The need to love and be loved qualifies as a physical need. Conversely, another source of internal toxins that most people do not consider are emotional toxins. The potential sources are numerous. Whether unresolved trauma or abuse that occurred, or unhappy relationships with a significant other, a boss, or even a neighbor. The pursuit of vibrant physical health is undermined when these unresolved emotional toxins are not dealt with directly. Complicating this process is the fact that though a person can leave a job or even a spouse, or avoid a relative or neighbor — the simple fact is that unresolved trauma doesn’t just go away, nor can one move away from it. Work with a counselor or mental health care provider can be helpful in launching the process, but ultimately it’s a spiritual journey in the deepest sense. Emotional toxins are ultimately under your control, but mastering them can be the battle of a lifetime.
Consumable toxins are toxins that enter your body directly by way of your mouth. Here, you have the greatest amount of control. You decide what goes into your mouth. But to make that decision wisely requires knowledge of the sources of “consumable toxins.” They include water-borne toxins, some foods (particularly for the millions of people with food allergies), chemical additives in packaged foods and beverages, tobacco and alcohol, pharmaceutical drugs, “recreational” drugs, over-the-counter drugs, and toxins absorbed from dental work. (See How to Detox.)
Toxins Absorbed Through the Skin
The next ring also allows a high level of personal control. It involves toxins found in anything that is applied to or absorbed by your skin. Sources of toxins in this category can include not only personal care products, such as cosmetics and hygiene supplies, but also some sources you may not have considered. For example, PVA (poly-vinyl alcohol) — the carcinogenic formaldehyde-based substance that creates “perma-press” fabrics — can be absorbed by your skin. The skin can also absorb chemical or fragrance additives to soaps and cleansers. Fortunately, many new non-toxic personal care alternatives have begun to appear on the market. More information on skin detox and ways to reduce the skin’s exposure to toxins can be found in our article on Skin Detoxification.
(By the way, we’ve found that when people begin to learn about all these toxic threats, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. If you should begin to feel an acute episode of information overload coming on, try this article on Why We Need to Detox.)
Environmental Toxins in Your Home Environment
The third circle of your toxic load involves substances you encounter in your immediate personal environment: your home, garden or automobile. While still under your control, these areas often have to be negotiated with other people. Household exposure affects other family members, and garden exposure might have to be shared with neighbors. Still, your level of control over pollutants from these sources remains relatively high. These toxins can include biological pollutants — such as pollen, dust, mold, mildew, animal dander and bacteria — or chemical pollutants found in the house, garden and auto. They include outgassing from carpet and furniture or radiation from smoke alarms. Radon, a naturally occurring form of radioactive gas found in many soils may also be present. Electromagnetic fields (EMF), waves of electrical energy emitted by home electrical wiring and electrical devices including computers and appliances, is almost certainly present. Additionally, chemical agents are found in cleaning compounds, waxes and polishes, disinfectants, garage fumes, insecticides, weed killers, and car-care products. Detoxifying your home is one of the greatest contributions you can make to your health and your family.
Unless you work at home, you have less control in terms of work environment, where toxic exposure may be controlled by fellow employees, bosses, and building owners or managers. Many of the toxins found in offices or work environments duplicate those found in the household — for example, carpet outgassing, cleaning compounds, insecticides, and disinfectants. But office environments also carry the risk of chemicals used in clerical work, such as photocopier toners, “white out” and glues, or the effects of sick building syndrome. Many work environments bring exposure from automotive fumes or chemicals, chemicals associated with carpentry, construction, or manufacturing, or exposure to agricultural chemicals.
Fortunately, there are now many environmentally friendly cleaners and other household products that are made from natural ingredients.
Environmental Toxins in Your City or Community
The largest circle, and the one over which you have the least immediate control, is your community. The type of toxic exposure experienced at the community level can vary widely depending on whether you live in an urban, suburban or rural environment. Urban residents face increased exposure to lead, to air-borne particulates from diesel engines, and to contamination from industrial sites. Suburban residents run the risk of air pollution from commuting or chemical exposures from golf courses and gardens, while rural residents are more likely to encounter high levels of fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. There are basically two ways to protect your and your family’s health from the threat of toxins found in the community.
First, you can insulate your personal environment somewhat from community toxins — for example by increasing the number of air-filtering plants in and around your house, or by using an air filter indoors. Second, you can join others in your community to press for a healthier environment. Life can become very rewarding when your concern for personal health starts to extend towards positive action for the health of our communities and planet. It’s certainly more fulfilling than junk food!
In this toxic sea upon which we sail, its easy to see how even a well-constructed and well-maintained boat can become swamped with toxins. It takes an active crew for safe sailing. If you bring awareness to the process, and start making active choices, you can protect yourself and your loved ones.