Household Toxins: What They Are and How to Fight Back
One of the most challenging issues facing practitioners who treat patients with chronic multisymptom illnesses is identifying the exact triggers. These triggers could include food, infections, pathologies, genetics, nutrition, hormonal deficiencies, chemicals, heavy metals, stress, head injuries, and many other unknowns. When segments of these triggers are focused on and related to their environmental causes, the literature can get very specific; however, in real-life situations, it is often very difficult to clinically separate one factor from another. The question then remains: how can we best identify and isolate the core issues without breaking the bank in test costs?
The reality is that for far too long we’ve ignored the impact of environmental toxins on our health. This is because conventional medicine has largely viewed the body as separate from the world around us, and this is working to our detriment. Our modern world today is oversaturated with environmental toxins which are infiltrating our bodies at unprecedented rates. These at-home and/or occupational exposures may sometimes be acute (high levels of toxicity) or chronic (low-level and continuous). The number of toxins we are exposed to on a daily basis is in the tens of thousands. Simply put, we cannot deny their effects on our health any longer.
The Sources of Toxins
If this is the first time you’re hearing about the scope of environmental toxins present in our everyday lives and their impact on our health, the sheer number of them may surprise you.
These include, but are not limited to:
- Pesticides present in our food
- Off-gas chemicals from new furniture or mattresses
- Chemicals currently permitted in cosmetics and personal care products
- Air contaminants
- Hormones, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals present in our public water supply
- Hidden mold growths which release mycotoxins
- Aluminum and nonstick cookware which release heavy metals into your food
- Chemicals from printers and electronics
- Gas and supplementary toxins from stoves and heaters
- Toxic household cleaning products
- Dust mites
- Airborne viruses and bacteria
- Pet dander
- Cigarette smoke
Each item on this list has startling facts to back them. To name one particularly shocking one, an Environmental Watch Group (EWG) report co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found 20 different pesticides on a single batch of strawberries. In another environmental working group study, 200 common everyday chemicals out of 287 examined were found in the umbilical cord blood of newborns. These everyday toxins included pesticides, consumer product ingredients, and wastes from burning coal, gasoline, and garbage with 180 of these chemicals being known carcinogens.
The bottom line is that the sheer number of highly-toxic chemicals and biotoxins present in every aspect of life is a cause of serious concern. Yet, with there being so many different types of toxins and routes of exposure, this fact can be overwhelming. I can assure you, however, that by taking the time to learn more and make the appropriate lifestyle changes, you can significantly reduce the effects of environmental toxins in your life over time. The first step, however, is understanding this toxic burden as a cumulative effect with compounding consequences.
Which Toxins Make Us Sick?
Sadly, the toxins and chemicals that are released as part of our manufactured goods have practically no oversight. Sometimes it takes medical researchers years and even decades to fully realize the impact. These are most present today in personal care products, flame retardants on sofas, mattresses and carpets, and also pesticides in our foods (which are found in rates as high as 70% in conventionally grown food).
The net sum of toxins in our everyday environment, still largely unknown to us, have been linked to:
- Neurodegenerative diseases
- Developmental defects
- Brain disorders
- Endocrine related disorders
- Fertility issues
- Fibroid tumors
- Autoimmune disease
Since we can’t count on the government to keep us safe from these toxins, it’s up to us to learn take the necessary precautions to protect ourselves.
So, what are the most damaging chemicals and toxins that persist in our day-to-day lives? Here are the most commons ones I have encountered in my long career practicing medicine.
Bisphenol A (BPA)
BPA is an endocrine disruptor which mimics estrogen in the body. BPA is found in hardened plastic products, can linings, dental sealants and feminine care products. BPA is present in over half of all canned products, levels tested at levels high enough to cause birth defects. The highest levels were found to be present in chicken soup, ravioli and infant formulas. For those infants who are exposed, studies have found them to have weaker liver detoxification enzymes, particularly glucuronidation, leading to 11-fold more BPA’s in newborns and 5 fold more BPA’s in 3-6 month olds than adults.
BPA has also been associated with numerous health conditions including infertility in men and women, developmental disorders, increase risk of cancer, depression, aggression, diabetes, and obesity in children. There is also a tenuous link between BPA and polycystic ovary syndrome, premature delivery, asthma, and poor function of the liver, thyroid, and brain.
“Fragrances” & Phthalates
The term “fragrance” is used as a catch-all label for thousands of different kinds of chemicals, many of which are harmful to our health. Some of the worst chemicals that hide under the name fragrance are phthalates which have been associated with hormonal defects and dysfunction. EWG found fragrance to be the hidden name for phthalates in 75% of 72 products sampled. Phthalates are thus the most common groups of toxins found in our daily lives due to their widespread use. They can be found in cosmetics, perfumes, cleaning products, plastic, baby products (even teething rings and sippy cups), printing inks, paper coatings, and more.
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)
PFOA is found in Teflon coated pans, Gore-Tex, stain resistant carpet, and furniture. The toxin builds up in the body and is responsible for altering hormonal processes causing infertility, cancer, and developmental issues.
Found in furniture, household products, and interior car furnishings, vinyl chloride has been associated with liver damage, headaches, degenerative bone conditions, and enlargement of the spleen.
A byproduct of the combustion of crude oils, benzene is utilized in gasoline to prevent engine knocking and as a solvent in the rubber and surface coating industries.
Benzene and its by-products such as phenol, toluene and MTBE are common off-gases from furniture, carpets, and drapes. They have been associated with cancer, birth defects and immune abnormalities. The danger with these chemicals is that they bind to tissues and initiate an antibody immune reaction to the chemical attached to tissue protein, resulting in an autoimmune response.
When first exposed chronically to low-level industrial exposures of these toxins, subtle visual changes are often the first sign. Gas station workers, for example, have some of the highest levels for tragically obvious reasons. Eye irritation, burning of the nose and throat, headaches, skin rashes and memory defects are the earliest symptoms.
Found in bug sprays, pyrethroids have been linked to ADHD, autism, and premature death.
Found in pesticides, insect repellents, cleaners, and paints, xylene has been associated with severe oxidative stress, nausea, vomiting, and depression.
Present in building materials, plastics, and food packaging, styrene has been associated with dysfunction of the central nervous system, muscle weakness, and irritation of mucous membranes.
A very common toxin commonly found in insecticides and lice shampoo, organophosphates have been associated with abnormal behavior, aggression, depression, autism, developmental disorders, and shortened pregnancy.
2, 4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic (2,4-D)
GMO Foods such as soybeans and corn often include 2,4-D. 2,4-D is a known endocrine disruptor which means it impacts the hormones in your body and knocks them off balance.
Although not ubiquitous, silicone is used in rhinoplasty procedures, calf enhancement for body builders and, of course, breast augmentation. Silicone has been associated with many autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid factor, antinuclear antibodies, and antibodies against brain tissue (specifically myelin) as well as specific symptoms involving the central and peripheral nervous systems. Immunosuppression induced from silicone may also make the patient especially vulnerable to viral and bacterial infections.
These descriptions cover just a handful of the chemicals present in our everyday lives. Other common chemicals of concern are listed below and I encourage you to read further into each of these toxins to learn how they affect your health.
- Industrial Solvents (defined as any liquid that can dissolve a substance)
- Diphenyl phosphate
- Methyl tertiary-butyl ether and Ethyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE and ETBE)
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
- Propylene oxide
- 1,3 Butadiene
- Ethylene oxide
All of this is just the tip of the iceberg. The reality is that we come in contact with tens of thousands of chemicals on a daily basis. There are three main areas where these toxins are propagated and harm us: in our air, our water, and our food. So let’s talk about those.
Toxins in Our Air
Most people don’t realize that the air in our homes is often more polluted than the air outside. This fact shocks my patients when they first hear about it, but is it really all that surprising?
Poor air quality in our homes and offices is often due to:
- Faulty filtration systems
- Poor air circulation
- A lack of sunlight and fresh air
- Toxic household cleaning products
- Mold growth
- Indoor appliances, such as gas stoves, that aren’t functioning properly
The effects of airborne toxins are always made exponentially worse in an environment with poor air circulation. You’re essentially trapping yourself in a cloud of your own allergens and toxins. Given that we now spend 90% of our time indoors creates the perfect storm for toxin to build up in our bodies via the air we breathe everyday.
Toxins in Our Water
It is a sad state affairs when we can no longer trust our tap water being safe, clean, and free of toxins. While the people of Flint, Michigan can definitely attest to this, as they have gone now four years without safe drinking water, there are concerns when it comes to our drinking water beyond just Flint.
Some may be shocked to find out these statistics about toxins in our water:
- Pollution is by far one of our biggest killers worldwide. An average of 100 million people die each year due to pollution which makes it comparable to diseases like HIV and malaria.
- 1 billion pounds of industrial chemicals are released into the ground every year.
- 1 billion pounds of pesticides are used in Canada every year.
- People who live in highly polluted places have a 20% higher risk of dying of cancer.
- 40% of America’s lakes are too polluted for healthy ecosystems, fishing or swimming.
- 1.2 trillion gallons of untreated sewage and Industrial waste are dumped into the U.S. water system every year.
This way of living is simply unsustainable, not to mention that we are effectively leaving the future generations to poisoned conditions. If water is the starting point, then our current way of life has become rotten without us even realizing it.
Toxins in Our Food
Pesticides in our food have become a problem of epidemic proportions. The EWG reported in 2017 that most foods grown non-organically contain some sort of pesticide contamination. As I mentioned earlier in this article, one batch of strawberry on average has 20 different types of pesticides on it. Conventionally-grown spinach, for example was found to have twice as many pesticides as any other food!
The EWG has put together a list called The Dirty Dozen: the 12 most contaminated foods. Those include:
- Bell peppers
Glyphosate, also known as Roundup, has been found to be a major food contaminant. It was officially pronounced a carcinogen in 2015. Yet, because it is produced by the agricultural giant Monsanto, court cases that would permit warning labels and restriction for glyphosate are continuously lost to this mammoth corporation.
Other contaminants in your food which are not pesticides include mycotoxins from mold, found in anything being stored for a long period of time. This includes foods like coffee, corn, cocoa, and peanuts. For the most part, the mycotoxins present in food do not cause most people trouble unless their detoxification systems are disrupted due to genetic abnormalities or have certain sensitivities to such toxins.
How to Take the Right Precautions for Toxins
If you’re concerned about your toxic burden, the first step you should take is be tested for common household toxins with your physician. I would recommend the Great Plains Laboratory – Toxic Non-metal Chemical Profile which looks for environmental pollutants known to contribute to chronic disease. Toxin tests can tell you a great deal about your overall exposure and how it might be affecting your health.
13 Steps to Reduce Toxins in Your Home
- Eat organic: Eating organic food is one of the best ways to reduce your toxin exposure. The amount of pesticides that are found on conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are staggering. Conventionally farmed meat contain hormones, antibiotics, and sometimes are even disinfected with chlorine. Eating organic is the best way to prevent these pollutants and toxins from being present in your body and doing you irreparable harm.
- Use clean personal care products: You’d be wrong to expect that personal care products are regulated to keep harmful chemicals out of them. Many of the harmful chemicals such as arsenic, lead, mercury, are permitted under the label “contaminant.” This also means manufacturers are not responsible for them making you sick. Avoid them at all costs.
- Use natural laundry detergent: Laundry detergent is packed with loads of unnecessary toxic chemicals. It’s truly perplexing why so many chemicals are used in laundry detergent when all that’s needed is a little baking soda and borax (sodium borate). The solution is to find alternatives to PERC drycleaners. Instead, utilize a dry cleaner using CO2 based techniques instead of PERC or silicon-based dry cleaners.
- Get rid of all plastics, especially BPA-containing plastics: this can be done be doing a few simple steps. Firstly, use glass water bottles whenever you can and always opt for glass when possible. Secondly, buy meats in wax paper or freezer wraps. Thirdly, store food in glass or pyrex. Fourth, when purchasing coffee bring your own mug. Fifth, do not accept ATM receipts. And lastly, and most importantly, rid yourself of all BPA-containing plastics which can easily be researched online. As a suggestion for newborns, born-free baby bottles are free of BPA. As an added suggestion, switching from packaged foods to fresh unpackaged foods lead to a reduction in urine concentration of 66% for BPA. If possible, trying to avoid plastics whenever possible is the best preventive measure.
- Purchase products with the MADE SAFE certification: MADE SAFE is a certification dedicated to finding products that are free of all toxins. Using MADE SAFE products will give you a better peace of mind when it comes to purchasing personal care products, household cleaning products, and more.
- Get rid of toxic cleaning products: This includes harsh cleaning chemicals, pesticide sprays, foggers, and any aerosol cans. If you aren’t going to get rid of any of these, at least remove them from within the house.
- Carefully select non-toxic furniture and mattresses: Furniture and mattresses are a major source of toxins. Fortunately, many companies are now going through certain procedures to earn non-toxic certifications. It is definitely worth it to invest a little more into where you sleep and spend many hours each night to ensure it is free of toxins and safe for yourself and your family.
- Avoid stain resistant materials: Stain resistant materials contain toxic chemical coatings and are found on furniture, clothing, and carpet.
- Only use organic landscaping practices: Every time a pet goes out into your front lawn or children plays in the grass, they come in contact with whatever chemicals are being used to care for your lawn. Use organic landscaping practices whenever possible to reduce the number of pesticides being tracked into your house.
- Look for non-toxic pest control solutions: Pest control products, like ant killer and insect foggers, are some of the most toxic household products we come in contact with. Avoid relying on these whenever possible and I encourage you to find non-toxic solutions.
- Don’t take unnecessary medications: This includes purchasing over the counter medications in large quantities. Studies have shown that we dump expired medications at unprecedented rates which end up in our groundwater and drinking water. Additionally, unnecessary medications also add to your overall toxic burden and should be avoided.
- Avoid conventional women’s care products: Dioxins and furans are used in the chemical bleaching processes in most female care products like pads and tampons. The vaginal wall is highly absorbent and should not come in contact with such chemicals.
- Don’t use aluminum or nonstick cookware: The safest cookware you can use are high-quality ceramic and medical grade stainless steel pots and pans. These high-end pieces might be a little more expensive, but they usually last a lifetime. Cast iron pots are okay if you do not have high levels of iron or ferritin on your blood work.
The Four Best Ways to Detox
It’s not enough to simply avoid toxins. You also must also take the necessary measures to promote detoxification throughout the body. The detox process should generally focus on your liver, kidneys, gastrointestinal system, lymphatic system, skin, and lungs. The best way you can help your body detox is to make sure these six organs are functioning well.
Here are my recommendations for four detoxification techniques you can practice to clean yourself of the damage that’s already been done:
- Exercise: This one should go without saying, but it must be mentioned. When it comes to detoxification through the pathways of your body, you need to get moving. Yes, this means exercising. Exercise supports better digestion, sweating, heavy breathing, and promotes blood flow and lymphatic flow – all factors that help remove toxins from the body.
- Saunas: Saunas, especially infrared saunas, are excellent for detoxification. Saunas promote intensive sweating and increased blood circulation, which reduces inflammation and enhances detoxification. Saunas have also been shown to promote detoxification of heavy metals through the skin.
- Detox Supplements: There are a number of supplements you can take to support the major detoxification pathways in your body. These include: Glycine, resveratrol, astaxanthin, quercetin, vitamin B, vitamin C, magnesium, zinc, milk thistle, and chlorella.
- Intake Glutathione: Glutathione is your master antioxidant and deserves its own place on this list. When you don’t have enough glutathione, your body is weaker in fighting inflammation caused by oxidative stress and cannot ensure proper detoxification. You can be sure you’re getting enough glutathione by taking it in supplement form.
By both reducing the number of toxins your body is exposed to on a daily basis and undergoing detoxification, you will begin to feel healthier and rejuvenated. Your perspective on life will also forever be changed.
Sadly, given current trends, the number of toxins we come across on a daily basis will only continue to grow. This means that it is up to you and the public at large to stay well-informed on which toxins threaten your health and work to reduce its impact – Your health depends on it.
How can we help?
Environmental toxins can be difficult to deal with. Dr. Hoffman and our clinic team are here to help and support you.
Your next step is to contact us, talk with our staff about your options and booking an appointment with Dr. Hoffman.
1 Predicting plasma concentrations of BPA in Young Children. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2009
2 Food Packaging and Bisphenol A and Bis(2-Ethylhexyl) Phthalate Exposure. Rudel R et.al. Silent Spring Institute
Dr. Bruce Hoffman, MSc, MBChB, FAARM, IFMCP is a Calgary-based Integrative and Functional medicine practitioner. He is the medical director at the Hoffman Centre for Integrative Medicine and The Brain Centre of Alberta specializing in complex medical conditions. He was born in South Africa and obtained his medical degree from the University of Cape Town. He is a certified Functional Medicine Practitioner (IFM), is board certified with a fellowship in anti-aging (hormones) and regenerative medicine (A4M), a certified Shoemaker Mold Treatment Protocol Practitioner (CIRS) and ILADS trained in the treatment of Lyme disease and co-infections. He is the co-author of a recent paper published by Dr. Afrin’s group: Diagnosis of mast cell activation syndrome: a global “consensus-2”. Read more about Dr. Bruce Hoffman.