Living in a Toxic World: How to Spring Clean Our Lives
Heavy metals, pesticides, and xenoestrogens
The industrial, chemical, and technological revolutions benefited us in many ways but have also led to a highly toxic world. If we could take a look inside the food and supplements that we put into our bodies, we would expect them to not contain heavy metals and pesticides. However, this simply is not realistic given our modern environment, where we are regularly exposed to toxins through water, food, air, personal care products, and other elements such as:
- Heavy metals
- Pesticides and herbicides
- Flame retardants
- PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls)
Lead is just one of many heavy metals known to have adverse effects on human health.1 While some are naturally occurring and found in plants grown in healthy soil,2 heavy metals have become incorporated into the air and water supply, as well as the soil. Levels of lead occurring naturally in soil range from 50 to 400 parts per million.3 Metals brought to the soil by rain or air are taken up by crops, regardless of whether they are organic and conventionally grown.4
While this information may come as a surprise, we are not incapable of protecting ourselves from exposure to toxins. Here are four critical ways that we can protect ourselves:
- Be aware of safety guidelines
Action begins with awareness that we need to protect ourselves from daily exposure to toxins. Regulatory agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publish information and set forth safety guidelines for heavy metal intake and other manageable exposures.5,6 Being aware of these safety guidelines is a great first step toward living a cleaner lifestyle.
- Detox your home
We think our homes are safe, but they are actually where we can be exposed to heavy metals and xenoestrogens—compounds that imitate the hormone estrogen. Xenoestrogens include brominated flame retardants (BFRs) commonly found in mattresses, carpet, electronics, and more. Older homes can also harbor lead paint. Aluminum has been found in pots, pans, and various personal care products. Even scented candles and air fresheners can contain xenoestrogens and other harmful compounds.7
Plastic containers are another place where xenoestrogens lurk. While convenient, plastic containers such as water bottles and bags include chemicals that mimic estrogen in the body. Two of these chemicals, bisphenol-A (BPA) and bisphenol-S (BPS), are especially detrimental in extreme temperatures, as high heat can cause both to break down and leach into foods and liquids.8 Use glass or stainless-steel containers instead of plastic to reduce exposure.
- Shop smart
One of the easiest ways to reduce toxin exposure is by shopping smarter at the grocery store. Look for organic varieties of produce listed on the Environmental Working Group “Dirty Dozen” list, as these items have been associated with high pesticide residue levels.9 For shoppers on a budget, produce listed on the “Clean 15” are identified as nonorganic produce with the lowest pesticide levels.9
For animal products, select organic meats whenever possible and pick wild-caught seafood over farm-raised. Not all fish are created equal, and in the deep blue sea, smaller is better as they are gobbled up by larger fish, thereby beginning the cycle of contaminants compounding and building in potency until they reach your plate. Because large fish such as tuna and swordfish are higher on the food chain, they usually harbor greater concentrations of toxins and contaminants being dumped into oceans and lakes than their food source (e.g., smaller fish).
- Drink filtered water
The tap water in your area could be harboring heavy metals, pesticide runoff, and environmental estrogens like fluoride, chlorine, and other chemicals. In a 2008 study across nine states, the US Geological Survey found municipal water to contain 85 manmade chemicals.10 However, adequate water is important for so many bodily processes—including detoxification—so purchase a quality water filter to stay hydrated while keeping toxins at bay.
- Jaishankar M et al. Toxicity, mechanism and health effects of some heavy metals. Interdiscip Toxicol. 2014;7(2):60-72.
- Heavy metals in plants: What’s really toxic? New Hope Network. Available at: https://www.newhope.com/managing-your-business/heavy-metals-plants-whats-really-toxic. Accessed March 21, 2019.
- Learn about lead. The United States Environmental Protection Agency. Available at: https://www.epa.gov/lead/learn-about-lead. Accessed March 21, 2019.
- Metals as contaminants in foods. European Food Safety Authority. Available at: https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/topics/topic/metals-contaminants-food. Accessed March 21, 2019.
- Metals. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/food/foodborneillnesscontaminants/metals/default.htm. Accessed April 4, 2019.
- Framework for Metals Risk Assessment. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Available at: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2013-09/documents/metals-risk-assessment-final.pdf. Accessed April 4, 2019.
- (7) Zota A et el. Reducing chemical exposures at home: opportunities for action. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2017 Sep; 71(9): 937–940.
- (8) Ben-Jonathan N et al. Bisphenols Come in Different Flavors: Is “S” Better Than “A”? Endocrinology. 2016 Apr; 157(4): 1321–1323.
- EWG’s Dirty 12™/EWG’s Clean 15™. Available at: https://www.ewg.org/foodnews. Accessed March 21, 2019.
- Martins C. Sample concentration and analysis of human hormones in drinking water. Thermo Fisher Scientific. Available at: http://nemc.us/docs/2015/presentations/Mon-High%20Performance%20Liquid%20Chromatography%20in%20Environmental%20Monitoring-16.8-Martins.pdf. Accessed March 29, 2018.
Submitted by the Metagenics Marketing Team