Nix The Toxins!
We are told to live in fear of toxins and their health effect on our bodies. But what is a toxin? How does our body process toxins? Let’s explore the different types of toxins and whether we need to worry.
We know that “toxin” is often used to describe a substance that is considered to be bad for you. For example, you may have heard that a poor diet and lack of exercise can contribute to the build-up of toxins in the body. And while that is true, do you know what the sources of these toxins are? Do you know what happens when a toxin enters the body? Do you know how the body deals with toxins? I mean…what is a toxin anyway?
Toxins are complex
By definition, a toxin is a biologically produced poisonous substance. This term is often used to describe all substances that have the potential to be toxic to humans. Manufactured or synthesized chemical compounds (e.g., pesticides, chemicals used in plastics, solvents, metals, etc.) that may be poisonous or toxic to humans are called toxicants. We interviewed Dr. Ben Kim who added, “when discussing cleansing and detoxification, generally, I consider any substance that does not nourish our cells or aid in the function of our cells to be toxic i.e. not necessary and therefore a burden to some degree.”
When discussing cleansing and detoxification, generally, any substance that does not nourish our cells or aid in the function of our cells to be a toxin i.e. not necessary and therefore a burden to some degree.
Don’t live in fear of toxic substances!
It is probably safe to assume you are mostly concerned with the toxic substances that may be found in your food or surrounding environment. These toxicants are anything from mercury in fish and some preservatives in food to cadmium in cigarette smoke and lead in paint… and the list goes on and on. Thus, it is unrealistic to think you will never ingest something that is toxic. But, while it is virtually impossible to be free of toxic compounds, you don’t need to live in fear of them. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle including exercise, a balanced diet, and moderation with alcohol consumption is the best way to support your body’s natural detoxification processes. Your body, in a healthy state, is equipped with detoxification systems that eliminate toxic compounds faster than you can ingest them, so you don’t need to worry.
To better understand how substances may be toxic to us, we first need to understand where they come from: whether they originate externally or internally (i.e. if they are considered to be exogenous or endogenous).
“Exogenous Toxicants are chemicals that are made outside of your body. These can harm your cells if they are ingested, inhaled, or absorbed into your bloodstream through some other channel. (Dr. Ben Kim, 2012). Examples of endogenous toxicants are artificial sweeteners (aspartame), prescription medication, food preservatives (such as MSG), pesticides, and certain cosmetic ingredients.
“Endogenous Toxins are toxins that are produced inside of your body. Some of these toxins are waste products from normal metabolic activities – carbon dioxide, urea, and lactic acid are examples of endogenous toxins that your body churns out by the second. Unless your health is severely compromised, your body is well equipped to eliminate these endogenous toxins from your system” (Dr. Ben Kim, 2012).
As far as toxic substances are concerned, the primary issue is their ability to damage your healthy cells. Whether you inhale or ingest pollution, your body’s best defense is to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
How does your body process toxic compounds?
For an in-depth look at what is happening inside your body when you ingest toxic compounds, we turn to Dr. Kasi Rote of Rote Wellness:
“A toxin enters the body. The immune system’s first defense is to excrete, or expel, the toxin. This is accomplished through perspiration, saliva, urine, feces, menstruation, earwax, sinuses and nose, and the eyes. If that toxin gets past this first line of defense due to a weak immune system or the the strength of the toxin, the body’s second line of defense kicks in. Inflammation is stimulated into action. This is when the person diagnosed with some kind of “itis” which simply means ‘inflammation of’ (ex. tonsillitis is inflammation of the tonsils).
If the immune system still cannot handle the toxin, the body will create storage spaces outside of the cell in which to put the toxin. Thus, the body does not allow the toxin inside the cell. These storage spaces protect the cells and act as holding tanks so the body can deal with the toxic invasion a little at a time. Examples are cysts, swellings, engorged fat cells, and benign tumors. Typical diagnoses are colon polyps, ovarian cysts, fibroid tumors, lipomas, and obesity to name a few.
In discussing how a toxicant may affect your body’s cells, Kasi Rote, D.C., says, “…it may do irreparable damage to the chemical reactions that take place in that cell. It may also do damage to the DNA of the cell, which leads to the creation of sick, malfunctioning organs. If these sick cells continue to replicate with no reversal of the situation, the likelihood of these cells turning cancerous is great. Therefore, the end stage of a toxic invasion gone unhandled by the immune system could be cancer.” (Dr. Kasi Rote, Rote Wellness)
Your body protects itself
As you may recall, we previously discussed your body’s ability to “cleanse” itself in our article, “The Truth Behind Cleansing.” If you are eating well, exercising, sleeping well, and avoiding toxic substances to the best of your ability, you can trust your body to protect itself. Our kidneys and liver are well equipped to handle the normal detoxification process for toxic substances. That is what they are there for.
The problem occurs when you are exposed to more toxicants than your body is able to eliminate. If you are taking in too much too quickly, your body’s elimination processes may break down. The more toxicant taken in (e.g., dose), the more likely your elimination systems will become overloaded resulting in harmful health effects.
Our kidneys and liver are well equipped to handle the detoxification process for potentially harmful toxic substances. That is what they are there for.
Your kidneys’ primary function is to filter your blood. The organ contains millions of microscopic units called nephrons, which filter your blood to eliminate waste and regulate your body’s fluid and electrolyte balance. The liver, on the other hand, is the primary detoxifying agent. It is responsible for keeping pathogens from entering the bloodstream. It is well-equipped to eliminate toxins that are either created by your body or ingested, absorbed, or inhaled. So, if you are careful about what cleaning products or pollution you might be exposed to on a daily basis and you maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle, your body has the tools to eliminate the substances that may be harmful.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!
Eat nutritious whole foods, exercise, and hydrate. This will help facilitate healthy blood circulation and the elimination of unneeded substances from the body. If your body is being fed and hydrated properly, your liver and kidneys have the tools to detoxify on their own. In fact, recent studies have shown that the traditional recommendation of “8 servings of water per day” is unsubstantiated. Nutritionists are now saying that you should aim to consume roughly half an ounce – one ounce of water per pound.
All in all, we need to be realistic. You are never going to be able to completely eliminate exposure to all potentially harmful substances in your daily life. The best way to protect yourself is to be good to your body. Be aware of the cleaning solvents and other chemicals used in your home, skip the cigarettes, and avoid second-hand smoke and heavily polluted areas when possible.
Remember: your body is well-equipped to handle the day-to-day threats of the environment. The danger only comes from over exposure. Hydration and a well balanced diet help your organs efficiently eliminate toxicants.
According to acupuncturist Dr. Ben Kim, “if enough cells in one organ or gland become dysfunctional due to a build-up of toxins, you may experience organ or glandular dysfunction – examples of such dysfunction include thyroid disease, impaired vision, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney failure, and any stage of liver degeneration (fatty liver, cirrhosis, etc.)” Of course, genetics affect how every individual responds to their environment, so exposure to toxicants is not always the only source of these long-term health issues. It is important to seek medical attention if you are experiencing any long term ailments.
Get enough sleep and reduce stress. Poor sleep and stress are known triggers of inflammation. According to a study performed by Emory University and presented at the 2010 American Heart Association Scientific Sessions, getting less than six hours of sleep per night is associated with higher levels of inflammation. This is also linked with an increase risk of heart attack and stroke. In addition to lack of sleep, excessive levels of long-term stress can cause your gut to shut down and compromise the production of enzymes that aid the digestive process.
Chronic inflammation is linked to many diseases including heart disease, autoimmune diseases (like lupus and Crohn’s disease), cancer, Alzheimer’s, and dementia. That’s a terrifying list! And while inflammation may not be the primary cause for each, maintaining chronic, low grade inflammation allows for a weakened immune system and compromised overall health.
Modern day life is stressful on our biology. Yes, our bodies are very resilient but we need to give our body restorative rest. Today, there is more electronics than ever before, our diets are less nourishing, we certainly sleep less, and we work more than ever. If your body is on high alert your immune system is always working to protect you. Therefore, you can run down your immune system. It is so helpful to protect your sleep and have restorative sleep in order to keep your body functioning at an optimal level.Sophia Ruan Gushee,
As we discussed, genetics also play a very important role here as well. How chronic inflammation affects you will vary depending on your genes. If you have a family history of lung cancer, that organ can be more susceptible than your other organs because that is what you are predisposed to. If you are keeping a bad diet, it can actually trigger an inflammatory response in your lungs. The best way to keep inflammation at bay is through a healthy diet, moderate exercise, plenty of sleep, and avoiding cigarettes and other toxic pollutants to the best of your ability.
There is no solution for inflammation comparable to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. And we are certainly not proponents of the “quick fix”, particularly if there is an underlying issue that is not being addressed. However, if you are typically fairly active and a healthy eater that has indulged and looking to get back on track there are some antidotes that may help fight inflammation. Cryotherapy and baby aspirin are believed to reduce swelling. “Cryotherapy takes advantage of the body’s natural tendency to vasoconstrict (vessels tighten) when exposed to cold. This is why we apply ice to a trauma, like a swollen ankle, after hurting it. When we apply cold, the vessels tighten, which limits swelling. This is a good counter to the body’s natural tendency to swell and heat up an area of injury.” (Dr. Bongiourno) Additionally, baby aspirin is often prescribed to help reduce pain and swelling.
The Bottom Line:
Toxicants are dangerous when you are exposed to large enough amounts especially in a continuous fashion. In order to best protect yourself, be aware of the various sources of toxic substances that may be negatively affecting your health. Skip the overly processed food, artificial sweeteners, and additives. Be careful when handling household cleaning solvents, be aware of heavily polluted areas, and certainly do not smoke! But most of all, maintain a balanced diet, exercise, and drink enough water to enable your body to properly eliminate things that may be toxic on its own.
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