The dictionary definition to purify is: 1. to make pure; free from anything that debases, pollutes, adulterates, or contaminates. 2. to free from foreign, extraneous, or objectionable elements. Detoxification is a modern word that represents this physiological process. Why would someone living today need to or seek to purify or detox themselves? The short answer is because we live in an era of unprecedented exposure to chemical agents. Various people groups come in contact with compounds humanity has never interacted with before. Scientists estimate that today our bodies carry at least 700 contaminants, most of which have not been well studied.
Since the Second World War, tens of thousands of synthetic compounds have been introduced into the environment to facilitate many industrial, domestic, and personal practices. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published the findings of the “Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals,” and found that most Americans, irrespective of age, have bio-accumulated numerous toxins. Bio-accumulation is the storage of toxins in our own tissues.
So, what are toxins? A toxin is any external or internal agent that interferes with good health and has harmful effects on the body’s functioning. “Natural substances” can be toxins such as molds or heavy metals. Other elements essential for health but toxic in excess include copper, iron, and zinc. Some toxins are avoidable while others aren’t.
Lead is a heavy metal that was used in wall paint and gasoline. It was considered so dangerous that it was banned from paint and gasoline in the 1970s, yet it is still present in lipstick. Tobacco, airplane gas, and drinking water are other sources of exposure. Fish and dental fillings can expose us to mercury. Arsenic can be present in air, drinking water, cosmetics, and even brown rice.
According to government tests, 93 percent of Americans have BPA in their bodies!
It’s difficult to detect the level of these heavy metals, but their presence can be manifested various ways. Research has found heavy metal contamination is associated with obesity, as well as insulin resistance, and thus diabetes. These toxins can behave as endocrine disruptors, meaning they can disrupt hormone function, such as thyroid or sex hormones. They can also impact cellular communication and our stress responses. 1, 2
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are another diverse group of toxins. These toxic chemicals include glyphosate, as found in the herbicide Round-up; pesticides; and PCBs used in industrial applications, and as additives to paints and lubricants. DDT was used extensively on agricultural crops, particularly cotton, from 1945 to 1972, and to protect soldiers from insect-borne diseases such as malaria. It’s still used to control mosquitoes carrying malaria. POPs can be evaporated and transported in air, dust, smoke, snow, and water. Sadly, even in relatively pristine Arctic regions, POP contamination is found. POPs also travel through oceans, rivers, lakes, and animals. POPs accumulate in the fat of living organisms, becoming more concentrated as they move up the food chain. We call this process biomagnification. After eating these animals, spraying our weeds, or taking a deep breath of contaminated air, POPs are stored in our fat tissue. They’re considered carcinogenic and behave as endocrine disruptors. They have a strong association with insulin-resistant type-2 diabetes and are associated with the development of hypertension and metabolic syndrome. 3,4
I grew up surrounded by bisphenol A (BPA), from my plastic toys to the plastic covering our furniture and table to our kitchen containers. In 2012 and 2013 BPA was banned from baby bottles, sippy cups, and infant formula containers. Pressure has been placed on various manufacturers to make their water bottles, baby toys, or storage containers BPA-free, but it’s still very difficult to completely get away from BPA. BPA has been used in food packaging since the 1960s and can even be found in store receipts and in metal can coatings, which protect the food from directly contacting metal surfaces. According to government tests, 93 percent of Americans have BPA in their bodies! BPA exposure has been linked to increased risk of breast and prostate cancer, heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, early puberty, childhood obesity, autism, and hyperactivity. Children metabolize the chemical more slowly than adults, putting them especially at risk. BPA is another endocrine disruptor, imitating estrogen in the body, increasing production of certain hormones, decreasing others, and interfering with hormone signaling.
Sadly, even in relatively pristine Arctic regions, POP contamination is found.
Phthalates are chemicals found in plastic wrap, plastic containers, nail polish, perfumes, aftershaves, deodorants, and health and beauty products (unless you live in Europe where phthalates have been banned). Reduced testosterone production and activity has been associated with phthalate exposure, earning phthalates the nickname “gender bender.” 5,6 Elevated phthalate concentration in women was associated with lower IQ in their children.
This is just a sample of the environmental toxins that were created in a laboratory, but there are others that we produce in our own homes as a result of cooking methods. These include advanced glycation end products (which we looked at last month), acrylamide, (formed in fried potatoes), carcinogenic hetrocyclic amines (formed in barbequed or grilled meat). These all have been found to impact risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and kidney and liver disease. Identifying what is contaminating our bodies can be helpful in establishing our need of detoxification. We must face the reality that far from being benign substances, toxins are harming us by their presence.
We began by defining purification as a process by which something is freed from anything that pollutes, adulterates, or contaminates. Our hormonal balance, masculinity, femininity, weight, bone strength, clarity of thought, blood sugar stability, kidney and liver function, and neurological and blood vessel networking are all being debased from optimal operation by their presence. Yes, I’d say there is a need. Thankfully, we’re not left without a way to detox. There is a Purifier.
- “Dirty Dozen Endocrine Disruptors,“ Environmental Working Group, https://www.ewg.org/research/dirty-dozen-list-endocrine-disruptors#.WynOxsgh1E4.
- H. Sun, et al., “Lead Exposure Induces Weight Gain in Adult Rats, Accompanied by DNA Hypermethylation,” PLOS, http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0169958.
- L. Tomar, et al., “Serum organochlorine pesticide levels in patients with metabolic syndrome,” Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, http://www.ijem.in/article.asp?issn=2230-8210;year=2013;volume=17;issue=7;spage=342;epage=344;aulast=Tomar.
- S. Park, et al., “Body burden of persistent organic pollutants on hypertension: a meta-analysis,” Environmental Science and Pollution Research, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/300003431_Body_burden_of_persistent_organic_pollutants_on_hypertension_a_meta-analysis.
- “Bisphenol A (BPA): Use in Food Contact Application,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, https://www.fda.gov/newsevents/publichealthfocus/ucm064437.htm.
- Chang, W., et al., “Phthalates might interfere with testicular function by reducing testosterone and insulin-like factor 3 levels,” NCBI, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26385792.
J. Meeker, K. Ferguson, “Urinary Phthalate Metabolites Are Associated With Decreased Serum Testosterone in Men, Women, and Children From NHANES 2011–2012,” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4223430/.
Risë Rafferty, RDN
Risë is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and has been writing and teaching about health for many years. She loves the health message and takes great pleasure in seeing people thrive by the application of its principles. Her research and down-to-earth manner allow her to offer up the health message in both an intelligent and accessible manner. She and her husband, James Rafferty, have two children.