With health and wellness burning in our minds as we start 2021, we are grateful to Emma Mentel for this second contribution to our blog. Emma is a qualified/registered dietician, Scio and Functional Medicine Practitioner. She has experience treating a number of health conditions.
Emma Mentel writes
Taking a deeper look at environmental exposures and how it affects the ageing process, inflammation and degeneration (cancer) – it is important to note that in order to understand the causes of chronic disease, we should appreciate the exposure-disease interplay. Prevention of toxic burden load over years or at least limiting your exposure to toxic chemicals on a regular basis, goes a long way to help reverse the impact this has on so many levels for us as humans, including the prevention of cancer, heart disease, degenerative diseases of the brain and more.
Environmental toxin exposure can come from one or a combination of the following main sources
- Household cleaners
- Industrial chemicals
- Pesticides, herbicides/ fungicides
- Skin products
- Polluted air
- Heavy metals
- Synthetic hormones and certain medicines
Not only do these disrupt important metabolic pathways in your body and burden your liver and kidneys, but their effect on our environment can be catastrophic.
The overuse of antimicrobial cleaning products can result in resistant pathogens for example antibiotic-resistant bacteria or superbugs. The more humans try to develop stronger chemicals, the faster these microbes adapt.
Pesticides damage the environment with harsh chemicals that are intended to only harm certain pests. The propellants in sprays contain chlorofluorocarbons, which have been recognized as damaging to the earth's ozone. We sacrifice a small part of the rich environment each time we use pesticides at home. The negative effects continue as we look at all that we damage in the environment that also affects our own lives.
Cleaning agents, detergents, pesticides, and weed killers frequently find their way into the soil and then into water bodies. These chemicals as well as runoff can be either harmful or deadly to the animals and plants of the seas. Chemical residues of household chemicals can seep into soils and contaminate groundwater supplies after being disposed of improperly.
Over the counter (OTC) and prescription medicines, skin and body care products, and chemical household cleaning products are harmful to the reproductive and immune systems of fish and turtles that become exposed to the harmful ingredients. Weed killers and non-biodegradable chemicals in soaps and shampoos are also harmful to aquatic life when they reach dams, rivers and the ocean.
Recently, a team of researchers for the first time has found a correlation between the levels of bacteria and fungi in the gastrointestinal tract of children and the amount of common chemicals found in their home environment.
The work, published in November 2020 in Environmental Science and Technology Letters, could lead to better understanding of how these semi-volatile organic compounds may affect human health.
The microbes in our gut, which include a large variety of bacteria and fungi, are thought to affect many processes, from nutrient absorption to our immunity, and an unhealthy microbiome has been implicated in diseases ranging from obesity to asthma and dementia.
The semi-volatile organic compounds they measured included phthalates that are used in detergents, plastic clothing such as raincoats, shower curtains, and personal-care products, such as soap, shampoo, and hair spray, as well as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), which are used in stain- and water-repellent fabrics, coatings for carpets and furniture, nonstick cooking products, polishes, paints, and cleaning products.
People are exposed daily to such chemicals in the air and dust in their homes, especially young children who might ingest them by crawling on carpets or frequently putting objects in their mouths.
When the researchers looked at the levels of fungi and bacteria in the gut, they found that children who had higher levels of the chemicals in their bloodstream showed differences in their gut microbiome (or also described as differences in the diversity of microbes found in the digestive tract).
The researchers also found, surprisingly, that the children who had high levels of chemical compounds in their blood also had in their gut several types of bacteria that have been used to clean up toxic chemicals.
"While these data do not denote causation, they offer an indication of the types of organisms that may be impacted by exposure to these compounds and provide a springboard for future research," she said. "Gaining a more holistic understanding of the interactions between man-made chemicals, the gut microbiome, and human health is a critical step in advancing public health."
Source: Journal reference:
Gardner, C. M., et al. (2020) Exposures to Semivolatile Organic Compounds in Indoor Environments and Associations with the Gut Microbiomes of Children. Environmental Science & Technology Letters. doi.org/10.1021/acs.estlett.0c00776.
What changes can you start implementing to help limit your exposure and reverse damage?
- Consider having your tap water tested for toxic ingredients – water filters can be a simple first step and a huge help in limiting exposure from toxic chemicals in tap water
- Change your laundry detergent and other household cleaning products – over time you can start replacing everything or most cleaning products you use in your home with less harmful options.
- Discard non-stick cookware and use cast iron or enamel-coated cast iron instead
- Take a look at your plastic containers you use in your home – see what you can replace with glass or stainless steel. Only use glass or ceramic dishes if you heat food in a microwave.
- If you are not able to buy organic fruit and vegetables, make sure to rinse your store bought fresh produce in vinegar water or use a Fruit& Veg wash or spray to remove harmful chemicals on the peels or skin. Some suggest a solution of 4 parts water to 1 part vinegar (white vinegar is good) and allowing fruit and vegetables to soak for around 20 minutes in a bowl or basin or you can use vinegar on its own.
- Increase you intake of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, bok choy, watercress and similar vegetables. These vegetables are potent weapons when it comes to toxic exposure and help to stimulate cleanup in your immune system.