Living in a Toxic World
LIFE IS TOXIC. There are toxins in the food you eat, the water you drink and the air you breathe – and your own body produces toxins as a result of its many metabolic processes that keep you in good working order.
What is a Toxin?
A toxin is any substance that creates irritating and/or harmful effects in your body, undermining your health and impairing its proper function. It can be something that is not obviously harmful- any substance can become toxic if you are exposed to excess amounts. But your body does not simply sit there quietly soaking up toxins. Quite the reverse. Your body is a resilient piece of machinery which is designed to do constant battle with these substances to keep itself clean.
A healthy body can handle a certain level of toxins. When your body is working well, it is said to be in a state of homoeostasis. However, the balance can be upset when you take in more toxins than your body can deal with.
The sheer volume of toxins thrown up by the modem world means that this fine homoeostatic balance is constantly under threat. How well your body deals with toxins depends on your age and overall health. The younger and healthier you are the more effectively your body can deal with and eliminate toxins and so minimize the damage they can cause. But over time the burden can become too heavy and your body will begin to crumple under the strain, which can lead to health problems. The incidence of cancer and heart disease is increasing, as is that of arthritis, allergies, obesity and skin diseases.
Where Do Toxins Come From?
Toxins are acquired – externally and/or internally. Externally, you pick up toxins from the environment by inhaling them, eating them, or through physical contact. Internally, you produce toxins through the very process of living. So what can you do to avoid toxins? Very little, unless you choose to live in a bubble in Alaska. But you can familiarize yourself with where these toxins come from – vital knowledge that will enable you to protect yourself against their potentially harmful effects.
EXTERNAL TOXINS In the air you breathe
Every day you breathe airborne pollutants that are bad for your health. Despite worldwide directives aimed at cleaning up the atmosphere, the air is filled with a bewildering array of pollutants – particularly in urban areas. These pollutants come from car fumes, tobacco smoke, industrial plants, office ventilation systems, unvented gas appliances, household and industrial chemicals and agriculture – to name but a few sources.
While low concentrations of these substances can irritate the eyes, nose and throat, living in heavily polluted areas can increase the risk of more serious problems such as asthma, say experts. Airborne pollutants can cause or aggravate respiratory, cardiovascular and lung diseases; weaken the immune system; increase the likelihood of cancer; and, in certain situations, lead to sudden death.
In the food you eat
The choice of foods in shops, markets and supermarkets has never been more diverse. However, there is a price to pay for I his choice: in the form of intensive farming and heavily n-hned and processed foods. This means that it is more difficult 1’1 know exactly what you are buying and eventually eating. Intensive farming may enable farmers to grow more food faster, hut it leaves crops more vulnerable to pests and diseases. To control these hazards farmers use pesticides, all of which are toxic to some degree. Carrots, for example, are particularly susceptible to a pest called carrot fly. In recent years unexpectedly high residues of the organophosphate pesticide used to control carrot fly have been found on carrots. As a result, we are now being advised to generously top and tail and peel carrots before eating them. But in doing so, we are also throwing away many of the valuable nutrients and fibre the hody needs to stay healthy. Peeling and trimming does not solve the problem, however, as a fifth of the pesticide residue still remains.
The use of agrichemicals doesn’t stop with spraying crops.
Other chemicals used in farming include systemic pesticides that are applied to the soil and end up in the flesh of the plant — so they can’t be washed off or trimmed away. These chemicals, say experts, will have disappeared before you eat the food. But yet, again, excessive levels of these pesticides have been reported in salad produce such as lettuces.
Then there are the chemicals used to extend the shelf life of fresh produce. Potatoes are sprayed with fungicides to inhibit sprouting. And it’s common practice to treat citrus fruit and bananas, apples, pears and cherries with chemical preservatives to guard against spoilage during transport and storage. Unlike systemic chemicals, these remain on the skin. In the US and some European countries, shoppers are informed that produce has been treated with a chemical preservative.
Modern agricultural farming methods are just one route by which toxic chemicals end up on your plate. And that’s not including the toxins from antibiotics used to treat animals, and growth hormones such as BST which is used to increase milk production. And then there are the modern food production processes in which food is treated, bleached, coloured, dyed, enriched, purified, preserved and flavoured with synthetic additives – all of which can harm your body.
Chemicals: Most chickenfeed contains antibiotics. Contaminated feed has been linked to salmonella.
Concern: Antibiotics entering the human food supply can undermine medical treatment for illnesses such as tuberculosis.
Chemicals: The majority of pig feed is treated with
antibiotics or antimicrobials to guard against respiratory infections.
Concern: Antibiotics that reach the human food supply can undermine the efficacy of these drugs in the treatment of serious infections.
Chemicals: In some countries the hormone melatonin is used to bring forward the lambing season to Christmas, when
farmers can get the best meat prices. Sheep reared lombs wool are dipped in organophosphate pesticides.
Concern: The chemicals used in organophosphic dips are similar to those in the nerve gas responsible for Gulf War Syndrome, and have been linked to medical problems in farmers.
Chemicals: Numerous antibiotics can legally be used to treat cattle. The anabolic steroid Clenbuterol (or ‘angel dust’) has been used in France and Spain to produce bigger animals. Concern: Clenbuterol has been linked with increased risk of heart disease.
• Fruit and vegetables
Chemicals: Most fruit and vegetables are routinely sprayed with a range of insecticides and fungicides, including organophosphates.
Concern: High levels of organophosphate pesticides have been found on some apples, pears, peaches and oranges.
Chemicals: Crops are sprayed with fungicides and pesticides. Once harvested, potatoes are often sprayed with chemicals to prevent sprouting.
Concern: One sprout-suppressant, Tecnazene, has been linked with skin problems in farm workers and growth defects in laboratory animals.
Chemicals: Crops are sprayed with herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and growth-regulating chemicals.
Concern: One common herbicide has been found to cause tumours in animals. The most common growth regulator, chlomequat, has been found to damage the mucous membrane in rats.
In the water you drink
Water is fundamental to your wellbeing. The quality of the water you drink can either promote or undermine your health. Like food, water is a source of toxins. In general your choice of water is limited to three sources: bottled spring water and filtered or unfiltered tap water. Tap water is constantly at risk of contamination from industrial and agrichemicals and heavy metals. A staggering 50 per cent of the nitrogen used by farmers as fertilizer remains in the soil and is left to seep into the water supply. By law, water companies have to meet strict regulations governing the cleaning of drinking water. But some of the chemicals used in the cleaning process, such as chlorine, have the potential to damage your health.
In your home
Your home- no matter how clean – is also a source of toxins. Thousands of deaths each year are attributed to indoor pollutants such as dust, smoke, household cleaning products, solvents, paint, and treatments for wood and damp. Older homes may contain asbestos, and the paintwork may have high levels of lead, both of which are highly toxic. Soft furnishings such as curtains and carpets can emit highly toxic formaldehyde gas. Recently, pressed wood and fibreboard furniture has been found to be carcinogenic.