Toxins – By Dr. Alan Christianson
Hey, there! Dr. Alan Christianson here, and I want to talk about the two main kinds of toxins that could be jeopardizing your health. These are the toxins you’re flirting with and the ones you are married to. No judgement about your loving relationships; this is about literal toxins. I learned something interesting recently. “Toxin” is actually not a correct term when we use it in reference to things in the environment. Toxin is something that is biological in origin. I am in the middle of nowhere, and let’s say I got bit in the butt by a snake. That venom would be a toxin. Let’s say I had a meal high in pesticide residues. Those are not toxins, to be precise. Who knew? I will use the term anyway, as this is how we commonly use it.
The toxins we are flirting with are the ones that are more transitory. They are the ones that enter our body and leave rather rapidly, whereas those we are married to have gotten deeply stuck inside our tissues, bones, brains and organs. They both are a little different in terms of how you manage them and make sense out of them. So, when you hear about blanket detox strategies, you have to ask, “What am I trying to get out of my body?”
The flirty toxins are volatile; they move through our bodies quickly. The biggest sources of toxins are things that enter through the air. Your home is the biggest source of airborne toxins, such as plastic derivatives, pesticides and solvents (cleaning compounds, especially). What are some easy strategies for toxin avoidance in your house? Adopt a routine that some traditional Asian cultures have had for quite some time: Do not wear shoes in the house. I have some friends who have little racks with different sized slippers at the front door. Guests are encouraged to grab a pair of slippers and leave their shoes outside. Lead is one we especially track into our house. From there, it moves into the air and then, into the body. Once inside the body, it can stay. Minimizing shoes indoors is a great toxin-avoidance strategy. Also, a big help is keeping carpets, ducts and fabrics clean or minimized. The fewer areas you have carpets, the less stuff bioaccumulates. Indoor air filters make a huge difference, especially in your bedroom where you are spending the most time. That is where you are moving the least and where you are the least able to detoxify effectively. I also like them because most of them make some white noise, which can be a really good cue when it is time to get ready for bed. We have one that comes on automatically about nine o’clock. I swear it is like a Pavlovian response, like when you ring the bell and the dog salivates. That thing comes on, and I think, “Oh, wait. I have to start slowing down here and winding down.” So, indoor air filters help a ton.
Plastic compounds are also a big problem. These are so common in our consumer products. Examples of these are shower curtains, the new car smell, many toys and food containers, especially. These are all plastic-based. With plastics, there is always a debate on which chemical is the worst. BPA got a lot of attention recently, but there is a myriad of equally bad chemicals that have not gotten as much attention. We make the mistake in our policies of saying, “Now that we know BPA is bad and is gone from many products, it’s safe.” That would not be the most logical approach. It would be more logical to be wary until you have hard data proving otherwise. So, it is a really good step to minimize and avoid plastics. Thankfully, there are so many good, food storage containers that are glass-based. You can also heat foods in them. Here is a brief aside I can’t ignore: Heating foods in glass containers is safe, and it is okay to microwave food in safe containers. Microwaves are not radiation. I may talk about that in a future topic. If you do get plastic containers, here is an easy trick: Let it off-gas outdoors for a few days, ideally in sunlight. The UV rays in the sun break down many of those volatile compounds. This makes them less harmful and less present.
Let’s talk about pesticides. The biggest source is our diet and then, our home. In terms of pest control, there can be compelling reasons to use pest sprays and treatments. I have been stung by scorpions at night in my own bed, minding my own business, so pests can be a serious nuisance. There is a strong correlation between the risk of leukemia and lymphoma and how much you spray indoors. Outdoors, the risk does not seem to be as significant. So, spraying around the home outside is probably not a big deal. Spraying inside the home can be a problem, so minimizing that is a good way to lower your toxin burden as well. What about pesticides in our diet? The big things to consider are produce and animal fats. Regarding produce, those that are above ground, like leaves, berries and plant stems, have the highest exposure to pesticides, as opposed to root portions or areas of plants that are inside of peels (like bananas). So, you want those fruits and vegetables that grow above ground and are without peels to be organic. Otherwise, the pesticides tend to build up and bioaccumulate. As far as common foods, the densest sources are peanuts and raisins. Coffee is also a high source of pesticides. If you enjoy coffee, then it is really worth going out of your way to get organic versions to lower the pesticide burden. I mentioned animal fats. The animals we eat have to deal with toxins like we do. One of the bad things about toxins is they build up in our fat. That can lead to weight gain and resistant weight loss. Think about this: If you are eating fat from an animal that has been exposed to toxins its whole life, you are getting a jump-start on storing toxins yourself. The fatter the animal food, the more important it is to have organic. There are studies showing that organic, high fat foods can still have substantial, pesticide residues. Even if the animal was not fed them directly, there is always so much indirect exposure that cannot be completely avoided. So, lean types of meat can be better. There is one exception to this, and that is wild fish. Wild fish fats are the most useful for lowering inflammation and helping our bodies break the cycle of too little anti-inflammatory prostaglandins.
How do you know if toxins are affecting you? There aren’t perfect measurements. There are some urinary markers that give a gauge on how much your body is processing these things, but they are somewhat indirect. The best strategy is being aware of your avoidance and reducing it. Another good strategy is to speed up your elimination processes. You can do that by pooping and peeing more, staying well-hydrated, keeping your bowels regular and sweating. It’s a great thing to break a really good sweat several times a week. You can do that with hot yoga classes. You can hang out in a dry sauna, or if you are in the beautiful, southwestern desert, there is no shortage of ways you can sweat.
Now, let’s talk about the married toxins. These are the toxins deep in your body that are really stuck. These are primarily metals and are the byproducts of everything else your body just cannot break down any further. Imagine you’re taking large, complex molecules and chemicals (like rocks) and breaking them into small pieces (like dirt). Elements are the lowest place your body can reduce things to without a particle accelerator. This is where we think about the toxic metals. The big ones are lead and mercury. Other ones are cadmium, arsenic, cesium, thallium and many others. We are directly exposed to these metals, or they are byproducts of other toxins. Because our body can confuse them with good elements (such as magnesium, calcium or zinc), these metals get deeply entrenched inside our bodies. For example, you can get a certain amount of toxins stuck in the cells within your liver. When those cells break down, they can move the toxins from our stored areas, back into circulation and sent out to our intestinal tract, but the bulk of them go right back in and get absorbed again. They are so sticky; they make the loop over and over again.
These toxins are measurable and can be measured by hair, blood or urine tests. Hair tests are good gauges, but they are not accurate. If your hair test says you have no toxins, you probably do not have toxins. If it says you have some toxins, you may have a little or a lot. If it says you have a lot a toxins, you may have a little or a lot. It is hard to say how much. Blood tests are really good for measuring your exposure in the last couple days, and that is about it. They don’t show the long-term burden. The specialized, red blood tests are a little bit better, but they are a nuance. Since arsenic gets stuck in the red blood cells, and mercury does not, they are a little bit different on how they are interpreted. Urine tests show only what toxins you are getting rid of. Random urine tests are not super useful for long-term exposure because we are concerned about the toxins your body cannot get rid of. So, whether urine tests are collected randomly or one sample for a whole day, they show what is passing through and not what is deeply stuck. Provoked urine tests show what is coming out of your body after you are given a dose of something to push the toxins out. The rationale is we expect something to come out, but if the appropriate, small dose of detoxing compound causes a whole lot of stuff to come out, that means you have a whole lot of stuff left behind. It means there is more waste present. Those types of toxins are relevant because they are so dangerous, but it goes beyond that. They also affect how well we manage the flirty toxins (those just passing through that we aren’t really stuck with). The more metals we have in our body, the less well we can detoxify plastics, pesticides or solvents. So, they can often be the hair ball clogging the drain of our bodies’ cleaning systems.
It is good to screen for these toxins, and they can be safely taken out. Some methods are more effective than others; some are too aggressive, but these toxins can be safely eliminated. That is so wonderful because it allows your body to better regenerate, have better brain function and a higher metabolic rate. You can burn fat easier, have greater mental clarity, better energy and better recovery from exercise by getting those types of things out of the body. So, think about the toxins you flirt with and the toxins you are married to. Have strategies, so there is less flirting, and have strategies so it’s the good minerals that are stuck inside you and not the bad elements.
Thanks so much. Dr. Christianson signing off.