The 4 Elements of Toxins: Understanding How Earth, Air, Fire & Water Affect Us

The 4 Elements of Toxins: Understanding How Earth, Air, Fire & Water Affect Us

How Toxins Affect Our Energy Levels

If you’ve been in my world for a while, you know all about how critical your mitochondria are for human energy production.

As a refresher, your mitochondria are the energy centers of your cells

As you get older, mitochondria tend to get damaged, slow down, and deteriorate, leading to a reduction in natural energy. 

Here’s how this works, at a cellular level.

Mitochondria are responsible for producing ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is essentially the energetic fuel of the body. When mitochondria become damaged, they can’t produce ATP efficiently, which can lead to many health problems, including fatigue, muscle weakness, and cognitive decline.

Toxins can increase the production of free radicals, which are unstable molecules that damage cellular components, including mitochondria. 

When free radicals outnumber antioxidants in the body, oxidative stress occurs, causing mitochondrial dysfunction.  

By the way, I like to think of antioxidants as bouncers who kick troublemaking disruptors (free radicals) out of ‘da club’.

So by minimizing and releasing toxins, you help your mitochondria stay strong and productive.

Let’s explore where our toxins come from, and simple tips you can follow to prevent and flush them out.

1. Toxins in the Air

While air is an essential element we rely on for breathing and survival, it can also harbor a wide range of toxins that have harmful effects on our energy levels, respiratory system,  and overall health. 

In fact, according to a World Health Organization study, air pollution is responsible for 6.7 million deaths worldwide annually. And no, we’re not immune to this in developed countries. In fact, we have some of the worst air on the planet. 

One of the primary ways in which toxins in the air can decrease our energy is by causing respiratory problems. 

When we breathe in pollutants, they can irritate the lining of our lungs and airways, leading to inflammation and reduced lung function. This can make it harder for our bodies to get the oxygen we need to function properly, leading to fatigue and decreased energy levels.

Exposure to toxins in the air can also affect our immune system, making us more susceptible to illness and infection, and bring on symptoms like sore throats. This can further drain our energy levels as our bodies work to fight off sickness and recover from illness.

Airborne toxins are known to decrease our energy by disrupting sleep patterns. Many pollutants in the air, such as nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide can cause irritation and inflammation in the respiratory system, leading to coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. This can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep, leading to fatigue and decreased energy levels during the day.

Toxins in the air can affect cognitive function, making it harder to focus and concentrate. Exposure to pollutants such as particulate matter and VOCs have been linked to cognitive impairment, including decreased attention span, memory problems, and reduced decision-making ability. This causes decreased productivity and increased fatigue as we struggle to stay focused and on-task.

This one may surprise you, but if you experience low energy due to stress and anxiety, airborne toxins may be a cause. When we’re exposed to pollutants such as carbon monoxide or nitrogen dioxide, our bodies produce cortisol, which is a known energy-zapper and chronic inflammatory hormone. 

Research has shown that people living in areas with high levels of air pollution are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety, which can further contribute to decreased energy levels and decreased overall well-being.

So yeah… air pollution is a big deal!

Here are some common sources of man-made and natural air pollution and the toxins they can contain:

Industrial Chemicals: Factories and power plants release pollutants into the air, including sulfur dioxide, lead, and mercury, which can cause respiratory problems, neurological problems, and other health issues. Many of the man-made pollutants are known as endocrine disrupters and build up inside our body causing our hormones to stop working properly. The result is everything from cravings, to low libido, to infertility, to insomnia, and headaches, as well as development of chronic problems like autoimmune conditions, heart disease, and even cancer.

Vehicle Emissions: Vehicles release harmful chemicals into the air, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter, which can cause respiratory problems and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Indoor Air Pollution: Indoor air quality can be negatively impacted by a range of sources, including cigarette smoke, household cleaning products, and mold, which can cause respiratory problems, headaches, and other health issues.

VOCs: Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are off-gassing from our beautiful furniture, flooring, paint, and even car interiors. So your gorgeous Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn inspired home could be putting chemicals into the air and hurting you. We inhale these chemicals and they slow down energy production by our mitochondria—not to mention, end up circulating throughout our body getting into our brain, heart, liver, and gut microbiome.  

Nature Air Pollution: Natural air pollution comes from smoke from wildfires, ash and gasses from volcanic eruptions, and gasses, like methane, which are emitted from decomposing organic matter in soils.

Ways to Minimize Exposure to Air Toxins

  • Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke and limit exposure to outdoor air pollution by staying indoors when air quality is poor. Pro Tip: Use the weather app on your phone to check your air quality!
  • Use air filters and air purifiers to remove pollutants from indoor air.
  • Upgrade your home air fresheners to DIY essential oil-based room sprays instead of mass-produced, chemical-laden aerosol-based products you buy at the store or online.
  • Use eco-friendly cleaning products and avoid products with strong chemical odors. Here’s one of my favorite brands: Branch Basics. 
  • Get air purifying plants! According to NASA Clean Air Study, the spider plant, snake plant, peace lillies, aloe vera, and the boston fern are just some of the best air-purifying plants that will help you naturally remove toxins from your surroundings.

Here’s my top list and how each plant helps you:

  1. Snake Plant: One of the few houseplants that convert large amounts of CO2 to oxygen at night so they’re ideal for your bedroom to help improve sleep quality.
  2. Spider Plant: Removes 95% of chemicals (including carbon monoxide & formaldehyde) from the air in 24 hours.
  3. Peace Lily: The most effective houseplant for removing the VOC trichloroethylene (TCE) from the air (23% over 24 hours).
  4. Rubber Plant: Produces more oxygen than any other plant, plus removes mold spores and bacteria from the air (by up to 60%).
  5. Aloe Vera: Continuously releases oxygen at night time and filters toxins including benzene, formaldehyde & carbon monoxide.
  6. Boston Fern: Purifies formaldehyde, xylene, airborne germs, and toluene, plus removes mold & bacteria from the air.
  7. Dwarf Date Palm: Removes formaldehyde, xylene & toluene, while increasing humidity levels.
  8. English Ivy: Most effective houseplant for cleaning benzene from the air.
  9. Gerbera Daisy: Not just a pretty face, this flower removes 50% of airborne formaldehyde, 67% of benzene, and 35% of trichloroethylene in 24 hours.


2. Toxins in Water

Water quality can have a significant impact on your health and well-being, including decreasing your energy levels. 

Obviously you need water to live—but not all water is created equal, including the water running through our homes.

Just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s safe!

Did you know your local municipal water company can get approval from the federal government to deliver water to you that is not actually clean?

You can look up how dirty your water is on this US city database from Environmental Working Group

Drop in your ZIP code, click on your utility company, and it will show you how many pollutants exceed EWG recommendations, exactly what they are, and the damage consistent exposure can do.

According to EWG, the “legal limits for contaminants in tap water have not been updated in almost 20 years.”

Here’s the bottom line: Your tap water is not clean. 

In addition to an “acceptable” level of chemical and pharmaceutical residue, water suppliers add chlorine or chloramine, plus ammonia, to disinfect water.

Chloramine irritates the respiratory system and is known to cause asthma in its vapor form. It’s also corrosive and can leach lead from the pipes it’s coming through…. then the lead gets into your drinking water! 

For children, lead is exceptionally harmful. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, even low levels of lead in children can result in slowed growth, behavior and learning problems, lower iq and hyperactivity, hearing problems, and anemia.

In adults, exposure to pollutants such as lead and mercury has been linked to cognitive impairment, including decreased attention span, memory problems, and reduced decision-making ability. This can lead to decreased productivity and increased fatigue as we struggle to stay focused and on-task.

Water-based pollutants decrease our energy by causing dysbiosis, which is an imbalance in the microbiome. 

Because the microbiome is responsible for generating metabolic energy, when there are too many pollutants in the water, for example heavy metals, pesticides, and chemicals such as chlorine and fluoride, it can upset the balance of the microorganisms and make them weaker, which means they can’t create as much energy. 

By the way, in case you were curious, fluoride began being added to the water in the 1940s as a public health measure to prevent tooth decay. Consuming too much fluoride can lead to a range of health problems including fluorosis (a condition that impacts the strength of tooth enamel and causes white spots or streaks on the teeth), arthritis, bone damage, osteoporosis, muscular damage, fatigue, joint-related issues, and chronic health conditions.

Remember how I said legal doesn’t equal safe? That’s just one example…

Toxins in water may also affect cognitive function, making it harder to focus and concentrate. We end up working harder than we need to and zapping our energy reserves faster.

Plus, exposure to toxins in the water often impacts the kidney system, causes kidney stones, and makes us more susceptible to illness and infection. This can drain our energy levels as our bodies work to process toxins and fight off sickness—and we often have no idea this is going on in the background!

Just like airborne toxins, water-sourced pollutants can affect our mood and mental health, leading to feelings of depression and lethargy, as well as stress and anxiety.

One big note… when I say “water” I also mean ALL consumable liquids.

For example, toxins can be found in drinks including soda, energy drinks, coffee, and even some types of tea.

Toxins in beverages besides water can decrease your energy by causing dehydration. Many popular drinks such as soda, energy drinks, and coffee can be dehydrating due to their high sugar and caffeine content. When we consume these beverages, they can cause an initial spike in energy, followed by a crash as our bodies become dehydrated and fatigued.

Additionally, many of these drinks contain artificial sweeteners, which can be toxic to our bodies. For example, aspartame, a popular sweetener found in diet sodas, has been linked to a range of health problems, including headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. 

Similarly, energy drinks often contain taurine, which can cause fatigue and drowsiness in some people. 

Even certain types of tea, such as green tea, can contain toxins like heavy metals, which can cause fatigue and other health problems as our toxic load skyrockets.

Alcohol, including wine, is another type of drink that can decrease your energy levels. 

I know, I just broke your heart.

While alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that can make us feel relaxed and less anxious, consumption can also lead to dehydration, impaired cognitive function, and fatigue. 

Additionally, many alcoholic beverages contain high amounts of sugar and calories, which as you know, causes a temporary spike in energy followed by a crash.

Ways to Minimize Exposure to Water Toxins

  • Achieve clean bathing water by installing a purifying shower head.
  • Avoid using pesticides and fertilizers in your yard (the chemicals go into the soil and then our groundwater). 
  • Dispose of household cleaning products, pharmaceuticals, and personal care products properly, as they can enter the water supply through wastewater, which can cause hormonal imbalances and other health issues.
  • Use a water purifier like Berkey or my favorite, a countertop water distiller which will also remove radioactive elements like uranium and radon.

While under-sink and whole house reverse osmosis systems sound amazing, they can be expensive and unfortunately, they’re the perfect environment for mold to grow and are often missed by mold inspectors!

3.Toxins in Earth

By now you’re likely seeing how all of these elements are connected. 

Toxins in the air can turn into water-based toxins (i.e. rain) which then drops into the soil, contaminating it. 

Pollutants from industrial activities and agriculture seep into the water and the soil, which also go into our food sources.

In fact, pesticides and herbicides are one of the most prevalent sources of toxins for the earth—including our food.

Many people are surprised when they hear that household waste, such as batteries, electronics, and cleaning products, can contaminate the soil if not disposed of properly.

They’re also surprised to know that, just as we have a microbiome, so does the earth. 

Our soil is made up of a community of microorganisms that help convert organic matter into nutrients and energy. 

Toxic chemicals can damage or destroy these microorganisms, which can reduce the overall productivity of the soil. 

As a result, plants and other organisms that rely on the soil for nutrients and energy may become less healthy and less productive. 

Additionally, toxic chemicals can also impact the growth and function of plant roots, which makes it more difficult for plants to generate energy through photosynthesis., which can lead to a cascade of negative effects throughout the ecosystem.

It isn’t just plants and humans impacted by earth-based toxins—animals who share the planet are too.

Whether it’s our pets or animals we rely on for food sources, anything that consumes and processes food stemming from the earth can be affected by toxins.

This is particularly dangerous for our food chain, because toxins can accumulate in organisms in the food chain over time (a process known as bioaccumulation) and when larger animals eat these smaller organisms, they can also accumulate the toxins in their tissues (a process known as biomagnification). 

So, for example, if you regularly consume conventional beef or chicken and toxins exist in the tissue of the source animal, guess who just got more toxic themselves? YOU!

Ways to Minimize Exposure to Earth Toxins

  • Choose organic meats, poultry, or other animal products (which means they have been fed organic materials).
  • Dispose of hazardous waste properly.
  • Use eco-friendly household cleaning products; check out one of my favorites – Branch Basics.
  • Grow your own food using organic gardening practices and avoid using pesticides and fertilizers.

4. Toxins in Fire

Now, you’re probably sitting there going, “Whew, I don’t have to worry about this one. I don’t spend much time around fire.”

But I’m going to challenge that… because for thousands of years humans have used fire for cooking, warmth, and energy. And we still do today!

So let’s explore some common sources of fire-related toxins…

Smoke produced by fires, including natural wildfires, and everyday tobacco smoke, contain a wide range of harmful chemicals, including carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter, which can cause respiratory problems, heart disease, and other health issues.

So even if you aren’t a smoker, you can still be impacted by secondhand smoke, breathing in air during seasonal wildfires, or even the fireplace inside your home.

Certain cooking methods, such as grilling and frying, can produce harmful chemicals, including s acrylamide and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which can increase the risk of cancer.

You can also pick up toxins from your cookware. 

The worst offender is non-stick cookware, which is coated with a synthetic substance called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). 

PFOA is a type of man-made chemicals that belong to the group of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These chemicals have been widely used in many industrial and consumer applications due to their unique properties, such as their resistance to heat, water, and oil.

However, high PFAS levels in humans have been linked to numerous health and environmental concerns, including cancer, thyroid disease, and reproductive problems. As a result, many countries have taken steps to phase out the use of PFAS chemicals in consumer products.

PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, is a specific type of PFAS chemical that has been used extensively in the production of non-stick coatings, such as Teflon. 

When heated to high temperatures, PFOA chemicals can release toxic fumes, causing flu-like symptoms in humans, commonly known as “Teflon flu.” This can occur if the non-stick surface is scratched, or if the cookware is overheated or left on the stove for too long.

PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment and human bodies. Exposure to this chemical has been linked to a variety of health problems, including cancer, reproductive problems, and developmental issues.

Inhaling smoke or cooking fumes can cause damage to our respiratory system, making it harder to breathe, and reducing the amount of oxygen that reaches our cells. Because oxygen is essential for the production of energy in our cells, a lack of it can lead to decreased energy levels and feelings of fatigue.

Another potential source of toxins is aluminum cookware. While aluminum is a good conductor of heat, it can react with acidic foods such as tomatoes, causing the metal to leach into the food. Excessive consumption of aluminum has been linked to health problems such as Alzheimer’s disease and kidney problems.

And here’s another problem, most restaurants use aluminum cookware, yet another reason to eat at home. 

Similarly, copper cookware can also release toxins when the metal reacts with acidic foods. Copper is a highly reactive metal and can cause food to become contaminated with copper ions, which can be harmful to human health.

In addition, exposure to toxins from fire or cooking can cause inflammation in our bodies, which can also contribute to low energy levels. Chronic inflammation has been linked to a variety of health problems, including fatigue, and can make it harder for our bodies to function optimally.

Household products, such as candles and incense, can produce smoke that can contain harmful chemicals.

While candles and incense are often used for their pleasant scents and relaxing properties, they can also release pollutants into the air that can affect our health and energy levels.

For example, candles made from paraffin wax can release benzene and toluene when burned. These chemicals can cause headaches, dizziness, and nausea, and can also affect our respiratory system, making it harder to breathe and reducing the amount of oxygen that reaches our cells.

Similarly, incense can release harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde and carbon monoxide when burned. These chemicals can also cause respiratory problems and fatigue, and long-term exposure to incense smoke has been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer.

Ways to Minimize Exposure to Fire-Related Toxins

  • Avoid exposure to smoke by staying indoors during wildfires
  • Get air purifiers for your home: one for each bedroom and for the common areas too. 
  • Avoid tobacco smoke
  • Use cooking methods that produce less harmful chemicals, such as steaming and baking
  • Choose safer cookware options, such as stainless steel, cast iron, and ceramic cookware
  • Ensure proper ventilation while cooking
  • Avoid cooking with high heat or burning food
  • Use eco-friendly candles and incense (such as beeswax candles and natural incense made from herbs and essential oils)

How to Eliminate Daily Toxins for Optimal Energy

I know it sounds like toxins are lurking around every corner and there’s no way to get around them…

And while this is technically true, the solution isn’t to put yourself into one of those human-sized bubbles.

The solution is to open your drainage pathways and effectively pull out the toxins you’re exposed to everyday.

When you work with a functional medicine practitioner, we help you identify the toxins causing your energy depletion. 

Arbitrarily trying to do this yourself will cost you time and money. And worst of all, it won’t really work because you’re shooting in the dark.

When you book a no-obligation consult with me and my team, we help you turn on the light, giving you the answers you need fast. Plus customized solutions and protocol plans so you can achieve your goals and get the results you’re looking for.

Let’s see if we’re a good fit – take your first step here.

Take Good Care,

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