Unmasking Hidden Threats: How Environmental Toxins Fuel Inflammation
The gut microbiome has been taking center stage in recent years.
Recent studies are showing again and again that the delicate environment inside our gastrointestinal tract plays a major role not only in our energy production and immune system function, but also in determining whether or not we’re likely to get serious illnesses—from cancer and heart disease to neurological disorders, such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.
Chronic inflammation plays a huge role in the overall health of our digestive system. Not only can it make the lining inside our small intestine more porous, allowing toxins, undigested food particles, fungus, bacteria, pesticides, and chemicals to leak into the bloodstream, it actually has an impact on the gut microbes that live inside the microbiome.
In our modern world, we’re constantly exposed to environmental toxins which increase inflammation, impact the microbial diversity inside us, and decrease the function of our mitochondria—which are the energy centers inside our cells.
The end result is not having the physical, mental, or emotional energy necessary to live our lives the way we want to—whether that’s performing on the job, being the best friend, partner, and parent possible, or even enjoying the hobbies we most love.
But before we get into the top toxins that create this poor quality of life—and open us up for the biggest health challenges we want to eliminate—it helps to understand exactly what the microbiome is, what lives in there, and why it’s the hottest area of human health being researched today.
What’s Inside The Microbiome?
The human gut microbiome is a vast ecosystem of trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and more, residing within your digestive tract.
Some of these gut microbial residents are “good” and some are “bad”—and they’re all in there for a reason.
The goal isn’t to completely wipe out these bacteria—it’s to have a balanced “microbial community”.
For many people, the “good gut bugs” struggle to survive and too many of the “bad” ones flourish. That’s because we’re plagued by sources of inflammation (toxins, nutrient deficiencies, and infections) which affect the health and reproductive abilities of the “good” bacteria and allow the harmful gut microbiota to dominate.
When this happens, you can experience issues related to poor microbial diversity, ranging from digestive disturbances, like gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, cramps, and other discomforts that make you not want to be too far away from your own bathroom.
Because the gut microbiome is the processing center for everything we ingest, every other system inside us is essentially “downstream”, which means nowhere is safe from the pollution.
Speaking of pollution, let’s move now into one of the biggest sources of inflammation that we just can’t avoid: Environmental toxins.
What Are Environmental Toxins & How Do They Make Their Way Into The Body?
Environmental toxins come from, well, our environment.
From the air we breathe, to what we put on our skin, to the food we ingest, to the water we drink… everything around us has some sort of pollutant.
The amount of toxins we have inside us is known as our “toxic load”.
“Toxic load” refers to the cumulative burden of toxins and harmful substances that accumulate in your body over time – including environmental pollutants, chemicals, heavy metals, and other harmful substances you’re exposed to every day.
If you think of your body as a bucket, toxins drip into you constantly.
If those toxins aren’t moved out of your bucket, soon they’ll accumulate so much that you have an overflow of toxicity that stops you from living the way you want to.
Many of us struggle to process, metabolize, and release toxins from our bodies. We’re simply overwhelmed by the amount coming in, and the way we live our lives has made it so our natural detox systems (liver, kidneys, colon, skin) can’t keep up.
This can lead to a buildup of harmful substances in our tissues and organs, showing up as everything from allergies and acne to autoimmune diseases, diabetes, and obesity.
Let’s explore the biggest environmental toxins, where they come from, and how to eliminate them.
Heavy metals are elements with high atomic weights and densities that can have harmful effects on human health when they accumulate in the body.
I always say that heavy metals are the most dangerous toxin on Earth because they’re super sneaky, omnipresent, and build up in your body over time.
Studies suggested that heavy metals can be toxic to certain populations of beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome. Metal toxicity can create oxidative stress, which is kind of like your body rusting from the inside out. It can also affect you at a DNA level by creating genotoxicity.
To explain what I mean, it helps to imagine your genes as a recipe for your favorite cookies. Genotoxicity would be like someone spilling ink all over the recipe. When that happens, you can’t read the instructions properly, and you might end up making not-so-great cookies (which is a damn shame, in my opinion. Did you know I have the Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie recipe memorized. Yep, my trivia claim to fame!). Same for your genes when they are exposed to toxins: your genetic “instructions” are no longer ‘readable’ by your body.
In terms of the human body, when your DNA gets damaged due to toxic metals, it can lead to problems like cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, etc… because your cells start behaving strangely, just like your messed-up cookie recipe.
Here are the most common heavy metals that show up in the body, and what happens when they’re too high inside you:
Lead is particularly harmful to the nervous system. Elevated lead levels can lead to symptoms such as headaches, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and irritability. In severe cases, it can cause seizures and developmental delays in children.
Lead is a super stealthy heavy metal because it doesn’t always cause noticeable symptoms until the levels become quite high and you’re forced to take serious steps to remedy the problem.
The most common ways we get exposed include:
- Lead-based paint – commonly used in homes built before 1978, when this paint deteriorates and turns into dust or chips, it can be ingested or inhaled.
- Contaminated water – lead can enter drinking water when it leaches from older plumbing pipes or fixtures.
- Contaminated soil – lead-contaminated soil, often resulting from deteriorating exterior lead paint or nearby industrial activities, can be ingested by children who play in the dirt.
One of the most significant lead poisoning cases in recent history occurred in Flint, Michigan. In an effort to reduce costs, the city switched its water source to the Flint River, leading to lead contamination in the drinking water. Thousands of residents, including many children, were exposed to elevated lead levels, resulting in serious health problems.
Mercury is another heavy metal that takes a toll on the nervous system.
Exposure can lead to memory problems, poor acuity, and difficulty concentrating. It can also have emotional and behavioral consequences, such as mood swings, irritability, anxiety, and depression.
The most common ways we get exposed include:
- Breathing it in from the air – mercury and other metals are literally raining down on us from the atmosphere. There are two main sources: (1) from nature like volcanic activity and forest fires, and (2) from man-made sources, mainly industrial emissions, combustion emissions (vehicles, electricity production and waste incineration), mining, and agricultural activities.
- Consuming contaminated seafood – large predatory fish, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and certain types of tuna, tend to have higher levels of mercury. Mercury is present in the aquatic environment, and readily absorbed by aquatic organisms. Because larger fish live longer, they eat more smaller fish, leading to Biomagnification, where mercury becomes more concentrated in their tissues (and therefore your tissues!)
- Dental amalgam fillings – the “silver fillings” dentists have been using for decades contain elemental mercury. Over time, these fillings can release small amounts of mercury vapor, which can be inhaled and absorbed into the body (this is why I got mine removed in 2023!).
Cadmium exposure is associated with respiratory issues from inhaling the vapors, leading to chronic bronchitis, a persistent cough, even lung cancer. It also particularly “likes” to settle in the kidneys, impairing their ability to filter waste from the blood, which can lead to kidney dysfunction and, in severe cases, kidney failure. It’s also associated with certain cancers (including prostate cancer), as well as osteoporosis because cadmium weakens bones.
The most common ways we get exposed are:
- Tobacco smoke – smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke because tobacco plants readily absorb cadmium from the soil.
- Dietary sources – some foods, particularly shellfish, liver, and certain grains and vegetables, can contain cadmium.
Aluminum is a naturally occurring metal that’s widely used due to its lightweight, strong, and corrosion-resistant properties. However, there is evidence that shows continual exposure may lead to an array of health concerns. For example, research shows high levels of aluminum exposure may be associated with neurotoxicity, particularly in relation to Alzheimer’s disease.
Essentially what aluminum does is interrupt our natural self-regulating processes, leading to dysregulation in critical functions and structures in the body. For instance, because aluminum can interrupt normal, healthy cellular replication, there are concerns about the potential connection between aluminum-containing antiperspirants and an increased risk of breast cancer.
Aluminum is especially nefarious due to how omnipresent it is. Aside from industrial and air pollution sources, the most common ways we get exposed are:
- Food sources and cookware – this is the primary way people get exposed to aluminum, because processed foods often contain additives like sodium aluminum phosphate; plus this toxin can leach into food from aluminum cookware, aluminum foil, or aluminum containers.
- Cosmetics and personal care products – aluminum compounds, such as aluminum chlorohydrate and aluminum zirconium, are often used in antiperspirants and deodorants to reduce sweating, resulting in aluminum absorption. (Interesting fact, know those unsightly underarm stains on your t-shirts and tank tops? That’s due to your sweat combining with the aluminum in your antiperspirant!)
- Medications and antacids – some over-the-counter antacids and prescription medications contain aluminum compounds to help reduce acid in the stomach, and using these medications over an extended period can lead to increased aluminum intake.
- Vaccines – some vaccines (such as those for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and tetanus) contain aluminum salts as adjuvants, which enhance the body’s immune response to the vaccine. Exposure from vaccines is a potential source of exposure.
- Canned foods and beverages – some canned foods and beverages have an inner lining that may contain aluminum, which can potentially migrate into the contents, particularly if they are acidic.
- Dental fillings – dental amalgams have historically contained a mixture of metals, including mercury and aluminum, and while the use of these kinds of amalgams has declined, some people may still have older fillings that contain aluminum.
Addressing the most prevalent sources of aluminum can be as simple as choosing fresh, whole foods over canned ones; ditching your aluminum cookware and bakeware for “healthy” versions such as ceramic, stainless steel, or cast iron; and swapping to an aluminum-free deodorant (there are tons on the market now, such as Native, Lume, and Tom’s, but even household name brands like Dove and Old Spice are getting in on the action!).
Chronic exposure to arsenic can cause severe gastrointestinal problems, including abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Prolonged exposure to arsenic is associated with chronic diseases, including skin conditions, lung disorders, and cancer (particularly of the skin, lungs, and bladder).
The most common ways we get exposed are:
- Drinking water – arsenic can naturally occur in groundwater (private wells are particularly susceptible to arsenic contamination).
- Food sources – some foods (especially rice and rice products) can contain higher levels of arsenic, due to the way rice is cultivated in flooded fields, which can facilitate the uptake of arsenic from the soil.
As mentioned, heavy metals build up in the human body over time, and without proper intervention they can get “stuck” inside your cells causing problems and adding to your toxic load.
Because most people don’t get tested for heavy metal exposure, this is a toxic source that doesn’t get “cleaned out” very often. Plus, heavy metals aren’t that easy to remove naturally.
When you work with a functional health practitioner, we have access to certain lab tests that will identify the levels of each heavy metal in the body. Based on your results, we can offer specific protocols with drainage support and heavy metal binders to grab those toxins from your body and flush them out safely.
When you’re able to release these heavy metal toxins and reduce your overall toxic load, you may notice your digestive problems disappear, you have more energy, a stronger immune system, and much better brain power.
Pesticides and Herbicides
Pesticides and herbicides are chemical substances used in agriculture, landscaping and pest control to protect crops and control unwanted weeds, insects, and pests.
The #1 way we get exposed to pesticides and herbicides is by eating foods that carry residue from agricultural and pest control applications.
With a growing population requiring more and more food, farmers resort to pesticides and herbicides to meet these demands—as well as maintain their profits.
Every single client I work with has some level of pesticides and/or herbicides in their toxin test results… even if they buy organic and grow their own foods.
The biggest villain behind this is glyphosate (AKA the weed killer Roundup). It’s so pervasive here in America that it’s made its way into our air, water, soil, and food sources. There’s no way to get around it. And it’s associated with many health conditions such as chronic kidney disease, mitochondrial dysfunction, ALS, gout, anencephaly in a fetus, autism, and countless more diseases and conditions.
When you consume foods contaminated with pesticides and herbicides, you ingest the toxic chemicals, too, which get absorbed through your digestive system and enter the bloodstream.
While most of us don’t have severe pesticide poisoning, the chronic health effects of long-term exposure to low levels of pesticides and herbicides has been associated with neurological problems, reproductive disorders, and certain types of cancer.
Plus, pesticides and herbicides can have adverse effects on ecosystems and wildlife, because these chemicals run off into waterways and accumulate in the environment.
Thankfully, there are several things you can do to reduce your risk of environmental exposure. I have a complete guide to detoxing your body from herbicides and pesticides, but here are some quick tips for you:
Choose organic produce when possible, as organic farming practices typically use fewer synthetic pesticides and herbicides.
Check out the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” here, which is a report put out by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) each year, outlining the foods with the heaviest pesticide/herbicide usage, as well as those with the least.
Dirty Dozen foods you should always buy organic. Clean Fifteen you can generally buy conventional and clean at home.
Always wash your produce
Yes, even when you buy them from a “natural” food store or the farmers market!
Thoroughly wash and scrub fruits and vegetables, including those with peelable skins, to reduce pesticide residues.
Studies suggest washing your vegetables at home before consuming them can dramatically reduce the amount of pesticides and herbicides you are exposed to—with some methods more effective than others.
Here are three simple ways to wash your fruits and veggies:
- Simply wash and rub produce under clean, running water.
- Do a vinegar rinse by filling a large bowl or your sink with cold water, adding one cup of white vinegar, and then submerging your fruits and vegetables in the water, letting them soak for 15 minutes.
- Do a baking soda rinse by mixing one teaspoon of baking soda per two cups of cold water, then swishing your produce in the solution before allowing it to soak for around 12–15 minutes.
Always be sure to rinse and thoroughly dry your produce before putting it away.
Note: Don’t combine vinegar and baking soda to clean your produce, like you see on TikTok. That cool fizzy reaction may make you think you’re getting your produce “extra clean”, but really you’re just neutralizing the cleaning compounds.
Limit home use of pesticides and herbicides
Sure those aphids, slugs, and beetles are super annoying to your home garden, but by choosing a chemical spray you get at your local home improvement store, you’re actually contaminating your own food source.
Instead, consider natural alternatives and environmentally friendly pest control methods.
One that’s really interesting is companion planting—this is where you plant “friendly” plants that naturally repel pests, stave off disease, and can improve your harvest bounty.
Pesticides and herbicides are an area of gut health I’m super passionate about. If you are too, definitely bookmark this article about what you can do to reduce your exposure and keep your toxic load low from these kinds of environmental pollutants.
Air pollutants are probably the biggest environmental toxin out there.
Research shows that air pollutants have a negative effect on your gut microbes. It can spark inflammation, impact your immune function, and even deteriorate your mental health.
Here’s an interesting fact… most of the airborne toxins we’re exposed to come from indoor air—not outdoor air.
So even though you’re probably concerned about bad air quality outside from smog, car fumes, and wildfires (among other things), guess where we spend the majority of our time? Yep, indoors.
In fact, unless you have a job that has you working outside most of the time (like my husband, who has a landscaping business), you probably spend about 90% of your time inside. This means you’re constantly exposed to airborne toxins!
The most common air pollutants include:
Fine particulate matter (PM2.5)
PM2.5 are tiny, invisible dust particles that are 30 times thinner than a human hair. The “2.5” in PM2.5 stands for the size of these particles (2.5 micrometers or microns). To put that into perspective, a single grain of sand is about 90 microns in size – so we’re talking about something way tinier than that!
These minuscule particles are floating around in the air, coming from various sources like car exhaust, industrial processes, and even natural events like wildfires.
Because they’re so small, PM2.5 particles can easily get deep into our lungs when we breathe. And that’s where the trouble begins. They can irritate our respiratory system, cause coughing, sneezing, and even trigger more serious issues like asthma attacks or heart problems.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
VOCs are shifty little compounds found in a wide range of products you love and use daily, like cleaning supplies, room deodorizers, adhesives, some scented candles, and you may even find them in your personal care products!
The “volatile” part means these compounds can easily evaporate into the air at room temperature (otherwise known as “off-gassing”).
You know that “new car smell” or the strong scent when you open a fresh can of paint? That’s VOCs making themselves known.
When VOCs off-gas, they mix with the air you breathe, and that’s when they can become problematic. Breathing in high levels of VOCs can lead to symptoms like headaches, dizziness, eye and throat irritation, and even worsen respiratory issues for some people—particularly those with allergies or asthma.
Certain airborne toxins, such as benzene and formaldehyde, are known or suspected carcinogens and have been associated with various types of cancer.
Thankfully there are lots of ways to eliminate VOCs.
A simple way to purify your air is through plants!
Not only do they make your home look beautiful, but they deliver fresh, clean air to you every day.
Check out the best air scrubbing plants here – and yes, there are options even if you have a black thumb!
I also highly recommend getting an air purifier that has a 0.1 HEPA filter, which removes airborne contaminants as small as 0.1 microns.
Most air purifiers only capture 0.3 microns or higher, so buying anything other than a 0.1 micron filter is a waste, in my opinion. That’s because most of the worst indoor air offenders are actually way smaller than 0.3 microns.
Check out some of the typical micron sizes of indoor air invaders you likely want to eliminate:
- Pollen grains – 10 to 100 microns
- Mold spores – 3 to 40 microns
- Bacteria – 0.5 to 5 microns
- Dust mites – 0.2 to 0.3 microns
- Airborne viruses – 0.02 to 0.12 microns
Austin Air’s Bedroom Machine is one of my favorite air purifiers (I literally have three in my house). It’s made of metal (not plastic, another environmental contaminant) and it’s on wheels, so you can tote it around the house with you. Although it’s on the pricey side, you actually save money in the long run because the filter lasts around five years. Most other air purifiers require you to replace the filter monthly—and that cost adds up over time.
If you’re doing a home renovation project or getting new furniture, you’re going to be inundated with VOCs.
Here’s a list of home improvement products known to have massive VOCs:
- Paints, stains, strippers, and finishes
- New cabinets, furniture, and beds
- New carpets, rugs, and wood floors
The standard air filter in your home’s air conditioning and heating system is designed to only remove particles that are 5-10 microns in size or larger. So you can’t really count on your built-in air filters to eliminate the majority of airborne toxins in your house—particularly if you’re doing construction.
To reduce the risk of VOC exposure and off-gassing, ensure good ventilation in indoor spaces to dilute and disperse VOCs. Use exhaust fans and open windows when possible.
Also, minimize time spent in enclosed spaces with high concentrations of VOCs, especially during and immediately after home improvement or painting projects.
It’s also critical to wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and gloves, when using products that emit VOCs.
Another thing you should do to reduce your exposure to environmental toxins in the air is choose products with low or no VOCs, which are labeled as “low-VOC” or “VOC-free.” You should also make sure you’re using any sort of VOC product in well-ventilated spaces.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
I promise I’m not over here just making up acronyms.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are born when things burn.
You know when you fire up the grill for a barbecue? PAHs are what create those lovely grill marks on your burger.
They can also come from burning things like wood, coal, and even from smoking cigarettes.
Now, here’s the thing: Some PAHs are super problematic. They can make it hard for you to breathe or even increase the risk of diseases like cancer.
Here are some of the most common ways you can become exposed to PAHs:
- Inhaling the smoke from charred or overcooked meat – if you know you’re not the best griller, hand the tongs over to someone else and go enjoy a tasty beverage (far away from the grill) instead.
- Tobacco smoke – if you’re around smokers or in areas with secondhand smoke, you’re breathing in these compounds.
- High-traffic areas, industrial zones, and regions with frequent wildfires or wood-burning stoves – keep an eye on air quality in your neighborhood because each of these pollutants can lead to elevated levels of PAHs in the air.
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2)
Both of these environmental toxins come from the process of combustion.
Before you start thinking, “Hey, I’m not hanging out around volcanoes or mining operations so this doesn’t apply to me,” you’re probably around combustion sources and don’t even realize it.
Gas stoves, heaters, and fireplaces can release nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide if they’re not adequately vented.
You can also breathe in NO2 and SO2 if you spend time in urban areas (via vehicle exhaust from cars, trucks, and public transportation) or live near industrial facilities or power plants.
Both nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide can cause respiratory problems, exacerbate asthma, and even affect the cardiovascular system when you’re exposed to them. So, it’s essential to be aware of potential sources in your environment and take steps to minimize your exposure—especially if you have children.
Endocrine Disruptors (EDCs)
Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) are a group of synthetic chemicals that have the potential to interfere with the body’s hormone system.
These pollutants can be found in a wide range of everyday products, including plastics, pesticides, and personal care products.
Here’s what happens when you take endocrine disruptors into your body.
EDCs can mimic your natural hormones
Some EDCs are like hormone impostors. They mimic your natural hormones, and your body gets confused, responding as if it’s getting a hormone signal, even when it’s not.
Take, for example, Bisphenol A (BPA). You’ll often find this EDC in plastic products, like food containers and water bottles. BPA can mimic estrogen in your body and mess with your hormonal balance, which can then screw with your menstrual cycle, impact your fertility, and even create complications in pregnant women. Men aren’t immune either! Ever heard of man-boobs? Low libido? Well, endocrine disruptors are a primary culprit!
EDCs are hormone blockers
Other EDCs can block the actions of your natural hormones. It’s like standing in front of a traffic signal and not letting the cars pass. When this happens, your hormones can’t do their job properly.
For example, some EDCs, like certain flame retardants, can block the action of thyroid hormones, which make sure your body uses energy effectively.
When thyroid hormones can’t do their job, your metabolism can slow down. This can lead to weight gain and feeling sluggish.
Your body’s temperature regulation might also get thrown off, making you feel too hot or too cold.
Plus, with a slowed-down metabolism, you might feel fatigued and lack energy.
EDCs can lead to an overproduction of certain hormones
It’s like having the volume on your favorite song cranked up way too high. This can throw off the balance of your hormones and create chaos in your body. How it shows up depends on the hormone.
In the case of estrogen overproduction, it can lead to an increased risk of breast cancer.
For males, an overproduction of testosterone can affect fertility and also create issues like acne, baldness, and aggressive behavior.
When insulin is overproduced, it can lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and then a rebound effect where the blood sugar spikes. Over time, this can contribute to insulin resistance, where cells become less responsive to insulin. Insulin resistance is a key factor in type 2 diabetes and can also affect metabolism and energy levels.
EDCs can interfere with the production, release, transport, metabolism, and elimination of hormones
Every hormone in your body has a specific cycle. It gets created, released, processed, and removed.
EDCs can basically gum up the works and disrupt this flow.
Take cortisol, for instance. Cortisol is a stress hormone produced by your adrenal glands which has a very important purpose: It helps your body spring into action.
Cortisol increases your heart rate, sharpens your focus, and gives you the energy needed to cope with stressors—which, back in caveman days, was to run or fight for your life.
These days, your stressors might be tackling a big project at work or caring for your kids.
Cortisol is also heavily involved in your sleep-wake cycle. It follows a natural daily rhythm, with higher levels in the morning to help you wake up and lower levels in the evening to prepare your body for rest.
Exposure to certain EDCs can overstimulate your adrenal glands, causing them to release excess cortisol, even in non-stressful situations.
This constant high cortisol level that is produced, not metabolized properly, and not released effectively can lead to buildup which creates chronic stress and inflammation.
While I used cortisol as an example, this can happen with any hormone in the body.
Chronically disrupted hormone cycles are partly to blame for the drastic increase in “silent killer” conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and fatty liver disease.
Ok, now that you get why endocrine disruptors are no bueno, let’s dive into how they happen.
- EDCs can leach into food and beverages stored in plastic containers or packaging.
That’s why it’s absolutely critical to get your food out of plastic packaging when you get home from the store and put them into glass and/or BPA-free containers right away. Also, avoid beverages in plastic bottles.
- EDCs can also be absorbed through the skin upon direct contact.
Many personal care products we use on our hair, nails, and skin have EDCs in them—notably phthalates.
Phthalates are a group of toxic chemicals that are primarily used as plasticizers, which means they make plastic more flexible and durable. You’ll often find them personal care items, food packaging, and toys.
In addition to toys and food packaging, phthalates are also used in many fragrances. They help scents linger longer and stay stable, ensuring that your favorite perfumes, lotions, and air fresheners maintain their aroma.
When you apply these products to your body (including spraying them on, rubbing them into your skin, or painting your nails), phthalates get absorbed and enter your bloodstream.
Also, when you touch or come into direct contact with items made of these plastics, such as vinyl shower curtains or certain types of clothing, there’s a potential for phthalates to transfer to your skin.
If you have kids, you’re going to want to hear this next part…
Phthalates are used to soften plastic toys. When children play with these toys, especially if they put them in their mouths or handle them extensively, there’s a risk of phthalates being ingested.
Phthalates can have a truly harmful effect on children because their developing bodies are vulnerable to the potential health effects of these environmental chemicals—and the ensuring skyhigh toxicity can determine how they go through the rest of their lives.
For example, phthalates may affect the normal function of the endocrine system, potentially leading to issues with puberty, growth, and overall hormone balance.
Some studies have suggested that early-life exposure to phthalates may be linked to respiratory problems in children, such as asthma and allergies.
Other research suggests a potential link between BPA exposure and neurobehavioral issues, such as attention and hyperactivity problems in children.
Sounds pretty high risk for a cheapie plastic toy, doesn’t it?
Whether we’re talking about you or your kids, reducing exposure to BPA and phthalates is crucial for minimizing potential health risks.
Here are some simple ways to do it.
- Choose BPA-free products – opt for products labeled as BPA-free, especially for food and beverage containers (including baby bottles). Go paperless or avoid handling the receipt when you purchase groceries, gas or other commodities. Thermal receipt paper is made with BPA and it will seep into your skin when you touch it.
- Avoid plastics with recycle codes 3, 6, and 7 – these plastics may contain EDCs like bisphenols (e.g., BPA and BPS) and phthalates; these codes will often be stamped on the bottom of the package.
- Use glass or stainless steel containers (without a lining) – they don’t have harmful environmental chemicals and are still super sturdy (PS: this upgrade tip also applies to your tupperware collection!).
- Read labels – check product labels for phthalates and choose personal care items that are phthalate-free (they’ll usually tote this clearly in their merchandising).
- Follow safe toy practices – choose toys that are labeled as phthalate-free for children, especially those that may be put in the mouth.
Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)
Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are a group of synthetic chemicals, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), certain pesticides (e.g., DDT), and dioxins/furans. They sneak into our environment through industrial processes and farming.
Certain POPs, like dioxins and PCBs, are known carcinogens, and have been linked to different types of cancer, including skin, lung, and breast cancer. What’s worse is that they don’t break down easily and can stick around for a really long time.
One common way they get into the human body is through the food we eat. POPs love to bury themselves in the fatty tissues of animals, and when we eat these contaminated foods, especially fish, meat, and dairy products, we invite them in.
To make matters worse, they’re kind of like unwanted house guests who bring more friends to the party. POPs tend to pile up in the food chain, so the food sources at the top, like big fish and meat-eating mammals, end up with a hefty dose of these pollutants. Which means we end up with those pollutants, too.
POPs have a lot in common with the other environmental toxins we’ve gone through. In fact, they are quite similar to EDCs.
Some POPs can disrupt the endocrine system, leading to hormone imbalances and reproductive issues.
POPs can affect the development and behavior of children if they’re exposed during pregnancy.
POPs can also do a number on the immune system, making us more susceptible to infections and diseases.
The best thing to do is be aware of POP sources and do your best to avoid exposure. A lot of the tips I’ve already provided apply to POPs; for example:
- Eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods – choose food sources that are lower on the food chain, as contaminants tend to accumulate in larger, predatory species. This means adding in more produce and washing off pesticides and herbicides.
- Limit consumption of high-risk foods – be cautious with foods like fatty fish and animal products. When eating seafood, opt for varieties known to have lower levels of POPs, such as smaller fish and those from less polluted waters (check out this map of pollution hotspots—it’s wild!)
- Reduce plastic use – some POPs can be found in plastic materials, so reducing your plastic use can help minimize exposure. Use glass containers and reusable bags instead of disposable plastic.
Radon gas is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless radioactive gas that can seep into homes and buildings from the ground.
It’s created by the breakdown of uranium in soil, rocks, and water—so it’s one of the environmental toxins we’ve explored that isn’t man made.
Most of the time, we get exposed to radon gas simply by living in our homes.
Regions with high levels of shale or uranium-rich rocks can experience elevated radon gas. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designated radon zones—for example, the upper Midwest, Northeast, and mountainous regions often have higher radon levels. Check out this map of the United States that shows all the radon hot-spots.
Radon gas can infiltrate homes through the ground and become trapped indoors. Radon likes to accumulate in enclosed or underground spaces, such as basements and crawl spaces, which are in direct contact with the earth. It also tends to get trapped in well-sealed, energy-efficient homes (I know, seems like you can’t win, right?)
If you live in a house with a basement or lower-level living space, you’ll want to ensure you have proper ventilation and radon-resistant construction to help mitigate this risk.
The really scary thing is… not only is radon gas colorless and odorless, toxic exposure typically doesn’t cause immediate symptoms.
You may not be aware of exposure until long-term health issues arise. Those health issues typically show up as:
- Lung cancer – in fact, radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer (after smoking). If you smoke and have radon gas exposure, your risk of developing lung cancer increases dramatically. Symptoms of lung cancer can include persistent coughing, chest pain, coughing up blood, shortness of breath, and unexplained weight loss.
- Non-specific respiratory issues – for example, a persistent cough, wheezing, or increased susceptibility to respiratory infections.
This environmental toxin might seem a little overwhelming given the lack of red flags until it’s too late, but thankfully there are proactive things you can do to reduce potential exposure.
- Conduct radon testing – you can get radon test kits to see if you have elevated levels of radon gas in doors. Some states offer this to homeowners for free, but they’re also quite affordable online (when I last looked, you could find good ones for under $20 on Amazon).
- Radon mitigation – if high radon levels are detected, you can install radon mitigation systems (e.g., sub-slab depressurization) to vent the gas away from your living spaces. Sub-slab depressurization can reduce indoor radon levels by 80% to 99%!
- Ensure proper ventilation in your home – open windows and use exhaust fans to improve air circulation, which can help reduce radon concentrations.
- Seal cracks in the foundation and walls – this helps prevent the entry of radon gas (and it’s particularly important in basements and crawl spaces).
- Consult professionals – if you live in a known radon zone, consider consulting professionals with expertise in radon detection and abatement; this isn’t the kind of environmental toxin you want to DIY solutions for.
Food Additives and Preservatives
Food additives and preservatives are chemicals added to food products during processing or manufacturing to enhance flavor, appearance, texture, shelf life, and safety.
They can include artificial colors, flavors, artificial sweeteners, and chemical preservatives.
Basically, they keep our snacks crunchy, our sauces savory, and our cereals crispy—for a lot longer than is natural.
In our fast paced lives, we don’t want to be bothered going to the store every day to get our food, like they did back in the day. So while the food industry considered additives and preservatives to be unsung heroes, these “heroes” actually have a dark side.
Kind of like Homelander.
Some people are sensitive or allergic to certain food additives and experience adverse reactions, such as skin rashes, headaches or migraines, digestive issues, or respiratory problems.
Artificial colors and certain preservatives have been linked to hyperactivity and behavioral issues, especially in children.
Plus, they’re generally bad for our environment.
Foods containing these kinds of additives and preservatives often come in single use plastic packaging, which aren’t recyclable. And, as you know, these kinds of plastics leach chemicals into your food, which increases your toxic load.
Obviously, the primary way these environmental toxins enter the human body is through the processed and packaged foods we eat.
I’m a big fan of reading labels, so here is your secret decoder ring to identifying food additives and preservatives:
Look for “reasons” on labels
Food labels might describe the purpose of an additive or preservative, such as “to maintain freshness” or “to enhance flavor.”
Don’t let these benefit statements fool you—they’re trying to sell you on the chemicals and make you believe they’re in there for your own good. Its literally brainwashing you!
Look for chemical names or preservative codes
If it’s not something you can identify or pronounce, it’s likely a food additive or preservative. Food companies do their best to hide these environmental toxins, so sometimes they’re listed on labels by their chemical names, preservative codes, or “e-numbers” (used more in the European Union and other countries).
Look for things like:
- Sodium benzoate (or E211)
- Citric acid (or E330)
- Potassium sorbate (or E202)
- Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
Look for common names
Similar to chemical names and preservative codes, “common names” are kind of like the brand name or shorthand that signifies they’re unnatural but don’t sound as scary.
- Color additives: Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 1
- Artificial sweeteners: Aspartame, Saccharin, Sucralose
Learn to spot fake sugar
Speaking of which, avoid artificial sweeteners at all costs—many reports are coming out now proving they’re massively detrimental to human health.
One of the worst is sucralose (AKA: Splenda).
A recent study found that sucralose-6-acetate, found in sucralose (brand name: Splenda), is “genotoxic”.
This means it’s so harmful, it causes damage at a DNA level.
Researchers found that sucralose causes leaky gut, as well as an increase in gene activity linked to oxidative stress, inflammation, and carcinogenicity.
In other words, heart disease and cancer.
And how about aspartame?
You know it as the ‘pink packets’ and the ‘blue packets’: Sweet N Low and Equal.
In fact I remember my grandmother eating half a grapefruit with Sweet N Low every single morning. And adding it to her coffee and iced tea. Those pink packets were always on the table in a cute glass jar.
After all this time, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared aspartame as carcinogenic.
So when people ask my thoughts on this, I tell them, “It’s about time.” You see, we’ve known aspartame is no good for decades.
It was literally invented by accident.
Back in 1965, a chemist working on a compound for an anti-ulcer drug licked his finger to get a better grip on a piece of paper and noticed a sweet taste. The sweetness he tasted was aspartame.
By 1981, it became legal as a food additive and began mass production, going into a huge percentage of processed foods.
Think about that for a sec—a chemical compound from a medication is going into your food… as a sugar replacement. #scary
You may be wondering how much aspartame is already in your house. Or what you consume when you eat out.
Here’s a quick list of popular products that use aspartame:
- Zero-sugar or diet sodas, including Diet Coke
- Sugar-free gums, such as Trident
- Diet drink mixes, including Crystal Light
- Reduced-sugar condiments, such as sugar free maple syrup
- Sugar-free gelatin like Sugar-free Jell-O
- Tabletop low-calorie sweeteners, including Equal and NutraSweet
With so many new sugar alternatives on the market, it ‘pays’ to pay attention to labels.
Stevia, monk fruit, and xylitol are all plant-based sweeteners (AKA: not created in some random lab). If you see these ingredients on labels, you’re probably ok.
If it says words like aspartame, sucralose, phenylalanine, non-saccharide sweetener, aspartic acid/phenylalanine dipeptide, or AminoSweet, stay away.
These companies are constantly renaming aspartame to hide it from savvy consumers.
One of the best things to do if you consume aspartame on the regular is to ensure you’re detoxing daily—and safely.
While many people may be tempted to just go it alone, if you detox the wrong way, you can actually do some serious harm.
Instead, when you work with someone like me who has helped people get off aspartame, sucralose, and other “fake sugars”—and eliminate toxins safely and effectively, you’re going to get more of the results you’re looking for.
Wondering how to avoid food additives and preservatives?
Well, these tips may sound simple (maybe even a little duh), but I’m going to drop them on you anyway:
- Read labels – pay attention to food labels and ingredient lists when purchasing processed and packaged foods and choose products with fewer artificial additives and preservatives.
- Cook at home – preparing meals at home using fresh, whole ingredients allows you to have greater control over what goes into your food.
- Shop the outside edges of the grocery store – the fresh, non-processed foods are typically on the perimeter of the store; see if this is true where you live! Shop for whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and lean proteins, which are naturally free of artificial additives and preservatives.
- Minimize processed foods – reduce your intake of highly processed foods, including sugary snacks, fast food, and heavily preserved items.
Mold and Mycotoxins
Mold is a cunning environmental toxin.
Have you ever spotted a patch of mold on bread, cheese, or fruit? That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
When you spot mold on the surface of food, you’re looking at the fruiting bodies of the mold, known as sporangia. These are responsible for producing spores, which are essentially the mold’s “seeds.” These spores are released into the air and can land on other surfaces, potentially leading to more mold growth.
But the majority of mold lies underneath that. It’s got a network of mold filaments that secrete enzymes designed to break down the food into simpler compounds for the mold to use to grow and reproduce—which means it’s spread throughout the interior of the food, working to feed what you see up top.
As part of this “grow and multiply” process, molds can produce mycotoxins, which act as a natural defense mechanism against competitors and predators.
Which, to the mold, means you.
Now, not all molds generate mycotoxins. For example, you’re probably familiar with the mold species penicillium chrysogenum, which is often used in the production of penicillin and other antibiotics—and is not known for producing harmful mycotoxins.
The ones that do, however, can create a ton of health problems for you and your family (and yes, this includes pets!)
For example, harmful strains including Aspergillus flavus, Aspergillus parasiticus, Penicillium verrucosum, and Stachybotrys chartarum (black mold) thrive in damp environments and are commonly found inside our homes and in our food.
Because they’re so cunning, most of the time you don’t even see the mold that’s making you sick. It’s not until you’re experiencing severe reactions that you’re clued in to hunt it down.
Here’s a list of SOME of the symptoms of mold toxicity. The complete list is much much much longer!
Muscle & Joint Pain
Chronic Sugar Cravings
Mold in Nail Beds
In fact, mold exposure is a growing root cause of “mystery illnesses” that plague people, causing unexplained fatigue, headaches, memory problems, and other non-specific, but life-affecting, reactions.
Most people get exposed to through:
- Inhaling spores
- Food consumption
- Direct skin contact
Let’s break down each potential exposure method.
Inhaling mold spores
Breathing in mold is a common route of exposure, especially in areas with environmental factors of poor ventilation, high humidity, or water damage.
These tiny spores become airborne and can be easily inhaled, potentially leading to respiratory issues and allergic reactions.
Think of the places indoors that are warm and damp: basements, kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms. Mold can hide in your tile, grout, and even behind your walls.
Mold can grow just about anywhere—and on a wide range of foods.
It’s estimated that 25% of the world’s crops are contaminated by mold and fungal growth (particularly nuts, cereals, and rice).
While much of the mold growth happens post-harvest, some molds are naturally present in the environment and can infect crops before they’re harvested. Weather conditions, temperature, and humidity influence the likelihood of mold growth in the field.
Poor storage and transportation practices can lead to mold growth in harvested crops. High humidity, inadequate ventilation, or moisture can create an ideal environment for mold development.
Direct skin contact
Exposure to mold and mycotoxins through direct contact typically occurs when you come into physical contact with mold-contaminated surfaces or materials.
While direct contact is generally less common than inhalation or ingestion, it can still pose a human health risk, especially if you have an existing mold allergy or sensitivity.
Mold and mycotoxin exposure can look like:
- Respiratory symptoms – breathing in mycotoxin-contaminated air can lead to coughing, sneezing, wheezing, nasal congestion, and throat irritation (if you have asthma or allergies, it often makes reactions worse).
- Allergic reactions – mycotoxin exposure can trigger allergic reactions such as skin rashes, itchy eyes, and runny nose.
- Neurological and cognitive impairment – emerging studies suggest a possible link between mycotoxin exposure and neurological symptoms, including headaches, fatigue, and cognitive deficits (including memory issues, problems focusing or concentrating, and challenges in planning, organizing, initiating tasks, or solving problems).
- Immune system suppression – which can make you more vulnerable to infections and diseases.
- Cancer – Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus are known for producing aflatoxins, which are among the most potent and harmful mycotoxins to humans and animals—so harmful that they’re classified as carcinogens.
To reduce the risk of mold exposure, always keep an eye out for mold and take swift action if you notice it.
For example, throw out contaminated food immediately (if you see even a tiny speck, it’s already infiltrated everything underneath). Don’t try to cut out the moldy section of the food. Just throw the whole thing away!
Also, promptly repair leaks and address water damage in your home to prevent mold from taking hold.
Regularly clean and disinfect areas prone to mold growth, such as bathrooms, kitchens, and basements. Bleach is one of the best ways to kill mold. And when cleaning moldy areas, wear a mask and gloves to minimize exposure.
If you suspect you have a severe infestation of mold and possibly mycotoxins in your home, it’s best to hire a professional to remediate it for you.
Tips To Eliminate Environmental Toxins From Your Body
The first thing to do is ensure you have a way for those environmental toxins to get out.
Unlocking your internal drainage pathways prepares your body for the natural detoxification process that starts in your digestive tract.
This means helping your liver, kidneys, colon, and skin to be healthy, open, and clear, so toxins have quick passage out.
If you skip this first step and jump straight into techniques to draw toxins out of your cells (which is what most people do), you’re simply swirling those environmental toxins around inside you… increasing your toxic load instead of decreasing it as you intend.
Your microbiome is not only a critical player in digestive health but also a key contributor to your detoxification capabilities.
If you’re looking for a good place to start to understand your own gut, microbiome testing can offer you a personalized risk assessment of the toxins you are carrying.
But taking a test isn’t always enough.
Once you know what’s going on, you need a plan to address these toxins, get them out, and then know how to maintain your new “clean” body.
The truth is, there’s only so much you can do to avoid toxins. They’re around us so much and so often, that it’s impossible to maintain a sterile enough environment that you aren’t getting “re-toxed” all the time.
The goal is to know your specific environmental toxins, what’s making up your toxic load, and then create a consistent pipeline to eliminate them—while arming your body with the tools it needs to stay strong, resilient, and able to process those toxins out.
I’ve helped thousands of people do this… and I’d love to be in your corner, too.
Take Good Care,