2020 is here, and many people are already doing things to improve their health. Most of this is centered around diet and exercise, as many are striving to eat a healthy diet, and of course the fitness clubs are usually packed in January and February. While eating well and exercising regularly are both important, it’s also a good idea to focus on reducing your toxic load. The truth is that eating certain foods can support detoxification, and even exercise can play a role, but there are other things you can and should do, which I’ll discuss in this blog post.
How do environmental toxins relate to thyroid health? There are a few different ways. First of all, healthy thyroid hormone levels are important for detoxification. In addition, and as I’ll mention later in this post, phase 2 detoxification is important in order to detoxify thyroid hormone from the body, along with other hormones. In addition, most of the conversion of T4 to T3 takes place in the liver, and if the liver isn’t working efficiently due to an increased toxic load then this conversion can be negatively affected. And finally, certain environmental toxins (i.e. mercury) can be a trigger for the autoimmune thyroid conditions Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s.
When it comes to reducing your toxic load, there are 3 things you need to focus on:
1. Reduce your exposure to environmental toxins
2. Increase your elimination of environmental toxins
3. Support phase 1 and 2 detoxification
There is overlap between #2 and #3, and I must admit that supporting phase 1 and 2 detoxification can be complex, and my goal is to try to keep the information in this blog post easy to understand. And so while I’ll talk about some of the basics of phase 1 and 2 detoxification, if you want to learn more about these in greater detail please check out part 1 and part 2 of my blog posts on “How To Optimize Detoxification”. So let’s start off by discussing what you can do to reduce your exposure to environmental toxins.
How To Reduce Your Exposure To Environmental Toxins
It makes sense that in order to reduce your exposure to environmental toxins, you need to be aware of the different types of chemicals you’re exposed to on a frequent basis. To make it simple, there is indoor air pollution and outdoor air pollution. You of course have much more control over the environmental toxins you’re exposed to indoors, especially those inside your home, and so this will be your main focus, although I’ll also discuss some ways to minimize your exposure to outdoor air pollution (besides staying indoors!).
Different Sources of Indoor air Pollution:
- The food you eat. Pesticides and herbicides are found in larger amounts in non-organic fruits and vegetables, hormones and antibiotics are commonly fed to livestock, eating too much fish can be toxic (especially larger fish such as tuna, king mackerel, and swordfish), and of course more and more foods are being genetically modified. Glyphosate is another big problem, as this is the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, and many processed/refined foods have glyphosate.
- The water you drink. Try your best to avoid drinking tap water, as well as water out of plastic bottles. Also, remember that just because something is BPA-free doesn’t mean that it’s free of xenoestrogens. So if you regularly drink water out of BPA-free plastic bottles you should still switch to glass or stainless steel.
- The indoor air you breathe. Of course there are a lot of different factors that can affect the air quality, some of which I’ll be discussing below.
- The cleaners and cosmetics you use. These are yet another common source of chemical exposure, as there are plenty of chemicals included in cleaners, soaps, shampoos, shaving cream, toothpaste, etc. The good news is that there are natural options for just about all of the cleaners and cosmetics you use.
- Carpeting. Carpets contain numerous environmental chemicals, including VOCs and formaldehyde. Even in low concentrations these chemicals can have a negative impact on your health.
- Mold. Genetics plays a role as to how people will react to mold, as some people have difficulty eliminating mycotoxins produced by mold, which in turn can cause numerous symptoms.
- Dry cleaning. Tetrachloroethylene is one of the common chemicals used in the dry cleaning industry. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, “Exposure to very high concentrations of tetrachloroethylene can cause dizziness headaches, sleepiness, incoordination, confusion, nausea, unconsciousness, and even death”(1).
- New furniture. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) also known as flame retardants, are commonly found in furniture such as couches and mattresses. Studies show that flame retardants can cause hormone disruption, thyroid cancer, and neurological toxicity (2) (3) (4).
How To Reduce Your Exposure To Indoor Air Pollution
The obvious way to reduce your exposure to indoor air pollution is to address the sources listed above. Eat organic food, drink purified water and/or a good quality spring water out of a glass bottle (i.e. Mountain Valley Springs), use natural cleaners and cosmetics, etc. If you have carpeting then consider replacing it, although I realize this isn’t always an option. If you bring home dry cleaning don’t immediately put it in your closet, as ideally you want to let it air out first. You might also want to consider using an organic dry cleaners. If mold is an issue then remediation might be necessary, or in some cases moving might be the best option. If you have new furniture you probably won’t rush to replace it, but if you’re thinking about purchasing new furniture in the future then consider purchasing more natural furniture. For example, if you’re looking for a new mattress, there are natural and organic mattresses to choose from.
If there is a lot of indoor air pollution that you can’t address, then look into getting an air purification system. An example would be if you happen to be renting, and therefore replacing the carpeting isn’t an option. Blueair and IQAir are examples of good quality HEPA air purification systems. Also look into getting one or more house plants, as the research shows that they can remove indoor air pollutants (5). If mold is an issue then getting an air purification system and/or house plants isn’t going to help much, but these can be good options for other sources of indoor air pollution. One more thing I should mention is to not wear your shoes inside your home, as this can make a big difference. In fact, one study showed that when shoes were worn inside the homes, heptane, acetic acid, nonane and styrene concentrations were statistically higher than that when shoes were out of the homes (6).
Now let’s take a look at some of the different sources of outdoor air pollution:
Different Sources of Outdoor air Pollution:
- Transportation: cars, buses, trucks
- Fuel consumption in stationary sources
- Industrial processes
- Solid waste disposal
- Chemical dumps
- Aerial spraying of farms
- Forest fires
How To Reduce Your Exposure To Outdoor Air Pollution
While you obviously won’t be able to completely eliminate your exposure to these outdoor air pollutants, there are a few things you can do to reduce your exposure to them. First of all, for those who walk, jog, or ride a bike on a busy road, consider doing this in a park or a greenway so that you aren’t constantly inhaling the fumes from the cars and trucks while exercising. I realize this might be an inconvenience, but it’s your health we’re talking about. Another thing you can consider doing in the future is to move to a different location. For example, if your home is located near a busy road or highway, you need to consider the negative impact this will have on your health over the years. Even if you spend most of your time indoors you’ll still be exposed to the fumes from the cars and trucks passing by, and if you have a porch or backyard and spend time there the chemicals will have an even greater impact on your health.
Landfills are another source of outdoor air pollution. Landfills generate different kinds of toxic chemicals which include carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, xylene, dioxin, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (7). And research shows that people living closer to landfills experience more medical conditions when compared to those living far away from landfill sites (8) (9). So this is yet another example of how the location of your home can contribute to your increased toxic load.
Let’s Not Forget About Heavy Metals
In order to reduce your toxic load you also want to reduce your exposure to heavy metals, including mercury, aluminum, lead, arsenic, and cadmium. Many people still have mercury amalgams, and thus should consider working with a biological dentist (you can visit the website IAOMT.org to find one), as they will take the proper precautions to remove them. Fish and vaccines are other common sources of mercury. Aluminum is another toxic metal that is commonly high, and many people are exposed to aluminum through cooking with aluminum pots and pans, consuming food and beverages from aluminum cans, cooking with aluminum foil on a frequent basis, and using deodorants that have aluminum. Some sources of lead exposure include cigarette smoke, tattoos, lead-based paints, and ceramic glazes. Arsenic exposure is also common, as it’s found in foods such as chicken (due to the feed) and brown rice, in the drinking water, and it’s also found in pesticides and herbicides.
How To Increase Your Elimination Of Environmental Toxins
While you want to do everything you can to reduce your exposure to environmental toxins, the truth is that you still will be exposed to chemicals inside and outside of your home. So you also want to do things to increase your body’s elimination of environmental toxins, and here are four things you can do to help with this:
1. Support glutathione production through food and supplementation. I’ll briefly mention glutathione when discussing phase 2 detoxification, as one of the pathways involves “glutathione conjugation”.
2. Stay well hydrated. Drinking plenty of water can help with the excretion of toxins.
3. Incorporate infrared sauna therapy. Although sweating in general or during exercise can help with the elimination of toxins, sauna therapy seems to be more effective. Steam saunas and dry-heat saunas can also aid in the elimination of toxins, but apparently infrared saunas utilize a unique heating element that makes it more effective. More healthcare practitioners recommend far-infrared sauna therapy to their patients, although there are some practitioners who claim that near-infrared has the greatest tissue penetration. I personally have used a far-infrared unit for over four years and have been happy with it.
4. Consider doing coffee enemas. Unlike everything I’ve discussed so far to help with the elimination of environmental toxins from the body, I can’t say that I personally do coffee enemas. And while some practitioners don’t advocate coffee enemas due to the lack of published research, this doesn’t mean that they can’t be of benefit. For example, Gerson therapy is a well known natural treatment regimen for cancer, and they aggressively use coffee enemas to help restore the health of people. It’s important to understand that coffee enemas are not primarily used to empty the bowels, as they supposedly help support liver detoxification by increasing glutathione production.
I’m sure some people reading this are wondering if colon hydrotherapy can effectively remove toxins, and the answer is “yes”. However, just as is the case with coffee enemas, there is controversy over the use of colon hydrotherapy. The late Dr. Walter Crinnion was an expert on detoxification, and he is the author of the book “Clean, Green, and Lean”. He was also my instructor for a detoxification and biotransformation class I took while going through my masters in nutrition degree, and he told us that if there was only one method he can use to remove toxins it would be colon hydrotherapy. However, some are concerned about whether colon hydrotherapy has a negative effect on the gut microbiome.
Should Binding and/or Chelating Agents Be Used?
While it’s important to support phase 1 and phase 2 detoxification, sometimes it can be beneficial to use certain binding and/or chelating agents. This especially can be beneficial for heavy metals. For example, if someone is trying to detoxify mercury (i.e. after getting their mercury amalgams removed), they might choose to eat cilantro and/or chlorella to bind to the mercury, and perhaps take NAC or alpha lipoic acid. There are also prescription chelating agents such as dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA) and dimercaptopropane 1-sulfonate (DMPS). Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) is another prescription chelator that is more commonly used for lead and cadmium. These prescription chelating agents can be taken orally or administered intravenously.
Getting back to some of the natural agents, silica can help bind to aluminum. Modified Citrus Pectin can help with the excretion of cadmium and lead. Zeolite and bentonite clay can not only bind to heavy metals, but to mycotoxins as well. The same is true with activated charcoal.
I need to let you know that there are risks of taking some of these agents…especially prescription chelating agents. One concern is redistribution of the heavy metals in different areas of the body. For example, one case report involving a person who received intravenous EDTA showed that they exhibited increased tissue lead burden after treatment (10). This is why it’s important to have healthy glutathione levels when doing any type of chelation therapy.
Another concern is the loss of minerals. For example, one study showed that EDTA chelation not only causes the excretion of lead and cadmium, but zinc and calcium as well (11). While taking a multimineral supplement is a good idea when using such chelating agents, this is yet another reason why it’s wise to work with a healthcare practitioner.
Support Phase 1 and Phase 2 Detoxification
Phase one detoxification involves the liver transforming fat soluble compounds into reactive intermediates, and in phase two these reactive intermediates are turned into water soluble molecules that are excreted in the bile and feces. Cytochrome P450 enzymes play an important role in the biotransformation process, and while genetics can affect these enzymes, certain nutrients, herbs, and drugs can speed up or slow down these enzymes. I discuss the specific nutrients in the blog posts I wrote on ” How To Optimize Detoxification”. Having healthy levels of antioxidants is important for phase one detoxification, and of course you want to do as much as you can through diet (i.e. fruits, vegetables, green tea, etc.), but sometimes supplementation is necessary. In the ” How To Optimize Detoxification” blog posts I also talk about downregulating the phase one enzymes through nutrients and herbs such as resveratrol, polyphenols, pomegranate, and garlic.
As for phase two detoxification, there are six different pathways:
1. Glucuronidation. This pathway actually plays a role in the detoxification of thyroid hormone, along with other hormones. Triiodothyronine (T3) influences some of the enzymes involved in this pathway. In addition to thyroid hormone being important for glucuronidation, some of the nutrients and herbs that support this pathway include omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, quercitin, curcumin, milk thistle, and hawthorn.
2. Sulfation. Vitamin B6 and molybdenum are important cofactors, and a deficiency in either one of these can lead to food or chemical sensitivities.
3. Methylation. I’ve written a separate article on this topic entitled “Methylation, MTHFR, and Thyroid Health“. But I’ll say here that three important nutrients that support methylation include folate, vitamin B12, and vitamin B6.
4. Glutathione Conjugation. I already discussed how to increase glutathione levels above.
5. Amino Acid Conjugation. This pathway requires amino acids such as glycine, taurine, and glutamine.
6. Acetylation. Nutrients which support this pathway include vitamin C, B1, B2, B5, magnesium, and lipoic acid.
Once again, if you want to learn more about phase one and phase two detoxification I’d check out the following blog posts:
What About Electronic Pollution?
Electronic pollution, including electromagnetic fields (EMFs) is without question a concern, and this deserves its own blog post. Over the last couple of years I’ve learned a great deal about electronic pollution, and so while I have written about this on a very basic level in the past, I definitely feel the need to come out with an updated blog post on this, especially with the advent of 5G.
What Have You Done To Reduce Your Toxic Load?
I’m sure many people reading this have done things to reduce their toxic load, and so please feel free to share your experience in the comments section below. What have you done to reduce your exposure to environmental toxins? What have you done to increase your body’s elimination of environmental toxins? Whether your experience was positive or negative I’d love to hear from you.