Protecting yourself from chemicals

man drinking juice

A three-step process to protecting yourself from harmful chemicals

This article is from herbal expert Steven Horne.

We often hear about major emergencies where toxic chemicals are released into the environment, but sadly, this happens far more than most people realize. In a study published by the CDC in 2015, a survey of just nine states over a ten-year period from 1999 to 2008 found a total of 57,975 incidents involving “acute chemical incidents.”

If these chemicals were substances that broke down readily in the environment, there would be less concern, but many of them are persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that will linger in the environment for decades, if not hundreds of years.

Over 350,000 chemicals are currently registered for use in industry, agriculture, and medicine. Only a small fraction of them have been adequately tested for safety, and their safety is tested individually, not collectively. While we do enjoy many benefits from the wonderful discoveries of modern chemistry, the growing use of these chemicals is causing increasingly detrimental effects on the health of plants, animals, and human beings.

These chemicals are affecting the rising generation even while they are in the womb. One study found an average of 287 toxic chemicals in the umbilical cords of newborn infants. Many of the chemicals that were present are known to be POPs. This is extremely alarming, especially given the ever-increasing rates of neurological disorders in children. These neurological problems include autism spectrum disorder (which now affects about one in one hundred children), ADD, ADHD, Tourette’s syndrome, stuttering, delayed speech development, dyslexia, and behavioral disorders.

Environmental toxins may also be contributing to adult neurological problems like anxiety, depression, insomnia, numbness, tingling, brain fog, sleep apnea, dementia, and mental illness.

Many of these chemicals are endocrine disrupters, which cause hormonal imbalances, especially in the reproductive system. In women, they may be contributing to premature breast development in girls, PMS, uterine fibroids, tender breasts, and heavy menstrual bleeding. Boys may experience undescended testicles, enlarged breasts, and delayed onset of puberty because of these endocrine disrupters. Adult men may experience infertility, prostate problems, and low testosterone levels.

These chemicals also adversely affect the immune system. They contribute to chronic inflammation, impaired immune function, autoimmune disorders, and cancer. They can also interfere with the function of other organs and glands like the liver and thyroid.

Understanding this raises the question “What can we do to protect ourselves?” Here is a three-step plan for not just surviving, but thriving in a toxic world.

Step 1: Reducing Chemical Exposure

It’s impossible to avoid chemical exposure in modern society because these chemicals are found everywhere. The good news is that your body has the ability to eliminate them, so don’t get obsessed over the problem. Rather, simply take steps to reduce your exposure. This reduces the load on your detoxification systems, which makes it easier for your body to eliminate the toxins you are exposed to.

Here are five practical things you can do.

1. Avoid chemicals in your food

The average person consumes several pounds of chemical additives every year. These include artificial flavorings, preservatives, food colorings, and artificial sweeteners. You can greatly reduce the load on your eliminative systems by eating natural foods that don’t contain these chemicals and avoiding processed foods that do. So, read labels carefully, and if the ingredients don’t sound like food, don’t buy the product.

It also helps to buy organically grown food whenever possible. This reduces your exposure to pesticides, herbicides, and other agricultural chemicals. When you can’t do this, wash your produce in water with a scent-free castile soap or a fruit and vegetable wash. This is important because many of these chemicals are fat-soluble and can’t just be rinsed off like dirt.

2. Drink the purest water you can find

If possible, you should purchase some type of water purification system, such as a reverse-osmosis system coupled with carbon filtration or a gravity-fed filtration system. At the very minimum, use a carbon filter and change the filter regularly or buy purified water from grocery or health food stores using reusable containers. Avoid bottled water, especially in soft plastic bottles, as the plastic leaches chemicals, and produces a lot of plastic waste in the environment.

3. Use non-toxic household products

Much of your exposure to chemicals takes place within your own home. You can greatly reduce your exposure to chemicals by finding the most natural, non-toxic products you can afford. Again, it’s important to read labels carefully.

For starters, look for non-toxic household cleaning products. Many toxic household products can be replaced with simple things like baking soda, vinegar, natural soaps, and essential oils.

It’s also important to look for non-toxic personal care products. Remember that anything you put on your skin can be absorbed into your body, so look for all-natural, non-toxic toothpaste, shampoo, deodorants, lotions, and cosmetics. As with cleaning products, many natural substances can be used for these purposes, such as olive oil, coconut oil, clay, essential oils, and herbs like aloe vera, calendula, witch hazel, and seaweeds.

Finally, you can also find non-toxic methods to control weeds and household pests. These methods include vinegar (20% or 30%), natural soaps, boric acid, and pheromone traps.

4. Purify your indoor air

Many people live in areas with a lot of outdoor air pollution, but there is also a lot of air pollution that comes from inside the home. Many building materials and household items, such as carpets, upholstery, paint, and treated lumber contain chemicals that outgas into the home. This is most noticeable after new construction or remolding. Take steps to purify your indoor air.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to grow houseplants. Research has shown that houseplants absorb air pollutants while increasing the oxygen supply in your home. Some of the good plants for this purpose are aloe vera, bamboo palm, Boston fern, Chinese evergreen, dwarf/pigmy date palm, English ivy, ficus, gerbera daisy, mums, peace lily, philodendron and snake plant.

You may even wish to invest in some type of air filtration system for your home. Do a little research to find the best system for your situation.

5. Follow chemical safety protocols

Many people are routinely exposed to chemicals at work; some examples of professions at risk include janitors, carpet cleaners, beauticians, hairdressers, house painters, dry cleaners, auto mechanics, print shop workers, builders, farmers, gardeners, and welders. If you do have to use chemicals, either at home or in your workplace, be sure to follow proper safety protocols to reduce your exposure and risk.

Step 2: Nourish Detoxification Systems

Your body has a built-in ability to get rid of toxic chemicals. The various systems that provide these detoxification functions include the liver, lymphatics, bowels, urinary system, skin, and lungs. By supporting the health of these systems with proper nutrition, you can enhance your body’s ability to get rid of the chemicals you are exposed to.

In addition to chemical exposure, modern society faces a unique challenge in that we are surrounded by empty-calorie foods that do not contain the nutrients necessary to sustain the body’s detoxification systems. Cleansing isn’t just stimulating the bowels to move or the kidneys to produce more urine. It also involves internal organs and enzyme systems that require vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other phytochemicals to work properly.

With that understanding, here are four recommendations for keeping your body’s detoxification systems in good working order through proper nutrition.

1. Eat vegetables that enhance detoxification

Certain types of vegetables greatly enhance the body’s ability to detoxify. The first group of these are the cruciferous vegetables, which come from plants in the mustard family. They include kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, mustard greens, turnips, radishes, Brussels sprouts, and watercress.

These vegetables contain sulfur compounds that aid the body’s ability to detoxify chemicals and fight infections. They have been shown, for example, to reduce one’s risk of cancer, a disease caused primarily by chemicals.

The second group of vegetables that are helpful for increasing the body’s ability to eliminate toxins are dark, green leafy vegetables. These include Swiss chard, beet greens, leafy forms of lettuce, and dandelion greens, along with several cruciferous vegetables (e.g. kale, mustard greens, and watercress). Although you can get nutritional benefits from these greens when they are cooked, you will get better results with detoxification if you eat them raw. So, add them to salads, juice with them, or blend them into a smoothie with the antioxidant berries and fruits discussed next.

If you find it difficult to eat enough green vegetables, consider a product like Power Greens, which is designed to efficiently and easily get you that nutrition.

2. Eat berries and other antioxidant fruits

In traditional Chinese medicine, sour foods are said to tonify the liver, the major organ of internal detoxification. Sour fruits are typically loaded with antioxidant nutrients, which help protect the liver and other tissues from the oxidative damage caused by various chemical irritants and the detoxification process.

Examples of berries and sour foods that aid detoxification include blueberries, raspberries, organic strawberries, blackberries, sour cherries, sea buckthorn, acai berries, wolfberry, and lemon juice. A great way to gently detox your liver is to combine the berries and greens in a smoothie.

3. Take bitter and hepatoprotective herbs

A class of herbs called simple bitters has long been used to stimulate digestion and improve liver function. These bitter herbs help to activate digestive secretions and the enzymes involved in phase one detoxication. The slight bitterness of the dark green vegetables mentioned earlier helps here, but there are also herbal bitters like dandelion leaf and root, blessed thistle, gentian, artichoke leaf, red clover, and chicory that can be taken to help the body detoxify more efficiently.

Many of these remedies were traditionally believed to help clean the blood and clear morbid conditions like skin diseases, cysts, and abscesses. They appear to support the body’s detoxification processes in a gentle but effective manner.

There are also herbs that have documented hepatoprotective effects. These herbs help protect the liver from toxic chemicals while it neutralizes them. The most famous of these herbs is milk thistle, but other hepatoprotective herbs include schizandra, dandelion root, lycium, and turmeric.

4. Keep your eliminative channels open

Once the body has processed toxins for elimination, they must be removed from the body via one of the body’s eliminative systems. The primary ways these toxins are expelled are through the colon and kidneys.

Drinking at least six to eight glasses of water daily helps all eliminative systems. To keep the colon working properly, you need to ensure adequate fiber in your diet to bind toxins in the stool so they can’t be reabsorbed.

If your bowels move less than once a day and/or your stools are hard and difficult to pass, you may also want to use cascara sagrada or other natural stimulants.

Step 3: Enhance Your Body’s Detoxification Pathways

In addition to these general aids to detoxification, specific nutrients and herbs can help eliminate specific types of toxins. Understanding how the internal detoxification process works is key to using these supplements effectively.

Processing toxins for elimination is a two-phase operation. In phase one, enzymes add or remove electrons to the toxin to give it an electrical charge. In phase two, the electrically charged toxin is joined to another substance in a process called conjugation. This makes the toxin water soluble so it can be flushed out through the colon and kidneys. This process takes place primarily in the liver. Here is a more detailed explanation of the detoxification process.

Phase One: Liver Enzymes

In phase one of detoxification, the body uses about 50 different enzymes to electrically charge toxins. An electrically charged toxin is called an intermediate metabolite. These electrically charged toxins are free radicals, which is why antioxidants are so important in the detoxification process.

Signs that you have problems with phase one detoxification include feeling sluggish and groggy when you wake up in the morning, having a stuffy feeling under your right rib cage, and feeling bad with no specific cause. It will also take a long time for the effects of medications, alcohol, caffeine, or any other substance (natural or otherwise) to wear off. You may also feel irritable or anxious for no specific reason.

Using herbal bitters can enhance phase one detoxification. B-complex vitamins and vitamin C, minerals like magnesium, manganese, and zinc, and essential fatty acids also enhance phase one detoxification.

Phase Two: Conjugation

The intermediate metabolites have to be quickly neutralized by phase two enzymes, which conjugate (join or attach) the toxin to another molecule. If this doesn’t happen, you’ll feel sick as you detoxify. Symptoms of sluggish phase two detoxification include headaches, stomach pain, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, and brain fog. These may occur when you start nourishing your detoxification systems as described in step two, or when you are fasting or trying to lose weight.

Some nutrients that are important during this stage are n-acetyl cysteine, alpha lipoic acid, glutamine, methionine, Vitamins C, E, B1, B12, SAM-e, choline, magnesium, zinc, MSM, and indole 3 carbinol.

To summarize, I want to emphasize prudence but not anxiety. Your body can handle chemicals if you help it with both prevention and nutrition. Just be smart and eat well (or use supplements).


Photo by Victoria Aleksandrova on Unsplash