We hear the word a lot these days: toxins. But how many of us actually understand it? Toxins are everywhere. From the food we eat, the water we drink, the shampoo we use, the air we breathe and the door handles we touch. It is impossible to not come into contact with toxins on any given day. But we can become aware and be conscious of toxins and their effects on the human body so we can do more to limit toxins and how they negatively impact our lives.
So what is a toxin exactly? Well toxin comes from the Ancient Greek word toxikon and is a poisonous substance produced within living cells or organisms. While there are many toxins to be concerned with I am only going to focus on the ones that we ingest.
Dr. Oz seems to think that there are only 3 major toxins for us to be concerned about: mercury in fish; Bisphenol-A (BPA) which is used to create clear, hard plastics and also is in the lining in canned foods; and pesticides. So to avoid these you need to be aware. The EPA says that you should not eat king mackerel, swordfish, tilefish and shark. These fish are the highest in mercury. Tuna is also higher in mercury so its best to avoid eating it more than once a week. When it comes to plastic, stay away from containers with the number 7 on the bottom, and/or labeled PC, or unlabeled plastics. Also be aware of reusing plastic water bottles and never microwave food in plastics. And when it comes to pesticides, avoid the fruits and vegetables most likely to contain pesticides and go organic where it counts. Note that you can talk to farmers at farmers markets who may not be certified organic because it is expensive, but still follow organic principles.
While I do agree with all of these, there are plenty of other toxins out there to also be aware of and here are some of the more dangerous:
Nitrates and nitrites: chemicals used in fertilizers and food preservatives. Children exposed to contaminated drinking water are also at risk by the nitrates impairing oxygen delivery to tissues resulting. Exposure to nitrates and nitrites has also been associated with increased incidence of cancer in adults as well as brain tumors and leukemia.
Artificial Sweeteners- prolonged exposure to aspartame(NutraSweet & Equal) can lead to nerve cell damage and tumors. Prolonged exposure to Saccharin can lead to urinary bladder cancer and tumors. Acesulfame Potassium(Sweet One & Sunett) is currently approved by the FDA but has shown to be carcinogenic in animal testing. Sucralose(Splenda) also FDA approved, can lead to blood sugar increases, weight gain, anxiety, depression, in animals has shown anemia, spontaneous abortions, enlarged and calcified kidneys, male infertility and increase rate of death. Neotame(NutraSweet and Monsanto created chemical) and along with aspartame are metabolized into formaldehyde which is a highly toxic poison. Neotame has a chemical that the EPA considers hazardous. It has not been made available to the public but it has been used in many prepared foods. Malitol (used in many diet foods and sugar-free foods) has not been studied long enough to know the full extent of the dangers but already some are popping out. One study found that malitol had a mild genotoxic potential which indicates it can damage DNA which can lead to mutations and cancer. It can also cause numerous digestive problems including paralytic ileus, or blockage of the bowel, diarrhea, gas and bloating like many other sugar alternatives.
Farmed Fish – farmed salmon and farmed tilapia are some of the most common of the farmed fishes and are not only not as healthy as wild fish but more dangerous. Studies suggest that farmed salmon has more than 5 times the parts/billion of PCBs (persistent organic pollutants), has less vitamins A and D and more fat content. Farmed tilapia contains far less omega-3’s because the fish are fed corn and soy, poultry litter and other chicken waste-products instead of algae and lake plants. Farmed fish also contaminates the environment, and many of the farms treat the fish with antibiotics.
Non Organic Chicken – chicken produced in non organic ways has been proven to have hormones and in some cases arsenic. They also contain salt, water and preservatives to keep them moist and boost flavor. Organic chicken meanwhile has 28% more omega-3 fatty acids.
Milk- I always say to avoid dairy, but milk that doesn’t say “no rBGH” on the label may link to cancer. rBGH, or recombinant bovine growth hormone, is a synthetic man-made or rather Monsanto-made chemical marketed to dairy farmers to increase milk production. Even though the FDA approved it, the European Union and Canada do not allow it. The available evidence shows that the use of rBGH causes adverse effects in cows and raises IGF-1 (Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1) levels which behaves as a cancer-accelerator.
Hydrogenated Oils – contain trans fats which not only raises your bad cholesterol (LDLs) and lowers your good cholesterol (HDLs). Studies also show an increase in breast and prostate cancers, autism, type 2 diabetes, autoimmune disease, heart disease and allergies. So avoid all processed foods and snacks and read your labels.
Artificially colored foods – there are now only 6 FDA approved colors after so many of them have caused horrible effects in the population. The FDA is heavily pressured by the companies who use the remaining 6 to allow them to be used even though there are potential dangers just as there have been with their predecessors. Yellow #5 is currently undergoing further testing for already being linked to ADHD, anxiety, migraines and cancer. So best to steer clear of all artificial colors.
Teflon – now we are getting to non-edible forms of toxins. Teflon has been shown to release up to 15 toxic gases at high temperatures which puts you at risk for heart disease. One of the main chemicals in making Teflon and other non-stick cookware is perflurooctanoic acid (PFOA) which has proven to cause birth defects is lab animals. the EPA has also declared PFOA a likely human carcinogen.
MSG – monosodium glutamate can lead to allergic reactions and headaches but one double-blind study suggests that it can lead to muscle problems like tingling, fatigue and numbness. Another study on mice found problems such as hormone fluctuations, obesity and inactivity.
GMO’s – of course there has been a growing concern with GMO’s but what exactly are the consequences? Even a former Pro-GMO scientist came forward recently to speak out against them. All the scientific studies out of Europe and Russia show that rats fed GMO foods die prematurely. In 2009 the American Academy of Environmental Medicine called for a review of GM foods and noted that animals show serious health risks including infertility, accelerated aging, changes in liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system. Yet Monsanto insists there is no need to test the safety in their foods. Yeah right. Stay away, far away!
BHA/BHT – oil that has been left to cool and then re-heated and used again can lead to kidney damage, liver damage, cancer, fetal abnormalities and growth retardation. Many restaurants do this with their oil, especially with deep-frying so be aware.
Brominated Vegetable Oil – or BVO is an additive used to keep flavor in oils and in soft drinks (including Gatorade, Mountain Dew and Fresca) and is the same component used in a flame retardant. Mmmm. It can lead to allergic reactions and can severely poison a child.
Clearly the evidence suggests to stick with an organic, local, sustainable diet free from chemicals, preservatives and hormones. Evidence also suggests that the FDA is not all that great at regulating our food since there are far too many toxins ever-present in our lives. So be conscious, do your OWN research and we can all live, healthy long lives.
Other Sources: GAIA, About.com, Mercola.com, Cancer.gov, Alternet.org, farmedanddangerous.org, http://www.albany.edu/ihe/salmonstudy, Nytimes.com, Health.com, cbsnews.com, 3fatchicks.com, Forbes.com, livestrong.com, health.howstuffworks.com, foodrevolution.org