Aleksandra Cabarkapa is a clinical scientist embarking on research into the effects of toxins on health. In this post, she explains the need to mitigate the effects of our daily exposure to a cocktail of toxins and offers some simple everyday tips that can help with detoxification.
Only a few hundred of the existing 80,000 chemicals we have available to industry today have been tested for safety. The exact consequences of these chemicals on human health is still being scientifically investigated. However, we do know that some toxins accumulate in the body over time and emerging research indicates a strong correlation between toxin exposure and chronic disease.
"The high volume and widespread use of industrial chemicals, the backlog of internationally untested chemicals, the uptake of synthetic chemicals found in babies in utero, cord blood, and in breast milk, and the lack of a unified and comprehensive regulatory framework all necessitate developing policies that protect the most vulnerable in our society – our children. Australia’s failure to do so raises profound intergenerational ethical issues. This article tells a story of international policy, and where Australia is falling down. It demonstrates that we can learn from countries already taking critical steps to reduce the toxic chemical exposure, and that the development of a comprehensive, child-focused chemical regulation framework is central to turning around Australia’s failure" - Professor Sarah Lantz’s, Protecting children from toxic chemicals: putting it on Australia's public health agenda.
A toxin is any substance that creates harmful effects on the body. There are three modes of exposure in which toxins enter the body; inhalation, ingestion and through external contact. Over time, we accrue a “toxic load” which puts the immune system and other bodily systems under great stress. Toxic load consists of past and present environmental, physical, biological and chemical pollutants. Concentrations of chemicals that are present in the environment due to human made sources are termed background levels. For example, a widely distributed element to whose contamination we are all exposed to and have background levels of is lead. Over time, lead accumulates in the body and can cause a number of adverse effects on human health. There are many methods available to test for concentrations of lead and the retention of other toxic metals in the body. To test for exposure that has accumulated over time, a urinalysis or blood test is preferable vs. a hair and fingernail analysis.
As these endocrine disrupting chemicals, obesogens and absorption enhancers accumulate in the body, they start to cause a detrimental effect on biochemical pathways such as mitochondrial function. This will present anywhere from symptoms such as headaches and fatigue to chronic disease such as cancer, stroke and diabetes.
Although toxin exposure is an inevitable consequence of the modern lifestyle, there are preventative actions we can take to limit chemical exposure as well as minimise existing toxic load. It’s time to take responsibility for our health and the health of future generations. Here’s how:
Try to eliminate processed foods as much as possible and introduce certified organic, seasonal, local wholefoods into your diet. Not only will these foods have a better nutritional profile than packaged foods but they won’t contain the added chemicals that conventional, non-organic, or imported foods contain.
There are ways to keep costs down with organic foods, but you need to do your research and invest some time and effort into understanding labelling and product standards. Connect with organic farmers at your local market or even start your own organic garden at home. Find a list of farmers markets in your state
The reason we need to be equally mindful (if not more) of what we put “on” our body as we are with what goes “into” our body is that you can absorb more toxins through skin than orally. At least through the digestive system, we have enzymes that can help break down and eliminate toxic metabolites. The skin is the largest organ of the body and is highly permeable. Think about everything that comes in contact with your skin: Moisturiser, hand wash, deodorant, fragrance, shaving gel, toothpaste etc.
It is estimated that the average beauty routine sees us laden over 250 chemicals onto the skin of which close to 90% gets transdermally absorbed into the bloodstream. The rate at which toxins absorb into the system is 10 times faster than the rate of ingestion and this long term chemical exposure is yet another contributing factor to our toxic load or body burden. Look for certified organic personal care products to be guaranteed that what you are purchasing is safe, or for a more cost effective method start experimenting at home and make your own products. The most commonly used toxic ingredients to avoid, include: Fragrance, Sulfates, Parabens, Glycols, TEA’s, DEA’s and other artificial, synthetic and GMO ingredients (look out for these on the back of the label).
Some of my favourite Australian Certified Organic personal care product brands include: KORA, Divine By Therese Kerr, Mukti, Kelapa, Eviva and Miessence.
The organ in our body which is the most potent detoxifier is our liver. Its duty is to breakdown the myriad of toxins that assault our body daily. It’s a good idea to get some testing done before embarking on a detox. I would recommend getting a gastrointestinal profile to check your digestive health and a heavy metal profile to measure your toxicity levels. This is best done through a functional medicine Doctor as they will be able to interpret the results effectively and provide you with a personalised approach unique to your body’s current state of health. Find a registered functional medicine practitioner
It is a personal choice on how long you choose to fast for, it is important to listen to your body and do what works for you. Some people choose to fast 1-2 days a week and others just 8 hours. Ideally, 12 hours would be sufficient for your body to go into deep detox  Approximately 8 hours after your last meal, the body sends a signal to initiate a deep detox mode. The body then needs another 4 hours to do a “deep clean” which means at least a 12 hour commitment needs to be made to get the most out of your fast. It is common to experience cold – like symptoms, headaches and fatigue during fasting times but rest assured that this is a sign that your body is working hard to cleanse itself and is getting back into balance. As the body is releasing toxins which have been stored in fat cells into the bloodstream, it is important to excrete these toxins by staying hydrated. The quality of the water you consume is of great importance. Aim to drink high quality natural mineral water or add some Himalayan salt to clean filtered water. Herbal teas such as holy basil and dandelion are a great choice of hydration for aiding detox.
Holistic practitioners have been utilising the safe and effective practice of sweat therapy for physical wellness for over 4000 years. American Indians began the practice using sweat lodges but in today’s society the most common treatment method is the use of infrared saunas.
Infrared saunas are a great tool to significantly expedite the detoxification process reducing toxic contaminants in the body. They also aid in improving circulation, lymphatic flow, mitochondrial function and raising body temperature which in turn stimulates white blood cells hence boosting immunity. I've personally had a great experience with Sunlighten saunas in Melbourne http://www.sunlighten.com.au/
Another holistic technique that has been used for centuries by the Russians and Scandinavians is dry body brushing. A Finnish Doctor by the name of Paavo Airola started prescribing this technique to his patients 30 years ago as a means of detoxification.Not only does dry body brushing remove toxins which have accumulated on our body tissue from external pollutants, but it also works at a much deeper level. Usually, metabolic waste is stored as mucus throughout the body and if it is not removed it becomes toxic. To drain these toxins from the body, the nerves of the lymphatic system need to be stimulated. Dry body brushing will effectively cause lymph flow and also open up pores ridding the body of metabolic waste and toxins.
Although you should aim for the majority of your nutrient intake to come from whole foods, there are a myriad of herbs and supplements that can be taken if you’re unable to always consume nutrients in their most natural form.
Supplements which give the liver extra support for detoxification include; activated charcoal, Niacin, dandelion, tulsi, milk thistle, black walnut, worm wood, cilantro, nettle, gum acacia, turmeric, CoQ10, chromium picolinate and many more. It is a good idea to see a naturopath or at least do some research before taking supplements to ensure you are purchasing products of the highest purity and bioavailability. Another good reason to consult with a practitioner before commencing supplementation is to discuss the effectiveness of taking supplements orally based on the current health of your digestive tract. For instance, if your digestive tract is compromised, it may be more beneficial for you to use magnesium oil (transdermal absorption) rather than ingest a capsule or powder.
It is imperative that we start raising awareness about the adverse impacts that chemicals are having on both the environment and our health. It is our responsibility as inhabitants of this earth to be empowered with the knowledge to be able to make conscious choices and do our bit to reduce our ecological footprint for the sake of future generations. We can be more sustainable for future generations at the same time as improving our health now, just by making more educated day to day decision.
 K. Cooper, L. Marshall, L. Vanderlinden, and F. Ursitti, Early Exposures to Hazardous Pollutants/Chemicals and Associations with Chronic Disease—A Scoping Review | Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and Environment, Canadian Environmental Law Association, Ontario College of Family Physicians, and the Environmental Health Institute of Canada, for the Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and Environment, 2011,
 Clean by Dr Alejandro Junger MD