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THE HEALTHY LIVING SPACE
70 Practical Ways to Detoxify the Body and Home
By RICHARD LEVITON
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.Copyright © 2001 Richard Leviton
All rights reserved.
Toxicity and Illness: How Your Body and Home Became Toxic
It is an unfortunate fact that most of us living in the industrialized world today are toxic. We have been poisoned by the chemicals in our environment, and our bodies have become a limited toxic waste dump, a contaminated landfill, a biohazard zone. This is not an exaggeration to make a point: it is the point, and there is sufficient data now available to substantiate what might otherwise be viewed as a hysterical assertion.
Our bodies are overfull of poisons, not the kind that immediately make you ill, but the slow-acting kind, the ones that sicken, and even kill, you over time. They have a cumulative effect such that the more you amass in your body and the older you get without removing them, the more likely it is they will interfere with your health. Allergies, frequent colds and flus, unexplained headaches and muscle cramps, immune system disorders, hyperactivity, attention deficit disorder, chronic fatigue, environmental illness, multiple chemical sensitivities, asthma, infertility, arthritis, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, cancer—all can be attributed in large measure to unrelieved toxicity. Many more health conditions could be added to this list of toxin-generated discomfort and disease.
In fact, the spectrum of health effects ranges from chronic minor problems, such as allergies, to persistent major problems, degenerative disease, cancer, and shortened life span. The alarming fact is that there is a near certainty that right now both your body and your home are toxic. Your body is loaded with toxic substances, and your home and its furnishings, from carpets to cleaning agents, acts as a source for your continuous toxic exposure.
They're called xenobiotics—industrially produced foreign chemicals, synhetic organic chemicals that are not native to our natural environment, either within our bodies or in nature, hence the appropriate term, "xeno." As foreign substances in our natural ecosystems, most xenobiotics confound the ability of nature orour bodies to get rid of them, or even to neutralize them.
250 Chemical Contaminants in Every Human Body
They're called xenobiotics—industrially produced foreign chemicals, synthetic organic chemicals that are not native to our natural environment, either within our bodies or in nature, hence the appropriate term, "xeno." Think of plastics, pesticides, preservatives, aluminum, and thousands of other modern substances and products you take for granted, or don't even know about. That's where you'll find xenobiotics. They're in your foods and in your home. As foreign substances in our natural ecosystems, most xenobiotics confound the ability of nature or our bodies to get rid of them, or even to neutralize them.
Though they may seem to make our world run more efficiently, their hidden cost is that they unfailingly make us sick. And this buildup of toxins in our external and bodily environment has been steadily expanding since about 1800 and the onset of the Industrial Revolution.
Xenobiotics do not observe national borders. It is not only Americans or Canadians who are growing steadily more toxic. Toxicity is global. "Virtually anyone willing to put up the $2,000 for the tests will find at least 250 chemical contaminants in his or her body fat, regardless of whether he or she lives in Gary, Indiana, or on a remote island in the South Pacific."
This sweeping—and alarming—statement was made only a few years ago by Theo Colborn and her colleagues in Our Stolen Future, a startling documentation of our toxic environment and its ramifications for worldwide health. Synthetic chemicals are everywhere and you cannot escape them, Colborn concludes. They are in the Arctic and Polynesia, the Swiss Alps and mother's milk. In just six months of breast-feeding, an infant in the United States or Europe gets "the maximum recommended lifetime dose of dioxin," one of the world's most toxic substances, a byproduct of pesticides. This killer chemical "rides through the food web" from plants to animals to humans and can end up anywhere on the planet.
In fact, the Arctic, says Colborn, may be the most polluted environment on the planet in terms of its concentration of volatile persistent chemicals, such as PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls. Canadian researchers found that residents on a remote Arctic island had the highest observed levels of PCBs of any human population excepting those specifically exposed through an industrial accident. PCBs, created as coolants and insulators for electrical equipment, are world travelers, migrating through ecosystems and over great distances, lodging in the fat cells of all kinds of living organisms, Colborn observes.
Persistent chemicals such as PCBs are characterized by "extreme stability, volatility, and a particular affinity for fat." That means they persist, do not easily decay or biodegrade into nontoxic forms, are easily excited or activated and vaporized, and tend to lodge in fat cells of living biological organisms (such as humans) from which they are hard to remove. Because they lodge in fat cells, they are almost exempt from the body's natural detoxification system, which requires toxins to be water-soluble, and cannot easily deal with fat-soluble toxins.
Introduced in 1929, PCBs were banned in the United States in 1976, but by then an estimated 3.4 billion pounds of PCBs had been produced worldwide and released into the global environment. And they're still there, in the body fat of almost every living creature in the world, states Colborn. PCBs are only one class of many synthetic organic chemicals produced and unleashed into the global environment during the period from 1900 to 2000, which in retrospect surely ought to be called the toxic century.
One name for this global family of industrial synthetic chemicals is POPs, persistent organic pollutants. These are carbonbased chemical compounds—such as PCBs, DDT, chlordane, dieldrin, HCB, aldrin, dioxins—that persist in the environment (resisting degradation), are semi-volatile (evaporating easily), and have a low water solubility (preferring fat cells). As POPs move up the food chain, from fish to human, their concentrations can increase by factors of thousands or even millions.
Here's another rivetting example. You would think living mostly outdoors and close to nature in ultra-rural Greenland amidst vast amounts of snow and no industry would be a healthy lifestyle. The opposite is true. Researchers at a major hospital in Quebec City, Quebec, found that the Inuits of Greenland (a people native to the country) had the world's highest body burden of organochlorines (toxic chlorine-derived compounds) due to environmental exposure. The Inuits depend largely on sea mammal fat for their food supply; unfortunately, the sea mammals are intensely polluted with fat-loving POPs. The researchers found evidence of twenty-five different pesticides and POPs in the fatty tissues of the Inuits examined, and they found that the native Greenlanders had concentrations that were three to thirty-four times higher than found in a population in urban, industrialized Quebec City,
Although neither Greenland nor the Arctic are still pristine, surely the rarefied peaks of high mountain ranges, such as the Swiss Alps must still be relatively toxin free. Not so, says Roland Psenner, a professor at Innsbruck University in Innsbruck, Austria. Ironically, the Alps act as a magnet for toxic pollutants in the atmosphere, Psenner reports. In lakes above the tree line (typically at 8,000 feet) the fish are contaminated with DDT applied in the tropics against malaria. "We found that fish in the most contaminated lakes have 1,000 times more DDT than lower-lying lakes," Psenner states.
How can toxins used in the tropics end up on an alpine snow peak? Ecologists call it global distillation, to denote a kind of "chemical nomadism." The subzero temperatures around peaks in the Alps cause atmospheric DDT, collected over Africa and India as evaporation, to humidify and fall as precipitation on the peaks. Chemicals used in Southeast Asian rice paddies vaporize and drift across the planet and condense on the bark of Arctic trees. Global distillation explains why "the bodies of seals in Siberia's Lake Baikal—the world's oldest and deepest lake—contain the same two contaminants as the alpine soil of New Hampshire's Mount Moosilauke."
"There is no safe, uncontaminated place," Colborn concludes. Our body, home, neighborhood, state, nation, planet—all have become toxic, an unhealthy living space. All are contaminated with numerous xenobiotics that are capable of making us sick, and are in the process of doing so.
The concept of global distillation gives us an image of the planet uniformly blanketed in poisons—globally toxified. Organochlorines do not observe national boundaries; hydrocarbons do not stay put; pesticides hunger for the entire world. The use of a single toxic substance has planetary repercussions. When you spray dandelions in your front yard with a convenient pesticide dispenser you bought at the hardware store, you are potentially sending toxics to the far ends of the planet: You could be poisoning polar bears at the North Pole.
But once you get the relationship between local and global toxics, you get something bigger, better. When you realize that your actions have global effects, you start thinking globally. It may be a shocking moment when you see the reciprocity, the mirroring, that exists between you and the planet—both overflowing with toxins. You see that you and your home are embedded in the planet's own body, its life, which we call its ecosystem. The load of toxins you and the planet share is the negative aspect; the positive aspect is that your willingness to detoxify also has world consequences. You can start saving the polar bears from your garage. If you can't tolerate dandelions in your lawn, it is a global act to reach for the weeding spade instead of the herbicide.
The volume of toxic substances regularly added to the world environment is staggering to contemplate. In one year alone: 550 million pounds of industrial chemicals were dumped into public sewage; 1 billion pounds of chemicals were released into the ground; 188 million pounds of chemicals were discharged into surface waters; 2.4 billion pounds of particulates were sent into the air. The estimated total of toxic chemical pollutants released into the environment in one year (1989) was 5.7 billion pounds. "That is enough to fill a line of semi-trailers parked bumper to bumper, and having a cargo capacity of 45,000 pounds each, stretching from downtown Los Angeles to Des Moines, Iowa."
The purpose of this chapter is not to scare, however, but to inform and motivate. It is necessary to fully grasp the fact of toxicity and the degree to which it has permeated our environment, our bodies and home living spaces, not to mention the planet's ecosystem itself. It is vital to understand what unchecked toxicity is doing to our bodies and our world. But this alarming knowledge should become the foundation upon which we build practical, effective steps to detoxify ourselves, to deliberately remove the myriad toxins from our bodies and homes, and eventually, from the world as well.
When we start detoxifying, we inevitably become more aware—grippingly so, usually—of the state of the global body, our planetary living space. We see how it, too, is toxic. We become aware of what we're buying, using, consuming, ingesting, and, with shock, realize we have been steadily, if unknowingly, poisoning ourselves—and the environment—for years. As our consumer choices change, as our lifestyle puts a premium on health, and as our political priorities shift as a result, our personal commitment to detoxification starts to have global ramifications. But first, let's get a visceral sense of what being toxic feels like. Are we toxic and don't know it?
HEALTHY LIVING SPACE DETOXIFIER #1 Fill Out Your Toxicity Self-Assessment Questionnaire
Unless we are obviously, uncomfortably sick, ill to the extent that we are conspicuously disabled, it seems unlikely—even illogical—to think we might be toxic. If I'm so toxic, why aren't all these terrible poisons making me really ill, laying me low with a serious health problem, we reason. While it may seem logical, the reasoning is flawed.
The truth is that we are all being slowly poisoned, because although the toxins are potent, we are rarely exposed to a lethal or even sublethal, but dangerous, dose. We are instead routinely exposed to very small doses of many toxic chemicals, which together overwhelm our body's natural detoxification system. Notice the key words here: routinely, small doses, many. It's the frequent exposure to microdoses of multiple toxic chemicals that sickens us slowly. Very few of us are seriously poisoned through a single toxic exposure to a large amount of one chemical.
Over time, these many toxic chemicals to which we are routinely exposed in the normal course of living sicken us, at first generating dozens of "hidden" symptoms, then creating serious debilitating illnesses that conventional medical analysis does not link to a lifetime of toxic exposure. The symptoms are "hidden" only because we are not trained to look for them. Once you know what they are, toxicity becomes fairly easy to spot. Various laboratory tests, detailed in Chapter 3, can confirm presumed toxicity and document its extent and nature. It may seem overwhelming to open this Pandora's box, but the guidelines presented throughout the rest of the book will show you how to deal with this toxicity effectively on your own.
You don't have to be a physician to deal with detoxification; in fact, don't expect your doctor necessarily to be on the same page as you once you wake up to the toxicity factor. Conventional doctors are still resistant to this concept and are often not even especially well educated in its intricacies and seemingly indirect causal links. On the other hand, practitioners of alternative medicine, who base diagnosis on a careful observation of the whole person, on all the body's systems and their interactions, are much more likely to credit unrelieved systemic toxicity as a prime contributing factor in numerous health conditions.
Practitioners of altematiue medicine, who base diagnosis on a careful observation of the whole person, on all the body's systems and their interactions, are much more likely to credit unrelieved systemic toxicity as a prime contributing factor in numerous health conditions.
"Most people who think they are tired are actually toxic," observes Sherry Rogers, M.D., a physician based in Syracuse, New York, who for several decades has been an outspoken and well-informed advocate of the systemic toxicity hypothesis of illness. An alarming number of people, says Dr. Rogers, are "not functioning with all oars in the water."
They pass their annual physicals yet cannot deny they feel "dreadful" a fair amount of the time. They have lots of vague symptoms and never feel quite well, but it's not enough to constitute a diagnostic category, so they're dismissed as hypochondriacs. They do not wake up energized and vivacious in the morning. They rely on stimulants or relaxants to suppress the strange, persistent signals coming from their body, as if the body, in its own baffling language, is insisting that something is not quite right.
"Because environmental illnesses are apparently characterized by patterns of multiple symptoms in many parts of the body, including the central nervous system, it is understandable that such patients have often received diagnoses of neurasthenia, hysteria, somatization disorder, and various other psychosomatic disorders," explains Iris Bell, M.D., a psychiatrist at the University of California-San Francisco School of Medicine, and author of Clinical Ecology: A New Approach to Environmental Illness?
But there is no such thing as a hypochondriac, asserts Dr. Rogers. When a doctor fails to understand that the clinical picture presented by a patient with multiple, vague, or ill-defined symptoms adds up to systemic toxicity, it teaches the patient to ignore or tune out the various body symptoms until they become much worse, unbearable, or even dangerous, says Dr. Rogers. Yet these same persistent, wide-ranging, "soft, subtle symptoms" have a biological function: they're meant to serve as "early warnings of worse symptoms to come if we ignore or mask (cover them up) them with medications."
Excerpted from THE HEALTHY LIVING SPACE by RICHARD LEVITON. Copyright © 2001 Richard Leviton. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
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