Lifestyle: Environmental Influences

When you consider negative environmental influences on our health, we usually think of toxins. Today these toxins are everywhere: in our food, water, air, clothing, prescription medications, detergents, toys, cosmetics, building supplies, and virtually everywhere.

In the US there are over 80,000 synthetic chemicals used daily with hundreds more coming into existence weekly. Before new chemicals are used, toxicity studies are required. Unfortunately, these required studies can not predict how each individual will respond or how these compounds affect the toxicity of the thousands of chemicals already in our environment.

Our ability to detoxify makes a huge difference on how we may respond to these different environmental toxins. A small dose of a certain toxin in a person with a strong detoxification capacity may have no discernible negative outcome. The same or lower dose in another person may cause a range of physiological abnormalities.

Some examples of environmental toxins:

Bisphenol-A (BPA). This is a well know plasticizer found in polycarbonate bottles such as baby and water bottles. It is classified as an estrogen disruptor. It primarily affects estrogen signaling for reproduction, hormonal malignancy risk, other hormone related processes, and even change to adipocytes, which may promote obesity.

Phthalates. These are compounds used in producing plastics that give then their resilience and flexibility. They are found in glues, detergents, shower curtains, adhesives, plastic bags, paints, pharmaceuticals, and personal care products such as cosmetics and shampoos. They are also endocrine disruptors and high doses alter hormone levels and lead to birth defects.

Toxic Metals. These are referred to as “heavy metals” due to their molecular weight and are toxic to humans. The most common are mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, and aluminum. These can be found in dental fillings, cookware, antiperspirants, food, fertilizers, batteries, tobacco smoke, and water. Chronic environmental exposure can cause build up in our tissues. This has been linked to increased risk of various health conditions and diseases.

Pesticides. Pesticides are not only sprayed onto our food but seep deep into the soil and ground water. Often, it ends up in drinking water and the air. Pesticides have been found in breast milk of women and adipose tissue. Chronic exposure has been associated with several adverse effects to our health. From simple irritation to the eyes and skin to neurotoxicity, hormonal disruption, and carcinogenic activity.

Using pesticides on fruit and vegetables has led may to consider using organically-grown and local produce. To maximize the cost and value of organically-grown focus your organic purchase on fruits and vegetables known to have higher amounts of chemicals in the conventional growing environment.

Below is the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen list. The Clean 15 can be purchased conventionally since they are the least contaminated. The Dirty Dozen should be purchased organically since they carry the greatest amount of pesticide residue.

Clean 15

These foods are the least contaminated. Purchase conventionally.

  1. Asparagus
  2. Avocados
  3. Cabbage
  4. Cantaloupe
  5. Cauliflower
  6. Eggplant
  7. Grapefruit
  8. Kiwi
  9. Mangoes
  10. Papayas
  11. Pineapples
  12. Sweet Corn
  13. Sweet Peas (frozen)
  14. Sweet Potatoes

Dirty Dozen

These have the most pesticides residue. Best to buy organically

  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Cherry Tomatoes
  4. Cucumbers
  5. Grapes (imported)
  6. Nectarines
  7. Peaches
  8. Potatoes
  9. Snap Peas
  10. Spinach
  11. Strawberries
  12. Sweet Bell Peppers
  13. Hot Peppers
  14. Kale / Collard Greens

Electromagnetic fields (EMFs). EMFs are everywhere in modern society. From electric power line to cell phones. Electricity flows through an object and creates either a minute or large electromagnetic field around it. We know that humans respond to EMFs. The question arises whether exposure to human made EMFs have negative health consequences.

For instance, we go to sleep with our alarm clock next to our head. When we arise, we have our smart phone or laptop in our lap checking e-mails or Facebook, turn on the TV, the lights, then the coffee maker. Many live close to large power lines and cell phone towers.

Epidemiological studies have suggested some people have electromagnetic hypersensitivity. Symptoms related to the skin, muscular, GI disturbances, fatigue, headaches and concentration problems. Other studies have suggested increased risk of leukemia, genotoxic effects, brain tumors, allergic inflammatory responses, breast cancer, miscarriage, and cardiovascular effects.

This data is currently difficult to interpret and can be controversial, we suggest “prudent avoidance”. Simply stated, keep your distance, when possible from sources strongest of EMFs.

Have you ever considered allergies and sensitivities to play a role as a toxin on the body? Whether from food, pets, or changing seasons, undiagnosed allergies presents a burden on our immune system. Sensitivities such as food, inhaled, or topical are the result usually of the body’s inability to digest appropriately, metabolize or detoxify a substance such as wheat or dairy. Initially, this is not an immunological insult, but over time the inflammation can lead to intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and immune dysfunction.

What about positive environmental signals? Nature. Walking or hiking to beautiful landscapes has demonstrated improvement in both mental and physical outcomes. Exposure to natural setting decreases stress, improved attention and increased cognitive function. These green environments also improve mood and self-esteem. The effect is enhanced by being near water.

Another positive environmental influence is a person’s direct connectedness with the earth itself. Going bare foot while walking on grass or a sandy beach? Sound nice? Urban dwellers constantly have a barrier of shoes and concrete between being connected to the earth. Some proponents recommend “earthing” in the form of regular barefoot contact with the earth. Even placing certain wiring mechanisms to “ground” the bed when sleeping.

One study noted that a “grounded” bed during sleep measured serum improvements in cortisol. Symptoms of sleep disruption, pain, and stress were greatly decreased.

Sunlight, exposure to ultraviolet light is capable of sending hormonal and genomic signals through out your body utilizing vitamin D as the messenger.