Mold, among other toxic elements in our environment, has been the subject of much public scrutiny of late. There's the family in Austin, Texas who suffered a growing list of health issues over three years – from the mom's migraines to their youngest son's developmental problems—before realizing the mycotoxins produced by invisible mold in their house, was the culprit. Then there's the lead which continues to expose millions of children to dangerous health risks resulting from blood lead poisoning. Those in lower income communities are at even higher risk.
The insidious reality of toxic elements all around us is not news. Public awareness and funding towards rooting it out have supported progress. In some notable historical cases, large public health efforts have imposed system-wide limits of cancer-causing agents such as DDT, lead and asbestos from distribution. And yet these chemicals continue to cause harm to our environment, on the lives of humans and animals and ecosystems. This large and concerning class of chemicals is called persistent organic pollutants or POPs because they do not degrade. Heavy metals are considered persistent because they do not dissolve and they also accumulate in the body over time. So despite some great headway these historical efforts have been far from enough.
Dangerous levels of lead in the blood is one example of how our environment can create a chronic disease epidemic. More than three decades after lead was exposed as a public health issue and subsequently banned in the US, exposure to lead continues to put certain groups at risk and children are especially vulnerable during their development. Lead has a sweet taste which may attract children to put peeling paint and certain toys in their mouths, something parents and guardians can watch out for. According to the CDC, which advocates a simple blood test to determine exposure, even low blood lead levels can have harmful, lifelong effects. In a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics, the authors warn: "Any detectable lead level is abnormal and potentially harmful particularly in young children; no safe level of exposure to lead for children has been identified."
Like the lead, easily transferred from the paint and pipes of many American homes and schools, many of the toxic elements putting our health at risk are invisible. The culprits aren't always as obvious as the dark mold we see growing on the walls on TV. The Baehr family in Texas is a good case in point. It took calling in the experts to discover that the mold in their house was "growing behind the walls and blowing through the air ducts… (it) was even discovered on fruit in a bowl in the kitchen and in their drinking water."
Arsenic, which has long been used as a pesticide and antibiotic, is another example. Although the arsenic-based drug Roxarsone, has been banned since 2013, it was initially used for decades in chicken feed to fight disease, promote muscle growth and make the meat pinker. Most of the arsenic is then excreted which is how it may end up in the water and soil contaminating our drinking water, with some winding up in the chicken meat and eggs. Old agricultural soils may still contain high levels of arsenic resulting from its former uses which is how it can enter rice, spices and other crops.
Many toxic compounds are also chemicals that exist naturally in the environment, and asbestos, lead, mercury and arsenic are all examples. In a new FDA initiative called "Closer to Zero" where the goal is to reduce exposure to such heavy metals in foods for children, a key step is to address them at their source – in the fields where grains and produce are grown. Solving the problem posed by such "natural" toxins is just one piece of the puzzle. Equally important are the toxins that are added knowingly to the food supply like pesticides or that appear on ingredient lists, like food preservatives.
Fortunately, people are beginning to read the fine print and take action to empower themselves or demand change. In one famous example, the health food advocate and author Vani Hari – AKA "The Food Babe" – exposed the Subway restaurant chain for using the cancer-causing chemical, azodicarbonamide, in its self-proclaimed healthy menu option. Subway swiftly removed the chemical, a bread softener also used in yoga mats, over the allegations. However, it wasn't banned and other fast-food chains such as McDonald's may continue to rely on it to soften their buns.
The complexities of our diet, lifestyle and environment in a modern world means we are always exposed to harmful elements, whether we know it or not. There are toxins in our food, home, water and air. In many cases, our bodies can safely dispose of chemicals that might otherwise harm us. But even tiny doses can add up resulting in health issues. In addition, if you're struggling with autoimmunity-related symptoms, any toxin in your environment can be a trigger. Navigating this reality includes being aware of opportunities to reduce our exposure and protect our health. This includes understanding our potential risks and what symptoms to look out for so we can take steps to avoid them. While we know completely avoiding toxins is unrealistic, you can take steps to decrease your exposure as well as reduce the accumulation of harmful chemicals in your body. Here are a few good steps to follow. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Check Your Environment
Talk to local environmental groups and housing authorities to identify common contaminants in your area like mold, pesticides, electromagnetic radiation and heavy metals to find and remove lead from the family environment.
Enrich Your Diet
Include a variety of fresh foods high in vitamin C and other antioxidants, iron and magnesium. Since minerals such as lead and calcium travel together, eating a variety of high nutrient foods can reduce unwanted side effects.
Eliminate Waste Daily
Doing all you can to ensure physiological detoxification through urination and bowel movements, sweating and deep exhalations can also promote safe removal at a slow and steady rate. Exercise is not only beneficial for weight maintenance and stress relief, but it also improves circulation, releases toxins through sweat on the skin, promotes deeper exhalations and increases urine production.
Identify Your Triggers
If you've had environmental exposures, what you eat can augment or reduce your symptoms so it helps to know your triggers. For instance, if you've had mold exposure it could be beneficial to limit consumption of certain foods for a period of time. Foods like chocolate, coffee and peanuts contain mycotoxins, while other foods with refined carbs, sugars and cow dairy may increase the inflammation that contributes to mold sickness.
Educational resources from Environmental Working Group and Center for Disease Control can help you learn more about protecting yourself and your family, including important do's and don'ts for avoiding unnecessary risks, including protecting your children if you think they might have been exposed to lead poisoning. Free screening tools may also be helpful in assessing whether any symptoms you might be experiencing are the result of toxins in your environment.
Ask your doctor for a test to check for heavy metals, which can be measured in the urine or the blood. A more thorough functional test to check for the presence of naturally-occurring and man-made chemicals and their metabolites (breakdown agents) may also be an option. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.
Follow Mymee to learn about upcoming webinars on the role of diet, lifestyle and our environment in autoimmunity. To learn how finding your personal triggers can reduce autoimmune-related symptoms book a free consultation call.