When we think of health, we tend to associate this term with nutrition, exercise, and stress management, but what if there was a crucial piece of the wellness puzzle that we were missing? Research has begun to reveal the unfortunate truth that the average individual is exposed to numerous toxic chemicals each day.
Chemical and toxic exposures are way more common than you may think, and scientists unanimously agree that longer, and even shorter exposures to certain irritants can be harmful to an individual’s health and well-being1. By taking the time to understand these potential sources of harm, we can make more mindful choices as consumers and optimize our health.
How does Chemical and Toxin Exposure Cause Harm?
When an individual is moving with an autoimmune condition, the immune system is often hyperactive and can cause the body to attack itself; this can result in symptoms, such as widespread inflammation or flares, and can cause a domino effect of health decline. Understanding the potential root causes of your autoimmune condition can be crucial when designing together a successful therapeutic protocol. Those living with autoimmunity tend to already have weaker barrier functions, whether it is the skin, gut or mucosal, putting these individuals at a much greater disadvantage and higher susceptibility toward more serious reactions. Exposure to toxic materials can often trigger an autoimmune flare to occur in as little as a one-time exposure, depending on the total body burden of that individual.
The total body burden refers to the body’s ability to bounce back after physical, emotional, and environmental stressors. When the body is pushed to its limit, due to moving with a chronic disease or autoimmune condition, even the smallest amount of additional stress, i.e. a toxin or chemical exposure, can cause a disease to derail.
It helps to think of our body’s overall resilience as a bucket- able to hold a certain prescribed amount of stress, and when it is full, even just one drop too much will cause it to spill over. Unfortunately, the spillage can mean severe autoimmune disease dysregulation and inflammation. Taking steps to ensure you are actively detoxifyng from chemical and toxin exposures will support your body’s ability to get back to normal after being pushed to the point of overflow.
Toxic exposure to chemicals and other substances can build-up over time, causing damage at a sometimes unnoticeable rate until it is a noticeable issue or until autoimmune symptoms arise. There are certain jobs that are associated with a greater incidence of toxin exposure and I take this into consideration when I’m working with patients. Studies have found that consistent occupational toxin exposure can lead to various chronic diseases from eczema to neurological disorders, and even numerous cancers.3
Some of the most “toxic” jobs include:
- Construction Worker
Steps Toward Toxin-Free Living
I wish there was a way to wave a magic wand and -poof!- all toxins were gone for good. But unfortunately we cannot wish away this complex issue. It is truly appalling to think about the thousands, if not millions, of chemicals we are passively exposed to in our modern society. From chemicals that mimic hormones in the body to those that cause destructive imbalances to occur, to phthalates, which are found in most plastic products across the board, we are constantly being exposed to a substantial number of chemicals every day. Some of the most common household and everyday products are oozing with harmful ingredients. Making simple non-toxic swaps for any products containing toxic chemicals or harmful substances is an easy way to minimize exposure and focus on the factors in our lives we can control.
Here are three tips to consider when shopping for non-toxic self-care and household products:
- Choose products with the least number of ingredients. The more ingredients, the more likely there can be a reaction to the product or triggering of an autoimmune flare such as eczema and psoriasis.
- Choose products with simple, recognizable ingredients, no colors/dyes, and no scents/fragrances added. Many dyes are made using petroleum and this binds to proteins in the body, causing the immune system to become inflamed, overactive, and susceptible to disease.2
- Choose organic products whenever possible to lower pesticide exposure.
If you want to make changes in your toxin exposure, start by identifying possible areas of harm and make healthier swaps for those riskier products.
Here are some of the top products that contain toxic materials and non-toxic swaps:
- Cleaning products: Use vinegar and lemon or Castille soap products. The fewer ingredients the better!
- Cosmetics: Look for brands that use minerals for pigment instead of harsh dyes, always unscented, and preferably organic.
- Cooking utensils and pans: Choose ceramic, cast-iron, stainless steel, wood or glass cookware and kitchen tools to avoid toxins leaching into your food.
- Clothing: Try simple materials like linen and silk. Many clothing items are sprayed with chemicals before sale or use synthetic materials that could be irritating to the skin.
- Perfumes and air fresheners: Choose well-sourced essential oils, fresh/dried herbs, and simple-ingredient options instead. Now referred to as the “new second-hand smoke,” many products are found to contain endocrine disruptors, which can alter hormone and metabolic function, cause respiratory distress, and inflammation.4
- Food: Choose products with simple ingredients, whole-foods, and those without added flavors/dyes. Highly processed and packaged foods can set-off autoimmune flares (learn more).
Avoid Chemicals and Detoxify Your Body
Toxin and chemical exposures can weaken the body’s disposition and trigger an autoimmune flare. Did you develop a new food sensitivity? Are you suddenly reacting to clothing on your skin? A common sign of prolonged toxin exposure is the loss of tolerance to things that were previously consumed, used, or worn without issues. This can manifest in a variety of ways, from a rash after wearing a shirt that is worn frequently, gastrointestinal distress after eating a food you commonly enjoy, or the inability to tolerate specific smells that never caused issues in the past. Symptoms tend to match with your weakest link or the autoimmune condition you have. For example, if you live with psoriasis, your skin may flare when you come into direct contact with certain toxins or chemicals.
Supporting detoxification pathways can help remove these toxins more quickly and minimize their harmful effects. Specifically, the liver plays an enormous role in the detoxification process. By integrating therapies that support both phase I and phase II liver detoxification, we can support the removal of these harmful materials and avoid the build-up of toxins in the body. Phase I and II detoxification is a process whereby the body effectively filters toxins from the bloodstream and eliminates them from the body. Other ways to minimize the negative effects of toxin and chemical exposures are listed below.
Steps to Detoxify
- Open windows and use air filters (HEPA) in any indoor spaces to decrease the potential for air-borne pollutants like mold, car exhaust, smoke, and pollen, which all can negatively impact respiratory health
- Regularly use a Neti Pot to rinse sinuses and clear contaminants from airways
- Address leaky gut or other barrier issues, as they are often a root cause of autoimmunity/inflammation and the reason for immune system loss of tolerance to exposures
- Have regular bowel movements to help eliminate physical toxins from the body
- Frequent exercise and sweating/sauna use can help remove physical toxins and reduce stress levels
- Proper hydration and electrolyte intake
- Daily stress management and relaxation helps lower cortisol levels and inflammation
Routine toxin and chemical exposures are an unfortunate reality in our modern world. Although our bodies are tremendous at compensating in most health situations, when we are exposed to numerous dangerous substances, our bodies can reach a breaking point and it can cause an autoimmune disease or a flare-up.
Overall, the most impactful steps you can take toward living a non-toxic lifestyle are to make mindful choices in your daily life to avoid these dangerous products as soon as possible and focus on optimizing your body’s detoxification pathways. In the case of toxic and chemical exposures, even the smallest steps taken, like those mentioned above, will make a huge difference!
Discover the benefits of lowering your chemical exposure and get to the root cause of your autoimmune disease symptoms. Take control of your health today, and speak with one of our providers here at Caplan Health Institute to turn around autoimmune disease and get you feeling like your old self again.