It’s widely acknowledged our health is a combination of genetics, diet/exercise and the exposure to toxins. This post focuses on the proliferation of the latter and identifies a number of simple steps to help reduce exposure.


A 2014 study by IHS Automotive concluded there are 253 million cars on the road in the United States with an average age of 11.4 years (1). This is a whopping 532% increase on the 40 million cars in 1950. Perhaps more alarmingly the emissions from this increase has brought a similar increase in what the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has classified as known human carcinogens such as Benzene, in addition to probable human carcinogens formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and 1,3-butadiene (2). The EPA goes as far as to estimate that mobile (car, truck, and bus) sources of air toxics account for as much as half of all cancers attributed to outdoor sources of air toxics.


On October 26th 2015 the World Health Organization (WHO) classified processed meat as a carcinogen (3) putting it in the same category as plutonium, arsenic and… exhaust emissions. Hopefully a hot dog is not as dangerous as plutonium 😉 but it is in the same category nonetheless. To put this in perspective, the WHO uses the International Agency for Research for Cancer (IARC) classification system which has 4 categories:

  • Group 1 – Carcinogenic to humans
  • Group 2a – Probably carcinogenic to humans
  • Group 2b – Possibly carcinogenic to humans
  • Group 3 – Unclassifiable as to the carcinogenicity in humans
  • Group 4 – Probably not carcinogenic to humans

Most agents, ~88% to date of those tested, are listed in Group 2 and 3 namely – possible, probable or unknown risk. It is therefore a very BIG DEAL processed (and red) meat was classified as a known carcinogen given how hard it is to determine the impact on humans.


We literally cannot escape toxins as we go about our daily lives. In addition to the toxins in air from cars and industrial pollution, when you add all the processed foods we consume, the beauty products we apply, the OTC medicine we ingest (linked to dementia – 4) and the products made from plastics or harmful materials we come into contact with – it makes you wonder about the correlation with chronic diseases such as Alzheimers, Autism, Cardiovascular, Cancer, Diabetes, MS, Parkinson’s and Auto Immune Diseases like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis that are at or reaching epidemic states.

Number (in Millions) of Civilian, Noninstitutionalized Persons with Diagnosed Diabetes, United States, 1980–2011

A report published in the British Journal of Cancer by Cancer Research in the UK concluded the lifetime risk of cancer for people born after 1960 is >50% and stated that over half of people who are currently adults under the age of 65 years will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime (5). That’s incredibly shocking… 1 in 2 people in the UK will experience cancer in their lifetime.

Cancer is not the only epidemic. The first chart shows the number of people (in millions) diagnosed with diabetes in the US between 1980 and 2011. The number of has more than tripled (from 5.6 million to 20.9 million).

The second chart shows the number of Alzheimer disease patients in the United States is expected to more than triple over the next 50 years.

It should be apparent by now we’ve made a series of bad choices in our history which are having downstream effects on our health. News of them hit the headlines on almost daily basis – Heineken announced they are removing a coloring which has been linked to cancer in mice and rats (6). This same coloring is on the state of California list of known carcinogens. Fit Bit acknowledged its latest wrist band can cause a rash (7). Trips to the doctor and dentist can lead to direct injection of known toxins such as ethylmercury contained in thimerosal used as a preservative in vaccines (8), and elemental mercury which forms >50% of dental amalgam. Both these statements are surrounded by controversy and the fact the human body “should” be capable of eliminating these toxins – however it is overlooked that these substances are capable of causing both DNA alterations and epigenetic effects. While some people can detoxify these substances, others cannot – the important part to remember – we are all different.

Toxins are so ubiquitous they have become a part of our daily routine. As ridiculous as it sounds we literally start applying them to ourselves within minutes of waking up – do you take a shower in the morning? Check your shower gel and shampoo to see if they include parabens. Do you then apply antiperspirant? The active ingredient is typically aluminum. A pubmed article looked into the correlation between aluminium, antiperspirants and breast cancer based on the disproportionately high incidence of breast cancer in the upper outer quadrant of the breast found in clinical studies (9). Given aluminium is known to have a genotoxic profile it concluded,

“aluminium in the form of aluminium chloride or aluminium chlorhydrate can interfere with the function of oestrogen receptors of MCF7 human breast cancer cells both in terms of ligand binding and in terms of oestrogen-regulated reporter gene expression.”

A 2015 study from the University of Arizona (10), which analyzed sludge from treatment centers in Arizona and samples from across the country stored at the U.S. National Biosolids Repository, found significant metal accumulation in biosolids. Further evidence of the accumulation of toxins in the environment.

Low hanging fruit

Toxins are all around us and are seemingly unavoidable. Here are a few ideas to avoid some of the toxins around the home:

  1. Reduce sugar intake – In his book, “Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity and Disease“, Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California at San Francisco, makes the case that sugar is almost single-handedly responsible for Americans’ excess weight and the illnesses that go with it. “Sugar is the biggest perpetrator of our current health crisis” he says, blaming it for not just obesity and diabetes but also for insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease, stroke, even cancer. He has a point, it’s well documented that sugar causes inflammation and inflammation is the start of all disease. Here’s a tip – consider purveyors of candy/sweets the same as tobacco companies, if you classify them this way in as you go about your daily routine it’ll certainly make you think twice before picking up a bag of gummy bears.
  2. Drink pure water. We are 60% made of water and continually loose water through sweat and urine. Depending on who you talk to it is recommended to drink between 0.5 and 1 ounce per pound of body weight per day. It’s not just quantity however, it’s important to consider the quality of the water.  Tap water has been treated with over 300 chemicals, and the Environmental Working Group recommends anyone drinking tap water should use some form of carbon filtration to reduced exposures to trihalomethanes, haloacetic acids and other water treatment contaminants (11). Tip – consider a good, better, best strategy to give you options. Good – get a Brita filter – these use charcoal to bind toxins removing them from your water. Better – drink spring water. Best drink spring water from glass bottles.
  3. Caution with tattoos. The term tattoo itself means to puncture the skin. While some red tattoo inks are known for containing mercury, most inks include heavy metals (lead, antimony, beryllium, chromium, cobalt nickel and arsenic.) A lawsuit filed by the American Environmental Safety Institute against two manufacturers of tattoo ink was settled in 2005 resulting in the manufacturers including warning labels on their products in addition to requiring a poster be placed in a prominent position at all tattoo stores using the ink (12).
  4. Seek out products without BPA. BPA stands for bisphenol A. BPA is an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics and resins since the 1960s. BPA is found in polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. Polycarbonate plastics are often used in containers that store food and beverages, such as water bottles. Epoxy resins are used to coat the inside of metal products, such as food cans, bottle tops and water supply lines. Some research has shown that BPA can seep into food or beverages from containers that are made with BPA. Exposure to BPA is a concern because of possible health effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children (13).
  5. Deodorant. Aluminum is the active ingredient in most anti-perspirants. It is also linked to breast cancer. Consider natural alternatives such as the Crystal Body Deodorant stick made from 100% mineral salts which eliminate odor, or Tom’s of Maine natural lemongrass deodorant. But let’s be honest, we all know these don’t work very well. Fortunately a reader recommended making your own deodorant which works surprisingly well!
  6. Read. The. Labels. This counts not only for products you ingest but also the ones you come into close contact with – for example creams and gels you rub into your skin. Your skin absorbs these creams and it’s not long before they are circulating in your blood stream. Look out for natural ingredients and avoid anything with parabens – a widely used preservative.
  7. Household cleaners. A quick look under your sink and you’ll likely find numerous household cleaners that release toxic fumes hazardous to our health. Find safer alternatives – vinegar is just as effective as bleach or try natural products such as Seventh Generation Disinfecting Multi-Surface Wipes.
  8. Reduce fish consumption. The average amount of mercury we get from breathing is 1 mcg/day. The typical American diet provides another 15-20 mcg/day. If one eats tuna or other large ocean fish daily…. an intake of 60-80 mcg/day is possible. For persons with normal metal metabolism (metallothionein, glutathione, etc), only 5% of ingested mercury gets into the bloodstream and less than 1% into the brain (14).

The following steps can help with the removal of toxins from the body:

  • Sauna. Skin is the largest organ on the body. 40 minutes sweating in a sauna is the equivalent of 24 hours of detoxification by the liver. Tip – head for the dry sauna as the steam room often contains chlorine from city water. Avoid throwing tap or pool water on the coals and keep plastics out the room to avoid them leaching toxins into the air.
  • Exercise. Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden discovered that physical activity purges the blood of a substance which accumulates during stress and can be harmful to the brain. Gregory Brewer proposed a theory which integrates the free radical theory of aging with the insulin signaling effects in aging. Brewer’s theory suggests “sedentary behavior associated with age triggers an oxidized redox shift and impaired mitochondrial function”. This mitochondrial impairment leads to more sedentary behaviour and accelerated aging (15).
  • Sleep. Get enough rest. A study in Norway reported in the British Medical Journal shows screen time before bed harms sleep in teenagers (16). Another study found the use of portable light-emitting devices immediately before bedtime has biological effects that may perpetuate sleep deficiency and disrupt circadian rhythms, both of which can have adverse impacts on performance, health, and safety (17). If you must use screens before bed try blue blocking glasses.

Your health is in your hands and it’s easier than ever to take control of it with products such as baseline from WellnessFX that provide a visual display of your blood markers, and over time an important historical view of your health. I suspect the next generation with their new mindset will look on with horror at how we made ourselves toxic in a similar way to how we now consider practices such as smoking on planes as ridiculous.

(1) IHS Automotive, 2014 Study
(2) Air Toxics from Motor Vehicles – Environmental Protection Agency
(3) IARC Monographs evaluate consumption of red meat and processed meat
(4) Dementia ‘linked’ to common over-the-counter drugs – BBC News
(5) Trends in the lifetime risk of developing cancer in Great Britain – British Journal of Cancer
(6) Newcastle Brown Ale – Recipe change amid US coloring concerns – BBC News
(7) Fitbit Acknowledges Latest Devices Are Causing Rashes – Tech Crunch
(8) Thimerosal in Flu Vaccine – CDC
(9) Aluminum, antiperspirants and breast cancer – J Inorg Biochem, Pubmed
(10) Characterization, Recovery Opportunities, and Valuation of Metals in Municipal Sludges from U.S. Wastewater Treatment Plants Nationwide – University of Arizona
(11) Water Treatment Contaminants: Forgotten toxins in American Water – Environmental Working Group
(12) AESI v. Huck Spaulding – LA-BC319440 – PDF
(13) What is BPA and what are the concerns about BPA? – Mayo Clinic
(14) Willam Walsh, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Walsh Research Institute
(15) Epigenetic oxidative redox shift (EORS) theory of aging unifies the free radical and insulin signaling theories – Gregory Brewer
(16) Sleep and use of electronic devices in adolescence, British Medical Journal
(17) Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness
(*) Photo credit bastyr.edu

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