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The Silent Saboteurs: How environmental toxins could be sabotaging your health

There is no getting away from them – environmental toxins are everywhere. Toxic and hazardous substances are in the air we breathe, the water we drink, in our food, our homes and offices.

plastic bottles containing household and personal care products

Many of these have been linked to a variety of health conditions - reproductive, developmental, and behavioural disorders, disrupted thyroid function, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma and some cancers.

That's pretty grim reading and so in this blog we are going to introduce you to some of these environmental toxins, explain where they might be hiding and how these chemicals can affect your health but then also give you some positive steps to help you to reduce your exposure.

The most often talked about culprits in the world of environmental toxins are the Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and Plastic Associated Chemicals (PACs) and to make things ever so slightly confusing, some POPs are PACs and vice versa.  So what are they?

POPs are so called because they are resistant to environmental degradation, meaning that once they are released into the air, water and soil, they can persist and accumulate for years in the environment, passing from one species to another and into the food chain.  In fact, one class of chemicals in this group that are commonly used in non-stick coatings, waterproofing and fire retardants, are known as “forever chemicals” as their life-span is up to several thousand years!

POPs can either be intentionally produced as pesticides, insecticides, fungicides and industrial chemicals or they can be produced as a by-product of chemical production, in various manufacturing processes or during waste incineration.

PACs - compounds such as bisphenols and phthalates - on the other hand, are quickly metabolised in the human body and it was this rapid metabolism that meant that their toxicity was discounted for many years.  However, it is now understood that our constant exposure to these chemicals, mostly from what we now know is not so fantastic plastic, that is harmful to our health.

Many of these chemicals are known as “endocrine disrupting chemicals”.  This means that they can mimic, block, or interfere with your hormones.  An example of this is bisphenol A (BPA) which mimics oestrogen and has been linked to reproductive difficulties, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.  Although the use of BPA has been curtailed somewhat, alternative bisphenols such as BPS appear to have a similarly toxic effect on the endocrine system.

These toxins are present everywhere in our daily lives; in household and personal care products, in our water, in parks and playgrounds, on our fresh fruit and vegetables, in textiles and flame retardants used in furniture and clothing, in cookware and in the air that we breath! All that makes it impossible for us to remove ourselves completely from their exposure, short of wrapping ourselves in a bubble, but that’s likely to be made of plastic too!

It feels like a battle that can’t be won, and these toxins can remain present in our bodies for years, but there are ways in which you can be proactive, to minimise your exposure and being to reduce your 'body burden'.  Here are our top 5 tips to get you started:

Use the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen list that is published each year by the Environmental Working Group to choose the fresh fruit and vegetables that would be the best organic choices to make in your weekly shop, allowing you to limit exposure to pesticide residues.

Choose organic, free-range, wild-caught meat, poultry and fish where possible to reduce exposure from environmental toxins and limit consumption to 2-3 times a week.

Request a water quality report from your water supplier if you have a mains water supply – go to the company website and head to “Check your water quality”, enter your postcode and you will find the water quality results for your area.  Click on the full report and it might surprise you to see just how many substances are tested and how many are present, even in very small quantities.  Investing in a water filter – there are very many types to choose from now – will ensure that you are not drinking anything that you really don’t need to be.

Start swapping your home and personal care products as they need replacing – many of these products are littered with chemicals that can form a complex and toxic mixture that even in low doses can add up over time.  Although no-one can agree on how much of what is too much, one thing that researchers do agree upon is that you should choose products that don’t add to your ‘body burden’.  Watch out for ingredients such as aluminium salts, BHA/BHT, methyl salicylate, parabens and triclosan when it’s time to purchase a new product and check online for ways to make your own cleaning products with ingredients such as white vinegar, lemon juice and essential oils.

Take a look at how you cook and what you are cooking in.  Replace any damaged non-stick cookware with cast-iron or stainless-steel pans and if you do use a micro-wave, use glass dishes to heat food – never microwave in plastic containers as bisphenols can be released from the plastic when it is heated.

Remember that every small change can have an impact on your health. If you would like to know more about the changes you can make to your diet and lifestyle that will support your health long term, get in touch here and we'll be happy to talk. 


Sources: Breast Cancer UK, Health & Environmental Alliance, Firth et al. BMJ, 2020, Lind L & Lind P.M. J Intern Med. 2012, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, UN Environment Programme, Warner G.R & Flaws J.A Toxicol Sci. 2018, WHO, 2020 & 2022

The information provided is general and has not been tailored to individual underlying health concerns or any prescription medication you may be taking. The information is for educational purposes and must not replace medical advice. If you have a diagnosed medical condition, you should consult a doctor before making any significant changes to your diet or lifestyle.

c 2024 True Food Nutrition All rights reserved


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