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Environmental toxins...what you need to know for good health

7 Aug 2015 2:41 PM - Part one...

As a naturopath, I want to help you feel better, not just by masking or suppressing symptoms but by getting to the basic triggers or causes of your ill-health. That’s why most of my naturopathic clients find their way to me. They want to understand what might be driving their illness and they want to learn what they can do for themselves to remove or reduce those drivers. In addition to looking at their diet and lifestyle it is worth delving deeper to look at exposure to chemicals or other possibly harmful toxins.

In the past few months I have been undertaking courses to update my knowledge of the potentially detrimental effects of environmental toxins on your health. Exposure to harmful chemicals and electromagnetic fields can really make you sick. They can cause a wide variety of symptoms and contribute to chronic illness.

I want to outline for you, the most common chemicals or toxins you are likely to come across, why they are a problem and who’s most at risk. Then in part two, I’ll outline the most common signs and symptoms and then leave you with some practical tips to help you reduce your exposure.

The point of these blogs is not to alarm you or make your head explode with technical terms but to raise your awareness just a little and to get you thinking about the easy things you can do to reduce your exposure.  And, if you are unwell, to perhaps consider whether there is something in your environment that is contributing to your ill-health.


What are the main chemicals or toxins I need to be aware of?

Chemical manufacture has really taken off since World War II.  Since that time, a phenomenal 85,000 new chemicals have been registered. They are ubiquitous and found in the foods we eat, the furnishings in our houses, every gadget and appliance we use, our clothing, our gardens, our cars and more.

Without reeling off lots of complicated names and acronyms, here are some of the major categories:

  • Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) – used in agriculture, pest control and manufacturing, by their definition, they persist in the environment (long after their use has been banned eg DDT) and potentially accumulate up the food-chain (and humans are at the top of that food chain…in fact babies are at the top). Most of these chemicals did not exist prior to the 1950s.

  • Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) – such as from Wi-Fi, mobile/cordless phones (and towers), smart meters, electrical devices, wireless appliances etc.

  • Chemicals in food, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, plastics, cleaning products, gardening/agricultural chemicals, pesticides, paints and dyes, furniture, solvents etc.

  • Other toxins include heavy metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium (found in naturally in the environment but used in a wide range of industries).


Why are chemicals or other toxins a problem for my health?

To quote Paracelsus:

“All substances are poisons; there is none which is not a poison. The right dose differentiates a poison from a remedy.”

So it really comes down to how much is too much. What is an acceptable level of exposure that will not affect your health? This is where it gets complicated because those much smarter than me cannot agree.

It may surprise you to know, the majority of chemicals have not been tested on humans and certainly not in combination or over the long term (which is the way most of us are generally exposed, right?). Where testing has been done, the focus has often been more on how much of one chemical is lethal (in rodents) rather than what level would make you unwell if you were regularly exposed.

Often the assumption is that the, chemical is safe until we discover otherwise. (As recently as 1970, in the USA levels less than 40 micrograms of lead per decilitre of blood was not considered poisonous. That has since been reduced to 10 milligrams. In Australia the NHMRC considers a level of 5 milligrams or more to warrant investigation especially in children and pregnant women).

Let me tell you, it doesn’t make for fun reading but we need to remember there are simple things you can do to reduce your exposure and strengthen your resilience.

Many of these chemicals are what is known as endocrine disruptors. That is, their molecular shape resembles that of our own hormones and as such, there is potential for our bodies to treat them as if they are our hormones resulting in problems with menstrual cycles and fertility (in men and women).

Even at low levels of exposure, some chemicals can be toxic to our nervous and immune systems. They can affect growth and development (including in pregnancy) and they put an additional burden on our own detoxifying systems (resulting in weight gain….if our bodies don’t have the capacity to get rid of them, we will store them in fat to protect vital organs from exposure).


Who is at risk of exposure to environmental toxins and chemicals?

The extent to which you are at risk of ill-health due to exposure to chemicals and toxins is dependent on how much you are exposed to along with your ability to process, detoxify and remove waste from your body. So we are all at risk to some extent.

Those most at risk include:

  • children (from baby through to adulthood)

  • pregnant women (and those planning pregnancy)

  • those whose diet or lifestyle does not support good detoxification

  • people working in industries where exposure is elevated

  • the elderly

  • the immune-compromised

What can you do to reduce your risk?

It can be pretty daunting and depressing to dwell on the damage all these pollutants might be doing but it is good to know there are some simple things you can do to reduce the effects on your health.

In part two, I have summarised some simple tips for you to implement to reduce your risk of ill-health due to chemical or toxin exposure. I've also included a list of resources to get you started.


If you really want to know the extent to which your symptoms might be a result of exposure, make a naturopathic appointment. Call the clinic on 03 9620 9503 and we can carry out a detailed investigation specifically relevant to you and implement a personalised treatment plan incorporating nutritional and herbal remedies.


In good health,

Kaye Wright
Melbourne CBD

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