There are two major groups of toxic substances that affect those of us that live in modern society:
- Toxic chemicals such as pesticides, and
- Heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium, lead, arsenic, and aluminum
We live in a world that is experiencing the side effects of the 20th century promise of “Better Living Through Chemistry.” There are toxic chemicals found in our air, water and food. Some pesticides are volatile, which means that they enter the air and travel in the winds to distant locations around the world.
Organochlorine compounds have been found in the blubber of seals and walruses in the Canadian Arctic. Therefore, even indigenous people who as far away from city life as you can get are exposed to these chemicals when they eat local game.
The National Academy of Sciences reports that the average American consumes approximately 40 milligrams of pesticides each year in food alone and carries about one-tenth of a gram permanently in his or her fat.
Research done by the Environmental Protection Agency revealed that the following chemicals are “ubiquitous” in the air that we breathe: p-zylene, tetrachloroethylene, ethylbenzene, benzene, 1,1,1-trichloroethane, and o-zylene.
They also found that people who go to gas stations, dry cleaners, smoked or drove automobiles had elevated levels of solvents. These are certainly not unusual destinations in the daily life of modern Americans.
The connection between total body burden of chemical toxins and disease, including immune suppression, has not been proven in clinical research, so most physicians are ignoring the problem. However, according to a report from the World Resources Institute, titled “Pesticides and the Immune System: The Public Health Risks,” considerable and persuasive evidence already exists that pesticides do suppress the immune system, making people significantly more vulnerable to infectious disease and certain cancers.
The evidence for immune suppression comes from three types of research: laboratory tests, wildlife and human. Laboratory studies clearly show that some pesticides from every major chemical class have proven to be immunotoxic. Also hundreds of studies in human cell cultures and lab animals show that pesticides weaken the immune system. These tests show suppression of macrophage, neutrophil and natural killer cell activity. Studies on animals show a greater susceptibility to infection after exposure to pesticides.
Wildlife studies also provide convincing evidence that pesticides weaken the immune system. For example, seal pups captured off the relatively unpolluted coast of northwest Scotland were fed uncontaminated fish for one year. Then the seals were placed in two tanks. Half of them were fed Baltic Sea herring which are polluted with pesticides and PCBs, while the other half were fed relatively uncontaminated herring from Iceland. The immune system responses of the pups fed Baltic herring were one-third as strong as those fed the uncontaminated Iceland herring.
Epidemiological research on humans has also implicated pesticides and immune suppression. In the Soviet Union studies have shown that teenagers in villages where pesticide use was greatest had two to five times more respiratory infections than a comparable group of teenagers from areas of lower pesticide use.
In the United States and several other countries, the overall cancer rate in farmers is lower than that of the general population. But studies show that farmers who use pesticides experience higher risk for the same cancers that immunodeficient patients develop.
The following is a list of toxic effects on the immune system by DDT:
- Decreases leukocyte (white blood cell) counts
- Decreases phagocytic ability
- Reduces killing capacity of immune cells
- Causes mast cells to release their chemicals
- Changes in spleen, thymus and lymph glands
- Disturbs virus killing complement
- Disturbs fetal and perinatal immune regulation
So while medical proof is still lacking, there is significant evidence already that pesticides can weaken the immune system for people with increased levels in their bodies.
Also, there are thousands of physicians around the world who acknowledge the effects of environmental pollutants on human health and are treating patients accordingly. Many of these doctors report major clinical improvement in patients who reduce their body burden of chemical toxins.
Recent studies in the medical literature have shown that the rate of cancers not associated with smoking are higher for those born after 1940 than before. It is believed that this increase in cancer rate is due to environmental factors other than smoking. Also, new medical diagnoses such as sick building syndrome and multiple chemical sensitivity point to the influence of environmental chemicals.
Finally, many physicians believe that puzzling illnesses like chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia may in some patients be partly due to chemical toxins and heavy metals. It will take some time to get the final proof on chemicals and immune suppression, so in the meantime, it is good common sense to limit consumption of these potent chemicals, and to consider eliminating them for certain people with immune suppression.
Reducing Your Body Burden of Chemical Toxins
The first step is reducing your intake of chemical toxins is to eliminate them from your foods. The FDA has implemented the Total Diet Survey for some time now. The Survey looks for many different chemicals in our foods and the results for chlorinated pesticides are alarming. According to an article titled “The Human Burden of Environmental Toxins and Their Common Health Effects,” published in Alternative Medicine Review, vol 5, number 1 2000:
DDE (chlorinated pesticide) was found in 100% of samples of raisins, spinach (fresh and frozen), chili con carne (beef and bean), and beef. Ninety-three percent of American processed cheese, hamburger, hot dogs, bologna, collards, chicken, turkey, and ice cream sandwiches contained DDE.
DDE was found in 87% of lamb chops, salami, canned spinach, meatloaf, and butter and in 81% of samples of cheddar cheese, pork sausage, white sauce, and creamed spinach.
Both DDT and DDE were banned in the United States in 1972, so some of this contamination is coming from foods imported from other countries were these chemicals are still used. Also, these chemicals are volatile, which means that they enter the air and are carried around the earth by the wind, eventually landing on plants and crops.
The twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables are:
- Bell peppers
- U.S. cherries
- Mexican cantaloupe
- Green beans
- Chilean grapes
Chemical toxins in food is a disturbing problem which confronts us all. The ultimate resolution of this massive problem lies at the level of global governmental regulation, but in the meantime it is essential that you do what you can to reduce the intake of these chemicals.
Recommendations to reduce toxic chemical intake for you and your family:
- Buy organic produce whenever possible
- Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly with one of the commercially available washes designed to remove these polluting chemicals. Follow the instructions on the label.
- Drink purified bottled water (glass bottles are the best) or invest in home water purification system. Do not drink city water from the tap.
- Avoid the following whenever possible: areas that have new paint, new carpet, exposure to new fabric, dry cleaning establishments, dry cleaned clothes, gasoline and diesel exhaust, tobacco smoke, pumping your own gas
More information is available in the following books:
– The Clean Bedroom by Natalie Golos
– Your Home, Your Health, Your Wellbeing by Rousseau and Rea
The second group of toxic substances that you need to consider in order to protect your immune system, and your overall health, is heavy metals. Mercury, lead, cadmium, aluminum, arsenic and nickel are the metals that are most commonly found in our environment and our bodies. Each of them has been found to interfere with metabolic systems in the human body. People living in Western industrial countries today are at least a thousand times more polluted with toxic metals than anyone who lived when Christ walked the earth 2000 years ago.
The Toxicity Center at the University of Tennessee rates poisons based on their lethal toxicity to humans. According to their research, mercury rates second only to plutonium. If one half gram of mercury were put in a 10 acre lake, 70 feet deep, the lake would be closed to swimming, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Yet a dentist who is using the standard silver amalgam to fill a cavity in a tooth can place that same amount in your mouth. Silver amalgam dental fillings contain 48-55% mercury, 33-35% silver and various amounts of copper, tin, zinc and other metals. They are only called silver because of their color.
The American Dental Association has adamantly claimed for a long time that the mercury stays in the filling and is not released into the body. Chemists and toxicologists, on the other hand, point out that not only does mercury escape the filling, but chewing enhances its release. Research done at the University of Calgary showed that chewing increased the mercury content in the mouth six-fold.
Also, the World Health Organization has published research which shows that between 3-17 micrograms of mercury is released into the body every day by simply chewing on amalgam fillings. Of this amount 90% is absorbed into the body, 74% of which is retained by the lungs. In ten minutes, 30% of the mercury absorbed in the lungs is transferred to the blood where it can circulate to other organs in the body.
Other scientists have shown that industrial meters held over a filling for 10 seconds after chewing can register levels higher than the EPA allows us to be exposed to for a few hours a day. Fillings release mercury vapor 24 hours a day. The mercury accumulates in many body organs, including the brain. The body has no mechanism for eliminating the mercury, so tissue levels rise year after year. Human autopsy studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between the amount of mercury found in the brain and the number of amalgam fillings in the teeth.
In nature, mercury occurs primarily in two forms: organic and inorganic. The organic form occurs when mercury is bound with carbon. Inorganic mercury is combined with chlorine, sulfur and oxygen. The most common form of organic mercury is methyl mercury, which is produced primarily by microorganisms in water and soil. In addition to amalgam dental fillings, inorganic, or metallic mercury, is used in thermometers, batteries, skin-tightening creams, and some antiseptic ointments and creams. Other sources include fish, vapors from spills and incinerators and the burning of mercury containing fuels.
When mercury gets into the body, it tends to accumulate in the brain and nervous system, kidneys, lungs and skin. It can also accumulate in the unborn child of a pregnant woman.
Usually, mercury accumulates in the body gradually over years and even decades. The following symptoms have been attributed to mercury toxicity: emotional irritability, tremors, memory disturbances, changes is vision or hearing, skin rashes, increased blood pressure, and a host of neurobehavioral changes.
Since mercury can cross the placenta, it can affect the fetus of a pregnant woman. Fetal mercury accumulation can produce brain damage, mental retardation, blindness, lack of coordination, seizures and impaired speaking. Children poisoned by mercury may develop neurological and behavioral problems, as well as kidney damage and digestive disturbances.
Chronic mercury toxicity has been implicated in chronic fatigue, multiple sclerosis (in one study MS patients had 7 times more mercury in cerebrospinal fluid than controls), leukemia, kidney dysfunction, Alzheimer’s disease, allergies and intestinal overgrowth of Candida albicans. Mercury also binds with the hemoglobin molecule and disturbs its ability to transport oxygen, which may help to explain the fatigue commonly seen in mercury toxic patients.
The other major source of ingested mercury is fish and seafood. The same WHO report mentioned above stated that 2.3 micrograms could be taken in by eating seafood. Large fish like shark, swordfish and tuna contain the highest levels. Other foods, air and water contain negligible amounts.
Studies have shown that selenium deficiency increases the uptake of mercury and, conversely, selenium supplementation reduces body absorption.
Mercury is, of course, a powerful immune suppressant. Several researchers have shown that T-cells increase from 30 to 300% after the removal of amalgam fillings.
According to the National Academy of Sciences, approximately 600,000 tons of lead are added to the atmosphere each year. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey estimates that 1.9% of the United States population has blood levels that exceed acceptable limits.
In addition, four percent of children ranging in ages from six months to five years, or over three-quarters of a million children exceed safe blood lead levels. The case can be made that no amount of lead in the body is safe and millions more have levels of lead that produce health problems.
Environmental sources of lead include air pollution, soil, lakes, rivers, ground water and drinking water. Lead attaches to dust and is in the air we breathe. Lead-containing dust is removed from the air by rain. It is found in and around municipal waste incinerators and landfills. Lead also comes from burning fossil fuels and certain mining and manufacturing processes. It is also found in ammunitions, batteries, metal products like solder and pipes, roofing materials, old paint, ceramics and caulking. Cigarette smoke also contains lead.
Lead can be found in cosmetics, pesticides and other industrial sources. It is estimated that the daily amount of lead received from food and air sources can total 50 to 900 micrograms daily. This is almost 1 milligram for individuals living in areas with high lead concentrations, such as big cities.
Lead is absorbed into the body and distributed in the blood to bone, soft tissue and it can accumulate and disturb practically every organ in the body, including the kidneys, liver, brain, nervous system, bone marrow and immune system. The central nervous system is most vulnerable to lead toxicity, especially in growing children. It has been associated with cancer of the brain and kidneys. Lead also interferes with enzymes necessary to produce energy in every cell of the body.
Deficiencies of calcium, iron, zinc and phosphate can increase absorption of lead, while calcium and zinc supplementation can decrease absorption.
Cadmium is a toxic heavy metal that is beginning to rival lead as a health threat to millions of people. Cadmium, like mercury, is toxic to every body system of adults and children whether ingested or inhaled. It tends to accumulate in the kidney, liver and bones. It is associated with anemia, osteomalacia (softening of the bones), high blood pressure and a host of other metabolic disturbances.
Cadmium is found in the air as an industrial contaminant. It is also found in water, especially soft water that leaches cadmium from metal water pipes. Perhaps the biggest source of cadmium is cigarette smoking. It is sprayed on tobacco plants as a fungicide. One cigarette contains on the average 1.4 micrograms of cadmium, which is absorbed by the lungs. Passive cigarette smoke, of course, also delivers cadmium to those in the immediate environment.
Other sources of cadmium include air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels and the incineration of municipal waste. It is found in art supplies, bone meal, fungicides, highway dust, mining operations, nickel-cadmium batteries, oxide dusts, paints, phosphate fertilizers, power plants, sewage sludge, “softened” water, smelting plants, and welding fumes.
Cadmium can also accumulate in foods, such as coffee, fruits, grains and vegetables that are grown in cadmium-laden soil. It has also been found in meats, refined foods, and seafood.
Cadmium absorption is increased with iron deficiency and studies have shown that supplementation with zinc, calcium, magnesium and copper reduce absorption and retention in the body.
Cadmium, like all the heavy metals, is an immune suppressant. It has been shown to impair antibody production, reduce T-cell and B-cell activity, weaken phagocyte function and generally increase susceptibility to infections.
Aluminum is one of the most abundant metals in the earth, comprising between 8.4 to 14 percent of the earth’s crust. Unfortunately, it is also abundantly found in the diet of many people. The average person will ingest 30 to 50 milligrams (milligrams, not micrograms) daily.
Aluminum is also found in the air as aluminum dust in some industrial workplaces, acid rain, plants grown in aluminum rich soil, aluminum foil, appliances, and some building material. Aluminum additives are found in cheese products, baking powder, pizza, hair sprays, antiperspirants, and cosmetics including lipstick, toothpaste and a host of over the counter medications. One dose of Gelusil or Mylanta antacids contains 200 milligrams. Aluminum is also found in the air and water. It also can be ingested from aluminum cookware and soda cans.
Most of the research on the deleterious effects of aluminum has focussed on the brain. It crosses the blood/brain barrier and tends to accumulate in the brain. Dr. McLaughlin, a professor of physiology and medicine at the Centre for Research in Neurodegenerative Diseases at the University of Toronto, states, “Concentrations of aluminum that are toxic to many biochemical processes are found in at least ten human neurological conditions.”
Medical studies suggest that aluminum may be involved in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, senile dementia, staggering gait, and the inability to pronounce words properly. Other studies have shown that aluminum may produce behavioral problems in school children. Aluminum can impair energy producing enzymes in every cell of the body and have an indirect affect of the immune system.
Iron or calcium deficiency increases aluminum absorption. Conversely, adequate iron, calcium and vitamin C decrease assimilation and retention in the body.
Arsenic has been known as a poison for centuries. After ingestion, it affects most organs of the body, especially the digestive tract, liver, kidneys, spleen, lungs and skin. It can produce abdominal pain, burning of the mouth and throat, nausea, and diarrhea. It can also produce neuritis with “pins and needle” sensations in the extremities, peripheral vascular problems and dermatitis. Low levels of arsenic can decrease the production of red and white blood cells, producing anemia and immune weakness. It has also been implicated in the production of cancer, especially of the lung and skin.
Arsenic is found in air pollution, antibiotics given to commercial livestock, some marine plants, mining processes, including smelting and refining, galvanizing, etching and plating processes, coal-fired power plants, defoliants, drinking water, pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, and wood preservatives. It is also found in some fish, mussels and oysters.
Selenium and iodine deficiency increases absorption, while selenium and iodine supplementation antagonize arsenic uptake and retention in the body.
Nickel is another abundant metal on the earth. It is found in soils, metal coins and jewelry. Nickel is also found in tobacco smoke and drinking water.
Foods that contain nickel include hydrogenated oils, cocoa, certain nuts and chocolate. Some 75% of dental crowns contain nickel. It is part of nickel-cadmium batteries.
Once nickel enters the body, it accumulates in the nasal sinuses, respiratory tract and lungs, stomach, liver, skin, brain and kidneys. The most common symptoms of exposure are skin rashes, which are usually itchy. It has been shown to enhance the body’s inflammatory systems.
Iron, copper, and zinc deficiencies increase nickel absorption, while adequate manganese, zinc and copper tend to prevent absorption and retention in the body.
Nickel suppresses natural killer cells. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has determined that nickel may be carcinogenic. Cancer of the lungs and nasal sinuses have been reported in people exposed to high levels of nickel containing dust, such as that found in nickel refineries. There have been reports of people with dental braces absorbing enough nickel to suppress their immune system.
Recommendations to reduce your intake of heavy metals:
- Find a holistic or mercury-free dentist to provide your dental care. If you have a cavity and need a filling, such a dentist can determine a non-mercury-containing composite that is biocompatible with your health.
- Avoid eating large fish like shark, swordfish and tuna if possible. Smaller fish, like red snapper contain less mercury.
- If you do eat fish, take 2 or 3 chlorella tablets after the meal to bind the mercury and let it pass in your stool.
- Drink only purified water.
- Be aware of lead paint that may still be in old homes.
- Avoid exposure to any cigarette smoke
- Drink beverages only from glass containers and avoid aluminum cans.
- Read labels on all packaged foods for aluminum.
- Read labels on over the counter medications for aluminum.
- Use deodorants only. They do not contain aluminum. Never use a product that has the word antiperspirant written on it. Only antiperspirants contain aluminum.
- Take mineral supplements to insure adequate levels in your body, especially selenium, calcium, zinc, magnesium and iron. (Do not take iron supplements unless medical tests show that you need them. Excessive iron is a common problem that weakens the immune system.)
- Supplement your diet with vitamin C on a daily basis.
- Eliminate Chemical Toxins and Heavy Metals that are Already in Your Body
The question isn’t “Do I have chemical toxins in my body?” Instead, the question is, “How much do I have?” Since 1976 the Environmental Protection Agency has been running the National Human Adipose Tissue Survey (NHATS). The program collects adipose (fatty tissue) from people who have died around the USA and analyzes the fat for a variety of toxic environmental compounds. The results are very impressive.
The following five chemicals are found in 100% of all people tested so far: OCDD (a dioxin) and four solvents, styrene, xylene, 1,4-dichlororbenzene, and ethylphenol. These alone would give each person a toxic burden ranging from 57.4ng to 6350ng per gram of fat. Another nine chemicals were found in 91-98% of people tested, including three more doxins. PCB’s were found in 83 %.
Recommendations for removing chemical toxins from your body:
- Take psyllium powder daily as an intestinal bulk agent. Psyllium, like apple pectin and other fiber products, will bind toxins, which have been released into the intestines and prevent them from being reabsorbed.
- Consume whey protein powder. Numerous studies have shown that whey boosts levels of glutathione, one of the body’s main molecules for eliminating toxins.
- Drink eight eight-ounce glasses of purified water daily.
- Take a B complex vitamin tablet once or twice daily. B vitamins are involved in the liver’s detoxification systems. Niacinamide, or vitamin B3, helps remove toxins from fat cells and nerve tissue by accelerating fat metabolism. Drugs, sugar, caffeine and alcohol also easily deplete B3.
- Increase magnesium intake to 400 mg of elemental form daily. Magnesium is also essential for the liver detoxifying enzyme systems.
- Take 1000 to 2000 mg of vitamin C daily with meals. Vitamin C can prevent body damage from toxins through its antioxidant effect. Vitamin C prevents free radical damage from toxins. Vitamin C deficiency has been found to potentiate the adverse effects of many environmental pollutants.
- Take MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) 1000 mg twice daily. MSM provides organic sulfur, which is an important liver cleanser. Sulfur is essential in the liver’s detoxification pathways.
- Take silymarin (milk thistle extract) 250 mg twice daily. It protects the liver and increases glutathione levels.
- Take vitamin A 10,000 IU daily with meals. This vitamin is depleted by the presence of chlorinated pesticides in the body, which results in increased toxicity from chlorinated compounds.
- Take alpha lipoic acid 100 to 200 mg twice daily. It increases glutathione levels, serves as an antioxidant and protects nerves from pesticides, some of which are neurotoxic.
- Intravenous vitamin C therapy is beneficial for people with high body burdens of chemical toxins and heavy metals.
- Intravenous administration provides higher dosages of the vitamin without gastrointestinal complications. Vitamin C will bind to many toxins circulating in the blood causing them to be eliminated through the kidneys. Vitamin C is also beneficial for the adrenal glands and connective tissue.
- Far infrared sauna (FIR) therapy and its associated sweating is an excellent method for removing fat stored toxins from the body. American research has shown that sauna induced sweat contains fat-soluble chemical toxins, such as pesticides, and heavy metals. Sauna detoxification should only be done under medical supervision. Patients with multiple sclerosis, lupus and adrenal exhaustion can worsen their medical condition with sauna therapy and should definitely seek medical consultation prior to any detoxification program.
Everyone living in Western, industrial countries has an increased body burden of heavy metals, such as mercury, lead, cadmium, nickel and arsenic. I remember a lecture given by a British expert on heavy metals and health who talked about so-called “normal” levels of these metal toxins in people living in modern society.
In other words, we all have these metals and a certain minimal level is considered normal. Studies done on the remains of people living on the earth prior to the past 500 years showed none, or trace amounts of these heavy metals in their bodies.
Aluminum, cadmium, lead, arsenic and nickel steadily increase with age in most modern people. The metals can be found in blood, hair and sweat. Mercury levels trend upward in most people and are correlated with the amount of silver amalgam fillings in the teeth. This “normal” and relentless bioaccumulation of toxic metals is increased by certain occupations, such as metal workers and painters.
The best way to start assessing your body levels of heavy metals is a hair analysis done by a good laboratory and interpreted by someone knowledge in heavy metal toxicity. Extensive research has shown that hair is a reliable indicator of body burden for the heavy metals mentioned above.
Hair analysis is a screening test for heavy metals and the results often need to be correlated with medical history, as well as additional testing of blood or urine, in order to come to a final determination of body levels. Hair analysis has fallen into some disrepute because of poor laboratory techniques and excessive claims about over-all heath and nutrition made by some companies. Doctor’s Data in Chicago is a good lab for this purpose.
Since hair is an organ of excretion, sometimes mercury levels in the hair are low, while body burden is high. In this setting, the mercury may be bound to chemicals and molecular structures in the body. For this reason, you may need provocative testing to look deeper. DMSA and DMPS are mercury chelators that will pull mercury out of the body and into the urine for a more accurate assessment of body levels. I have seen many patients whose hair levels of mercury go up after mercury is chelated and mobilized to move out of the body. Heavy metal provocation can be done for other metals as well.
If medical testing shows that you have increased levels of heavy metals in your body, I recommend consultation with a physician for supervised detoxification program and follow-up testing.
The following are general recommendations for removing heavy metals from your body:
- Increase your intake of vitamin C.
- Take garlic capsules daily.
- Take zinc picolinate 30 mg twice daily. Zinc supplementation increases the production of metallothionein in the body, which provides protection for the kidneys from arsenic, cadmium and mercury.
- Take 400 mg elemental magnesium daily with meals. Magnesium deficiency will compromise your body’s ability to eliminate heavy metals.
- Take selenium 200 mcg once or twice daily. Selenium increases levels of gluathione peroxidase. Selenium is antagonistic to lead, mercury, aluminum and cadmium in animal studies.
- Take alpha lipoic acid 100 to 200 mg once or twice daily. Alpha lipoic acid will help to mobilize mercury and arsenic, as well as increase glutathione levels and protect your body from oxidative damage.
- Increase your intake of potassium containing foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as poultry and fish. Take potassium-containing supplements as well, such as potassium citrate or potassium magnesium aspartate. Potassium aids in the mobilization of mercury from the body and it is synergistic with the mercury chelators, DMPS and DMSA
- If you have silver amalgam fillings in your mouth, consult with a holistic dentist to consider the possible effects of mercury on your health.
If heavy metals are affecting your health, then consider chelation therapy. Intravenous EDTA is effective in removing lead, nickel, cadmium and aluminum.