Environmental Toxins: What Are They and How to Avoid Them

Every day, we are exposed to environmental toxins. The air we breathe, water we drink, food we eat, even the products we use to clean our homes and take care of our skin, have been infiltrated by harmful chemicals and pollutants. 

Before you panic, you should know that your body is naturally equipped to handle a modest toxin load. Your body’s detoxification systems – including the lungs, liver, kidneys, bladder, etc – filter out a certain amount of environmental toxins and keep everything running smoothly.

The problem is that our modern industrialized world is so full of toxins that your body can’t keep up. Many of these toxins are invisible or hidden, but that doesn’t stop them from overwhelming the body’s detox systems and creating a wide range of health problems.

Environmental toxins not only affect our physical health, but our mental health and emotional health as well. Some studies show that exposure to certain chemicals can increase your risk of neurodevelopmental disorders, mood disorders, and cognitive decline.

This blog looks at common environmental toxins from a functional medicine perspective, including what they are and how to avoid them. Our goal at Boulder Holistic Functional Medicine in Boulder, Colorado, is to give you the tools you need to protect yourself from the toxins in your environment and help you create a healthier environment for you, your family, and your community.

What are the Most Common Environmental Toxins?

As you embark on your journey to uncover the environmental toxins in your life, you need to embrace your inner detective. Some of the most common environmental sources are hidden in our everyday lives and take a little sleuthing to unmask.

Toxins in the air are invisible but they still put a strain on our respiratory, cardiovascular, nervous, and immune systems. Meanwhile, the toxins in our food and water are usually written on the label, but their true faces are hidden with clever marketing and misleading names.  

Five common sources for environmental toxins are air, water, food, personal care products, and household cleaning products. Here is a brief break-down of what to look for in each.

1. Airborne Toxins

Like the name suggests, airborne toxins are transferred through the air. These include both organic and inorganic sources.

Organic airborne toxins, like mold, are made by nature. But when they are found in our homes or workplace, airborne toxins can severely affect our health. 

Inorganic toxins are man-made and fall into two categories – volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particulate matter (PM). VOCs are found in household products such as paints, varnishes, cleaning supplies, and air fresheners and outdoors in industrial emissions, vehicle exhaust, and tobacco smoke. PM is generated from combustion processes, including vehicle engines, industrial facilities, and wildfires. PM can also come from Indoor sources including cooking activities, smoking, and the use of candles or incense.

2. Water Contaminants

Water contaminants are environmental toxins found in our drinking water. These range from heavy metals like lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium, to pesticides and herbicides from agricultural runoff. Pharmaceuticals leftover from human and veterinary uses can also sneak into our drinking water through improper disposal, or wastewater treatment plant effluents.

3. Food Supply Toxins

Environmental toxins also appear in our food. The most common source are the pesticides and herbicides sprayed on crops to control pests and weeds. However, our food is also fully of synthetic preservatives, colorants, flavor enhancers, and artificial sweeteners, especially processed foods, beverages, and snacks. 

Heavy metals are also commonly found in seafood, from mercury to arsenic to cadmium, because of the effects of industrial pollution and the biomagnification in aquatic food chains.

4. Personal Care Products

You may not realize it, but your personal care products may also contain harmful toxins, from the synthetic preservatives in your make-up and skin care products to the phthalates added to perfumes and lotions.

Preservatives are meant to prevent microbial growth and phthalates enhance flexibility and durability, but both put a strain on your body and can influence long-term health.

Some shampoos, soaps, and toothpastes also contain sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) to create lather and foam. Meanwhile, formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing agents are a common addition to hair straightening treatments, nail polishes, and certain skincare products.

5. Household Cleaning Products

Harsh cleaning products also contain harmful substances, including chlorine bleach, ammonia, and phthalates and synthetic fragrances.

Chlorine bleach releases toxic fumes when mixed with other chemicals and can irritate the respiratory system and skin. Ammonia is found in glass cleaners and floor polishes, and can cause respiratory irritation and exacerbate asthma symptoms. Meanwhile, the phthalates and synthetic fragrances found in air fresheners, fabric softeners, and scented candles are well-known endocrine system disruptors.

Toxin Overload

While your body is naturally able to remove a modest percentage of environmental toxins on its own, the trouble comes when your systems are overwhelmed with toxins. 

Imagine water slowly leaking in through a crack in a lifeboat. For a time, you can easily remove the water yourself, one bucket at a time. But then the crack widens or you get sick or tired, and the water begins to seep in more and more. Suddenly, you’re knee deep in water and the boat is starting to sink…

Removing the environmental toxins from your environment is like pulling the boat out of the water. So, instead of constantly trying to bail yourself out and sinking anyway, you stop toxins from flowing in and give your body the time and support it needs to remove any lingering toxins from your system.

How to Avoid Environmental Toxins

While you can’t avoid environmental toxins completely, you can make some small changes to your lifestyle to limit your exposure. 

Here are Boulder Holistic Functional Medicine’s top 5 ways to avoid environmental toxins:

  1. Use an air purifier to minimize indoor pollutants.
  2. Filter your water with a water filtration system or filtered water pitcher. Also check your local water quality on the Environmental Working Group’s website.
  3. Where possible, choose organic, locally-sourced, and minimally processed foods. Wash your fruits and vegetables and know which foods are ok to buy conventionally grown.
  4. Switch to safer personal care products without parabens, phthalates, and synthetic fragrances. Read labels and explore the Environmental Working Group’s endorsed beauty products.
  5. Find green cleaning products and practices, with natural cleaning agents like vinegar, baking soda, and essential oils, and choose eco-friendly and non-toxic cleaning products where possible.
Environmental toxins may be all around us, but by limiting your exposure at home and in your immediate environment, you can protect yourself and your family from unnecessary exposure and prevent potential health problems.

Work with Boulder Holistic Functional Medicine

Parasites can lead to all kinds of health issues, from digestive problems to chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction. They provide an unnecessary strain on all of the body’s systems and removing them may be your first step to optimal health! Boulder Holistic Functional Medicine in Boulder, Colorado, offers comprehensive support for natural parasite cleansing with herbs, medical protocols, and colon cleanses. If you think you may have a parasite, schedule a consultation with Boulder Holistic Functional Medicine and start your detox journey today!

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Dr. Amy Reidhead

Dr. Reidhead is a double board certified Chiropractic Physician and Family Nurse Practitioner. She is also a Fellow of the International Academy of Medical Acupuncture and holds a Bachelor of Science in both Nursing and Human Biology. She has spent the past 25 years honing her skills as a functional and integrative medical provider in Boulder, Colorado.

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