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What is the meaning of a ‘Toxic lifestyle’?

Magdalena Marvell, our resident Nutritionist, investigates how we can help support our body’s natural detoxification process.

Our environment is filled with toxins that we encounter every day from the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink. In an effort to counteract the effects of these toxins, many people turn to “detox” methods to clean out their systems and improve their overall health.

While there are many different approaches to detoxification, the best way to start is by assessing our lifestyle and identifying ways to reduce our overall exposure to toxins. By making simple changes to our diet, exercise routine, and daily habits, we can help support our body’s natural detoxification processes and improve our overall health and well-being.

To effectively support our body’s natural detoxification processes, the first step is to reduce our overall exposure to toxins. While some sources of toxins, like cigarette smoke, plastic bottle chemicals, and charred meats, may be easy to identify, there are other factors that can stress our body’s detoxification processes that may be less obvious.

These factors, while not necessarily toxins themselves, can be just as significant and should be addressed with the same urgency as exposure to industrial-strength oven cleaners.

For example, overpowering synthetic home fragrances and certain household cleaners can also contribute to our toxic load and should be eliminated. By taking steps to reduce our overall toxic load, we can better support our body’s natural detoxification processes and improve our overall health and well-being. Start by eliminating some of the toxins out of your lifestyle, here are a few to consider:

Non-natural toiletries and personal care items
Toiletries and personal care products can also contain toxins that can have a negative impact on our health. Products that are not made from natural ingredients, such as synthetic fragrances, can be problematic as they often contain chemicals such as phthalates, which can disrupt hormone function and cause reproductive issues1.

Non-natural cleaning products can also be harmful, as they often contain harsh chemicals that can irritate the skin and respiratory system. Synthetic fragrances in products such as perfumes, air fresheners, and scented candles can also be problematic, as they can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can lead to headaches, dizziness, and other health issues2.

Household items such as furniture, carpets, paint, curtains, upholstery, bedding, particularly those made from flame-retardant or stain-resistant fabrics, can also contain toxins such as formaldehyde, which can be harmful to our health3.

Waterproof clothing is another concern, as many of these items are treated with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), which have been linked to health issues such as cancer and hormone disruption4.

To minimise our exposure to these toxins, it’s important to choose natural and organic personal care products and cleaning products whenever possible. Additionally, choosing furniture and household items made from natural and non-toxic materials can also reduce our exposure to harmful chemicals5.

Food & drink
There are various toxins that can be found in the food and drink we consume, which can impact our overall health and well-being. Non-organic food is often treated with pesticides and herbicides that can be harmful to our bodies6. Caffeine and alcohol can be dehydrating and place a strain on our liver and kidneys. Ultra-processed foods often contain high levels of salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats, which can lead to inflammation and disease.

Refined sugar and artificial sweeteners can also be problematic, as they can disrupt our blood sugar levels and contribute to a range of health issues. Additionally, synthetic food additives such as preservatives and colourings can also have negative effects on our bodies7.

Burnt or blackened food is another concern, as this can create carcinogens that can be harmful to our health8. To minimise our exposure to these toxins, it’s important to prioritise fresh, whole foods and limit our intake of processed and packaged foods.

Choosing organic options when possible can also reduce our exposure to harmful pesticides and chemicals.

Household products
Be vigilant for chemicals in the household products.Toxins can also be found in household products, which can have negative impacts on our health. Some common chemicals to be aware of include parabens, which are often used as preservatives in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, foods, and beverages.

While they are used in small amounts, they have been linked to hormone disruption and reproductive issues9.

Triclosan is another chemical to be aware of, as it is often added to some antibacterial soaps and body washes, toothpastes, and some cosmetics. It has been linked to hormone disruption and may contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria10.

Phthalates are often found in plastic bottles and containers, and they can also be present in personal care products such as fragrances and hairsprays. They have been linked to reproductive issues and can disrupt hormone function11.

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is commonly used in soaps, shampoos, shower gels, and toothpaste to create a lather. It can be irritating to the skin and eyes, and some studies suggest it may be linked to cancer. To minimise our exposure to these toxins, it’s important to read product labels carefully and choose products that are free from these harmful chemicals. Additionally, choosing natural and non-toxic cleaning products can also help reduce our exposure to harmful chemicals in the home.

Water and air pollution
Toxins in water and air pollution can be harmful to our health. Drinking non-filtered tap water or water stored in plastic bottles can expose us to chemicals and heavy metals. Non-filtered tap water can contain a variety of contaminants that can be harmful to human health.

For example, lead is a toxic metal that can leach into tap water from old pipes or plumbing fixtures. Exposure to lead can cause developmental problems in children and other health issues in adults12. Chlorine is another common contaminant in tap water that can cause skin irritation, eye irritation, and other health problems.

Water stored in plastic bottles can also be a source of contamination. Over time, chemicals from the plastic can leach into the water, potentially causing health problems. Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical commonly used in plastic manufacturing, has been linked to a variety of health problems, including reproductive issues and cancer13.

Smoke from wildfires and cigarette smoke contain toxic chemicals that can cause respiratory problems and diseases like cancer and heart disease. Industrial fumes and petrol fumes are also major sources of air pollution. Industrial fumes can contain a variety of chemicals, including sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can irritate the lungs and cause respiratory problems. Petrol fumes can also contain VOCs, which can cause headaches, dizziness, and other health problems.

In conclusion, toxins in water and air pollution can have serious health consequences for people who are exposed to them. It’s important to take steps to protect yourself, such as using a water filter or drinking bottled water that is free from contaminants, and avoiding exposure to sources of air pollution whenever possible.

Utensils, cookware and food packaging
Toxins can also be present in the cookware, utensils, and food packaging that we use every day. Teflon-coated non-stick pans, for example, can release toxic fumes when heated to high temperatures, and aluminium cookware can leach aluminium into our food. Plastic utensils and food packaging can also contain harmful chemicals, such as bisphenol A (BPA), which can leach into our food and cause health problems13.

Even aluminium foil, which is commonly used for cooking and food storage, can leach into our food when heated. Choose cookware and utensils made from safer materials like stainless steel, cast iron, or glass, and to avoid using plastic food packaging whenever possible to minimise the exposure to toxic chemicals.

Lack of sleep and chronic stress
Lack of sleep and chronic stress can both have a significant impact on our body’s ability to detoxify. Losing just a few hours of sleep can trigger inflammation, which can deplete the crucial compound glutathione needed for detoxification14.

Additionally, sleep is a prime time for our body to carry out detoxification processes. Chronic stress can also lead to inflammation and unhealthy habits like consuming sugary foods, cigarettes, and alcohol, which add extra strain on the liver’s detoxification processes.

Long-term chronic stress can also increase the risk of fatty liver tissue or Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). To support our body’s detoxification processes, it’s important to address and manage factors like lack of sleep and chronic stress.

Overtraining and sedentary lifestyle
Both overtraining and a sedentary lifestyle can negatively impact our body’s ability to detoxify. While regular exercise is important for supporting detoxification, overtraining can lead to excessive production of reactive oxygen species, which can deplete important detoxification compounds like glutathione.

On the other hand, a sedentary lifestyle can also hinder the detoxification process, as exercise and movement are essential for regular bowel elimination. This is the final stage of detoxification, where toxins are transported out of the body. Striking a balance between regular exercise and rest is key to supporting our body’s natural detoxification processes.

Vitamin D
Getting regular exposure to sunlight is not only good for our sleep and overall health, it’s also important for our body’s ability to detoxify. Sunlight helps us produce vitamin D, which is essential for balancing inflammation and promoting the production of the important detoxification compound, glutathione15. So, make sure you get some sunlight each day to support your body’s natural detoxification processes.

It’s important to understand that our body’s detoxification processes are always working and reducing our exposure to toxins can greatly benefit our health. To do this, we need to expand our understanding of what a ‘toxic lifestyle’ really means. While some toxins are easy to spot, others may not be so obvious.

By becoming more aware, we can take small steps to reduce our toxic load and support our body’s detoxification processes. Remember, even the smallest actions can make a big difference. So, take it one step at a time and know that every effort to reduce your exposure to toxins is worthwhile.

References:
1. ewg.org/chemicals/phthalates
2. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5093181
3. atsdr.cdc.gov/formaldehyde/index.html
4. epa.gov/pfas/basic-information-pfas
5. lung.org/clean-air/at-home/indoor-air-pollutants
6. ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php
7. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6470589
8. cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/cooked-meats-fact-sheet
9. doi.org/10.1002/jat.3529
10. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6126357
11. doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2008.08.007
12. cdc.gov/niosh/topics/lead/
13. niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/sya-bpa/index.cfm
14. nature.com/articles/s41577-019-0190-z
15. sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002916522037674

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