Understanding the Impact of Environmental Chemicals on Our Health
Environmental Health is a very exciting and ever-evolving field of Functional Medicine. The impact is especially applicable to chronic illnesses in young and old patients. In fact, we see more Type 2 diabetes, obesity, thyroid disease, asthma, allergy, autoimmune disease, ADHD, Autism, and several types of cancers than ever before. We tend to kind of ignore the environmental impact on our health. How often do you stop to think about the air you breathe, the water you drink, and the things you smell or touch? Well, believe it or not, these everyday elements can contain tiny chemicals that might impact your health. Let's take a very short dive into the world of environmental chemicals and see how they can affect us.
Environmental chemicals are substances found in the environment around us. They're present in the air, water, soil and even in the products we use daily, like cleaning supplies, cosmetics and plastics. Some of these chemicals are natural, while others are human-made, and they can have various effects on our bodies. Agricultural and industrial revolutions paved the way for creation of synthetic chemicals, and this culminated in the synthetic age in which we currently live, with all our melamine dishes, polycarbonate food containers, polystyrene cups, saran wrap food coverings, vinyl flooring, and …. This list is endless. In fact, approximately 90,000 compounds are approved for commercial use right now. Of those, over 1,000 are likely health-disrupting chemicals which were never sufficiently tested for safety, but only five of these have ever been banned in the United States.
Now, you might be wondering, "How do these chemicals get into our bodies?" Well, it's all about exposure. There are three main ways we encounter environmental chemicals: through inhalation, ingestion (eating or drinking them), and absorption (when they touch our skin).
For example, we sit on the furniture coated with chemicals. Our plastic food containers leach chemicals into our food. Our personal care products and cosmetics are leaching chemicals into our body. Our drinking water has tons of contaminants. Our food is engineered with preservatives and synthetic flavors and colorings. We inhale chemicals contained in our cleaning supplies and air fresheners. It is a dangerous world. The effects these compounds can have on our health can vary depending on the type and amount of chemical, as well as an exposed person’s age, health status and genetics.
The good news is, there are steps we can take to reduce our exposure to harmful environmental chemicals. Here are some of my common recommendations:
Stay aware of the air quality in your neighborhood by using the app Air Now. Invest into a good air purifier for your home.
Clean often: dust, mop, and/or vacuum several times a week. Change shoes when coming home from outdoors.
Consume a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, chock full of vitamins and minerals—these can support your body in dealing with environmental toxins.
If you're concerned about chemicals in your tap water, consider using a water filter or a reverse osmosis setup. Either one can help remove contaminants and provide cleaner drinking water.
Read labels: Try to buy USDA organic or NON-GMO verified products.
Use less cleaning products and opt for the less toxic ones. Check EWG.org for the list of safer cleaning products or make your own simple and safe cleaning solution using ingredients such as sea salt, lemon juice, organic essential oils and white vinegar.
If you feel that you are suffering from environmental toxicity—consult with a Functional Medicine physician—they can order blood and urine tests to check for the presence of environmental toxins in your body and put together a customized detoxification protocol for you.
Remember, while it's not possible to completely avoid all environmental chemicals, being aware of what we're exposed to and making conscious choices can go a long way in safeguarding our health. So, let's be mindful of the chemicals around us and take small steps toward a healthier and cleaner environment for ourselves and future generations.
The author of Diet Slave No More!, Svetlana Kogan, MD is a Board-Certified Internal Medicine, Holistic & Functional Medical Doctor with 25 years of experience.
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