Your Health and the Environment

chemicaltoxicityMost of us realize that the environment we live in isn’t exactly pristine.  From chemicals in our water supply to the ubiquitous use of plastics, we’re constantly challenging our body’s ability to handle environmental pollutants.  The incidence of chronic disease in this country has continued to grow, and most any chronic disease you can think of (diabetes, autoimmune disease, cancer, endocrine disorders, you name it!) is influenced by the chemicals that surround us.  However, when it comes to the relationship between exposure to environmental toxins and disease, conventional medicine pays little to no attention to this connection.

Let’s just consider the effects of one chemical on the body: PCBs.  The use of these industrial chemicals has been banned since the late 1970s, yet continues to show up in our soil and water supply.  According to the EPA, PCBs have been linked to cancer, reproductive disorders, immune system disorders, endocrine disease, and nervous system disorders, among others.  Now, consider this: More than 80,000 chemicals are registered for use in the United States, with 2,000 new chemicals being introduced each year.  That’s pretty scary!  The point of this article is not to induce fear, but to demonstrate how serious this problem truly is, and how little conventional medicine is paying attention to it.

Many of the chronic diseases we see today, whether it be asthma, allergies, or autoimmunity, were virtually non-existent before the 1900s.  So, despite the ongoing advancement of medications to treat these diseases, why have they continued to become more prevalent?  Largely because modern medicine continues to focus almost solely on symptom management, ignoring the underlying causes of chronic disease.  Of course, it’s not practical to test every patient for every chemical under the sun.  But, by being more conscious of how chemicals can promote disease, and having a better understanding of how our bodies deal with these chemicals, we can make a significant impact on the incidence of chronic disease in this country.

I like to use the analogy of our bodies being a bucket, with toxins being the water that fills it.  At some point, our bodies’ innate abilities to metabolize these toxins hits the tipping point, and organ systems begin to break down.  This, in turn, leads to the development of a number of chronic diseases that are often considered “incurable” by the medical profession.  But, we all have metabolic pathways in place that are programmed to help the body eliminate a number of the toxins we become exposed to.  These pathways can be enhanced and nurtured with proper diet and nutrient supplementation, lessening the toxic burden, and bringing the body back to a more balanced state.  The terms detoxification and cleansing are often thrown around loosely, but there are more definitive methods of testing that can isolate dysfunctional metabolic pathways, allowing them to be corrected accordingly with the appropriate nutritional interventions.

So, if you’re suffering from chronic disease, there are a number of things you can do to help lower your toxic burden.  One way to look at it as offense vs. defense.  Your doctor may be prescribing drugs to diminish pain or other debilitating symptoms, which is the defense, but you can play offense by providing your body with adequate nutrition and substrates to help enhance your body’s ability to eliminate disease-causing toxins.

Mold: Not Just an Allergy

It’s not an uncommon scenario.  Someone comes to my office complaining of headaches, recurring sinus issues, a nagging cough, “brain fog”, and other chronic symptoms.  They’ve already had complete medical work-ups, and were most likely prescribed multiple rounds of antibiotics, to no avail.  “My allergist said that all of my test results were normal”.  The first thing that comes to mind for me?  Mold toxicity.

It’s not at all uncommon for patients to present with this cluster of symptoms after prolonged mold exposure, even when they test negative for a true mold allergy.  This is because the real culprits are mycotoxins, which are toxic metabolites that are formed in the presence of mold growth.  These mycotoxins are inhaled or ingested by individuals that are exposed to them.  With repeated exposure, our body’s typical methods of metabolizing and detoxifying these mycotoxins are eventually broken down, wreaking havoc on the immune system, causing inflammatory and sensitivity reactions that become increasingly difficult for the body to overcome, especially if exposure continues.  The toxic and allergenic effects are independent of the typical IgE antibody reactions that doctors use to identify allergies, leading to the dismissal of this patient population by a majority of doctors.

I would agree that obtaining objective data to confirm mold toxicity can often be challenging.  If someone is living or working in an area that they suspect to be problematic, there are kits that can be obtained for sampling the air quality, and measuring the concentration of mycotoxins.  This can at least raise the index of suspicion that mold exposure needs to be taken seriously as a potential culprit.  The sophistication of being able to measure different immune responses that are affected by mold exposure has also come a long way in the last couple of years, also making it easier to identify illnesses related to mycotoxins.  These tests aren’t necessarily mainstream knowledge, but are readily available through most of the laboratories that are typically used by physicians.  Being aware of your surroundings, and the history of your illness, is really the best information for any physician to have, especially if there has been visible mold growth, or mold levels have tested very high.

Treating mycotoxin illness is highly individualized, and can take many months to get under control.  Since much of the problem is related to irregular immune responses and an inability of the body to break down these toxins, the main goal is to help the liver metabolize mycotoxins more effectively, along with stabilizing the immune response.  Of course, the first and foremost step is to avoid exposure!  As long as people continue to be exposed to elevated mycotoxin levels, they will not get well.  There are methods that can be implemented for effective cleanup, but in some cases this could mean quitting your job, or even selling your house.  Once the exposure is removed, both nutritional and pharmaceutical treatment methods can be used to help your body bind and excrete the mycotoxins that are causing so much harm.

A perfect example of this problem is a patient I saw who came to me after having multiple upper respiratory infections in less than a year’s time.  This patient had no known history of allergies or asthma, and had been previously healthy, without any significant medical history.  Each time she went to her doctor, they just chalked it up to an infection, and placed her on antibiotics with each consecutive bout.  Upon extracting her medical history, it was discovered that the patient had moved to a new office within the building she had already been working in.  After thinking about it some more, she realized that other people within her new location had also been sick with similar complaints.  I prompted her to look more closely at the area she was working in, around the walls and ceiling, to see if she could visualize any mold, as her symptoms may be consistent with ongoing exposure to mold.

Upon the patient’s return office visit, she informed me that she had asked her supervisors to look into the matter a little more closely.  She then proceeded to show me pictures from her phone that revealed a massive area around her desk where they had peeled the wallpaper back-completely covered with mold!  Needless to say, the structural issues responsible for the mold were properly remediated, and the patient hasn’t had any symptoms since!

Again, I want to reiterate that mold toxicity is not always this black and white, but it is indeed a real cause of illness!  If this is something you think you’re suffering from, especially if you work in a building that has suffered from water damage, don’t be afraid to seek help.  Your doctors may tell you that you don’t have any allergies, and that nothing is wrong, so don’t get discouraged.  Continue to seek help until you find the answers and treatment solutions you deserve!

Don’t Let Pollution Get You Down

Lets face it, pollution is never a topic that’s easy to broach, particularly since we’re often left feeling helpless about what we can do to avoid it.  To make matters worse, the impact it can have on our health is rarely acknowledged by health care providers, unless a known, acute exposure has occurred.  The reality is that we’re all exposed to environmental pollutants on a daily basis, and there are indeed resources available to help identify the most likely offenders.  For example, www.ewg.org provides reports about the local water supply, showing contaminants that are the most consistently elevated. Another invaluable resource is www.scorecard.org, which evaluates local air pollution, toxin levels (heavy metals, superfund sites, etc.), and industrial pollutants.  It’s also recommended that you have your own water tested through an independent laboratory, which will potentially identify hidden sources of various pollutants.

So, why is this important? Many of these pollutants have been linked to a host of degenerative diseases, including cancer, autoimmune diseases, and neurological conditions.  In my experience, the medical community tends to largely ignore these underlying causes, only treating the symptoms of the respective disease.  I can’t tell you how many patients have come to me with serious, debilitating symptoms, only to find out that they have high levels of contaminants in their system.  PCBs, pesticides, heavy metals, and solvents, just to name a few, can all be measured with laboratory testing, and eliminated from your system with the appropriate treatment protocols.

If you have a known exposure to environmental pollutants, or suspect that they are having a negative impact on your health, you shouldn’t feel like there’s nothing that can be done about it.  Talk to your doctor about the appropriate tests, and use some of the resources mentioned above to identify and prevent any future exposures.

 

Cell Phones and Cancer

This is a reprint of an article from the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine that was a response to a recent study published in JAMA (Volkow N, Tomasi D, Wang G-J, et al. Effect of cell phone radiofrequency signal exposure on brain glucose metabolism. JAMA. 2011;305(8):808-813).
The bottom line is that cell phone use does indeed appear to enhance brain activity, which can potentially pose risks for cancer or other neurological complications. There are still many unanswered questions with respect to cell phone use and cancer, but this study is further evidence that this issue needs to be addressed and payed attention to:

For years, medical experts and scientists have voiced concerns regarding
the questionable safety of cell phone use, but even with the evidence
mounting, this alluring technology is hard to resist. Humankind’s
increasing use of cell phones, 5 billion users worldwide, necessitates a
thorough, unbiased look at the risks.

The JAMA study documents that cell phone exposure affects the
brain by increasing brain glucose, a known measure of increased brain
activity. Though the study does not offer an explanation of the
underlying mechanism, we do know that in other biological systems of the
body, chronic increase in glucose can have a significant effect on the
local tissues, altering cell and gene function. Notably, the study
refutes the longstanding claim by both the Federal Communications
Commission and the cell phone industry that there are no biological
effects from non-thermal levels of cell phone radiation.

The studies published on cell phone use and the possible health risks (including tumors of the brain, as well as male infertility)
are numerous, and many repudiate any risks. Among the catalogue of
studies, often funded in part by the cell phone industry, a
meta-analysis published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2006, involving 23 case-controlled studies and almost 38,000 participants, concluded there are increased health risks.
Recently a branch of the World Health Organization called The
International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) convened 31
scientists from 14 countries, including the United States, and evaluated
peer-reviewed studies regarding the safety of cell phones and issued a
statement that puts exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields
from cell phone use in the same category as lead and car exhaust:
possibly carcinogenic. At what point do we acknowledge that precautions need to be taken? Our
current safety standards regarding cell phones are based on obsolete
research. They certainly don’t take into account the dramatic increase
in number of users, the increase in amount of time spent in use, and the
rise of cell phone use by young people. There not only needs to be
continued investigation into the effects on brain tissues, but also the
consequences of both heavy use and long-term exposure–parameters not yet
studied.

The concept of the precautionary principle encourages policy makers to
make decisions that protect the public from a policy or action that may
be harmful, in the absence of definitive data. In looking at the health
impacts of electromagnetic radiofrequencies from cell phones, the public
needs to be protected from the harm that may be caused by their use. It
calls to mind our history regarding tobacco, when medical professionals
awaited definitive trial data for decades, while millions of
individuals suffered predictable health consequences. By refusing to
acknowledge the possible health risks of cell phone use now, we may be
harming generations to come.

While we continue to gather information, we can counsel our patients on
the many ways to reduce overall electromagnetic radiation exposure:

  • Turn cell phones off when not in use. Cell phone emissions are
    occurring whenever the phone is on, whether it is being used or not.
  • Avoid cell phone use when the signal is weak. Emissions increase while the phone is searching for a tower.
  • Store cell phones away from the body in a purse, backpack, or briefcase.
  • Use a protective headset that puts distance between the phone and the brain, with corded earphones if possible.
  • Engage in texting in lieu of phone calls.

We can assume there will be continued development of the technology,
including safer phones and safer designs for towers. Ultimately, curbing
cell phone use–using our cell phones for truly important communications
and turning them off when they are not needed–may be the key to
reducing risk.

Pesticides and Brain Development

Toddlers whose mothers breathed more of a chemical often present in insecticides during pregnancy had slower brain development, according to a study from New York City.

On average, women breathing the highest amounts of piperonyl butoxide, or PBO, had babies who scored 3.9 points lower on a mental development test at age three (85 points and above is considered normal).

These changes are about the same as those seen in kids with low-level lead exposure, according to Megan Horton, a researcher at Columbia University who worked on the study.

“It means that these kids might not do as well in school” later on, said Horton, whose findings appear in the journal Pediatrics.

Baby brains are extra vulnerable to toxic chemicals, because they are not fully formed.

“If you alter the blueprint, there may be lasting long-term consequences,” Horton explained.

She and her colleagues analyzed air samples from a few hundred pregnant women’s environments to track the levels of PBO and another chemical called permethrin. The two compounds are commonly found in bug sprays for indoor use.

Permethrin wasn’t tied to the toddlers’ mental skills. But among the 42 women who breathed the highest levels of PBO — around 4 parts per trillion — nearly half had a baby with a lower-than-normal mental development score.

“For these toxic chemicals, there’s probably no such thing as a safe level during pregnancy,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan, who heads the Children’s Environmental Health Center at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, and was not involved in the new study.

He suggested that pregnant women who have an insect problem should make sure more bugs can’t get in through measures such as caulking cracks in walls, and that all food is cleaned up.

“Instead of spraying,” he said, “use little baits like roach motels because it’s contained.”

To me, this has been obvious all along, but in light of this information, I would disagree with using even “contained” pesticides, as there is still an exposure risk. Pregnant or not, this is further proof that pesticides promote serious neurological complications, and should be avoided at all costs. If you absolutely must use pesticides, make sure you wear gloves, a ventilator, and other protective gear to limit your exposure as much as possible. If you have been exposed to pesticides in the past, there are tests that can be performed to assess the levels in your system. Treatments can then be implemented to help your body excrete these harmful toxins. 

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/gZSdEU Pediatrics, online February 7, 2011.

ADHD and Pesticides

More evidence has come about that links pesticide exposure with ADHD. The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, adds to evidence that organophosphatepesticides can affect the human brain. Researchers at the University of California Berkeley tested pregnant women for evidence that organophosphate pesticides had actually been absorbed by their bodies, and then followed their children as they grew. Women with more chemical traces of the pesticides in their urine while pregnant had children more likely to have symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, at age 5, the researchers found.

Organophosphates are designed to attack the nervous systems of bugs by affecting message-carrying chemicals called neurotransmitters including acetylcholine, which is important to human brain development.

The researchers tested Mexican-American women living in the Salinas Valley of California, an area of intensive agriculture. They looked for breakdown products or metabolites from pesticides in urine samples from the mothers during pregnancy and from their children as they grew. A tenfold increase in pesticide metabolites in the mother’s urine correlated to a 500 percent increase in the chances of ADHD symptoms by age 5, with the trend stronger in boys.

In May a different team found children with high levels of organophosphate traces in the urine were almost twice as likely to develop ADHD as those with undetectable levels.

There are about 40 organophosphate pesticides such as malathion registered in the United States. Studies have also linked exposure to Parkinson’s, an incurable brain disease.

From a naturopathic perspectives, there are tests that can be performed to evaluate levels of organophosphates. This is not only important for children with ADHD, but also patients with any underlying neurological disease, as well as cancer. If identified, treatment protocols to facilitate pesticide detoxification (using natural substances) can be utilized.

Pollution Is In The Air

Not that we really needed a study to prove it, but here is an interesting summary of a study from the American Lung Association highlighting the severity of pollution in the US:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126366926&sc=17&f=1001

More BPA Risks

Several more reasons to be wary of plastics:

Scientists link plastics chemical to health risks 

By Kate Kelland 

Exposure to a chemical found in plastic containers is linked to heart disease, scientists said on Wednesday, confirming earlier findings and adding to pressure to ban its use in bottles and food packaging. 

British and U.S. researchers studied the effects of the chemical bisphenol A using data from a U.S. government national nutrition survey in 2006 and found that high levels of it in urine samples were associated with heart disease. 

Bisphenol A, known as BPA, is widely used in plastics and has been a growing concern for scientists in countries such as Britain, Canada and the United States, where food and drug regulators are examining its safety. 

David Melzer, professor of epidemiology and public health at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, England, who led the study, said the research confirmed earlier findings of a link between BPA and heart problems. 

The analysis also confirmed that BPA plays a role in diabetes and some forms of liver disease, said Melzer’s team, who studied data on 1,493 people aged 18 to 74. 
“Our latest analysis largely confirms the first analysis, and excludes the possibility that the original report was a statistical blip,” they said in a statement. 

BPA, used to stiffen plastic bottles and line cans, belongs to a class of compounds sometimes called endocrine disruptors. 

The U.S. Endocrine Society called last June for better studies into BPA and presented research showing the chemical can affect the hearts of women and permanently damage the DNA of mice. 
“The risks associated with exposure to BPA may be small, but they are relevant to very large numbers of people. This information is important since it provides a great opportunity for intervention to reduce the risks,” said Exeter’s Tamara Galloway, who worked on the study published by the Public Library of Science online science journal PLoS One. 
URGING BANS 

U.S. environmental health advocacy groups are urging a federal ban on BPA. 
“There’s enough research to take definitive action on this chemical to reduce exposures in people and the environment,” Dr. Anila Jacob of the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization, said in a telephone interview. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering whether any action needs to be taken. 
U.S. government toxicologists at the National Institutes of Health concluded in 2008 that BPA presents concern for harmful effects on development of the prostate and brain and for behavioral changes in fetuses, infants and children. 

Canada’s government plans to outlaw plastic baby bottles made with BPA. The charity Breast Cancer UK last month urged the British government to do the same because they said there was “compelling” evidence linking the chemical to breast cancer risk. 

Experts estimate BPA is detectable in the bodies of more than 90 percent of U.S. and European populations. It is one of the world’s highest production volume chemicals, with more than 2.2 million tonnes produced annually. 

Copyright © 2010 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. 

Local Pollution Report Card

Here is a detailed report regarding toxins and air pollution in Guilford and surrounding areas: 

http://www.scorecard.org/community/index.tcl?zip_code=06437&set_community_zipcode_cookie_p=t&x=0&y=0

Local Water Report

Here is a link to show how our water in Guilford and the Shoreline region is testing-you may be surprised!

http://www.ewg.org/tap-water/whatsinyourwater/CT/CTWC—Shoreline-Region-Guilford-System/0608011/