What is environmental nutrition?
Environmental nutrition examines the interrelationships between our food choices, our environment, and our health. The conventional food system threatens our health and overall well-being with increased air and water pollution, toxic chemical exposure, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, soil erosion, climate change inducing greenhouse gas emissions, and loss of biodiversity. These disruptions in environmental integrity can affect human health and nutritional status.
Environmental contamination from industrial and agricultural chemicals such as heavy metals, organochlorines, and radionuclides may compromise people’s nutritional status and health either directly or through changes in diet. Herbicides and pesticides eliminate uncultivated food sources from agroecosystems; other chemicals may make them unfit for consumption. Persistent organic pollutants (POPS) transported in the atmosphere can have adverse effects on traditional food systems far removed from major sites of pesticide use.
The EPA states that 25 billion pounds of toxic chemicals were produced by industrial facilities in 2014 alone. See what toxic chemicals have been released in your neighborhood with this interactive map.
Types of toxins:
Exogenous (from outside the body):
- Air pollution – particulate matter
- Cell phones and electronic products
- Organic (carbon-based)
- Persistent Organic Pollutants
- Food additives
- High fructose corn syrup
Endogenous (produced inside the body):
- Gut-derived toxins
- Poorly detoxified hormones
Toxins Contribute to Chronic Disease
Environmental chemicals serve as poisons in our body. They increase oxidative stress, which damages our DNA and cellular health. They can destroy enzymes, disrupt endocrine function (hormone balance), increase inflammation, and can decrease mitochondrial function. They put a stress on the liver, one of our greatest detoxifying organs, and increase our need for nutrients.
Some examples of health conditions affected by toxic load:
- Heart disease
- Thyroid disorders
- Metabolic syndrome and Obesity
- Parkinson’s disease
While correlation does not equal causation, take a look at this graph from a study published in the journal, Diabetes. It shows the increase in diabetes prevalence that corresponds with the increase in environmental chemicals being released into our environment.
The below graphs summarize a prospective study that followed people for 23 years and looked at their PCB (a type of plastic compound) levels and how it influenced their pancreatic function and biomarkers for diabetes. PCBs are an example of persistent organic pollutants (meaning that these compounds do not degrade, but rather persist in the environment.
What are signs of environmental toxicity?
Symptoms of toxicity may include, but not limited to:
- Muscle/joint pain
- Food allergies/environmental allergies
- Brittle nails and hair
- Mental confusion/memory loss
- Mucus membrane irritation
- Emotional upset
- Poor coordination
- Chronic respiratory problems, asthma, sinus problems
- Abnormal body odor, bad breath
- Skin rashes/acne
- Neurological problems
- Vision disturbances
- Weight gain/overweight
There are so many chemicals in our environment. How can we avoid them?
With all these chemicals in our environment, we need to be extra careful to reduce our exposure and support our health by eating a nutrient-dense whole foods diet. By strengthening your body’s ability to metabolize these compounds and deal with the increased oxidative damage, you can improve your long-term health and reduce your risk of developing chronic disease.
It is very important to identify major sources for toxins and creating a personalized detoxification program in order to ensure your optimal success. Reducing or eliminating environmental toxins from the home environment, from food, and from personal care products can play a major part in improving the internal health and well-being of you and your family. Living a non-toxic lifestyle is the key to optimizing health, restoring balance to the body, and promoting longevity.
So how does the body detoxify?
There are five organs of detoxification: skin, lungs, gastrointestinal tract, kidneys and liver. The liver receives all the blood from your lower body, kidneys, spleen, and intestines. There are almost 60 ounces of blood pumping through your liver every minute. Consequently, your liver has hundreds of toxins to manage every second of every day. Ensuring you are well hydrated and having daily bowel movements (eating lots of fiber!) is a great way to make sure your pathways of elimination are open and working.
With over 70% of the immune system in the gastrointestinal tract, healing the gut can be quite effective for improving health and living a nourishing lifestyle. The integrative approach to strengthening the digestive system and improving the ability to detoxify is a multi-step approach. First and foremost, remove toxic and irritating foods and replacing them with nourishing, organic, whole foods will relieve the toxic burden while also providing nutrients to enhance the body’s ability to carry out metabolic processes and clear any toxins that are inadvertently ingested.
Shop at the local farmer’s market for seasonal, fresh foods. Buy organic versions the foods on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list. Processed and refined foods, food allergens, genetically modified foods (especially corn, soy, and cottonseed oils), sugars, rancid fats, depleting liquids such as sodas, coffee, alcohol, and fruit juices should be removed from the diet and replaced with nourishing whole foods. Carbohydrate sources should be mostly non-starchy vegetables, heavy on leafy greens and cruciferous, with some fruits and little if any whole grains. Replace carbs with healthy fats (flax, walnuts, avocado, coconut, organic pasture fed butter, etc…) and high quality, organic proteins of both animal and plant origin. Anti-inflammatory foods also include spices such as curry, garlic, and parsley, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, leafy green vegetables, onions, olive oil, berries, and apple cider vinegar.
Supplements to support detox and healthy pathways of elimination:
You can work with a qualified health care practitioner to supplement as needed
- Support digestion, nutrient absorption, and liver function with digestive enzymes, HCL, bitters, and cholagogue nutrients (like lecithin, choline, dandelion, turmeric).
- Repair and rebuild the GI tract with supportive supplements (DGL, glutamine, quercetin, gamma oryzanol), organic whole foods (flax seeds), and teas (slippery elm and marshmallow are two great herbs for this).
- Correct dysbiosis with probiotic supplements.
- Taking antioxidants, joint support, and perhaps even proteolytic enzymes will help eliminate pathogenic infestations in joints, muscles, or organ tissues.
- Increase Omega-3 fatty acids by eating salmon and other fish, flax seed meal, and walnuts. Krill oil is a very beneficial supplement because it contains high omega-3’s plus a potent antioxidant, astaxanthin.
Other lifestyle factors important in detoxification:
- Sweating – via exercise or heat. Go in the sauna! In fact, ancient cultures used saunas and sweating as a way of cleansing for thousands of years! Be sure to take a cold shower and wash with soap to ensure you don’t reabsorb any of those toxins you just eliminated!
- Relaxation and Meditation
- Sargis, RM., Neel, BA. (2011). The paradox of progress: environmental disruption of metabolism and the diabetes epidemic. Diabetes, 60, 7, 1838-48. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3121438/
- Suarez-Lopez, JR., Lee, DH., Porta, M., Steffes, MW., Jacobs DR Jr. (2015). Persistent organic pollutants in young adults and changes in glucose related metabolism over a 23-year follow-up. Environ Res. 2015 Feb;137:485-94. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2014.11.001. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25706918