By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
Something that’s often missed in a health assessment is the impact of toxins on our health and wellness. The reality is that we are exposed to a vast amount of chemicals and pollutants every day, and they can play a role in our current health issues. Even if we have made steps to clean up our personal care products and cleaning chemicals, switched to mostly organic and non-toxic product in our homes, there are still a multitude of ways that we can be exposed.
I encourage you to do a simple exercise of writing out your “Toxic Timeline.” You can download this page to write on, and most importantly see if you can see a pattern or correlation to past or present health issues. Toxins add stress to our bodies, so symptoms can show up in any system.
I’m personally interested in the impact of toxins on health because it was a significant factor in some of the health issues I experienced in the past. I had several years of summer jobs in my late teens and early 20’s where I worked in the oilfields of Alberta, which very high petrochemical exposure, among others. This was also at the same time as poor nutritional intake as a student, and following fairly heavy alcohol use in University. It all culminated with fatigue, depression and multiple chemical sensitivity which took many years to resolve. I can personally attest to the fact that once you identify the pattern and the cause, vague issues like fatigue and depression can be dealt with in profound ways.
These are the more common ways toxins affect us:
The reality is that toxins can impact every system of the body by causing extra stress on the organs of detoxification, mimicking hormones, affecting the brain, and damaging mitochondria. Here are some of the more common patterns:
- Energy and neurological issues – fatigue, brain fog, feeling unrefreshed from sleep, dizziness, numbness or tingling, loss of memory.
- Skin problems – rashes, breakouts, hives.
- Pain – headaches most commonly, but also generalized body pain and arthritis.
- Autoimmune disease – toxins can be part of the trigger that initiates any type of autoimmune disease (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Sjogren’s and others).
- Chemical sensitivity – increased reactivity to perfumes, cleaning chemicals, alcohol, cigarette smoke that can be debilitating.
- Respiratory issues – chronic cough, nasal congestion, late-onset asthma, recurrent sinus infections.
- Cancers – toxins may play a role in the development of some cancers, especially hormonal cancers, liver cancer and kidney cancer.
As you’re thinking back through your life, here are some areas where you may have been exposed to toxins through your life. You may be surprised at how they add up! Many practitioners in the environmental energy field think of toxin exposure with the bathtub analogy: we all have a different sized tub with our tolerance, and each time we are exposed to a chemical or potential toxin our tub starts to fill. If we have an excess of exposure, and especially if we empty very slowly down the drain (this our detoxification pathways), the tub will eventually overflow. This overflow is when you really feel the impact. For most people with a healthy detoxification system, the tipping point is around 50-60 years old. For some of us with poor detox pathways, or a significantly large exposure at some time in our life, this can happen much earlier.
Categories and examples of common toxins:
To help with your toxic exposure timeline, I have categorized many examples of chemicals you may have been exposed to. Populate your timeline, and see if exposures may match with current or past health issues.
- Preconception: – maternal use of medications, exposure to chemicals of all types, smoking or second hand smoke.
- Medications: frequent antibiotics, hormonal contraceptives painkillers or OTC medications (acetominaphen, ibuprofen, antacids, sleep aids).
- Substances: heavy or regular alcohol use, smoking or 2nd hand smoke, recreational drugs
- Household: air fresheners, laundry soap, fabric softeners, cleaning chemicals, scented candles
- Home: mold growth or water damage (leaks in bathroom, roof, basement); lead paint; new synthetic carpets; renovations.
- Outside the home: live near a highway; cell tower on the roof; near high-voltage power lines; air pollution; living near a farm – fields sprayed with chemicals
- Personal care: conventional skin and hair products, makeup, nail salon products, hair colouring
- Dental: metal (mercury) amalgams, implants, wisdom toot removal, dental appliances (contain metals and plastics); processed meats with nitrites.
- Surgeries: anesthetics, antibiotics, painkillers, others.
- Work: cycling on busy streets; exposure to chemicals at work or chemistry lab / anatomy lab.
I hope you do print out the Toxic Exposure Timeline and go through your toxin exposure through life. If you do have a big ‘aha’ moment, or feel like there was an exposure, move, renovation, or time when your health changed, this is a clue that we can use to restore wellness. To reverse the damage caused by toxins, we look at three things: (1) reducing / eliminating exposure; (2) supporting detoxification pathways to bind and clear toxins (liver, gut, kidneys, lungs and skin); (3) repair-work after the stressor has been removed.
I look forward to seeing your timelines and detective work! This can be a profound piece of your health puzzle.
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