Causes of Inflammation: Environmental Toxins

 by Liesa Huppertz
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Environmental toxins are all around us. In fact, there are more than 80.000 toxic chemicals that can be grouped into three categories:

  1. toxins in the air
  2. toxins in food
  3. toxins in water

Environmental toxins can be found in beauty products, household cleaners, carpets, furniture, mattresses, in meat and veggies, in our water system, and simply in the air we breathe. They can enter our body through our skin, through the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe.

Chemicals that are around us on a daily basis can have serious negative health effects by causing inflammation in our body. Certain substances can trigger the immune neurovascular system to initiate disease. Chronic inflammatory diseases of unknown cause can often be a sign of environmental sensitivity overload. Recurrent infections in the sinus, bronchi, throat, bladder, and vagina can in fact have environmental causes or contributors. If you experience more than two or three infections per year, triggering agents should be sought, and the environmental causes eliminated where possible.

Many conditions are now being linked to environmental exposure such as cancer, respiratory diseases (asthma) and allergies, neurological diseases (Parkinson disease and multiple sclerosis), endocrine problems (thyroid), diabetes and obesity.

Let’s take a look at how environmental toxins of all three categories and inflammation are connected.

Pesticides and Inflammation - Environmental Toxins in Food

A pesticide is a chemical compound used to kill, repel, or control certain forms of plant or animal life that are considered to be pests. Most serve as plant protection products, which protect plants from insects, fungi, or weeds.

There are many different types of pesticides:

  • Insecticides - to kill insects
  • Herbicides - to kill plants
  • Rodenticides - to kill rodents (rats & mice)
  • Bactericides - to kill bacteria
  • Fungicides - to kill fungi
  • Larvicides - to kill larvae

The studies on pesticide exposure and disease is limited, but still connections have been found:

Constant exposure to pesticides through the food we eat could causes the body to see these chemicals as invader, worsening the immune reaction over time. A hyper-immune response may be caused that then becomes sensitive to other cells, attacking them and causing inflammation and damage.

Air Pollution and Inflammation - Environmental Toxins in the Air

According to a vast number of studies, air pollution and Inflammation seem to be closely intertwined.

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 90% of the global population endure toxic outdoor air, and that it accounts for an estimate of about 8 million deaths each year. Air pollution refers to the release of pollutants into the air that are detrimental to human health and the planet as a whole. Major outdoor pollution sources include vehicles, power generations, building heating systems, agriculture/waste, and industry.

Air pollution can also happen indoor. Popular sources are household cleaning supplies, paints, laundry detergents, tobacco smoke and perfumes. Indoor air pollution is associated with dose-dependent inflammation and serious negative health effects, and, according to the World Health Organization, it is responsible for about 4.3 million deaths of those 8 million mentioned above.

Additionally, allergens from trees and mold, as well as weeds and grass can be considered air pollutant.

Research shows head-to-toe harm through air pollution, from heart and lung disease to diabetes and dementia. Systematic damage is the result of pollutants that trigger immune system cells that then cause inflammation. Inflammation, usually in the lungs, leads to oxidative stress which activates pro-inflammatory signaling. This sets off a cascade of events that may affect even distant organs. (1) Ultrafine particles being carried around the body and going directly into different organs can also be responsible for inflammation in that organ.

Conditions linked to air pollution:

  • Breathing problems from asthma to emphysema to lung cancer - by inhaling the pollutant, leading to local inflammation
  • Strokes, dementia and reduced intelligence - through systemic inflammation: Immune cells think a pollution particle is a bacteria, go after it and try to kill it by releasing enzymes and acids. Inflammatory proteins spread into the body, affecting the brain and other organs
  • Heart Disease - pollution is believed to have inflammatory effects on the heart, causing chronic cardiovascular problems by inducing systemic inflammation and oxidative stress in peripheral circulation
  • Numerous cancers, including in the bladder and the gut, increase in irritable bowel syndrome - by removing toxins from the body
  • Preterm birth, low birth weight, reduced lung growth and cognitive problems - affecting unborns by having pollutants in the placenta that nourishes the foetuses

Chemicals in our Water and Inflammation - Environmental Toxins in the Water

Water covers 70% of our Earth’s surface. Safe drinking water is a basic human need. When it comes to our drinking water, you might wonder whether filtered tap water or bottled water is the better choice. You might feel safer with bottled water, however, the Environmental Working Group conducted a study on 10 different brands of bottled water in 2008 with alarming results: They found 38 different pollutants from disinfection byproducts, to industrial chemicals and bacteria.

According to the World Health Organization, 80% diseases are waterborne. Some of the negative effects of drinking polluted water are:

Major sources of water pollution are:

  • Industrialization
  • Discharge of domestic waste
  • Radioactive waste
  • Population growth
  • Excessive use of pesticides
  • Fertilizers
  • Leakage from water tanks

Health risks associated with polluted water include:

  • Respiratory disease
  • Cancer
  • Diarrheal disease
  • Neurological disorder
  • Cardiovascular disease

One troublesome chemical in water supplies is iron. It gives water a disagreeable metallic taste and produces an inky, black appearance and a harsh unacceptable taste when combined with tea, coffee and other beverages. Studies show that iron content in drinking water increased the risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

Another chemical element in our water system is chlorine to clean out the bacteria and other contaminants in the water system. You will most likely know chlorine as a way to keep swimming pools clean. Thus, chlorine definitely serves a purpose, but there are also risks. Studies show that chronic low dose chlorine exposure significantly augmented airway and long-standing lung inflammation. It is also linked with an increased risk of asthma.

Environmental Hormones and Inflammation: Environmental Toxins in Air, Food & Water

Unfortunately, environmental hormones, or endocrine disruptors, are all around us. They enter our system through our skin, the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. Environmental hormones are natural or man-made chemicals that resemble endocrine hormones and therefore interfere with the way the body’s hormones work. Once our hormones are out of balance, inflammation increases which contributes to chronic disease.

Endocrine disruptors can be found in:

  • Children’s products
  • Plastics and food storage materials
  • Electronics and building materials
  • Personal care products
  • Medical tubing
  • Sunscreen
  • Textiles
  • Clothing
  • Old teflon cookware

So called EDCs

  • have the potential to act as hormone mimics, making our body believe that they are hormones
  • block natural hormones from doing their job
  • bind to hormone receptors and modify gene expression
  • can increase or decrease the levels of hormones in our blood and therefore create an imbalance
  • can change how sensitive our bodies are to different hormones

Endocrine disruption is likely to produce misregulated inflammation in tissues as the hormone microenvironment exerts a significant effect on resident innate immune cell function.

Environmental hormones are often found in the food we eat as they are injected into young livestock to make them gain weight faster and to increase the production of milk. Synthetic estrogens and testosterone are the most common hormones used.

Conditions linked to environmental hormones:

Environmental hormones, or endocrine disruptors, can have serious negative health effects especially when exposed to them over a long period of time. Some endocrine-disrupting chemicals are slow to break down in the environment which makes them particularly hazardous over time. In addition, we are typically exposed to multiple endocrine disruptors at the same time which makes it even harder to escape their negative impact.

Endocrine disruptors

Environmental toxins are all around us and they are a leading cause of chronic inflammation, a process that may cause severe disease. If you know what environmental toxins are and what to look out for, you are able to reduce being exposed to them and thus reduce the risk of getting sick.

Disclaimer: Please be aware that I am not a doctor or a medically trained person. What you're reading here is information that I researched and summarized to the best of my knowledge and processed it for your digest. Information stated on iamliesa is for educational purposes only, this information is not to replace advice from your health care practitioner. If you have any concerns about your health, always consult your general practitioner.

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