Polluted Environment: Toxins and Their Effects – Part 2

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM

Read Part 1 | Part 3

Everyday Pollutants

polluted environment factors include oil in plasticA polluted environment can include many plastics used in plastic wraps and bottles can outgas phthalates that can damage your endocrine system.

Older dental fillings contain mercury that can leach out and get absorbed into surrounding tissue. Mercury has been implicated in Parkinson’s disease, among others.

Dry cleaned and permanent press clothes can emit dangerous vapors, also.

Cosmetics and personal care products may contain petrochemicals, parabens, and preservatives, all with clear connections to ill effects on your health.

Why Are Environmental Toxins So Dangerous?

The major reason these toxins found in the polluted environment all around us are so dangerous are the changes they bring in our health. Changes that take us away from the optimum functioning we need in order to perform and feel our best.

If we don’t detox our bodies and rid them of these toxins, they can bring metabolic changes, dysfunctioning enzymes, deficits in nutrition, hormone imbalances, changes in brain chemistry, and cancer. These toxins build up in different parts of the body in different amounts of time and in different combinations. This allows them to lead to different chronic illnesses in different people.

Some of these chemicals can’t be pushed through the body’s detox system and thus can’t be excreted from the body. They course through the liver, then migrate to the fat cells in various parts of the body to be stored there. Sometimes, our bodies get overwhelmed with toxins and simply can’t handle them all. These, too, get stored in fat cells.

It is this total toxic burden that eventually overwhelms our physiological capacity to deal with it and leads to chronic illnesses.

Clearly, this toxic buildup must be eliminated from the body. Our liver, kidneys, skin, and lymphatic system work overtime to deal with the constant stream of toxic substances from our polluted environment attacking our systems. Unfortunately, our organs can’t always keep up. The result is an overabundance of these substances that, in time, depress our immune system and open the door to serious illnesses.

Many polluted environment factors such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), brominated fire retardants, and organometallic compounds are persistent and tend to build up in the body. They generate free radicals which, in turn, set the stage for inflammatory pathways that lead to inflammatory diseases like atherosclerosis, diabetes, and hypertension.

Research has shown that people who live close to hazardous waste dumps tend to have more instances of high blood pressure, cardiovascular difficulties, and insulin resistance.

This type of polluted environment often leads to oxidative stress in the body. This is physical stress in the body due to high levels of reactive oxygen species relative to neutralizing antioxidants. This oxidative stress can lead to an overabundance of free radicals circulating in the body. A high level of free radicals in the body can lead to DNA damage inside the cell’s nucleus, often resulting in mutations. Some very serious illness conditions can result from these mutations.

a polluted environment that leads to stress on the bodyWhen these toxins have reached a significantly high level for an individual and have led to an array of serious illnesses, they can be said to be due to Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). This condition is one in which the person suffers from extreme and severe sensitivity to many different kinds of chemicals.

Children suffer the most from this condition because the chemicals and other polluted environment factors are more prevalent in school – the place where they spent a great deal of their time.

MCS is often difficult to assess, leading doctors to doubt its existence. This may cause people to go from doctor to doctor, trying to find one who can help them. This is the same situation many other people find themselves facing. These are the people who suffer from Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS).

Polluted Environment And Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome

Symptoms that come as a result of AFS are due to the adrenal glands reaching a state of exhaustion. When stress enters our lives, regardless of the source, our bodies automatically set in motion a series of biological events to handle the stress. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is activated, with the adrenal glands at the end of the chain of events that are set in motion.

The adrenals secrete several hormones with cortisol being the main stress fighter. The more stress, the more cortisol is secreted to fight its effects. Normally, once the stress is removed, the body returns to a more relaxed, balanced state.

However, in our stress-filled society, stressors pile up one after another, all resulting in the same HPA axis activation. This places a significant burden on the adrenal glands to continue releasing cortisol to fight the effects of stress. Continuing stress eventually overwhelms the adrenals’ ability to secrete cortisol, resulting in the body breaking down.

As the body begins breaking down, the symptoms associated with AFS begin showing up. Many of these symptoms are vague and difficult to pin down at first. One of the major symptoms of this kind of adrenal exhaustion is fatigue. This fatigue is such that the person experiencing it may get a good night’s sleep, but wake up still feeling tired. Even taking a nap in the daytime does not completely erase the tiredness. Along with fatigue comes difficulty concentrating and brain fog, that foggy thinking that is so hard to describe.

With continuing adrenal fatigue comes insomnia. At times, this is accompanied by feeling very tired, but unable to sleep. It’s been called a “wired and tired” feeling. Gaining weight around the middle of the body is an indication of metabolic dysfunction due to AFS.

These symptoms and the others common to AFS are hard for people to explain and hard for physicians to understand. Often, people with AFS symptoms go from doctor to doctor trying to find help.

NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) model

What doctors are saying about dealing with a polluted environmentWhen people with AFS symptoms visit their physicians, the symptom picture is one that isn’t well understood. Many physicians will simply begin treating each of the symptoms individually or possibly one organ that may be causing the symptoms or that is most affected by them. This is the conventional medical approach and is typically ineffective in dealing with the root cause of AFS symptoms.

Rather than adopting the traditional viewpoint of focusing only on one or two organs in the body to treat, a more comprehensive approach to AFS is needed. The NEM model considers all six circuits of the body as an interrelated whole. These are the metabolic, hormonal, inflammatory, detoxification, cardionomic, and neuroaffective circuits.

In this functional medicine approach, underlying imbalances in the systems of the body are examined. In particular, environmental toxicities stress the detoxification and inflammatory circuits, putting pressure on your immune system and liver. This leaves a person vulnerable to infections and increased inflammation.

The immune system plays a part in both regulating inflammation inside your body as well as helping your body to detoxify. All of the changes in the above two systems then lead to problems in the extracellular matrix and gut. This affects digestion and absorption of nutrients.

With impaired nutrition and increased inflammation, there will typically be a neuroaffective response as well. This response leads to depression and anxiety symptoms. With the changes that occur in these systems, the cardionomic response also begins. Hormones released by the body trigger increase heart rate and blood pressure among other symptoms.

Symptoms of Environmental Toxin Exposure

There are a large number of symptoms associated with exposure to toxins in our polluted environment. These symptoms typically are exhibited once a person’s total body burden of toxins reaches a certain point. Every person has a unique point at which the burden becomes symptomatic.

These are some of the general symptoms found with toxic exposure:

  • Overall fatigue and feelings of malaise
  • Inability to go to sleep or to stay asleep
  • Changes in hearing, vision, touch, and taste
  • Eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis

Some symptoms relative to the immune system include:

  • Food allergies and sensitivities
  • Allergic responses to chemicals and other things in the environment
  • Chronic viral or fungal infections
  • Weakened immune system
  • Some types of cancers

Nervous system symptoms include:

  • Numbness and tingling
  • Foggy thinking
  • Concentration and memory concerns
  • ADHD and ADD symptoms
  • Dementia and difficulty concentrating
  • Depression and anxiety

Endocrine system symptoms:

  • Fibroids and cysts in reproductive organs
  • Difficulty handling temperature changes
  • Increased PMS and menopause symptoms
  • Increases in problems with birth

Gastrointestinal symptoms:

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Changes in appetite, weight gain or loss
  • Not able to tolerate some foods
  • Pain in the abdomen, stomach cramps
  • IBS, Crohn’s disease
  • Liver and kidney dysfunction
  • Cancers of the GI tract

polluted environment symptomsMusculoskeletal symptoms:

  • Problems with coordination and balance
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Bone disorders

Cardiovascular and respiratory symptoms:

  • High or low blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Anemia
  • Bronchitis and pneumonia
  • Asthma and restrictive airway disorders
  • Some cancers

With this large number of significant symptoms and illnesses related to toxic exposure, it’s easy to realize the necessity of detox systems in our bodies. Unfortunately, the number of toxins in our polluted environment can overwhelm our detox efforts. That, plus the fact that our bodies can’t detox themselves from heavy metals and many of the inorganic toxic chemicals to which we’re exposed make it imperative we do all we can to help rid ourselves of these toxic elements.

Read Part 1 | Part 3

© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

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