And you’re like, “This is not interesting to me because what in the world is ‘toxic burden’?”

Toxic, environmental or body burden is defined as the total amount of naturally-occurring and man-made chemicals that are negatively present in the human body. It’s a fluid thing, because there are times when you’re taking in more or fewer toxic elements, and there are times when you’re body is doing a better or worse job of getting rid of them. 

Obviously, “toxic” means bad. But what really happens when toxic burden is too heavy?

Functional health expert Dr. Jill Carnahan points out that we only tend to consider and understand toxicity when it causes sudden and definitive symptoms, or when you’ve actually seen someone ingest a substance known to be toxic. But that’s not the most common way people are damaged by toxins. Most exposure is chronic, involves a multitude of toxins, and causes an overload over years. 

That overload can lead to (not an exhaustive list; just the most common issues):

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Memory loss
  • Sleep problems

And if left unchecked, these more threatening conditions can arise:

  • Autoimmune disease
  • Cancer
  • Neurodegenerative diseases

Is this just an issue for people with MTHFR variants?

No. Exposure to toxins and accumulated toxic burden isn’t good for anyone. But people with MTHFR genetic mutations are especially susceptible to complications, because your body’s methylation process is suffering and you don’t produce the amount of antioxidants, especially glutathione, needed to rid your body of toxins.

Toxic burden: the usual suspects

This is, again, not an exhaustive list, but is a good starter list for substances, both ones we’re exposed to externally and internally, that add to the body’s toxic burden:

  • Heavy metals – Heavy metals like mercury, cadmium, arsenic, chromium, thallium, and lead commonly come from cookware, tap water, personal care products, home furnishings, and check your chocolate for excess cadmium.
  • Solvents/VOCs – Can come from cleaning products or off gasing from new furniture, mattresses or carpet. VOC’s are often seen in wall paints, as well, although now we more often see paints labeled “low-VOC.” 
  • Pesticides –Chemicals often sprayed on plants to kill or ward off insects – glyphosate (active ingredient in Round Up), watch out for that one.
  • BPA–Short for bisphenol A, it’s a chemical used to make many plastics and is often found in the lining of metal containers, like those used for canned food.  Also found in receipts given from most cash registers 
  • Phthalates – Can be found in personal care products, home cleaning products, and makeup. Some products are labeled “phthalate-free.” If not, and there ARE phthalates present, they’re often abbreviated “DHEP” or “DiBP.”
  • Parabens – Also found in personal care products, home cleaning products, and makeup for the purpose of preventing microbial growth. If it’s in an ingredient, you’ll likely see “paraben” as a portion of a word on the list.”
  • EMF radiation – This comes from electronics and Wi-Fi sources
  • Mold
  • Food – Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet contributes to your toxic burden. Chemicals, food additives, and glyphosate all cause problems. 

The inside of your body stuff: intestinal bacteria, yeast, insulin resistance, medications, stress, and chemicals produced by emotions can all function like toxins, although we don’t normally think of them that way.

So, basically, don’t eat, drink, cleanse, or wear makeup. Or get sick. Or feel. That’s what I have to do to lower my toxic burden??

Not quite. Fortunately, there are ways to live a totally normal life AND avoid toxic overload. 🙂 

  • Look for companies that have come up with alternatives to parabens, or created preservative-free products, which isn’t usually a problem since we tend to consume them more quickly than they’d expire.  Sources: Breast Cancer Action’s list of over 100 producers who are committed to less/non-toxic goods; Environmental Working Group’s free online “Skin Deep” database. 
  • Read product labels for pthalates, avoid DHEP or DiBP, and seek “phthalate-free.”
  • Use only “microwave safe” and phthalate-free containers and plastic wrap — especially with oily or fatty foods.
  • Watch what you eat. Try to lower dairy and meat intake, and whenever you can go organic–do it. Lower priced/discount stores are now offering lots more organic options, so it’s becoming more affordable every day.

Other effective ways to reduce toxic burden:

  • whole-house air purifier/cleaners 
  • get in the sauna or exercise
  • don’t eat, drink or especially store in plastic if at all possible, but definitely look for BPA free
  • have mercury metal fillings removed by a qualified dentist
  • Replace carpet with tile or wood (low VOC)
  • whole house water filter (remove chlorine/chloramine)
  • use recirculating fan in the car when behind other vehicles in traffic

For more information on how to increase your body’s ability to get rid of toxins even when you do have MTHFR–especially if you’re new to all this–there are great “getting started” resources. 

 

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