Scientists recently uncovered a surprising and disturbing fact: environmental toxins make you fat and cause diabetes(1). Inside the body, these chemicals monkey with our ability to balance blood sugar and metabolize cholesterol. Over time, the changes can lead to insulin resistance. This discovery should be headline news but no one is talking about it. Why? Because there are no drugs to treat it. In the quest to conquer the two biggest epidemics of our time—diabetes and obesity—we’ve got to turn our attention to the heavy burden environmental toxins put on our bodies.
Until conventional medicine catches up, you’ve got to optimize your body’s ability to rid itself of toxins. If your body’s detoxification tools aren’t up to snuff, waste will build up. Overtime, the damage is similar to what happens when trash collectors go on strike and don’t pick up the garbage off the streets. The waste piles high, making the neighborhood smell bad and creating a breeding ground for illness.
Don’t let the word detoxification turn you off. You may think it sounds like a New-age idea or something from celebs in Hollywood on the heels of an alcohol or drug binge, but detoxification is a normal, every day function. It’s the body’s way of breaking down and eliminating anything that doesn’t belong. And, these days, there are a lot of things our bodies come into contact with that don’t belong.
We live in an environment steeped in chemicals that our bodies were not designed to process. For a disturbing look at the chemicals that breach the boundaries of our bodies, look no further than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals . In the latest report, scientists at the CDC found that nearly every person they tested was packing a host of nasty chemicals, including flame retardants stored in fatty tissue and Bisphenol A (2), a hormone-like substance found in plastics, excreted in urine. Even babies are contaminated. The average newborn has 287 chemicals in her umbilical cord blood, 217 of which are neurotoxic (poisonous to nerves or nerve cells) (3).
Take Out The Trash
While it’s true that we live in a toxic world, it’s important to remember that there is a lot you can do to enhance your body’s natural ability to detox. The body has four main exit routes for toxins: pee, poop, perspiration and pranayama (Sanskrit for breath). I call these the quadruple “P.” Every moment of every day your body is relying on the quadruple “P” to mobilize, transform, and excrete toxins. Here is a quick primer on how to make the most of each strategy:
Pee: The kidneys are responsible for flushing waste from the blood. Make sure you give them what they need by drinking plenty of water. Humans are predominately composed of water (about 66 percent by weight for men, about 60 percent for women). Drink plenty of clean water, at least eight 8-ounce glasses of filtered water a day. One of the first signs of dehydration is the color of your urine. Your urine should be mostly clear (clear enough to read a newspaper through) or with only a slight tinge of yellow. (If you take vitamins, keep in mind that some nutrients, especially riboflavin, causes your urine to turn bright yellow.) But, if your urine is dark yellow or has a strong odor, chances are you aren’t drinking enough.
And, of course, you’ll want to make sure you’re not upending your actions by dousing your body with more chemicals. In many communities, tap water is not safe to drink and bottled water isn’t much better. The best option is to filter your own water and carry it with you in stainless steel bottles. If possible, install a reverse osmosis filter in your house, at least for your drinking water or use a carbon filter (like Brita).
Poop: One or two well formed bowel movements every day is one of the best ways to give toxins a one-way ticket out of your body. If that goal seems high you’re not alone. As many as 20 percent of people struggle with constipation and, unfortunately, the problem can get more onerous with aging(4). But bowel function is something you have a lot of control over. For starters, up your fiber intake. Fiber cleans out the colon by making our stool heftier and easier to expel.
Secondly, drink plenty of water. The body is very good at conserving water. Sometimes it’s almost too good. When the walls of the colon suck too much moisture out of stool, it dries and hardens, which can lead to pebble-like poop and constipation. Drinking more water and other liquids during the day (aim for eight 8-ounce glasses) can make your BMs softer and easier to expel(5). And, if you still can’t get going, then you need some help and this can include taking two tablespoons of ground flax seeds, taking acidophilus and extra magnesium capsules in the form of magnesium citrate.
Perspiration: Your skin is your single largest organ of elimination. Make sure you’re maximizing the detox-potential of your pores by working up a sweat at least three times a week. Of course, heart-thumping exercise that gets the body sweating for 20 minutes, three times a week is ideal, since it confers other health benefits. But, if that is not an option, consider using a sauna, steam or detox bath to trigger the body’s natural ability to detoxify itself through sweat.
People have long gravitated toward heat as a means of cleansing the physical and emotional body. In particular, people in Scandinavian countries have used saunas for hundreds of years. Some research indicates that sauna therapy increases excretion of heavy metals (lead, mercury, cadmium, and fat-soluble chemicals—PCBs, PBBs, and HCBs). Taking saunas or steam baths also helps reduce stress and balance the autonomic nervous system(6). (Sauna temperatures should be no higher than 140 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit for those with environmental illness or a history of increased toxic exposure). On a purely physical note, sauna therapy can improve circulation, help with weight loss, balance blood sugar and improve detoxification. While the exact mechanism is not clear, it is likely due to its effects on calming the nervous system, relaxing the muscles, and increasing vasodilation. If you don’t have access to a sauna, you can use my favorite technique to heat up and sweat, the UltraBath.
Pranayama: The lungs are the unsung heroes of the body’s detox squad. With each breath, they bring in fresh oxygen and help transport it throughout the body. Unfortunately, the air we breathe is not always clean. Every day the lungs filter out carcinogens in gas fumes, allergens from pets and plants, and spores of mold. Restricted or shallow breathing can diminish the power of the lungs by preventing oxygen from reaching all of your tissues. Breathing deeply and fully will oxygenate your brain, body, and spirit, transforming your health in the process.
One of the best ways to harness the power of the lungs to heal and detoxify is to learn how to belly breathe. Start by putting your hand on your belly. Breathe out, squeezing the air out of your lungs with your stomach muscles. As you breathe in, relax your stomach muscles and, after filling your lungs, try to push your hand off your belly with your breath, filling the lower part of your lungs. Continue to breathe in and out slowly through your nose. Each in and out breath should last to the count of three. Do this for five minutes a day.
If you are struggling to lose weight despite eating well and exercising your butt off, toxins may be interfering with your body’s metabolism. Consider applying the rules of the quadruple “P” to your life. For more on how toxins undermine your health, including a “Toxicity Quiz” to measure your exposure, see The Blood Sugar Solution to get a free sneak peak.
Now I’d like to hear from you…
What do you think of environmental toxins?
Do you experience the effects of them in your health?
What are you doing to rid your diet of these toxins?
Please leave your thoughts by adding a comment below.
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, MD
(1) Jones OA, Maguire ML, Griffin JL. Environmental pollution and diabetes: a neglected association. Lancet. 2008 Jan 26;371(9609):287-8.
(2) Lang IA, et al. Association of urinary bisphenol A concentration with medical disorders and loratory abnormalities in adults. JAMA. 2008 Sep 17;300(11):1303-10.
(3) Environmental Working Group “Study Finds Industrial Pollution Begins in the Womb” (www.ewg.org/reports/bodyburden2/newsrelease.php)
(4) McCallum, J.D., Ong, S., M Mercer-Jones. (2009) Chronic Constipation in Adults: Clinical Review, British Medical Journal. 338:b831
(5) National Institutes of Health (http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/constipation/)
(6) Crinnion, WJ (2011) Sauna as a Valuable Clinical Tool for Cardiovascular, Autoimmune, Toxicant-induced and other Chronic Health Problems, Alternative Medicine Review 16(3): 215-225