Coming up on this episode of The Doctor’s Farmacy.
Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s not that hard to get rid of it in your life. Basically, don’t touch credit card receipts. Don’t touch gas station receipts that come out of the machine. Don’t eat from plastic bottles unless they’re BPA free or from canned foods unless they’re BPA free. So make sure you look at that.
Welcome to Doctor’s Farmacy. I’m Dr. Mark Hyman. That’s Farmacy, with an F, a place for conversations that matter. And if you’re worried about environmental toxins, you better loosen up ’cause we’re going to get deep into those today and what to do about it and how to get rid of them from your life and your body. And we’re doing it in the form of health bites, little bits of information that can guide you to take small steps daily that can lead to significant health changes over time.
Now, we have been exposed to more and more and more number of environmental toxins than ever before in human history. The problem with medicine is, and medical school, and today too, when I went to medical school and now there’s almost no education about the effect of environmental toxins on our health unless it’s an acute toxic exposure, like if you’re in a factory and you jump in a vat of mercury, well, okay, they know what to do, but basically they ignore it.
The truth is that low level exposure to multiple different substances over your lifetime is a huge risk factor for so many diseases. From heart disease to cancer, to obesity, to diabetes, to dementia to Parkinson’s, to autism, to depression. I mean, the list goes on and on and on. Infertility, I mean, I could go on and on. So it’s not just sort of a, oh, let’s detox and get rid of a bunch of toxins. It’s really about understanding the biology of environmental toxins, our body’s own detoxification system, and how to, one, reduce our exposures while at the same time upleveling and upgrading our own biological detoxification systems. So we’re going to talk about all that.
Now, how do environmental toxins affect our health? Well, they do it through a lot of different mechanisms, but they’re basically poisons and they cause inflammation. They cause oxidative stress. They cause DNA damage. They cause disruption in our mitochondria. They damage our stem cells. I mean the whole flood of environmental toxins, there’s over 80,000 of them now that have been introduced to the industrial sort of world since the early 1900s that we’ve never been exposed to before. And we somehow have to figure out how to deal with them.
Well, thank God we have a system to do it, but it’s still overwhelmed. So environmental toxins, as I said, drive cancer. They are hugely impactful, for example, in blood sugar and insulin sensitivity, most people don’t realize that diabetes and pre-diabetes and even obesity can be driven by environmental toxins. Something called bisphenol A, which is a compound that’s found in lining a lot of cans, plastic bottles on paper receipts from credit cards or gas stations. When you touch that, it goes through your skin. And bisphenol A is a huge driver of insulin resistance and prediabetes, independent of what you’re eating.
It affects cholesterol metabolism, it drives inflammation, oxidative stress, mitochondrial injury, screws up our thyroid function, affects our appetite, leptin signaling. I mean, pretty much everything gets haywire when we’re exposed to too many environmental toxins. Now, the downside of living in the modern world is that we’re all pre-diluted when we’re born. There’s 287 known environmental toxins found in the umbilical cord blood of a newborn. I mean, basically they take out the blood of the umbilical cord, send it to a lab, and the average amount of toxins is 287, many of which have been banned for decades like DDT or PCBs or dioxin. And 217 of those are neurotoxic, meaning they’re directly damaging to the brain. There’s pesticides, phthalates, bisphenol A, which I just mentioned, flame retardants, heavy metals like mercury, lead, arsenic, and they have huge effects across the spectrum of human health. So what are the ones that we should really be paying attention to that we really want to avoid and get rid of?
The first I just mentioned earlier is bisphenol A, or bpa. It’s found in plastic water bottles and canned foods. It’s a synthetic compound that mimics estrogen in the body. We call these xenobiotics or xenoestrogens, and they’re hugely impactful in regulating hormonal health and increasing risk of cancer. And it’s been linked, BPA, to breast cancer to infertility, reproductive issues, obesity, heart disease, and it’s not that hard to get rid of it in your life. Basically, don’t touch credit card receipts. Don’t touch gas station receipts that come out of the machine. Don’t eat from plastic bottles unless they’re BPA free or from canned foods unless they’re BPA free. So make sure you look at that. You can use stainless steel glass bottling packaging. Look for BPA canned fruits.
The next compound is phthalates. Phthalates are also plasticizers and they’re found in food containers, children’s toys. It’s banned in Europe. There’s a legislation in Europe called Reach. It gets rid of most of these chemicals that are allowed in America. When there’s ever an attempt to limit by law or a bill to reduce our exposures, the food industry and chemical industry comes in hard with tons of lobbying dollars, millions and millions and millions, tens of millions of dollars to defeat bills. There was one on bisphenol A that got defeated and unfortunately it was trying to be banned, but it didn’t pass because it was so much lobbying against it. But it’s found in children’s toys. It’s found in the plastic, little rubber duckies in the bathtub, so when they stick it in their mouth, bad idea. Also, makeup has a lot of phthalates in it. So get rid of all your unhealthy makeups and we’re going to talk about how to do that.
But there’s a beautiful website called ewg.org, the Environmental Working Group. They have a Skin Deep database. You can put in your product, what you like to use or other products you can find that have no contaminants and see the level of toxins and what they are and find alternatives. So they also are really bad for you because phthalates cause hormonal chaos. They’re linked to different cancers, to birth defects, to thyroid problems. So make sure you check it out. And the basic rule is if you wouldn’t eat it, you probably shouldn’t put it in or on your body.
So for skincare products, everything goes through the skin. When we go to the emergency room with a heart attack, what’s the first thing we do as a doctor? We slap on a toothpaste tube cream full of nitroglycerin because it goes right through the skin and it’s the fastest acting, better than taking it by mouth or before we can get an IV in, we just slap that on. And so it goes to the skin, hormone patches to testosterone gels. We know that fentanyl patch, I mean there’s all kinds of drugs that are delivered through the skin. So when you’re putting on your skin, it’s actually getting inside your body. So you want to make sure that if you wouldn’t eat it, you shouldn’t put it on your body.
Like coconut oil, where you can eat that and you can put it on your body. So that’s a win. But there’s a lot of products out there that are safe that you can use. Another one that’s concerning is glycol aethers. They’re in household cleaning products, cosmetics, paints, they damage fertility, they lead to birth defects. There worsen allergies and asthma, and these are really bad because they’re pretty much in all of our household cleaning products. The Environmental Working Group, EWG, also has a whole guide on household cleaning products.
So you can use the least contaminated products or ones that have no toxins in them that work well. So make sure you check that out. There are so many other toxins like heavy metals, mercury, lead, arsenic, mercury from fish, from our fillings, from cold burning plants. Pollution lead is often found in crystal wine glasses or glaze plates. I see many, many patients have those and they get sick from that. It can be in the ground, it can be from cold burning. If you’re near a cement plant or a coal plant that basically goes up in the atmosphere, comes down in the soil, your kids are playing with it. Could be dragged in the house, the baby’s on the floor. So lead exposure is real. There’s houses that still have leaded paint. All the leaded gasoline that was used for years, all that went in the air. It goes down in the soil. It can be in vegetables. If you’re growing in an urban environment, for example, you’re growing greens, you think you’re eating kale, being healthy, it could be full lead.
Now, arsenic also is a big problem and it’s found in rice many places ’cause it’s in the ground. It can be in pressure treated lumber that you have on your deck and get in your feet. It can go actually in chicken feed to prevent the feed from going moldy, which is great for the feed and the mold, but it’s not good for you and it gets in the chicken and you eat it. So it’s pretty important for us to make sure that we get rid of those. So I think the key is we need to avoid toxins. And so the question is, what are the top strategies to reduce our toxic burden?
Well, we can basically remove the toxins, but we also have to up-regulate our detox system. So the first thing is avoid plastics wherever you can. Try stainless steel. Like containers, I have those or glass containers for storing food in your fridge, steel, so water bottles, glass containers are great for leftovers. Don’t buy water in plastic water bottles. Get a water filter. I like reverse osmosis. So you can actually get a water bottle, bring it with you. Make sure you detox your home. Get simple cleaning products, a laundry detergent, cleaning product for windows, for counters, for dishwasher stuff, everything. There’s a great source Thrive Market you can get. It’s an online grocery store. Basically you can get all the best cleaners from seventh generation and other eco-friendly, non-toxic food companies. And now of course, check out EWG’s guide on household cleaning products, on skin care products. They’re great. So I think make sure that you just are diligent about getting toxins out of your home.
Second is, mercury is a big one, and often we don’t pay attention to what we’re eating. And people eat tuna fish, swordfish, sushi. Sadly, all the oceans have been polluted. No matter where you get your fish from, it’s pretty much pre polluted as microplastics, mercury and other toxins, PCBs, farm fish can be just as bad. So there are a few kind of ways to get around it. One is to eat very small fish, sardines, mackerel, herring, anchovies. Small salmon can be okay, but still that can have mercury. Also, there’s great regenerative aquaculture company called seatopia.fish, and they actually provide beautiful, delicious, clean fish that you can get frozen sent to your home. It’s amazing fish actually. And also reduce your exposure to the problems that are from all the chemicals in your environment by having an air filter in your house. That reduces the airborne pollution.
Indoor air pollution is a real thing, whether it’s mold or whether it’s other things like contaminants, off-gassing from furniture or rugs. I mean, you want to obviously try to have a clean home and not full of products. But I mean you buy Tempur-Pedic bed and it smells awful. It’s off-gassing. Those are called VOCs, false organic compounds. You really want to avoid those in your house. Then you want to start to learn about how to actually upgrade and increase your body’s own detoxification system. The best way to do that is by using a couple of strategies that are really important. One is maximize your intake of phytochemicals. Plant-based compounds, these nutrients and plants work on upregulating different pathways in the body, including a lot of detox pathways. There’s amazing cornucopia of phytochemicals that work on boosting glutathione and boosting our detox pathways and increasing our ability to get rid of stuff.
So the biggest category is the cruciferous vegetables, broccoli, collards, cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts. They really upregulate glutathione in the body and help to maximize the main detoxifier. Also, there are amazing things like garlic and onions that also contain sulfur that are great for detoxification. Also, things like rosemary, curcumin, ginger, and the skin of a lemon, like if you grate lemon into a salad or something, the skin of a lemon has limine. These all help upregulate our detox pathways. We also need the right nutrients, right? We need methylation support, b12, folate, b6. We need magnesium, selenium, zinc, and many other minerals and vitamins to actually help upregulate our detox pathways. We need amino acids in form protein to help with some of the amino acid pathways. So there’s lots of ways we now understand the body’s own built-in detox system and we have to support it. The next thing you can do is sweat.
So your body gets rid of toxins through both exercise, increasing the lymphatic flow and circulation through exercise, increased circulation and also saunas. So a sauna is an amazing way to boost your detox system and help body remove a lot of environmental toxins, which are fat soluble, and you can actually measure them on the sweat. You also want to take the right supplements as I mentioned. So you want to take additional support of a good multi, methylating support, zinc, vitamin C, glutathione boosting stuff, N-acetylcysteine, lipoic acid, milk thistle. A lot of other herbs can be used to help boost the body’s detox pathways. So I highly recommend getting on a regular support system for that. I do because we’re all exposed. Sometimes if you have a real big issue, you might need to see a doctor and get treated like I did for mercury poisoning.
I needed chelation. I needed to actually use a medication to help remove the metals from my body. If it’s lead, you can use EDTA. If it’s mercury, you can use EMSA. They’re extremely effective. They need to be used properly and safely with a doctor’s supervision. There’s a lot of steps to properly getting rid of mercury, but you need a good functional medicine doctor. So it’s really, really, really important to do that.
Now here’s a few more tips on reducing your exposure. One of them is through food. So it’s not just fish, it’s not just the environmental chemicals in your skincare or your household products, but much of our food is contaminated with glyphosate, which is sprayed on over 70% of crops, which means you want to really… That’s a weed killer. You want to make sure you use organic food if you can, regenerative raised food if you can.
But if you can’t, there’s a great guide from the Environmental Working Group, it comes out every year with a list of the dirty dozen, worst contaminated fruits or vegetables and the clean 15, the least contaminated. And basically if you follow that, you can kind of avoid the most contaminated foods. So to come up with this year’s list, the Environmental Working Group or EWG went through the USAID data on 46,000 samples of 46 of the most popular fruits and vegetables. They washed them, they peeled them as one we do at home before testing them for pesticides. Now after washing, 75%, nearly 75% of the non-organic fresh produce sold in the United States contains residues of pesticides. That’s what the report found. So they basically score each type of produce from clean to dirty based on a percent of the samples tested with detectable pesticides.
The percent of samples with two or more detectable pesticides, the average number of pesticides found in a single sample, the average amount of pesticides found, the maximum number of pesticides found in a single sample and the total number of pesticides found in the crops. So there’s a lot of different ways they look at how bad is it contaminated. Basically this means that in that list, it’s telling you which crops were treated with the most and the highest volume and the most variety of pesticides. But it doesn’t quite go to connect the dots between that and what are the health risks. But there are, I promise you. So what is the 2023 dirty dozen? Strawberries always top the list. So if you’re not going to eat those organic, don’t eat them. I’m going to list them now. But you can see in the show notes we’re going to post it there as well.
Strawberries, spinach, which we all like, kale, collards, and mustard greens, which are staples for people. If they’re not organic, don’t eat them. Peaches, pears, nectarines, apples, grapes, bell and hot peppers, cherries, blueberries, and green beans. So if those are not organic, don’t, don’t eat them. Blueberries and green beans are actually new additions to this year’s list. The green beans samples residue acephate, which is a toxic pesticide that the EPA banned over 10 years ago. Overall more than 90% of strawberries, apples, cherries, spinach, nectarines, grapes, sample tested positive for residues of two or more pesticides. But the good news is there’s a whole bunch of stuff that you don’t have to buy organic that actually isn’t harmful.
So the cleanest produce typically has a tougher outer peel or husk or a shell that you have to remove, right? Avocados, for example, corn, pineapple, onions, papaya, sweet peas that are frozen, asparagus, honeydew melon, kiwi, cabbage, mushrooms, mangoes, sweet potatoes, watermelon, carrots. So those are all okay to eat. If you don’t want to buy a kiwi organic, it’s probably okay, or your avocado organic is too expensive, that’s okay. If you don’t want to but your onions organic, okay. If you want to get a mango, it’s not organic, no big deal. Same with sweet potatoes. So you can save a lot of money by actually focusing on this list.
So it’s important to understand that whether we like it or not, we live in a toxic world. We have to understand where those toxins come from. We have to reduce our exposures and we have to upgrade our bodies’ own biological detox system, and we know how to do that. It’s not that hard. We’ve written a lot about it. You can’t get rid of them from our environment, but you can reduce your exposures and you can actually do a little homework for yourself and switch to safer products for your skincare, your household cleaning products, your food products so you know how to live green and green without a whole lot of effort. So that’s today’s health bite. Hope you enjoyed it. Be sure to share with your friends and family on social media. Leave a comment how toxins affected you, how have you reduced your exposure. We’d love to learn from you and we’ll see you next time on the Doctor’s Farmacy.
Hi everyone. I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. Just a reminder that this podcast is for educational purposes only. This podcast is not a substitute for professional care by a doctor or other qualified medical professional. This podcast is provided on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services. If you’re looking for help in your journey, seek out a qualified medical practitioner. If you’re looking for a functional medicine practitioner, you can visit ifm.org and search their find a practitioner database. It’s important that you have someone in your corner who’s trained, who’s a licensed healthcare practitioner, and can help you make changes, especially when it comes to your health.