Dr. Jill Carnahan gave a talk about environmental toxins at the 23rd Annual World Congress on Anti-Aging Medicine (Dec. 11-13, 2015) in Las Vegas. Her talk was entitled: “Diagnosis and Treatment of Environmental Toxicity”. It was very interesting, but it cannot be summarized here in depth with all of the details. It would take 10 pages or more to do this. Here I am summarizing the key points that she made, as they are not likely general knowledge. Dr. Jill is a functional medicine expert consultant and treats environmental and mold-related illnesses as well.
Toxins around us
The world we live in is full of toxins like industrial toxic chemicals, car exhausts, and housing materials (carpet, drywall, lumber, flooring). The list goes on with clothing bedding and furniture. More chemicals lurk in the bathroom: they can be found in toothpaste, hair shampoo, conditioners, and personal beauty products that we apply to our face and bodies. Cleaning products and laundry chemicals are also on the list.
Why is it important to be aware of that? Because toxic chemicals that enter our bodies through the skin, the gut and the lungs will accumulate over the years in fatty tissue, in breast tissue and breast milk. Over the long term they contribute to the development of cancer, autoimmune disease like Crohn’s disease or thyroiditis and many other chronic diseases, particularly neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Environmental history and tests
Dr. Jill (as Dr. Carnahan calls herself) explained in great detail how important it is to take a thorough environmental history, which includes exposure to occupational poisons, home environmental and nutritional exposures, not only for the present time, but also back several decades. One tool Dr. Jill uses consists of several websites that list environmental toxins by zip code. When the physician is informed of of the places where the patient has lived and worked, based on the zip codes a complete exposure picture emerges.
Symptoms are the indicator whether or not toxins may play a role: fatigue, sleep disturbances, memory problems, headaches and the presence of more serious conditions like autoimmune diseases, neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.
In addition refined blood and urine tests are performed that check out toxic levels of common toxins.
There are exotoxins, coming from the outside: phthalates, parabens, heavy metals, solvents, organophosphates and pesticides to just name the more common ones. Toxic molds and heterocyclic amines are also exotoxins. These latter carcinogens (heterocyclic amines) are produced by overheating meat.
Then there are endotoxins, toxins that are produced inside the body: endotoxins in the form of toxic lipopolysaccharides from gram negative bacteria (causing toxic shock syndrome), yeast, chemical additives from food, stress and constant negative emotions leading to an overdose of glucocorticosteroids. All of this leads to the total toxic body burden.
Total toxic body burden
Here what leads to the total toxic body burden: Eating a Standard American Diet is one of the main reasons why people accumulate toxins. Add to that petrochemicals, residues, pesticides, and fertilizers, and exposure to heavy metals, like mercury and lead. Some medications like antifungals can also be toxins. Food allergies, environmental allergies and allergies to molds indicate that the body has accumulated toxins. There are also internal toxins from bacteria, fungi, viruses, and yeast that contribute to the total toxic burden. Hormonal and metabolic toxins that aren’t eliminated properly add to the problem, as do isolation, loneliness, anger, jealousy, and hostility. These negative emotions function like toxins on the immune system. Mental illness can contribute similarly in a negative manner, as the mind and the body work together.
When to expect environmental toxicity
A functional medicine expert like Dr. Jill will suspect environmental toxicity when one or more of the following symptoms are present:
Headaches, joint pain, muscle aches, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, food cravings, gas/bloating, constipation, foul-smelling stools, diarrhea, postnasal drip, sinus congestion, canker sores, heartburn, insomnia, trouble losing weight, water retention, rashes, acne, skin problems, psoriasis, eczema, dark circles under the eyes, bad breath or premenstrual syndrome.
Diseases that are related to environmental toxicity
As already mentioned before Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease are among the neurological diseases that have been identified to be linked to environmental toxicity. Some forms of dementia and MS also belong to these. In the very young child autism has been identified as filtering out those who are particularly sensitive to environmental toxicity. Attention deficit disorder also belongs here.
Among adult patients heart disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are red flags for possible underlying environmental toxicity. Food allergies, depression, anxiety and insomnia can also be indicators of environmental toxicity. Arthritis, menstrual disorders, autoimmune disease and any form of cancer are also flags for environmental toxicity.
Dr. Jill explained that the doctor who specializes in environmental issues would take a detailed history paying attention to chemicals the patient may have ingested or be in contact with. It also includes a dental history, including whether or not the patient has silver amalgam fillings or had them removed without subsequent chelation therapy.
She even showed several slides of known associations with specific toxins for the diseases just indicated. These are subsequently identified as closely as possible by doing toxicity tests.
Markers of reserves
There are several marker substances that get used up when the body starts detoxifying some of the environmental toxins.
- Glutathione levels in the blood can be measured and can serve as an indicator as to whether or not the body has been challenged by toxins. Glutathione is synthesized by the liver and is a powerful antioxidant and toxin remover. A low glutathione levels is associated with many chronic illnesses.
- A low total antioxidant capacity is an indicator that toxic metal exposure, infection, inflammation, xenobiotic exposures or environmental toxicity in general may be present. There are two metabolic pathways that are important for detoxification to occur: the methylation pathway and the trans-sulfuration pathway. It would be too technical to go into this further, but treatment concentrates on re-establishing these metabolic pathways.
- Co-Q-10 (=ubiquinone) can be measured in the plasma and is also a marker of reserve. It can also be given as a supplement at 400 mg per day, which will strengthen mitochondrial function. The mitochondria are the energy packages of each cell.
There are organic acids that are toxic. One of them is methyl-tert-butyl ether (MTBE), which is an additive used to increase octane ratings in gasoline. It has been found in ground water from leaks of gas from tanks in filling stations. Inhalation at the gas station can cause dizziness, headaches and mental confusion. In animals it has caused gastrointestinal irritation, liver and kidney damage. Another organic acid, styrene, is widely distributed in rubber, insulation, plastic, fiberglass, food containers and carpet backing. The US-EPA has labeled it as “potential human carcinogen”. Special tests, which the environmental doctor can order can measure the levels of these organic acids in the body.
Autistic children have taught doctors a lot about epigenetics. After initial 2 or 3 years of normal functioning autistic children suddenly have a variety of severe symptoms like balancing problems, lack of social skills, problems concentrating, tiptoeing etc. What happened is that one or more of the enzymes involved in the methylation pathway are no longer working properly because of epigenetic effects, events that cause their DNA to have a different gene expression. However, with detoxification and nutritional rehabilitation it is possible to turn this around, as the underlying cause is not a fixed genetic defect, but rather an epigenetic malfunctioning. You fix the methylation pathway, and full function returns.
Other research has shown that a similar methylation defect occurs in PTSD and in schizophrenia. Orthomolecular physicians have developed treatment programs for schizophrenics that often work (but not in all cases).
Dr. Jill stated that with genetic disease there is a multitude of characteristic symptoms, which is due to abnormal methylation pathways that is often combined with a severe oxidative overload, caused by environmental insults. Most cancer and chronic diseases are epigenetic in nature, not caused by genetic causes. Dr. Jill explained that the molecular switches of the epigenetic switch that turns a gene on or off have been unmasked: Acetyl groups promote gene expression, while methyl groups inhibit gene expression. As long as there is a balance in the methyl/acetyl ratio, the patient is healthy; the moment environmental toxins disturb the balance and an epigenetic switch occurs, the patient is heading towards disease. What genes are switched on or off determines what disease will develop.
More toxins: alkylphenols, organochlorines and volatile solvents
Alkylphenols: Bisphenol (BPA) is contained in food and beverage containers, water bottles and plastic dinnerware. Many countries have outlawed BPA in baby bottles.
Triclosan is contained in deodorants, toothpaste and shaving creams.
Organochlorines: Many of these substances have been banned because they are persistent poisons. Because of this they are still in the environment today, particularly in non-organic produce. DDT was used agriculturally as an insecticide until 1972, but is still found now in meat, poultry, dairy products and fish. Hexachlorobenzene was used as a pesticide until 1965 and as fungicide in cereal grains. Mirex was used as a pesticide for fire ants until 1978.
When you buy non-organic butter, farmed Atlantic salmon, non-organic cheese and non-organic fatty meats (lamb, ground beef) they contain various pesticides.
Dr. Jill’s advice: don’t buy that, but buy organic food!
Sauna therapy and colonic irrigations will remove much of the chlorinated pesticides. Chlorophyll and all chlorophyll containing foods will also help in eliminating persistent organic pollutants. This could be a good reason to consume the occasional homemade green smoothie with leafy organic ingredients like spinach or kale!
Volatile solvents: Benzene (gasoline), styrene, toluene, xylenes are all solvents contained in car exhaust fumes and styrene in Styrofoam. Don’t microwave food contained in Styrofoam, as it releases the toxic styrene into the food. Avoid breathing the fumes of gasoline, glues and solvents; use non-toxic cleaners. Vitamin C, selenium and glycine help to detoxify volatile toxins.
After discussing mold and mold toxicity as well as glyphosate toxicity from GMO crops in detail, which would be too long to discuss here, Dr. Jill presented a quick
“Clean diet 101”:
- Buy organic food. It should be sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, non-GMO food.
- Buy only whole and un-processed foods, a variety of leafy greens and other chlorophyll-rich foods. Add to this a variety of colorful fruits and veggies, but avoid the dirty dozens; buy them organic.
- Limit processing of your food.
- Get local or homegrown food; avoid refined oils and trans fats.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine.
- Avoid food allergens; avoid the most toxic foods.
- Avoid farmed Atlantic salmon, high mercury fish like tuna, orange roughy, Chilean sea bass, shark and swordfish. Here is a detailed guide to low mercury fish. Stick to “very low” and “low mercury fish”.
- Avoid non-organic eggs & dairy. Avoid the dirty dozen fruits/veggies mentioned under point above.
Here is a quick whirlwind tour through toxins in our environment. The most important step I suggest you take is to review the toxins in your bathroom and around the house. The next important step is to buy and eat the right foods that are toxin free. If you follow Dr. Jill’s “clean diet 101” as described above, you will avoid exposure to toxic substances. Your healthy food intake becomes your maintenance treatment to detoxify at the same time. Only more seriously affected people need to see an expert like Dr. Jill. People with mercury or other heavy metal poisoning may need a series of intravenous chelation treatments as mentioned in this link. The entire process requires a lot of attention and vigilance. Ask questions about products and read labels. It is worth the effort, as this means preventing health problems in the future.
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