Discover how internal and external toxins impact your immune system and learn simple steps to reduce your toxic burden and stay healthy.
It’s officially summer and the world is still scrambling to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. As you cautiously make your way back to your favorite restaurants and parks, you might be looking for new ways to stay healthy and boost your body’s ability to fight infection.
Taking precautions to protect yourself will pay dividends, especially if you’re one of nearly 10 million Americans who are immunocompromised. Though all populations are at risk for infection, immunocompromised people are at increased risk and, on average, suffer more severe symptoms than non-immocomprised groups.
By now, you know that washing your hands frequently, covering your mouth when you’re in public, and practicing social distancing are good strategies to stay safe. But you might be wondering what else you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones from pathogens in your environment.
Today, let’s talk about an often overlooked topic: toxic burden. Below we’ll explore what your toxic burden is, how it can be harmful to your health and your immune system, and how you can take steps to decrease your toxic burden so you’re ready to fight off infection if it comes knocking.
Simply put, your toxic burden is the total accumulation of toxins present in your body at any given time.
Though you might not realize it, you’re constantly surrounded by toxic compounds. They’re present in the food you eat, in the water you drink, and in the air you breathe. Toxins are also present in the products you come into contact with on a daily basis.
Typically, the human body can process toxins through its natural detoxification processes. But it’s important to keep your toxic burden manageable. If the total amount of toxins in your body exceeds your body’s detoxification capabilities, your immune system will be working in overdrive to try to create a safer whole-body environment.
What Contributes to Total Toxic Burden?
Toxins are everywhere. And, in many cases, they are the direct result of our modern lives. Unfortunately, as we’ve grown into a society dependent upon technology, we’ve created both internal and external toxic environments that can take a major toll on your ability to stay healthy.
Toxins, as we’ll talk about them here, exist in two categories: exotoxins (toxins outside the body) and endotoxins (toxins inside the body). Let’s go over them both in more detail.
Exotoxins are most often ingested through contaminated water sources or chemically-sourced food ingredients. They’re also frequently inhaled through polluted air or harsh aerosol substances like traditional household cleaners.
Common exotoxins include:
- Heavy metals: Lead, mercury, arsenic, and chromium have been reported in drinking water (among other heavy metals). Even in small doses, these heavy metals can accumulate in the body (in lipids and the gastrointestinal tract) and contribute to the development of cancers and other serious health complications.
- Pesticides: Traditional agricultural practices require the use of pesticides to kill off insects, rodents, weeds, and other microorganisms that make growing and harvesting crops difficult. Pesticides are so widespread that it’s really difficult to avoid them, even if you’re diligent about eating organic foods.
- Herbicides: Glyphosate is a common herbicide found in Roundup and other weed killers. It’s usually applied to crops and fields to kill unwanted grasses, regulate plant growth, and ripen crops. In steady quantities, glyphosate can disrupt hormone cells and may induce cancer by altering estrogen production.
- Mold: Harmful mold spores are usually emitted from contaminated food products or damp, old architecture in homes and buildings. Most of the time, mycotoxins are odorless and microscopic, so they’re easily overlooked as contributors to total toxic burden.
- Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs): Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) are emitted from electronics. Your cellphone, computer, and wifi routers all emit EMFs and, over time, exposure to EMFs can cause oxidative stress to the body. Although scientists are still researching the effects of EMF, there is scientific evidence that EMFs can lead to (or play a supportive role in) the formation of cancers and cellular or genetic mutations.
- Phthalates and parabens: These harmful chemicals appear in everyday cleaning products and common cosmetics like lotions, creams, and serums. Be sure to check the ingredients label on your favorite personal care items (you may be surprised what’s lurking in your go-to beauty products).
Though it’s virtually impossible to rid your environment of all toxins, it’s important to take precautions to decrease your total exposure and keep your immune primed to fight off invaders and infections.
Endotoxins are toxins that exist internally. Although endotoxins can be a natural part of your internal biome, if your toxic burden is too high then your immune system is wasting valuable resources combating its own toxic environment.
Common endotoxins include:
- Intestinal bacteria: Healthy gut flora works to keep your system balanced. But when your gut flora becomes overrun with harmful bacteria, you may experience widespread inflammation, digestive issues, or fatigue.
- Processed Sugars. Fructose and artificial sweeteners are staples of the western diet. Fructose is sourced from sugar cane and both known to cause inflammation. Consuming excess sugars directly blunts the immune system and alters the microbiome. Eventually, sugars may modulate your gut flora enough to affect your natural metabolic processes.
- Overgrowth of yeast: Yeast or candida exists naturally in the body, especially in the oral cavity. Yeast colonization, however, is found in acetaldehyde-producing salivas. Acetaldehyde, the first metabolite of alcohol, has been proposed to be the carcinogenic substance behind ethanol-related oral cancers.
- Prescription medications: While pharmaceuticals can be necessary, it’s important to remember that they can contribute to your total toxic burden. Medications are often made of chemicals, fillers, and binders to make the medications shelf-stable and easily taken. As medications are metabolized and make their way through your body, they may lead to adverse effects or have unintended negative consequences.
- Stress: Although stress isn’t a particular substance, it contributes to a toxic internal environment. Chronic stress is one of the most toxic and detrimental influences on overall health.
It’s easy to overlook endotoxins when you’re considering decreasing your toxic burden. But it’s important to remember that supporting health and wellness starts on the inside. Nurturing a healthy, vibrant internal environment will go a long way to support your immune system.
How Toxic Burden Affects Your Health
Having a high toxic burden can be difficult to pinpoint since there are so many contributing variables. Acute toxicity is a bit easier to identify, since there are specific tests on the market designed to screen for mycotoxin, yeast, and heavy metal exposure. But the gradual accumulation of multiple toxins isn’t as easily identifiable.
The bioaccumulation of toxic compounds can lead to a variety of metabolic and system dysfunctions (and, in some cases, disease states). The biological networks most affected by toxins include the neurological, endocrine, and immune systems.
When your toxic burden overwhelms your body, you may not experience a sudden onset of symptoms. Rather, toxic burden is a slow build up of harmful compounds that eventually leads to persistent discomfort and adverse side effects.
- Muscle aches or cramping,
- Joint pain,
- Difficulty concentrating,
- Skin irritations like rashes, eczema, or acne,
- Weight fluctuations,
- Headaches, or
- Digestive issues like bloating, gas, or heartburn.
Eventually, if your toxicity levels are not addressed, your risk for serious health conditions may be exacerbated. Long-term health risks on consistently high toxic burden include:
- Chronic infections,
- Autoimmune diseases,
- Neurodegenerative conditions,
- Allergies or asthma,
- Infertility, or
Prolonged high toxic burden can also directly impact your immune system, making it difficult for your body to fight off infections quickly and efficiently. This, of course, can have serious implications for your ability to maintain whole-body wellness.
How Toxic Burden Affects Your Immune System
The immune system is complex. It’s constantly working to protect you from germs and pathogens. When your innate immune system detects an invader, it gets to work to neutralize and eliminate the threat to keep your body safe.
Toxins are most commonly filtered through the liver and eliminated through feces. This is a natural and effective process to keep your internal environment balanced.
But when your toxic burden is high for a prolonged period of time, your immune system is triggered. It’s constantly trying to address the high toxicity and puts your body on high alert. Eventually, chronic low-level inflammation will tax your system and your immune system will become weakened.
As your immune system becomes overworked, your body loses its ability to respond to toxins and pathogens quickly and efficiently. This leads to more toxic build-up and creates a cycle of poor health.
Thankfully, there are some definitive steps you can take to reduce your toxic burden and recover your immune system.
Simple Steps to Reduce Your Toxic Burden
Since your total toxic burden can be influenced by so many external and internal factors, reducing your toxic burden may feel overwhelming.
Though it’s impossible to avoid toxins entirely, you can make great strides in decreasing toxic burden by focusing on two simple goals:
- Reducing your exposure to toxins, and
- Enhancing your body’s ability to detox.
To achieve these goals, try implementing some of these strategies into your daily health and wellness routines:
- Address potential mold sources in your home. Damp basements or humid attics are common areas for mold growth. A dehumidifier will help dry damp spaces.
- Use natural household and personal products. Whenever possible, always opt for whole-ingredients and naturally sourced products. If the ingredient label is easy to read, then the product is typically less harmful. To get a free sample kit of safe skincare products, visit one of my favorite natural beauty lines, Annmarie, here.
- Avoid wheat products. Wheat crops are notorious for being sprayed with pesticides and herbicides. If you think you may have acute glyphosate toxicity, click here to order a urine test kit from Health Research Institute Laboratories.
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. Avoid sugars, artificial trans fats, vegetable oils, refined carbohydrates, and excessive alcohol. This will help reduce widespread inflammation and give your immune system a chance to rest and reset.
- Focus on gut health. A daily probiotic and collagen supplement are good places to start to support a healthy gut microbiome.
- Use both a water and air filter. It’s easy to forget to change out your water and air filters, but doing so frequently will ensure your water and air are safe. To purchase a Berkey water filter, click here. To purchase an effective home air filter, click here.
- Minimize EMF radiation exposure. Getting outside and enjoying nature without your electronics is well worth it. For many reasons. Click here to buy a safe, easy-to-use EMF-blocking sleeve for your cell phone.
- Practice meditation or a gratitude routine. Mediation and gratitude practices are scientifically proven to reduce stress, form powerful neurocognitive pathways, and regulate hormone production in adults.
- Exercise. Even light movement does wonders for your circulation, longevity, and mood. Do what makes you feel good. A brisk walk can be just as rewarding as a sprint around the block.
- Visit a sauna. When in doubt, sweat it out. Saunas are fantastic tools to help you sweat out many water soluble toxins. If you’re looking to add a sauna to your home, click here to visit High Tech Health, a company that brings the infrared sauna experience to you.
Low Toxic Burden Supports a Happy Immune System
Although you may feel helpless in the face of the pandemic, you can strengthen your immune system and bolster your body’s defenses by reducing your total toxic burden. In a time of such uncertainty, it’s empowering to take proactive steps to support your health and the health of your loved ones.
As you start to incorporate some of these routines into your daily practices, know that you are—first and foremost—taking the steps to build a healthy, happy immune system.
By reducing your exposure to toxins and supporting your body’s ability to detox, you are ensuring your immune system is prepared to keep you healthy and, if you do come into contact with a virus or bacterial pathogen, you’ll be ready to recover quickly and efficiently.
For more information on the best ways to stay healthy, protect your immune system, and promote full-body balance, follow Dr. Nasha on Instagram.
*The advice and/or products on drnasha.com are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or illness. Further, the information in this article is not intended to replace the recommendations of your healthcare provider or physician. Please review references cited at the end of the article for scientific support of any claims made.