Ask any scientist in the field of health and safety and they will tell you that toxicity is all about the dose. Not really. While you can die from anything taken in excess, even water, you can also run into serious fatal complications from any poison at any dose if you take it long enough. There is no safe dose of a poison because the body recognizes even the smallest dose and immediately creates inflammatory cascades and immune responses to combat these foreign entities. Toxic chemicals are now invading every facet of our lives from our schools to our workplaces. They are gradually deteriorating every single system in our bodies and causing so many diseases, that it's now difficult to isolate exactly which chemicals are causing each disease. Here's a a small summary of major systems in the human body and the effect of common chemicals on each.
The medieval physician Paracelsus said: "Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy." Often quoted in paraphrase as the dose makes the poison, this truism has dominated regulation and chemical management for centuries. Agencies strive to keep people and the environment healthy by establishing the "safe" level of a chemical.
The chemical testing we currently do to establish if a chemical is safe may not be sufficient. In particular, we may not be targeting nor understanding the effects of extremely low levels of chemical contaminants during critical phases when the organism is "listening" for chemical messengers. This occurs, for example, during fetal development and during changes that occur in puberty. The first question we need to be asking is: does this chemical mimic any of the messenger chemicals that organisms depend upon for survival?
Here's how chemicals are affecting every system in the body:
DEMENTIA: Lead increases the risk of dementia, a study in the U.S. Journal of Epidemiology found. The toxic metal was used in paint and plumbing pipes up to the Seventies and is still found in many British homes. Search direct.gov. uk for advice on dealing with lead paint. If you have lead pipes, consider replacing them, and always run the cold tap for a few minutes before using water for drinking or cooking, as lead leaches into water when it is left sitting.
AUTISM: Organophosphates are found in many agricultural pesticides and increase the risk of autism. A study in the journal Molecular Psychiatry identified three gene variants which make some people more susceptible to neural damage caused by organophosphates; exposure to residues could be contributing to the increase in autism, said the researchers.
NEUROLOGICAL DAMAGE: Factually, thimerosal in vaccines is a mercury-containing compound that is a known human carcinogen, mutagen, teratogen and immune-system disruptor at levels below 1 part-per-million, and a compound to which some humans can have an anaphylactic shock reaction. It is also a recognized reproductive and fetal toxin with no established toxicologically safe level of exposure for humans. There are dozens of scientific inquiries and studies on the adverse effects of thimerosal into neurological damage and immune system irregularities.
Neurodevelopmental disabilities, including autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, and other cognitive impairments, affect millions of children worldwide, and some diagnoses seem to be increasing in frequency. The review published in The Lancet Neurology journal, says the news is so troubling they are calling for a worldwide overhaul of the regulatory process in order to protect children's brains.
DEVELOPMENTAL DELAY: Other neurotoxins (chemicals which harm the brain) include mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs - both found in seafood. Children of women who've eaten large amounts of contaminated fish may have lower IQs and difficulty concentrating. Initially the problem was isolated to larger fish such as tuna, marlin, shark and swordfish (which feed off other fish, adding to their toxic load), but the chemicals have also been found in sea bream, sea bass, turbot, halibut, rock salmon and brown crab meat. The Food Standards Agency advises children and women of child-bearing age to limit their intake of oily fish because these toxins accumulate in fats - the usual advice is to stick to just two portions a week.
FURRED-UP ARTERIES: Studies have shown that poor air quality contributes to heart disease. A U.S. study found that people with raised levels of PM2.5 particles, found in car fumes, are most likely to have atherosclerosis - thickening of the arteries - which contributes to heart disease. These particles are also found in homes in built-up areas, but you can reduce levels with frequent vacuuming.
HEART DISEASE: Bisphenol A (BPA), the ingredient used in plastic food and drink packaging, increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes, according to researchers at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter. Look for the recycle signs on plastic bottles - that's the place you are most likely to see the triangle with a 7 inside, which indicates the presence of BPAs - and avoid the office water cooler.
CANCER: A number of studies have shown a link between breast cancer and phthalates - genderbending chemicals widely used to soften plastics and stabilise fragrances. Although the plastics industry insists that they are safe, in 2005 European Union regulators banned their use in children's toys. However, phthalates are still widely used and can be found in shoes, shower curtains, plastic furniture, vinyl floor coverings and many other household goods.
There have been fears that deodorants can cause breast cancer. Several small studies have found parabens and aluminium in breast tissue (both chemicals are commonly found in deodorants), and as these are known to mimic the female hormone oestrogen, which is linked to some tumours, researchers have suggested that there may be an association. However, large population studies have found no evidence to support the theory.
4. LUNGS & IMMUNE SYSTEM
ASTHMA: Bleach, window cleaner, furniture polish, air fresheners and carpet cleaners are all linked to asthma and wheezing, according to researchers at Bristol University. Their study of 14,000 children found those exposed to these everyday products increased the risk of persistent wheezing by the age of seven by 40 per cent. They also had slightly lower than normal lung function. Dr John Henderson, who led the study, said: 'This research points to direct effects of chemical exposure on lung development or irritation of the airways after birth.' Avoid products that come in a spray, as more of the product becomes airborne and is breathed in. The chlorine in swimming pools can also trigger asthma and lung damage. When chlorine interacts with sweat, skin cells and other proteins shed by swimmers, it creates harmful chloramines. Avoid pools where there is a strong smell of chlorine - this indicates high levels of chloramines.
LOWERED IMMUNITY: Studies suggest that non-stick cookware, stain repellents and waterproof clothing, carpets and upholstery could affect our immunity. These everyday items contain agents called perfluorinated chemicals (perfluorooctanoic acid PFOA, Perfluorooctanesulfonamide PFOSA and perfluorooctane sulfonate PFOS). Animal studies have shown that large doses can damage the spleen, an important part of the immune system.
CANCER: Exposure to agricultural pesticides increases the risk of lymphoma, a blood cancer associated with the immune system, by as much as 65 per cent.
5. DIGESTIVE SYSTEM & LIVER
DIABETES: Arsenic can cause digestive problems, diabetes and cancer. The poison is also associated with hearing loss and disorders of the nervous system.
In many parts of the world, water used to irrigate rice crops is contaminated with arsenic from natural and man-made sources. A study by Professor Andrew Meharg of Aberdeen University found 10 per cent of rice sold in Britain has concentrations other countries consider dangerous.
His tests show basmati is the least likely to be contaminated.
LIVER CANCER: Animal studies have shown that polychlor inated biphenyls, or PCBs, increase the risk of liver cancer. PCBs were used in adhesives, paints and plastics until the Seventies. They have entered the food chain, and are commonly found in fish and seafood. They accumulate in lipids, so oily fish and the fish liver used to make some dietary supplements may contain worrying levels. Other tests have shown that old fluorescent lights may leak small amounts of PCBs.
6. BLADDER & KIDNEY
CANCER: When sodium nitrate is used to preserve bacon and other meats, it creates nitrosamines - chemicals which have been linked to an increased risk of bladder cancer. You can reduce your exposure by switching to organic nitrate-free bacon.
Women who use permanent hair dyes at least once a month are up to three times more likely to develop bladder cancer, U.S. researchers have warned. According to the Cosmetic Toiletry & Perfumery Association: 'Hair colourants are among the most thoroughly studied products on the market, and studies to date have concluded that they are safe when used as directed.' But animal studies have shown that para-phenylenediamine, or PPD, a chemical found in many hair dyes, is linked to genetic damage and cancer. Minimise exposure by switching to a herbal dye or semi-permanent.
KIDNEY: Benzene, a chemical found in glues, paints, furniture wax and detergents, is particularly toxic to the kidneys. Studies have found that men who work with benzene are at increased risk of renal cancers, while animal studies have linked high levels to damage to the lungs, liver and brain. Depending on heat and light, benzene can also be formed in soft drinks when two otherwise harmless ingredients - vitamin C and either sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate (both preservatives) - are combined.
7. SEXUAL ORGANS
INFERTILITY: Could your armchair be preventing you from getting pregnant? Or is it the TV, laptop or carpet? They contain fire retardants known as PBDEs. Researchers at Berkeley University in California measured blood levels of PBDE in 200 women and found that those with the highest concentrations took longer to become pregnant.
Fertility has been declining rapidly since the 1950s in all countries of the world and the start of the change coincided with the introduction of the first mass vaccination programs. For instance, in the UK in 1947, a mass DPT vaccine campaign was initiated and in 1958, the first polio and diphtheria vaccines were brought in on a mass scale for all people under 15 years old.
DERMATITIS: The internet is afire with dire warnings that sodium lauryl sulphate - a foaming agent used in toothpaste, shampoo, cosmetics and skin-care products - causes cancer. This has been roundly dismissed by the American Cancer Society. However, a number of studies have shown that it is a skin irritant and can cause contact dermatitis. Ironically, one of the products it is commonly found in is aqueous cream, which a recent survey found nine out of ten GPs wrongly recommend for eczema. If you have sensitive skin, switch to a product like Dexeryl, an emollient that has no SLS and is free from lanolin and fragrance, which can also cause irritation.
Dave Mihalovic is a Naturopathic Doctor who specializes in vaccine research, cancer prevention and a natural approach to treatment.