In Part 1 of our Environmental Toxins blog series, we discussed the myriad sources of toxins in our environment and how they adversely impact our health. While understanding the sources and effects of environmental toxins is essential, it makes little difference unless we have an action plan to fight back! Read on to learn actionable, empowering steps you can take to reduce your exposure to environmental toxins, alleviate environmental pollution, and enhance detoxification of harmful chemicals. The steps outlined here will protect your health, the health of your loved ones, and the planet!
Step 1: Clean Up Your Plate
As we learned in Part 1 of the blog series, food can be a significant source of environmental toxins. Therefore, an excellent first step towards mitigating your body burden of toxins is to make cleaner, healthier food choices.
Begin by selecting “clean” proteins. Avoid high-mercury fish, which include swordfish, tuna, grouper, marlin, king mackerel, and shark. Instead, choose “SMASH” seafood; this acronym stands for “Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovies, Sardines, and Herring,” all of which are healthful, low-mercury seafood options that are also rich in nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids.1 These recommendations are particularly important for pregnant and breastfeeding women, who need to eat seafood to
obtain sufficient DHA for their babies’ brain development, but also need to avoid mercury due to its harmful effects on the infant neurological system.2,3
Try your best to source meat, eggs, and dairy from pastured and organic animals; pastured and organic animal proteins may be less likely to harbor hormone, pesticide, and mycotoxins residues.
Limit Dietary Mycotoxins
As we learned in Part 1, mold and mycotoxins lurk in a surprisingly wide variety of foods. However, the foods most significantly affected by mold and mycotoxins are:
- Grain-fed meat, eggs, and dairy (mainly cheese and cured meats)
- Alcoholic beverages.
If you are in the process of recovering from mold illness, you will want to strictly limit your consumption of these mold-containing foods, at least for a month.
This elimination diet will reduce your body burden of mycotoxins. Instead, eat pastured meat and eggs, plenty of organic vegetables and low-sugar fruits, moderate amounts of root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, and healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil. If you are an ardent fan of coffee, try a brand of coffee that has been tested for mycotoxins (such brands are few and far between!) We recommend either Bulletproof Upgraded Coffee or Kion Coffee.
If you still want the occasional glass of wine, try Dry Farms Wines, which are thoroughly tested for their mycotoxin content, and only the cleanest wines pass the test!
Incorporate Probiotic Foods
Probiotic foods are a crucial part of a healthy diet, and research suggests they may even help our bodies eliminate harmful toxins! Lactobacillus rhamnosus, a probiotic found in fermented foods, inhibits the intestinal absorption of cadmium and lead, and may thus help protect against heavy metals toxicity.4 Lactic acid-producing probiotic bacteria also bind mycotoxins, removing them from the body.5 To support detoxification, try to consume at least one serving of fermented foods per day, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and coconut or almond milk yogurt.
Glyphosate and other pesticide residues are ubiquitous in our food supply due to the widespread use of these chemicals in industrial agriculture. Limit your exposure to pesticide residues by eating organic foods. Research has found that switching from a diet based on conventionally-grown foods to organic foods for between 15 and 40 days significantly lowers pesticide levels and oxidative stress in children.6,7 Eating organic foods may also increase blood levels of phytonutrients that stimulate pathways involved in detoxification.8
Concerned about the cost of eating organic? You are not alone! Fortunately, we have some great options available now for sourcing healthy, organic foods affordably. Thrive Market is an online store that procures the very best natural and organic foods, at a significantly lower cost than Whole Foods and other health food stores. Costco is also becoming a great place to buy organic foods in bulk. You can also connect with local farmers and community-supported agriculture (CSAs) to get local, organic food that may be less expensive than your options at the grocery store. You can also learn about which foods to prioritize buying organic, and which can safely be purchased conventional, using the Environmental Working Group's Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.
As important as it is to clean up your diet, sourcing clean water is equally crucial. Tap water is a source of numerous toxins, including chlorine, fluoride, and pharmaceutical drug residues.9 Take care of your body by filtering your drinking water and bathing water. Please note that pitcher-style water filters and fridge-integrated filters are generally too basic to filter the numerous toxins in tap water. Instead, choose a high-quality filter such as a Berkey water filter – they offer versions for cleaning both drinking and shower water.
Step 2: Clean Up Your Home and Workplace
Your home should be a safe haven, a place for restoring your mind and body. Ridding your home of environmental toxins is thus crucial for reducing your toxic burden and supporting your long-term health.
Creating a healthy work environment is also essential, given how much time most of us spend at work.
Address Water-Damage and Mold
The first step in “cleaning up” your home is to address water-damage and mold problems. While this is a vast, nuanced topic, we’ve sought to include recommendations here that can get you started.
If your home has sustained water damage, or you’re certain that you have a mold issue, the first step is to get your home tested. There are three main options for indoor environmental mold testing:
- ERMI: The ERMI test stands for “Environmental Relative Moldiness Index.” This test detects the DNA of various indoor molds that can harm your health. Mycometrics offers a cloth kit for several hundred dollars that you can use to test your home. However, you can also choose to go the professional route for testing.
- HERTSMI: The HERTSMI test (“Health Effects Roster of Type-Specific Formers of Mycotoxins and Inflammagens”) analyzes a dust sample for five molds known to cause health issues. It tests for fewer molds than the ERMI but is less expensive.
- Real Time Labs test EMMA Test: The EMMA test (Environmental Mold and Mycotoxin Assessment) detects the presence of ten of the most toxigenic molds and 15 of the most harmful mycotoxins that grow in water-damaged buildings. It offers the best of both worlds by testing for both mold and mycotoxins, unlike the ERMI and HERTSMI.
Once you select a mold testing modality, you'll need to complete the test and wait for results. Once you have the results, you should consult with a qualified indoor environmental professional (IEP) to decide what steps should be taken next to clean up your home.
Are you overwhelmed with information about mold testing and remediation? Check out IEP Mike Schrantz’s website, Environmental Analytics, and his podcast, IEP Radio, for lots of free information on mold testing and remediation.
Finally, even if your home is not currently water-damaged or moldy, there are proactive steps you can take to make sure it stays this way! First, keep bathrooms and other humid areas of your house well ventilated. If your bathroom ventilation fan is weak, consider purchasing a small dehumidifier to use just in that room after you use the shower. Second, keep indoor humidity between 30 and 50 percent; this is the optimal range for preventing mold growth. Finally, buy a HEPA air cleaner that has a fine enough filter to remove mold spores and mycotoxins. The air cleaner must have the capacity to filter particles down to 0.003 microns in size, which is the size of mycotoxins. Mold spores are more substantial and will thus be successfully trapped by such a filter.
Clear the Air
Even if your home or workplace doesn’t have a mold problem, indoor air can be a significant source of contaminants. Investing in a high-quality air filter is thus an impactful investment in your health!
There are TONS of air filtration options out there – be aware that some are much better than others. Consumer Reports offers a nice report on air filters that you can view if you have a subscription. Otherwise, we suggest doing some research to select the option that will best fit your needs.
So, you’ve cleaned up your diet, but what about the place where you prepare your food – the kitchen? Kitchen implements such as cookware and storage containers represent an underappreciated source of environmental toxins.
First and foremost, toss out the nonstick cookware, which is a source of a persistent organic pollutant known as PFOA. Also, avoid aluminum cookware, which may leach this neurotoxin metal into your food. Instead, use cast iron, enameled cast iron, or tri-ply stainless steel cookware. Use bamboo or wood cooking utensils instead of metal, which can damage the finishes on these types of cookware, and plastic, which may leach plasticizers into hot food.
For food storage, eschew Tupperware and other plastic containers, which degrade over time, releasing plasticizers into food and our water supply. Instead, use glass storage dishes with silicone lids. These are available at many big-box stores, including Target and Costco. Along the same lines, use a stainless steel or glass water bottle instead of a plastic or aluminum one.
For lining baking sheets, try parchment paper rather than aluminum foil. Beeswax wrap, such as Bee’s Wrap, is an excellent alternative to plastic-based Saran wrap. Finally, reusable silicone bags, such as Stasher Bags, are the perfect healthy, environmentally-sustainable alternative to Ziploc bags.
Limit Canned and Processed Foods
Research shows that processed food is a significant source of plasticizer chemicals, such as phthalates. This may be due to the presence of phthalates in food packaging materials that are in contact with takeout food.10 Limit canned foods as well (even organic canned food!) as the can liners contain BPA, which has been shown to leach into the food within the can. The consumption of canned foods is linked to higher urinary BPA levels, suggesting that eating these foods increases your body burden of toxic BPA.11
Ideally, you should spend approximately one-third of your life in bed sleeping, so your bedroom should not be overlooked when you begin detoxifying your home. Begin by trading out synthetic memory foam and other chemical-laden mattresses for a natural mattress; yes, not all mattresses are created equal, and ones made with natural, organic materials may be better for your long-term health.
Many popular memory foam mattresses are made with chemicals and adhesives that are harmful to our health, such as benzene and perfluorocarbons. Avoid these chemical-laden mattresses, and instead try a mattress made with organic latex, organic cotton, and wool. Avocado mattress is an accessible, high-quality option that is currently taking the natural mattress scene by storm!
Something else to do while you’re focusing on your bedroom is to clean up your wardrobe! If you have a lot of synthetic fiber clothes (made with polyester, nylon, acrylic, etc.), which are a significant source of microplastic pollution, consider buying a Guppyfriend bag to trap microplastics shed from these clothes while they’re in the wash.12 When you buy new additions to your wardrobe, consider purchasing natural fabrics instead of synthetics; look for cotton, wool, viscose (made from Bamboo), linen, and Tencel.
Natural Cleaning Products
Use natural cleaning products at home, rather than the ubiquitous chemical-laden versions. Seventh Generation is an affordable, accessible option. The EWG offers a database of safe cleaning supplies that really comes in handy!
Step 3: Toss Toxic Personal Care Products
Next, head to your bathroom and clean up your personal care routine. Toss out products that contain harmful chemicals such as phthalates, triclosan parabens, fragrance, phenoxyethanol, mineral oil, and PEG. For a more comprehensive review of which chemicals to avoid in personal care products and a selection of healthy options, check out the EWG’s Skin Deep database. Teenage girls and women of reproductive age should use organic tampons and pads, to reduce their exposure to glyphosate, which has been detected in conventional feminine hygiene products.
Step 4: Detox Safely and Successfully
Now that you have cleaned up your diet, home, wardrobe, and personal care routine, its time to reduce your toxic body burden. There are numerous nutritional, lifestyle, and supplementation strategies that aid successful detox.
Sauna is an excellent therapy for detoxification because it promotes intense sweating. Research indicates that sweat is a significant route of elimination for BPA and heavy metals, thus reducing your body burden of these harmful compounds!
Try to use a sauna 3-4 times a week for 20-30 minutes per session to work up a good sweat.
Eat a Nutrient-Dense Diet
A whole foods-based, nutrient-dense diet is an essential foundation for successful detoxification. This type of diet provides the many nutrients you need to support detox pathways, while also providing phytonutrients that stimulate detox and dietary fiber that binds harmful compounds in the intestine.
Make sure you are getting enough zinc, calcium, and iron in your diet. Sufficiency of these micronutrients protects against lead and cadmium toxicity.15 A sufficient intake of selenium, on the other hand, protects against mercury toxicity.16,17 The most bioavailable food sources of zinc are meat, shellfish, dairy, and eggs, with smaller, less-bioavailable amounts in legumes, nuts, and seeds. Dairy and bone-in fish are the richest dietary sources of calcium, while dark leafy greens, sesame seeds and tahini, and chia seeds are the runners-up. Finally, selenium is found in Brazil nuts, eggs, beef, shrimp, chicken, turkey, oysters, and sunflower seeds.
Make sure that you get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, as these fats stimulate bile acid detoxification.18 Omega-3 fatty acids may support the detoxification of other toxins that are carried in the bile.
Consuming sufficient dietary fiber is essential for supporting bowel regularity, a critical component of detoxification. Certain dietary fibers like pectin, inulin, and glucomannan may also bind toxins in the gastrointestinal tract.19,20 Onion, artichoke, asparagus, dark leafy greens, green plantains, organic oats, legumes, apples, berries, and konjac root are excellent sources of dietary fiber.
Last but not least, eat plenty of bitter greens, cruciferous vegetables, and colorful produce. Bitter greens such as dandelion greens and cruciferous veggies contain bitter phytochemicals that activate bile flow. Colorful fruits and veggies are rich in polyphenols that upregulate the Nrf2 pathway involved in detox and glutathione production.
Care for Your Gut
A healthy gut barrier and microbiome are essential for successful detoxification. Specific probiotics aid in the transformation and elimination of mycotoxins and other toxins, such as heavy metals. Eating a healthy diet, as discussed above, and taking a daily probiotic will provide a strong foundation for gut health.
Chronic inflammation exacerbates the harmful effects of toxins, such as mercury, on the body by turning down detoxification pathways.21 “Inflammagens,” otherwise known as substances that contribute to inflammation, need to be eliminated in order to facilitate detoxification. Dietary inflammagens such as processed carbohydrates and industrial seed oils (canola, soybean, corn oils) are excluded from the whole foods-based, nutrient-dense diet described above. Ensuring that your home is free of mold and limiting your exposure to environmental toxins overall will reduce your inflammagen load and aid detoxification.
Sleep is crucial for detoxification. The brain can only undergo detoxification at night during sleep because this is when the glymphatic system, a waste clearance mechanism in the central nervous system, is active.
Support detoxifying sleep by optimizing your sleep hygiene: Avoid blue light exposure at night, eat your last meal at least three hours before bed, and aim for seven to nine hours of sleep every night.
Botanicals and Nutraceuticals
Finally, botanicals and nutraceuticals can provide a crucial boost in your detoxification protocol by turning up bile acid pathways, which prepare bile-bound toxins for excretion, by reducing inflammation, and by increasing glutathione.
Milk thistle increases bile flow, activates the Nrf2 pathway to boost glutathione production, and stabilizes bile acid transporters that facilitate detoxification of bile-bound environmental toxins.23,24,25,26 Gentian, the quintessential bitter herb used in traditional herbalism to support digestion, stimulates digestive activity, promoting bile flow and bowel regularity.27 Solidago, also known as goldenrod, increases urine flow, aiding with the elimination of water-soluble toxins, and activates enzymes involved in glutathione synthesis.28,29 Myrrh, berberine, and burdock also activate bile acid transporters, while dandelion has potent anti-inflammatory activities.30,31,32 What all these botanicals have in common are their bitter taste and ability to activate bile flow.
Finally, supplemental glutathione, alpha-lipoic acid, and vitamin C aid detoxification by transforming toxins into water-soluble compounds in phase II of liver detox, by regenerating endogenous antioxidants, and by protecting cells from toxin-induced oxidative damage.33,34,35
Phospholipids, or lipid (fat) molecules that contain a phosphate group, cannot be overlooked in detoxification. Every cell in our body has a phospholipid membrane, and healthy, intact cell membranes are essential for successful detoxification.36 Providing your body with supplemental phospholipids can support their liver function and detoxification processes.37
Binders are agents that “mop up” toxins in the gastrointestinal tract, helping to remove them from the body in the stool. Examples of binders include activated charcoal, bentonite clay, silica, thiol molecules (a type of sulfur molecule), and chitosan. Activated charcoal is excellent for binding mycotoxins, while bentonite clay is ideal for both mycotoxins and heavy metals. 38,39 Silica-thiol molecules are strong binders of mercury, while chitosan, a compound derived from crustaceans, readily adsorbs heavy metals.40,41
Fasting & Ketosis
Finally, a regimen of regular fasting and ketosis may facilitate detoxification by turning on AMPK, a biochemical pathway that plays an important role in detoxification by activating natural detoxification, glutathione production, and cellular detox systems.42,43 You can get your body into ketosis regularly by practicing time-restricted eating, an eating strategy in which you eat for approximately eight hours each 24 hours, and fast the rest of the time.
Environmental toxins are ubiquitous, but we have numerous strategies and tools available to help us minimize their effects on our health. By taking the steps outlined here to clean up your diet, home, and personal care routine, and optimize detoxification, you can not only survive but thrive, in our modern-day world!
- McPhillips K. Eating seafood is a ‘SMASH’ with these 5 healthy, low-mercury options. Well + Good. https://www.wellandgood.com/good-food/low-mercury-fish/. 19 August 2019. Accessed 20 Feb 2020.
- Lauritzen L, et al. DHA effects in brain development and function. Nutrients. 2018; 8(1): 6.
- Starling P, et al. Fish intake during pregnancy and foetal neurodevelopment—A systematic review of the evidence. Nutrients. 2015; 7(3): 2001-2014.
- Daisley BA, et al. Immobilization of cadmium and lead by Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 mitigates apical-to-basolateral heavy metal translocation in a Caco-2 model of the intestinal epithelium. Gut Microbes. 2019; 10(3): 321-333.
- Sadiq FA, et al. Lactic acid bacteria as antifungal and anti‐mycotoxigenic agents: A comprehensive review. Comp Rev Food Sci Food Saf. 2019; 18(5): 1403-1436.
- Lu C, et al. Organic diets significantly lower children’s dietary exposure to organophosphorus pesticides. Environ Health Perspect. 2006; 114(2): 260-263.
- Makris KC, et al. A cluster-randomized crossover trial of organic diet impact on biomarkers of exposure to pesticides and biomarkers of oxidative stress/inflammation in primary school children. PLoS One. 2019; 14(9): e0219420.
- Hurtado-Barroso S, et al. Increase of 4-hydroxybenzoic, a bioactive phenolic compound, after an organic intervention diet. Antioxidants (Basel). 2019; 8(9): 340.
- Chander V, et al. Pharmaceutical compounds in drinking water. J Xenobiot. 2016; 6(1): 5774.
- Buckley J, et al. Ultra-processed food consumption and exposure to phthalates and bisphenols in the United States: Results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 2013-2014. Environ Int. 2019; 131: 105057.
- Hartle JC, et al. The consumption of canned food and beverages and urinary Bisphenol A concentrations in NHANES 2003–2008. Environ Res. 2016; 150: 375-382.
- De Falco F, et al. The contribution of washing processes of synthetic clothes to microplastic pollution. Sci Rep. 2019; 9: 6633.
- Genuis SJ, et al. Human excretion of bisphenol A: Blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study. J Environ Public Health. 2012; 2012: 185731.
- Sears ME, et al. Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury in sweat: A systematic review. J Environ Public Health. 2012; 2012: 184745.
- Zhai Q, et al. Dietary strategies for the treatment of cadmium and lead toxicity. Nutrients. 2015; 7(1): 552-571.
- Choi AL, et al. Selenium as a potential protective factor against mercury developmental neurotoxicity. Environ Res. 2008; 107(1): 45-52.
- Spiller HA. Rethinking mercury: the role of selenium in the pathophysiology of mercury toxicity. Clin Toxicol. 2018; 56(5): 313-326.
- Cieslak A, et al. N-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids stimulate bile acid detoxification in human cell models. Can J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2018; 2018: 6031074.
- Schiewer S and Patil SB. Pectin-rich fruit wastes as biosorbents for heavy metal removal: equilibrium and kinetics. Bioresour Technol. 2008; 99(6): 1896-1903.
- Chen HL, et al. Comparative effects of cellulose and soluble fibers (pectin, konjac glucomannan, inulin) on fecal water toxicity toward Caco-2 cells, fecal bacteria enzymes, bile acid, and short-chain fatty acids. J Agric Food Chem. 2010; 58(18): 10277-10281.
- Ganey PE and Roth RA. Concurrent inflammation as a determinant of susceptibility to toxicity from xenobiotic agents. Toxicology. 2001; 169(3): 195-208.
- “Brain may flush out toxins during sleep.” National Institutes of Health. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/brain-may-flush-out-toxins-during-sleep. 17 Oct 2013. Accessed 20 Feb 2020.
- Crocenzi FA, et al. Effect of silymarin on biliary bile salt secretion in the rat. Biochem Pharmacol. 2000; 59(8): 1015-1022.
- Surai PF. Silymarin as a natural antioxidant: An overview of the current evidence and perspectives. Antioxidants (Basel). 2015; 4(1): 204-247.
- Crocenzi FA, et al. Silibinin prevents cholestasis-associated retrieval of the bile salt export pump, Bsep, in isolated rat hepatocyte couplets: Possible involvement of cAMP. Biochem Pharmacol. 2005; 69(7): 1113-1120.
- Viktorova J, et al. Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and multidrug resistance modulation activity of silychristin derivatives. Antioxidants (Basel). 2019; 8(8).
- McMullen MK, et al. Bitters: Time for a new paradigm. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015; 2015: 670504.
- Chodera A, et al. Effect of flavonoid fractions of Solidago virgaurea L on diuresis and levels of electrolytes. Acta Pol Pharm. 1991; 48(5-6): 35-37.
- Apati P, et al. In-vitro effect of flavonoids from Solidago canadensis extract on glutathione S-transferase. J Pharm Pharmacol. 2006; 58(2): 251-256.
- Deng R, et al. The hypolipidemic agent guggulsterone regulates the expression of human bile salt export pump: dominance of transactivation over farsenoid X receptor-mediated antagonism. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2007; 320(3): 1153-1162.
- Guo Y, et al. Dose-response effect of berberine on bile acid profile and gut microbiota in mice. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2016; 16: 394.
- Gonzalez-Castejon M, et al. Diverse biological activities of dandelion. Nutr Rev. 2012; 70(9): 534-537.
- Guilford FT, et al. Deficient glutathione in the pathophysiology of mycotoxin-related illness. Toxins (Basel). 2014; 6(2): 608-623.
- Rochette L, et al. Direct and indirect antioxidant properties of α-lipoic acid and therapeutic potential. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2013; 57(1): 114-125.
- Miranda CL, et al. Ascorbic acid promotes detoxification and elimination of 4-hydroxy-2(E)-nonenal in human monocytic THP-1 cells. Chem Res Toxicol. 2009; 22(5): 863-874.
- Ghosh MC and Ray AK. Membrane phospholipid augments cytochrome P4501a enzymatic activity by modulating structural conformation during detoxification of xenobiotics. PLoS One. 2013; 8(2): e57919.
- Kidd PM, et al. Phosphatidylcholine: A superior protectant against liver damage. Altern Med Rev. 1999; 1(4): 258-274.
- Devreese M, et al. Efficacy of active carbon towards the absorption of deoxynivalenol in pigs. Toxins (Basel). 2014; 6(10): 2998-3004.
- Moosavi M, et al. Bentonite clay as a natural remedy: A brief review. Iran J Public Health. 2017; 46(9): 1176-1183.
- Zhao W, et al. Thiol-functionalized mesoporous silica for effective trap of mercury in rats. J Nanomater. 2016; Article ID: 9758264.
- Cheung RCF, et al. Chitosan: An update on potential biomedical and pharmaceutical applications. Mar Drugs. 2015; 13(8): 5156-5186.
- Viollet B, et al. Activation of AMP-activated protein kinase in the liver: a new strategy for the management of metabolic hepatic disorders. J Physiol. 2006; 574 (Pt 1): 41-53.
Matzinger M, et al. AMPK leads to phosphorylation of the transcription factor Nrf2, tuning transactivation of selected target genes. Redox Biol. 2020