Every day we are exposed to harmful chemicals in our environment. Some of these toxins are known hormone disruptors and carcinogens that can negatively impact our health. Fortunately, our bodies have a brilliant way of detoxifying these substances so that our systems don’t get over-burdened and sick. Our cardiovascular system is connected to our lymphatic system, which is linked to our liver, kidneys, lungs and intestines. These systems work together to detoxify and eliminate harmful chemicals via the lungs, skin, urine and stool. Although it’s impossible to avoid environmental toxins completely, the good news is that simple changes can greatly reduce your toxic burden.
Indoor Air Quality
The first step is to take an inventory of your environment. When I was growing up, cleanliness was considered next to godliness. If the house didn’t smell like Lysol and potpourri then you weren’t doing it right. Well, we were wrong! Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) enter our bloodstream within seconds every time we inhale that fresh artificial scent, overloading our already stressed detox system. Ditch the glade plug-ins and air fresheners in exchange for essential oils and replace harsh cleaning chemicals with more natural ones like vinegar, baking soda, or tea tree oil. If you don’t have the time to make homemade cleaners, or simply don’t want to be bothered with it, then you’re in luck. There are plenty natural options on the market too.
Cooking at Home
Another basic step to reducing exposure to toxins is to eat meals prepared at home. Some studies have shown that those who frequently eat meals at restaurants have higher amounts of toxins. Cooking your meals at homes means you’re in charge of the food you purchase, how it is cooked, and in what cookware. You’ll no longer be exposing yourself to foods cooked in rancid oils on Teflon coated pans, and you can ensure that the highest quality ingredients are used. You also won’t be exposing yourself to chemicals found in plastics and Styrofoam. Make sure to use non-toxic cookware such as stainless steel, ceramic, or my favorite, grandma’s old cast-iron skillet. Once seasoned properly, cast-iron skillets are low maintenance. An added benefit is that some iron may leach into the food, providing a source of iron in the diet. Storing leftovers? Glass and silicone tend are safe options. Never heat food in plastic, or you’ll be exposing yourself to unsafe levels of chemicals like BPA.
In order to support detox pathways, it’s important to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Water is essential for the body to do work. From circulating nutrients and oxygen to tissues, to eliminating harmful toxins via urine and stool, water is truly the source of life. Consider using a water filtration device which can eliminate some of the most common water pollutants. These can range from total home filtration systems to simple carbon filtrations devices like a Brita® water pitcher. What you decide will likely depend on your budget.
Eat the Rainbow
When we talk about detox, often we forget that the most straightforward way to support detoxification in the body is to focus on the right foods. Detox protocols and supplements can help, but they provide little benefit when the body is not supported with the right nutrients and foods. What’s worse is that many foods associated with the American diet are themselves sources of toxins and chemicals that cause inflammation. The best foods to support detox are ones that contain high amounts of phytonutrients and fiber. These include leafy green and cruciferous vegetables such as collard greens, turnip greens, kale, arugula, spinach, watercress, swiss chard, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, bok choy and kohlrabi, just to name a few! These foods supply the body with the necessary nutrients, chemicals and cofactors to fuel your detox pathways. Fiber-rich foods such as apples, beans, steel cut oats, and other fibrous fruits and vegetables helps to bind cholesterol and toxins so that they can be eliminated in the stool. Whenever possible, aim for organic and local fruits and vegetables. Talk to your local farmers about pesticides or chemicals they may use. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a great resource that provides numerous tools and guides. They publish an annual list of the dirty dozen and clean 15 fruits and vegetables. You can check it out here.