Health Column: Are you toxic?

By Stephanie Vilendrer

Detoxification is a popular word amongst health enthusiasts. Detox for beauty. Detox for weight loss. The list could be endless. Leading a lifestyle that minimizes your exposure to toxins is certainly a key component of a healthy body and clear mind, but do you know what to avoid and how to detoxify? This week, I hope to answer some of these questions to help set you on a path for a healthier, more toxin-free life. A toxin could be anything that is detrimental to good physical or emotional health. Luckily, the body is well equipped to deal with these harmful substances via detoxification pathways that include the liver, kidneys, skin and lungs. When one organ is compromised by exposure to too many toxins or another complicating factor, the other pathways help take on the burden. Ever wonder why you experience a breakout upon eating junk food? The body also stores excess toxins in fatty tissue (perhaps indicating an association between obesity and toxicity). Disease is often the result of these pathways being overburdened. This is why it’s important to minimize our exposure to toxins if we want to maintain great health. Toxins come in a variety of forms ranging from the worst offenders, such as heavy metals, to more minor, everyday toxins that include food additives and cosmetics. Some have serious negative consequences with just one exposure while others accumulate in our bodies until physical symptoms result. Generally, toxins can be lumped into three broad categories: environmental, emotional and food toxins. A significant source of exposure to toxins is our daily use of personal care products. Chemical ingredients such as 1,4-dioxane, a carcinogenic ingredient in some personal care products, and oxybenzone, a potential hormone disruptor found in sunscreens, are toxic. You can check out the safety of a specific brand by visiting the Environmental Working Group’s website, They have an extensive database containing the safety information of more than 65,000 products! A simple rule to follow regarding self-care products is that if you wouldn’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin (or in your hair). You may be surprised to hear that emotions can be toxic. In traditional Chinese medicine, there is a belief that the liver detoxifies on both a physical and energetic level—the latter of which is affected by how we feel. Negative emotions, such as stress, depression, anxiety and anger can produce a toxic emotional (and perhaps physical) state of being, ultimately leading to poor health. Even if you are skeptical of energetic medicine, thinking negatively often leads to poor dietary and lifestyle decisions, such as binge eating or drug and alcohol use (remember that liquor is toxic). Taking time everyday to reflect on the positive things in life and to laugh and relax is important. Food is usually the worst source of toxins for most Americans. Sugar is a major culprit. As I wrote in a previous column, excess sugar has toxic effects that include faster ageing, insulin resistance, and obesity. Other common food toxins include pesticides (generally, fruits and vegetables that have peels are less toxic), food colorings, and preservatives. Caramel color III—found in some dark beers, chocolates, and candies—is banned in California for causing lung and thyroid cancers in lab mice. The food preservative sodium nitrate forms nitrosamines (found in cured meats), which is a known carcinogen and causes DNA damage. These are just a few of many toxins present in processed foods. What I have mentioned here is simply a brief overview of the ways by which we are exposed to toxins on an everyday basis. Don’t be disheartened, however. Minimizing your exposure to toxins is simple: eat a diet of whole, real foods, be aware of the products you use, and be mindful of how you think and feel. Knowledge is power when it comes to health. If you want more information on toxins as well as easy solutions to detoxify, attend my Wellness Wednesday lecture on Detoxification and Health on Nov. 16 in the Health and Wellness Center. I am happy to answer questions about past columns as well. Hope to see you there!