What Are Toxins and How Dangerous Are They Really?

We constantly hear about toxins threats through magazine articles, on the World Wide Web and on TV and radio. But what are toxins exactly? Where do they come from, and how can we eliminate, or at least neutralize them?

Whether we like it or not, toxins in various forms are present all around us and affect every aspect of our lives. They could represent a potentially serious threat to our health if we don't learn to take some simple, yet necessary precautions.

Let's take an objective look at the toxins our body is exposed to on a daily basis, and explore effective ways to prevent and counteract toxin damage.

Toxin exposure falls into 4 main categories:

Environmental Toxins


Industrial pollution from car fumes, factories and combustion pollutants, cannot be ignored. A great percentage of pesticides and insecticides used on fruit and vegetables are known to be carcinogenic. Alarmingly, pesticide residues have been detected in up to 75% of U.S. foods.

Industrial pollutants cause the poor air quality in big cities and industrial zones, which we know as smog and soot. Over one hundred and seventy million people currently live in counties where air quality standards are not met, facing increased risks of heart and lung disease and premature mortality. Most of the 20 million people suffering from asthma also live in areas with poor air quality.

"These health-destroying environmental factors bring about inevitable derangement in all the vital bodily functions, with consequent biochemical imbalance in the tissues; autotoxemia; chronic under-supply of oxygen to the cells; poorer digestion, ineffective assimilation of nutrients...and, of course, gradually lowered resistance to disease."

Dr. Paavlo Airola, author: How to get Well: Handbook of Natural Healing.

Lead poisoning is one of the foremost environmental health threats to children. Those living in industrial and metropolitan areas have enough lead in their blood to reduce intelligence and attention span, cause learning disabilities, ADD, and permanently damage a child's brain and nervous system.

Going for breaks and long walks in nature, especially forests -whenever possible- while making a conscious effort to breathe deeply, will re-supply the body cells and blood with vital oxygen that trees so graciously provide to us.

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Household Toxins

Little actions and small changes go a long way, when it comes to safety at home.

The most innocent items such as furniture, TV sets, other electrical appliances, carpets and rugs often contain stain-repellent or fire-retardant chemicals. Many of the ones used as flame-retardants (brominated flame-retardants) persist for a long time in the home environment, eventually accumulating in our bodies. Research has shown that they can potentially disrupt our natural hormonal system over time.

Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs) contribute to indoor air pollution and cause ozone depletion. Some, like alcoholic compounds, can even be explosive.

The term VOC is generally applied to organic solvents, certain paint additives, aerosol spray propellants, fuels (such as gasoline, and kerosene), petroleum distillates, dry cleaning products, and many other industrial and consumer products ranging from office supplies to building materials.

They have been known to cause headache, sore throat, nausea, and drowsiness. Prolonged exposure to high concentrations of VOCs can lead to cancer.

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Toxic Home Furnishings

Be wary of and try to avoid:

  • All types of synthetic carpets, like carpet underlay or upholstery with synthetic foams, foam rubber, latex or plastic. Common floor coverings are most often primary contributors to indoor air contamination. This is due to the VOC constituents present in the fabrication of the materials, such as carpet padding and carpeting, and in the adhesives used to apply carpet padding and tile.

  • Furniture or carpets with chemical finish, such as stain repellents and brominated flame-retardants. At all cost, avoid re-carpeting your home or ripping out carpets while you are pregnant.

Carpets made from organic natural fibres such as wool, cotton, rattan or jute are a far better option. Not only do they look and feel nicer, they're also much safer for you and the environment. Choose curtains, carpets and upholstery containing little or no brominated flame retardants or stain repellents.

  • When buying a PC or monitor, look for the TCO 95 Eco-label, which limits the amount of brominated flame retardant in the product.

For a safer, less toxic environment at home:

  • Substitute carpets for wooden, ceramic, or cork (Linoleum) flooring. If you must have carpet, choose one made from natural fibres rather than the synthetic variety.

  • Instead of using artificial air freshener, open your windows wide, whenever possible. If you can't keep windows open, use natural odour eaters. A bowl of baking soda effectively absorbs odours. Alternatively, use natural fragrances such as potpourri or lavender, or better yet, burn essential oils for enhanced beneficial effects.

In Your Bedroom

Furnishings in the bedroom equally contain chemicals, such as flame retardants and stain repellents. Most foam bed mattresses, synthetic curtains, upholstery or carpets almost invariably have stain repellents and flame-retardants.

Even the clothes you keep in your bedroom, when dry-cleaned, emit toxic chemicals!

For safety in the bedroom avoid:

  • Soft furnishings with chemical finishes such as stain repellents and flame-retardants.

  • Buying clothes that can only be dry-cleaned if possible, as well as sending your clothes for dry-cleaning too frequently.

  • Try not to keep too many electrical and electronic appliances in your bedroom such as computers, TVs and hi-fi systems at the same time.

If you've just redecorated your home, or moved into a newly decorated one, airing it before you live in it will dilute the chemicals during their most potent stage. However, high levels of VOCs will outgas for months and in many cases, will continue to outgas for years.

(Information courtesy of the WWF www.wwf.org)

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Food Toxins

Our spectacular scientific and industrial progress has a serious drawback: Its by-products. Man-made industrial and agricultural chemicals are severely contaminating our planet, disrupting nature's cycles, and deeply affecting humans and wildlife alike.

We, city dwellers, are consistently exposed to a cocktail of hazardous chemicals, everyday of our lives. It’s a serious modern threat, and its full impact on us and on future generations is yet unclear.

The food we ingest is laden with hormones meant to fatten up cattle and poultry. Our hormones are further disrupted by chemical fertilizers and pesticides used by farmers (around 72 different pesticides are sprayed on fruits and vegetables) as well as by the antibiotics that animals consume with their feed.

The recent scare of mercury in fish ironically makes so-called healthy foods seem rather hazardous.

More than ever now, you should watch what you eat: It is estimated that around1000 different chemicals are present in our daily food, even in the one we think is healthiest!

UK government data shows that over 90% of fresh salmon, more than a third of fruit and vegetables, and 40% of cereal products, contain pesticide residues.

To cut down the amount of contaminants in your food you should avoid:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables that have not been properly washed or peeled, and tinned or canned food products.

  • Try to avoid shark, marlin or swordfish, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, because they can contain high levels of chemical contaminants, besides mercury.


  • Choose fresh, frozen or dried fruits rather than the tinned or canned variety. Whenever possible, choose organic produce.

  • Consume a variety of fish to reduce the risk of consuming a contaminated type. For a healthy diet it is recommended to eat fish at least twice a week. One of those should be oily fish like mackerel, herring, tuna, anchovies or sardines, to provide essential Omega-3 fatty acids.

  • Use a water filter to reduce chemical levels in drinking or cooking water.

  • Substitute processed foods for fresh, organic products. At the same time reduce to the strict minimum your intake of fatty meats, and other animal fats such as butter, cheeses and cream.

  • If you are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or breastfeeding, alter your fish consumption. In these circumstances, the Food Standards Agency recommends that women shouldn't eat more than two medium-sized cans of tuna, or one fresh tuna steak per week. This is due to the high levels of mercury in tuna, which is known to be harmful to the foetus.

Take special care when handling food:

  • Avoid using cling film directly in contact with fatty foods, unless the manufacturer advises otherwise (high- fat foods include dairy products, meat, pastries and cakes).

  • Avoid silicon-based baking paper, and cling film when re-heating or cooking food in the microwave. Refrain from using plastic containers in the microwave, unless they are designed for this purpose.

It has been proven that refilling plastic water bottles and reusing them can be hazardous to your health.

PVC and PC plastics are also dangerous and should be avoided. Look on the packaging for either PVC3 or PC7, or look inside the recycling triangle for the numbers 3 or 7.

  • Avoid products containing Triclosan, like certain plastic chopping-boards, washing-up cloths, sponges, liquids, soaps and disinfectants.

  • Stay away from chemical air fresheners and heavily scented cleaning products like dishwashing liquid, floor cleaner and washing powder.

Following these simple tips will help protect yours and your family’s health, as well as the environment you live in and depend upon.

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Lifestyle Toxins

Excessive smoking, drinking, over-the-counter, prescription, and illegal drugs, food additives and colorants, all create toxic deposits in the body cells, as does undigested organic matter. On the long run these deposits can cause serious health problems.

Biochemical or metabolic disorders are induced by prolonged physical and mental stress, including faulty or inconsistent nutritional patterns, constant overeating and overindulgence in proteins.

Nutritional deficiencies, sluggish metabolism and consequent retention of toxic metabolic wastes, poisons from polluted food, water, air and our environment, are factors that seriously affect our health. So do toxic drugs, tobacco and alcohol, lack of sufficient exercise, rest and relaxation, and severe emotional and physical stress.


Toxin build-up has become more of a concern in the 21st century than ever before. Industrial and technological progress has resulted in many new and stronger chemicals, air and water pollution, radiation and nuclear contamination. Due to medical advancement we are using more drugs that promise to rid us of our various day-to-day ailments. We eat a higher percentage of refined foods, and stress is leading us to abuse our bodies with stimulants or sedatives.

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