Environmental Toxins by Kate Bird – naturopath

One can’t help but wonder how many common modern day diseases would still be around if we weren’t exposed to all the toxins that we are today. As we go about our daily routines, our bodies are constantly bombarded with toxic chemicals and heavy metals. Our liver works hard to filter the toxins out of the blood, breaking them down to smaller molecules so they can be transported out of the body via the bowels, kidneys, skin and lungs. When you delve into the extent of environmental toxins our bodies are exposed to daily, you can’t blame our livers for slowing down the production line at times, causing some of those excess toxins to be packed into the tissues to be dealt with later. The more toxins that build up and are packed into our tissues, the less efficiently we function at a cellular level. This can cause fatigue, inflammation, pain and decreased immunity, increasing our susceptibility to colds and flus.


One of the biggest contributors to our toxic load is plastic. Plastic is everywhere and contains many synthetic toxins including Endocrine Disrupters (ED), Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates. Phthalates make plastic more malleable and is found in higher concentrations in the lining of tin cans, stainless steel and aluminium water bottles. The toxicity of BPA is well researched and many plastic containers are marked BPA free. However, the common replacement for BPA is Bisphenol S (BPS) and more recent research suggests it is just as toxic to the endocrine system. Both chemicals have shown to exert the same negative neurological effects on the brain development and behaviour of those exposed to BPA or BPS in utero. The chemicals exert weak estrogenic effect on the body, which can lead to a range of issues such as infertility, ovarian dysfunction, increased risk of hormonally driven cancers, prostate enlargement, decreased sperm production, and is suggested to cause delayed onset puberty in boys and can start puberty 1-2 years earlier for girls.


Avoiding plastic completely is almost impossible, however if you start by cleaning it out of your kitchen and away from your mouth, then your body will thank you. There are many ways of doing this, including avoiding storing food in plastic containers and avoiding the use of cling wrap. Instead, use glass or ceramic containers to store food, and cover food with bees wax food wraps, which are reusable and wipe clean with a cold cloth. Water bottles made from glass are best, as even stainless steel water bottles are lined with plastic.


The types of food that you eat may also expose you to unnecessary toxins. Avoid using tin canned foods and buy fresh instead. Lentils and legumes are best soaked overnight before cooking to neutralise the phytic acid in the beans. This process also allows your body to get the most nutrients from these food types.


Pesticides are another very common group of chemicals found in our bodies. They are designed to kill living creatures, so it’s unsurprising that they can disrupt our body systems in multiple negative ways. Children are most at risk of adverse health effects because, relative to their size, they eat, drink and breathe more than adults, increasing their exposure. Exposure is linked to behavioural problems, cancer, hormonal disruption and poor fetal development. Eating organic and spray free fruit and vegetables is best. These days, there are many options for organic, grocers, market stalls and home delivery services that can be accessed


In the garden, herbicides such as glyphosate (round up) have been linked to coeliac disease that is increasingly common these days. Use natural weed killers such as vinegar and salt if needed, or get down on your knees if you’re able and pull the weeds out the old fashion way!


Heavy metals are other environmental toxins to be very wary of. Heavy metal toxicity can result in a broad range of symptoms including neurological problems such as developmental delay, behavioural problems in children, memory loss, loss of cognitive function, hormonal imbalances and digestive and respiratory tract dysfunction. Aluminium, mercury and lead are commonly found in our home environments:


  • Common sources of aluminium include baking dishes, aluminium foil, aluminium coffee pods and coffee percolators (coffee enhances the absorption of aluminium so the two should never be combined), ant-acids (heart burn medications) and vaccinations.
  • Common sources of mercury include amalgam fillings, fish and fluorescent lights. Take particular care if handling a broken fluorescent light bulb, as mercury vapours will be released into the air, and these can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin. It is recommended that you clear the room and wait for the dust to settle before mopping the residue up with a damp disposable cloth.
  • Lead is found in the soil, left over from when leaded petrol was in use. It is also found in old paint, prior to lead being phased out of paints in 1991. There are still products that are shipped from unregulated countries that contain lead paint, including children’s toys. Check the Product Safety Australia website for recalls.


Have caution when buying anything with a flame retardant on it. They can contain heavy metal antinomy, which causes respiratory tract irritation and digestive complaints, and formaldehyde, which is linked to cancer. Flame-retardants are used on mattress protectors, fabric car seats, baby seats, fabric couches etc.


Our bodies are becoming weakened because of toxic overload, and this puts strain on all our body systems and leaves us more susceptible to disease. Those who are at the most risk of toxic exposure are infants and children because of the ratio of body weight to exposure. Although we will never be able to reverse the toxicity that is now flooding our waterways and soils, if we all do our part to reduce the chemicals in our households, we can improve our quality of life and give the next generations a better chance to thrive.




Kinch, C., Ibhazehiebo, K., Habibi, H. & Kurrasch, D. (2014). Low-dose exposure to bisphenol A and replacement bisphenol S induces precocious hypothalamic neurogenesis in embryonic zebrafish. PNAS, 112(5), 1475-1480.


Ozen, S. & Darcan, S. (2011). Effects of Environmental Endocrine Disruptors on Pubertal Development. Journal of Clinical Research in Pediatric Endocrinology, 3(1), 1–6.


Toxipedia. (2011). Effects of Pesticides on Human Health. Retrieved from http://www.toxipedia.org/display/toxipedia/Effects+of+Pesticides+on+Human+Health

  Samsel, A. & Seneff, A. (2014). Glyphosphate, pathways to modern disease II: Celiac sprue and gluten intolerance. The Journal of Institute of Experimental Pharmacology of Slovak Academy of Sciences. 6(4), 159-184.