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  • Writer's pictureDr. Sarah Penney, ND, MSc

Are ‘toxins’ lurking in your environment? Chances are the answer is yes!

When it comes to our daily environment, toxins are often defined as potentially harmful chemicals that we can come in contact with through various means - everywhere from the air we breathe to the food we eat. Environmental Medicine is a field of study that looks toxins that are associated with strong evidence of negative effects, and others that are still being scrutinized. Large lobby groups, such as the Environmental Working Group in United States ( investigate individual chemicals found everywhere from your cleaning cupboard to your food and link their potential impact to various health consequences, while you may have noticed that government regulatory groups have approved the same chemicals as safe. It can be confusing to determine what lengths should be taken to avoid these chemicals, but there are some simple ways to decrease your daily exposure as a potential safety measure.

The effect that toxic exposure can have on our health largely concerns a concept called ‘bioaccumulation’. This fancy term refers to the idea that over a lifetime, small amounts of toxins absorbed into our tissues can add up and eventually cause negative effects, especially dangerous at a young age during periods of physical development. Health effects that have been linked to exposure of certain chemicals include various types of cancer, asthma, developmental complications and even Alzheimer’s disease. A good example of the multiple health effects a toxin could have on our health is the suspected effects of the well known BPA. We are exposed to this compound through all types of plastics, and research suggests it may act as an endocrine disruptor in our body, affecting our hormone levels. One study has suggested that men who have high levels of this toxin in their body have a significantly lower sperm count than their counterparts, which can impair fertility (1), while other research has connected exposure with polycystic ovarian syndrome, obesity, diabetes and other health conditions (2). BPA has been removed from many sources of plastic due to public outcry, but many groups worry about the effect of chemicals that have not yet been investigated long-term.

Sources of toxic exposure are potentially all around us. An interesting and interactive site called Tox Town associated with the US National Institutes of Health details sources in your everyday life where you might be exposed to toxins. Check it out here: Some other sources of exposure you might encounter could be less obvious, and can include household chemicals such as cleaning products, makeup, pesticides or additives found in the food we eat. One largely overlooked area of exposure can be chemical based soaps and body creams, which can penetrate our skin and be absorbed by our tissues. New compounds are hitting the market every day - in Canada, our government assesses 500 new chemicals each year for safety in public use. Many of these chemicals may cause different reactions in different people, ranging from a mild rash or gastrointestinal upset to possible fatigue, headache, general malaise and other vague symptoms.

Although exposure to some chemicals in our daily life is nearly inevitable, try taking some of these measures to decrease the potential impact on your health:

  1. CLEAN GREEN - Use ‘natural’ or home-made cleaning products with ingredients like baking soda and vinegar – avoid bleach. One great resource if you are looking to ‘greenwash’ your home is a Toronto based activist Adria Vasil and her line of Ecoholic books based on Canadian products. Check out her website here:

  1. WATCH WHAT YOU EAT - Try to limit your intake of packaged foods with chemical additives or colorings – check out the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” which is a list of the product in your grocery store with the most pesticide residue. If you are thinking about buying organic, choose these foods to get the biggest bang for your buck. The “ Clean Fifteen” on the other hand have the lowest amounts of pesticide.

  1. BEATUY SMARTS - Make informed choices when it comes to skin products. Visit the Environmental Working Group’s site to see how your make-up stacks up! Search by brand or ingredient:

  1. HOUSEHOLD HAZARDS - Be aware of chemicals that may be released from new furniture or carpeting in your home! Keep new items in a garage if possible for a few days before bringing them into the house, and windows open especially after a new floor installation or painting.

  1. GROW SOME GREEN – houseplants can help filter your air naturally and decrease your exposure to toxins. Alternately, try a HEPA-filter when you know that air particulate is high in your house, like after renovations to prevent inhalation and absorption of circulating toxins.

- Dr. Sarah Penney, ND. MSc

As originally written for Ace Nutrients available here:


1. Li et al. Urine bisphenol-A (BPA) level in relation to semen quality. Fertility and Sterility. 2011;95(2):625-30

2. Fenichel et al. Bisphenol A: an endocrine and metabolic disruptor. Ann Endocrinol (Paris). 2013;74(3):211-20

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