What comes to your mind when you hear toxins? Chemicals, industrial waste and other harmful substances, right? Well, while those are good examples of toxins and quite correct, toxins are much closer than we presume- from the foods we eat, the air we breathe, our daily routine and more.
In this article, we will examine how much toxins we have around us, the effects of these toxins, and most significantly, an unpopular consequence of toxins- weight gain. The aim, howbeit, is not to scare you with mind-boggling facts about our almost inevitable tango with toxins (you will find these facts, though), but to proffer ways to help your body handle and dispose these toxins and ultimately lose weight.
Still, I will follow a comprehensive but simple approach to this topic so that both those familiar with these chemicals and those who are not will have a well-rounded piece of information on the eating and lifestyle changes required to release toxins and lose weight.
Now, let’s dig in!
What are Toxins?
In the simplest term toxins are chemical substances produced by artificial processes or within living cells/organisms that damages other organisms. They may be little as an ion or atom that interferes with a cell or complex molecules like industrial waste, pesticides, and other substances.
An Analysis Of How Much Toxins We Have Around Us
Many estimates suggest that we are exposed to more than 700,000 different toxic chemicals daily. Even more, the Global Healing Centre also indicates that it isn’t abnormal to be exposed to 2,100,000 toxins each day.
Interestingly, research shows that even infants are born with a considerable number of toxins (up to 287 chemicals) transferred from the mother’s blood to the baby via the umbilical cord.
Top 5 Sources Of Toxins
Bisphenol-A (BPA) is an industrial chemical used for lining metal cans and making plastics /resins, including food containers we use daily, such as bottled water and canned items like beef, beans, chicken and vegetables.
Research indicates that BPA can leech from these containers into your food; thus, ingestion of the toxin when you consume these foods. In fact, food sources are the most significant contributors to BPA toxins, and a study on the National Library of Medicine found BPA in 63 of 105 samples of food containers in the U.S.
Foods generally come with their fair share of toxins- some from their processing, and others are naturally occurring harmful constituents in the food.
Toxins from processing might include pesticide use while cultivating, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) when grilling, deep-frying or smoking foods (especially red meat), mycotoxins from improper storage of grains, and more.
Examples of naturally occurring toxins in food include coumarin in cinnamon, cholesterol in refined vegetable and seed oil, solanine and chaconine in tomatoes, lectins in beans, and trans fats.
Beauty and Personal Care Products
Many beauty and personal care products, including creams, soaps, perfumes, cosmetics, toothpaste, come with a handful of toxic chemical with effects ranging from increased aging to other hormonal distortion.
Water isn’t only essential for hydrating, but we all use water from various sources for bathing, washing and other activities. Different sources of water have varying purity and toxin levels. So, there is a high chance of exposure to water toxins daily.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identifies four major water contaminants- Physical contaminant from sediments of organic material common to springs, beaches and lakes, Biological contaminants like microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses common to tap water, Chemical contaminants like disinfectant and disinfectant byproduct for all types of water.
It is easy to say that this is our largest exposure to toxins- from contamination of the air you breathe, say from cars, harsh household cleaners, cigarette smoke, to germs and microorganisms from fabrics, furniture, door handles and more. While you can control specific toxin exposure from food and water, it is pretty challenging to limit those from your environment.
Effects of Toxins
As an inflammatory response, the liver helps the body convert ingested toxins into harmless substances and ensures quick removal of toxins it fails to convert.
Nevertheless, frequent exposure to toxins adds to the body’s “toxin inflammatory burden” and gets the liver overworked and ultimately inefficient in handling and disposing of these toxin load.
The effects of this overexertion of the liver might include symptoms like bloating and constipation, fatigue, dark urine/yellow discoloration of the skin, and hormonal imbalance.
Hormone Disruption and Enzyme Damage
Toxins like phthalates in plastics, synthetic steroids in meat and dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) can disrupt hormonal activities in the body, from inhibiting their production or inducing an over-secretion, distorting their normal functions.
This disruption in hormonal activities also causes vital enzymes, including those responsible for energy and hemoglobin production, increased oxidative stress, and more to start to fail and damage after some time.
The human naturally contains heavy metals like Zinc, iron and copper, commonly found in the earth in small amounts. Heavy metal poisoning (a condition when the body absorbs too much of a particular metal) from contaminated air and water via lead-based paints and pipes or industrial exposure, and metal food containers with improper coating can cause a displacement of essential structural minerals and metals in the body.
The common culprits- lead, cadmium, mercury, and arsenic can displace calcium in the bone, damage the nerves in the hands and face and cause other minor effects like fatigue, headaches and muscle pains.
Gene and DNA Expression Damage
Studies indicate that toxins like nicotine from cigarettes can distort DNA structure by breaking the hydrogen bonds between two complementary base pairs responsible for stabilizing DNA strands. Not just cigarettes, another meta-analysis reveals that bacterial genotoxins, including those produced by Salmonella, also play a significant role in DNA damage, similarly to carcinogenic agents.
Organ, Tissue and Cell Membrane Damage
Toxins also cause damage in all levels- fro cells to organs. They do so in many ways, including blocking hormone receptors, e.g. arsenic can block the thyroid hormone receptor sites and cause chronic fatigue or suppressing, disabling or avoiding the immune system to cause infections that damage tissues and ultimately vital organs (1 2).
One less-talked-about effect of toxins and our focus on this article is weight gain. Toxins affect weight in many ways, like distorting metabolism and hunger hormones, damage enzymes that affect fatty acid oxidation, disrupt insulin resistance and more. Below is a more detailed overview of this subject.
How Toxins Cause Weight Gain
The endocrine system is a complex network of glands responsible for producing, releasing, and storing hormones responsible for mood, metabolism, and reproduction. However, one of the most potent method toxins uses to cause weight gain is endocrine disruption.
Indeed, not all disruption in the endocrine will lead to weight gain, but common toxins (as discussed above in Top 5 sources) mostly do so by:
- Insulin resistance and hormonal suppression: Various studies link BPA and Phthalates exposure to insulin resistance (a condition where the body does not respond to insulin correctly and would start to store fats rather than burn them 3 4 5 ), and suppression of PPARs hormone receptors involved in metabolism ( 6 7 ). Thus, weight gain.
- Other common toxins like Atrazine, mainly used as herbicides for lawns in the U.S. (which can be ingested by inhalation) was linked to decreased metabolic rate and increased abdominal obesity.
- Appetite disruption: Hunger and appetite are considered synonymous, but you’ll find a big difference between both terms when you take a closer look.
- Hunger is your body telling you it needs food to run its functions. In contrast, appetite is psychological; it’s your mind telling you it wants food, irrespective of what your body actually needs (A good distraction: this simple concept is one founding block of my mindful weight loss program).
- Research shows that toxins like high-sugar foods can attach to fat cells and cause leptin’s (the hunger hormone) over-secretion. The effects will range from insulin resistance causing constant appetite and craving for food to fatigue, irritability; hence weight gain.
Disruption Of Circadian Rhythm
Circadian rhythm describes the body’s natural, internal 24-hour cycle clock that affects essential functions and processes like the sleep-wake cycle, hormone production, body temperature, and metabolism.
Although more research is needed to conclude that toxins can disrupt circadian rhythm in humans, several studies indicate that environmental toxins can affect metabolic rate, eating habits, sleep-wake cycles for other animals, and, ultimately, their weight.
Let’s think of it another way; specific unhealthy meals like those with high caffeine and sugar content can affect sleep patterns, hormonal activity (especially over-secreting cortisol and other inflammatory response), and eating habits. So, it is safe to say that these foods can temporarily distort your circadian rhythm for a short time in a way that causes weight gain.
Disruption Of The Autonomic Nervous System
The autonomic nervous system is a part of the nervous system responsible for regulating bodily functions like heart rate, digestion, pupillary response urination and respiratory rate.
There are specific types of toxins called “Neurotoxins” that alter the nervous system’s structure and function. These destructive neurological substances, like lead, tetrodotoxin, ethanol (from drinking alcohol), BPA, free radicals in grilled meat, aflatoxin in peanut butter, mercury in tuna, and more can cause effects ranging from headaches, vision loss, behavioral problems to intellectual disability and memory impairment (8 9)
Is There A Way Out?
It may seem like we’re exposed to more toxins than our bodies can handle, but that isn’t entirely correct. Yes, we’re exposed to an alarming number of toxins daily, but the body has a self-defense mechanism for fighting these harmful substances called detoxification.
So, detoxification is the way out! The liver handles a significant portion of detoxification but works alongside other organs like the kidneys, lungs, skin and digestive tract to complete the process.
How Detoxing Can Help With Weight Loss And Shrink Fat Cells
Your body can become a storehouse for toxins. How? In a bid to prevent toxins from harming your organs and vital tissues, the body tucks in fat-soluble toxins (toxins that dissolve in fat) into its fat cells.
While this approach effectively prevents initial damage from toxins, accumulating toxins only increases their concentration in fat cells. Consequently, the fat cells become bigger to keep them diluted.
Tentatively, detoxing helps get rid of these fat-soluble toxins, shrink fat cells and ultimately get you to lose those extra pounds of toxin residing in your fat cells for months or even years.
Tips To Detox
The body handles detoxification quite excellently and standalone. Albeit, overexposure to toxins and excessive exertion of the liver decreases the detox’s efficiency and effectiveness. Therefore, it is imperative to aid the process time to time by following simple, easy eating habits that’ll help release these toxins that disallows you from losing weight, rebooting your metabolism, and reviving your energy.
Below are some of these steps.
Increase green leafy veggies: Leafy greens like broccoli, spinach and kale (check out some green leafy recipes like beet salad here) are very nutrient-dense, which means that they contain more nutrients, including fibers and enzymes than most foods helpful in fat burning and detoxification. Either cooked or eaten raw, these nutrient-packed foods come with low overall calories with high fibers that help you remove toxins from your system and stay satisfied and energize for long.
Dandelion tea to boost liver detox: Dandelion root is an ancient liver tonic used in folk medicine for its ability to foster the flow of bile. Dandelion root tea has a good amount of catechins- a powerful antioxidant that aids liver function by promoting toxins’ ejection rather than accumulating fat cells in the liver. Studies also indicate that polysaccharides found in dandelion also improves liver function.
Remove white sugar and white flour: Simple carbohydrates like white sugar and white floor are converted easily into glucose and could cause a spike in your blood sugar level. In consequence, putting a heavy toll on the liver and can damage liver function. So, you should avoid them and opt for healthier, simple carbs like fruits.
Go Organic: Going organic is one excellent way of reducing the toxins you ingest. Unlike non-organic foods, organic ones contain no chemical ripening, synthetic pesticides, food additives, or antibiotics. Thus, reducing the possibilities of toxic overload in the liver or accumulation of toxins in fat cells.
Drink Green Juices: Juicing with numerous raw vegetables provides sufficient vitamins, fibres and minerals to boost your liver’s health. Green juices also make foods easier to digest; hence, relieving the liver from stress and making nutrients readily available for quick absorption.
Increase Sulphur-Rich Foods: Sulphur is a naturally-occurring compound found in many protein-rich foods and vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onion and garlic). It plays a significant role in the functioning of several amino acids and the body’s fight against toxins, including heavy-metal, pharmaceutical and environmental toxins. In fact, without Sulphur, the body cannot detoxify substances properly; so, increasing your intake of sulphur-rich foods will go a long way in improving your detox.
Overall, it is almost impossible to limit the toxins exposure to zero. However, it is very much feasible to control the effect of toxins, especially weight gain, following specific eating habits that aid natural detoxification.It is important to go easy on your organs, even if you’re looking to remove toxins stored up in your fat cells for years. In that light, you can start your journey with my free 3-day mini cleanse guide before proceeding to my 2-weeks detox program