There are many environmental toxins, which we are exposed to on a daily basis in the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. Even the homes we live in can be a source for toxins. Heavy metals are in drinking water, newsprint, hair dyes and rinses, pesticides, fertilizers, cosmetics, old lead-based paint and ceramics.See Environmental Toxin Exposure below for a detailed discussion of some of the most common toxins we are exposed to.Environmental toxin exposureEnvironmental toxin exposure begins the moment we are conceived and can have detrimental effects on fetal development. In August and September of 2004, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested the umbilical cord blood from 10 babies born in U.S. hospitals. Of the 287 chemicals detected in the umbilical cord blood, 217 are neurotoxins, 180 are carcinogens, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests (see Body Burden: The Pollution in Newborns on www.ewg.org).Developing fetuses, babies and children are more susceptible to environmental toxins because their cells are dividing and differentiating for growth; their body systems are not fully developed and are not able to remove toxins. In addition, their blood brain barrier is not fully matured.Toxic loadWe know that toxins accumulate over time causing normal metabolic processes to become dysfunctional. Over the past 30 years, asthma, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD), autism, childhood brain cancer and acute lymphocytic leukemia have all increased.Hormone-mimicking chemicals called xenoestrogens are capable of inducing cancer in hormone-sensitive tissues like the breast, testicle, or prostate gland. Many adult diseases, including diabetes, mental disorders, Alzheimer's, and heart disease can be linked to early toxin exposure.An analogy to toxic build-up is the following: Consider the rain gutters on your house. They will represent the toxin elimination pathways in your body. Normally, gutters do a fabulous job catching the rainwater or melting snow from the roof of your home and directing it to areas where drainage and accumulated moisture will not damage the foundation (analogous to the liver and kidneys eliminating toxins from your body).If foreign matters accumulates in the gutters, the water tends to f low less smoothly. Twigs, leaves and other debris build up and eventually completely block a portion of the gutter so that water backs up and begins to overflow.Symptoms begin to occur, such as puddles next to the foundation, which might promote the growth of molds, mildew, and decay. Sometimes the symptoms are mild and go unnoticed until major damage has occurred, just like the buildup of environmental toxins in your body.Headache, anxiety, allergies, intolerances to chemicals, cognitive and mental health problems, cancer and autoimmune diseases are some of the consequences of environmental toxin exposure. To avoid irreparable damage, rain gutters and your body need to be cleaned out periodically.Detoxification and chelation therapyThere are many things we can do to help reduce our toxic load: Eat lots of cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.) to help the liver perform its detoxification pathways. Natural chelating agents, such as cilantro and chlorella help to eliminate heavy metals in the digestive tract. Eat only organic, preferably grass-fed meats and dairy products to reduce pesticide, herbicide, antibiotic and hormone exposure. Buy organic fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables and avoid canned products to reduce exposure to pesticides, herbicides, and bisphenol A (BPA). Drink filtered water. If you have a well and have it tested for contaminants. Avoid storing or heating water or food in plastic containers to reduce exposure to phthalates and BPA. A terrific resource for finding safer skin care products, cleaning products and foods is the EWG's website: www.ewg.org.Effective detoxification treatments for helping to mobilize and eliminate other toxins that are stored in your body involve supporting the liver with herbal preparations and foods, calorie reduction, saunas, hydrotherapy, colonics, castor oil packs, and nutrient and herbal supplements.If you know you have had previous heavy metal or other environmental toxin exposure and are experiencing symptoms, you may want to have your toxic load evaluated. Heavy metals, pesticides, solvents, xenoestrogens, BPA, phthalates, and so forth have been correlated with the following: Breast cancer Chemical sensitivity Chronic fatigue Endometriosis Fibromyalgia Heart disease Infertility Miscarriage and premature birth Osteoporosis Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) Thyroid disease Uterine fibroidsMany labs offer tests that can identify which toxins may be contributing to your symptoms. Heavy metal toxicity, such as such as lead, mercury, cadmium, nickel, beryllium, arsenic and aluminum can be analyzed with a urine test.Chelation is a pharmacological method used to mobilize and reduce the toxic heavy metals in your body. The standard of care for removing lead, arsenic or mercury, is dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA) or Dimercaprol. Other chelating agents, such as 2,3-dimercapto1-propanesulfonic acid (DMPS), calcium ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (CaEDTA), and alpha lipoic acid (ALA), are also used.It's best to see a doctor who has been trained in environmental medicine and toxin removal so harmful side effects of detoxification can be avoided.Environmental toxin exposureThere are literally thousands of environmental toxins. Some of the most common are listed below: Xenoestrogens (a.k.a environmental hormones or endocrine disrupting chemicals) introduced 70 years ago into the environment by industrial, agricultural and chemical companies. Xenoestrogens mimic estrogen and cause hormone disruption, contributing to endometriosis, precocious puberty (unusually early onset of puberty), infertility, miscarriages and the development of cancer. Some of the xenoestrogens are included below in more detail. It is important to realize that they are ubiquitous and are found in: our food supply (i.e. DDE and other pesticides in animal fat, hormones used to promote the growth of animals and milk production, phytoestrogens, antimicrobials) Cosmetics and personal care products (parabens and phthalates) Pesticides and herbicides (i.e. dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane or its metabolites) Heat stabilizers and chemical catalysts (i.e. tributyltin) Plastics (i.e. phthalates, bisphenol A) Pharmaceuticals (i.e. diethylstilbestrol and 17 ethinylestradiol, an oral contraceptive) Solvents (toluene, xylene, and styrene) - these are substances that are capable of dissolving or dispersing one or more other substances and found in hair dyes, dry cleaning, paints, glues, gasoline, health care products and household cleaning products, to name a few. Solvents cause cancer and are toxic to the brain and nervous system and they have been linked to miscarriages. Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) - used as detergents, surfactants and foaming agents. Sulfates are found in nearly all hand and body soaps, shampoos, scalp treatments, hair color, toothpastes, laundry detergents, facial cleansers and moisturizers. Sulfates can cause diarrhea and nausea if swallowed, respiratory tract irritation and allergic respiratory reaction if inhaled, and they irritate the skin and oral mucosa. Many products containing SLES have been found to also contain 1,4-dioxane, which is known to be a human carcinogen. Triclosan antibacterial and anti-fungal compounds added to soaps and mouthwashes. Triclosan is absorbed through the skin and the lining of the mouth and has been detected in human milk samples and in urine at high concentrations. Triclosan persists in the environment, contributes to the increasing rates of bacterial resistance, has endocrinedisruptingproperties and causes adverse health problems in humans and wildlife species. Bisphenol-A (BPA) - found in polycarbonate plastics, used to make plastic bottles, baby toys and cups. BPA is in epoxy resins, used to line metal food cans bottle tops and some water lines. Dental sealants and composites can contain BPA. BPA has estrogenic activity and has been strongly correlated with miscarriages. In addition, BPA studies have linked BPA exposure to immune system problems, impaired neurological development, behavioral disorders, and cancer Phthalates plasticizers (chemicals added to plastics to make them soft and flexible) found in make-up, supplements and medications, plastic wrap and plastic storage containers, the lining of metal cans and automobile parts. That new car smell - phthalates. Phthalates mimic estrogen, influence breast cell growth, and are linked to female and male infertility and miscarriages. Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) previously used as plasticizers, adhesives and in electrical transformers. PCBs are no longer used in the U.S., but they persist in the environment. Fish, especially farmed fish, are the major source, as well as meat and dairy products. PCBs are known carcinogens, and they disrupt the nervous, immune, reproductive, and endocrine systems in humans and animals. Parabens used as preservatives by cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. In cosmetics they are labeled as: butylparaben, ethylparaben, methylparaben and propylparaben. They are found in shampoos, conditioners, facial and shower cleansers, shaving gels, deodorants, cosmetics, sunscreens, toothpaste, and lotions. Parabens are absorbed through skin and they are endocrine disruptors. They have been found in high concentrations in breast tumors, and parabens have been shown to increase skin aging and DNA damage. Fluoride used in toothpaste to prevent cavities, in cookware, pesticides, and pharmaceutical drugs. Fluoride is also added to most municipal water sources in the United States. Water fluoridation is the practice of adding industrial-grade fluoride chemicals to water, for the purpose of preventing tooth decay. Most developed nations, including all of Japan and 97% of Western Europe, do not fluoridate their water. Data from the World Health Organization reveals that there is no discernible difference in tooth decay between the minority of western nations that fluoridate water, and the majority that do not. Even if your community does not fluoridate, you are exposed to fluoride if you consume processed beverages and foods as they are produced with fluoridated water.Here are just a few of the consequences of excessive fluoride ingestion: Fluoride competes with iodine since they are both halogens so fluoride exposures could be contributing to the increased prevalence of underactive thyroid. Prolonged, excessive exposure to fluoride can cause a debilitating bone disease known as skeletal fluorosis. Fluoride has been shown to increase blood glucose levels and impair glucose tolerance. Fluoride damages gastric mucosa at relatively low doses. Fluoride's ability to damage the brain is one of the most active areas of fluoride research today. Over 100 studies conducted in the past three decades have found that fluoride exposure can damage the brain. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) - found in non-stick cookware (Teflon), food packaging and clothing. PFOA has been linked to reproductive disorders and metabolic disturbances. PFOA is toxic to the immune system, causes alterations in hormonal levels, and elevates the risk of cancer. Heavy metals - Mercury, lead, arsenic and cadmium are prime examples of "toxic metals." Heavy metals are found in antiperspirants (although aluminum isn't technically a heavy metal, we will include it here for the sake of the discussion), building materials, dental amalgams (mercury), drinking water (arsenic), fish (mercury), vaccines (aluminum, mercury), pesticides, preserved wood, and old lead-based paint (in homes built prior to 1978). Heavy metals have been linked to Alzheimer's, and they can cause cancer, neurological disorders, fatigue, nausea, abnormal heart rhythm, and damage to blood vessels. There are many other environmental toxins, including: polyaromatic hydrocarbons from unvented gas stoves; cigarette smoke and auto exhaust; formaldehyde from furniture, carpet and cabinetry made of pressed wood; VOCs (volatile organic compounds) from room fresheners, candles, household cleaners, carpet, auto exhaust, paints and building materials; insecticides on plants and pets; preservatives, pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, genetic modifications and hormones in our food supply.Our futureIt is important to remember that although studies have shown that specific chemicals have been shown to cause cancer, endocrine disruption, immune system dysfunction, nervous system dysfunction, mood disorders and reproductive disorders, it is unknown what the combination of the chemicals we are exposed to is doing to our bodies and to our unborn children. We know that toxins can cross the placental and blood-brain barrier, passing to the brain and to your baby in the womb. Toxins from the mother are also passed to infants during breastfeeding. Therefore, it is imperative for women who are thinking of becoming pregnant to detoxify their bodies, avoid environmental toxins as much as possible and eat foods conducive to a healthy body and the development of a healthy fetus.Submitted by Cheryl Hamilton, NMD, Women's Health and Healing Center, 8363 E. Florentine Drive, Suite C, Prescott Valley. Visit www.womenshealthandhealingcenter.com or call (928) 515-2363.