05/02/2012 11:37 am ET | Updated Jul 02, 2012

Living in a Toxic Environment

The harsh morning sun bore down on the primitive surface of the Earth. None rode their bicycles on that morning because vertebrate life had not yet appeared. The atmosphere was far from friendly. Some clutches of primitive bacteria clung to the surface of rocks and took steps to survive in the low-oxygen, acidic environment. To be successful, they would need to develop some powerful means of adapting, and fortunately for all of us, they succeeded. From the dawn of life, organisms developed ways to find safe space, seek necessary energy, produce vital substances and excrete and/or transform toxic substances so they could reproduce and survive. These functions are so powerful and so common that we often forget they even exist.

It is sad that people do not have better understanding of this really critical subject, because our health is largely determined by how well we understand and implement this material in our daily lives. While the basic information is contained in simple physiology textbooks and basic scientific research, many never apply the data to living.

Sources of Toxins
Disease signs and symptoms come from the body's reactions to toxins, which are encountered from two primary sources:

  • Exogenous toxins are those toxic substances that originate from outside the body. They come from the environment and enter the body through various bodily surfaces. Examples of exogenous toxins include cyanide, carbon monoxide, ozone, chlorine, fluoride, petrochemicals, plastics, pesticides, pharmaceutical drugs, plants, acids, bases, arsenic, heavy metals, etc.
  • Endogenous toxins are toxic materials that are generated by our own bodies in their normal physiologic processes. The process of living generates toxic molecules. As we obtain food, metabolize and transform the components we inevitably generate molecules that are potentially harmful. The body uses systems to remove or reduce these toxins so we can continue living. Carbon dioxide results from burning of calories for energy. It is toxic and must be removed. Sugars like glucose are generated from metabolism and must be transformed or used quickly or they can cause degradation of tissues and lead to various types of disease process. Ammonia is another toxin that is generated by cells as they transform proteins into other substances.
  • Detoxification
    We can measure how toxic a substance is by determining its LD-50. This test measures how much of a substance must be ingested before half (50 percent) of the test subjects die (lethal dose in 50 percent of exposed patients). These toxins gain access to the environment and our bodies through contact, inhalation, ingestion and injection. Detoxification is the process of reducing the toxic nature of a substance. In some cases the toxin is made completely safe, and in other cases its toxic nature is only diminished. Here are some ways that our bodies detoxify or address toxic substances:

    • Avoidance is the simplest method. The autonomic nervous system has detection methods that warn us of the presence of toxins and allow us to use our nervous system to redirect our actions so that we can avoid toxins in the environment. Primitive creatures use this method by reflexively being attracted to good things and repelled by bad things. If we look at the nervous system of a worm we find the tiny brain sits right on top of the oral cavity and in direct contact with the gastrointestinal and circulatory systems. On exposure to a toxic substance the worm's reflexes move its head in the opposite direction so that the noxious material is escaped. Our sense of smell comes from the first cranial nerve and enters the brain to advise the body regarding air that is inhaled. Smell is a critical part of our immune and defensive systems. If you have ever walked out of a room or wrinkled your nose because of the presence of tobacco smoke, then you have personal experience with this mechanism. If we learn to listen to our nervous system we will find all sorts of clues regarding toxins.

  • Protective barriers exist throughout the body. The epithelial surfaces that line the skin, respiratory, digestive, and urinary systems protect the body from absorption of toxins. There are other barriers inside the body such as cell membranes, extracellular matrix and the blood-brain barrier that block or reduce absorption of toxins into vital tissues. Bacteria that live in these areas also assist in protective functions. Taking care of these barriers with proper nutrition, skin and dental care are important aspects of health.
  • Excretion and dilution are simple ways of addressing toxins. When noxious substances contact our bodies, we can use tears, saliva, mucus, sweat and oil glands, diarrhea and vomiting or increased urination to flush out the toxic materials. By adding water, we reduce the concentration and allow cells a fighting chance of survival. Some toxins are diluted in the extracellular matrix where they are kept from accessing the cell's delicate inner workings. Exposure to ample fresh air and clean water for drinking and bathing is critical. Exercise plays a part here, too.
  • Transformation and metabolism use enzyme systems within the body to alter toxins chemically. In the case of ammonia, which comes from protein metabolism, the liver uses energy and enzymes to stick two ammonia molecules together to make nontoxic urea. The kidneys use urea to concentrate urine and preserve body water stores. Glucose is toxic to cells in high amounts and the liver converts glucose to fat which is easier to store. The skin, lung, gut, liver, and kidney all have special enzyme systems that protect us against toxins. Proper diet goes a long way in supporting these mechanisms.
  • Deposition and sequestration of toxins into tissues can protect the body. This is often seen in older patients and may result in things such as cyst formation, pigmentation, fat accumulation and by bonding to structural molecules in the extracellular matrix. As an example, large amounts of sugar are bound to proteins in the matrix in patients with diabetes. When agents are given that assist the body in managing high blood sugar levels, we often see a temporary elevation of blood sugar levels as the matrix flushes out excessive amounts of sugar. This section is where lots of chronic disease begins. Early attention to these warning signs helps us delay chronic problems. Proper diet, judicious use of herbs, homeopathics and other natural substances are helpful in supporting these areas. They induce circulation, activate detoxification enzymes, and help carry toxins out of the body.
  • By understanding these basic mechanisms and by working with professionals who are trained, it becomes possible to better address health and disease through steps that optimize the body's efforts to handle such toxic exposures. It is smart to avoid toxins, but no one cannot live on this planet in modern times and totally avoid them. Fortunately, the body has taken this into account. If we can balance our exposure to toxins and support our detoxification and drainage systems, then we can reduce the damage done to our bodies by those toxins. Hopefully that assists us in living better, more healthy lives. Being better-informed allows us to relax and enjoy life more.

    For more by Dr. Richard Palmquist, click here.

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