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How Toxins Are Making Us Fat and Diabetic


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Each year the toxic burden in our air, food and water – and thus our bodies – grows higher than ever before. Companies manufacture 6.5 trillion pounds of 9,000 different chemicals each year. That’s about 3.25 billion tons – enough to fill an ocean supertanker. And the same companies release over 7 billion pounds of 650+ different pollutants into the atmosphere and water.

A recent study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found the average person has over 91 toxic chemicals in their body. Some people had as many as 165, including 76 known to cause cancer, 94 known to be toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 79 known to cause birth defects and abnormal fetal development.

Another EWG study found an average of 200 industrial compounds, pollutants, and other chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of 10 newborn babies. Chemicals found in the second study included the organochlorine pesticides DDT and dieldrin, perfluorochemicals, brominated fire retardants, PCBs, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated and polybrominated dioxins and furans, polychlorinated naphthalenes, and mercury.

If that wasn’t enough, the Standard American Diet itself is highly toxic. Processed and refined foods, industrial seed oils, high fructose corn syrup, and even so-called healthy foods like whole grains and soy all have a toxic effect on the body.

How Environmental Toxins Cause Diabesity

An increasing amount of evidence has linked exposure to toxins with both obesity and diabetes. Toxins cause inflammation and immune dysregulation.

And as you know from reading this series on diabesity and metabolic syndrome, obesity and diabetes are autoimmune, inflammatory diseases.

I’ve already discussed the role of food toxins in the diabesity epidemic, so in this article we’re going to focus on how industrial chemicals in our air, water and soil contribute.

There are several mechanisms involved. Environmental toxins:

There are probably other mechanisms that we don’t yet understand. But the ones I listed above are certainly enough to explain the link between toxins and diabesity.

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Evidence Supporting the Role of Toxins in the Diabesity Epidemic

A while back I wrote about a study showing that a chemical called bisphenol-A (BPA), found in packaged foods and beverages, causes obesity in mice.

A more recent study published in JAMA found that BPA increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and abnormal liver function.

A 2010 study in Environmental Health Perspectives found that exposure to organic pollutants leads to insulin resistance and metabolic dysfunction in rats.

A review paper by researchers in Korea reached a similar conclusion:

…the metabolic syndrome is the result of mitochondrial dysfunction, which in turn is caused by exposure to persistent organic pollutants.

A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2002 observed a significant correlation between blood levels of six common persistent organic pollutants and diabetes. Those who had the highest serum levels of pollutants had a dramatically higher risk for diabetes.

Canadian Aboriginals and Great Lakes sport fishermen both have higher rates of diabetes from eating contaminated seafood.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. Toxins are making us fat and diabetic.

Okay, so I’m Toxic! What Do I Do about It?

The most obvious first step is to remove all food toxins from your diet. This means ditching processed and refined foods, industrial seed oils, and high fructose corn syrup, as well as grains, legumes and other foods with toxic effects on the body.

The second step is to take steps to reduce your exposure to chemicals at home. This means choosing non-toxic household cleaning, bath, beauty and hygiene products.

The third step is to support the body’s natural detoxification capacity so you can effectively deal with the toxins you do get exposed to. This is a crucial step, because no matter how careful we are, there’s no way to completely avoid toxins.

Compounds that support health liver detoxification include:

  • Protective compounds like milk thistle and artichoke leaf extract
  • Bile stimulants such as dandelion and curcumin
  • Bile motility enahncers (cholagogues) like dandelion, beet juice and coffee enemas
  • Antioxidants like vitamins C & E, zinc, selenium and lipoic acid

For those of you that would like some support in this area, I’ll be offering a “Paleo Detox” program sometime early next year. It’s a 30-day, supervised detoxification program incorporating a paleo diet, targeted nutrients to support healthy liver function, supportive and educational weekly meetings, and guidelines for integrating the positive changes you’ve made in the program into your day-to-day life. I will offer both local (SF Bay Area) and long-distance (via webinar) programs. Stay tuned for a future announcement on this.

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Join the conversation

  1. My practitioner finds the most damaging toxins to be heavy metals, mainly from teeth fillings and vaccines. When metals are injected directly into the blood stream they are difficult to detoxify. A good level of beneficial gut bacteria is essential.
    Detox was not easy but I have experienced many health benefits both mental and physical and am almost to my ideal weight.

    • Hesham, remember, meat has a toxic effect on the body, too.

      Oh, and there’s a lot of vegetables that are more likely to have high levels of pollutants/pesticides.

      *rolls eyes*

      We get it, everything’s toxic. These “selective” diets, as I call them, like paleo, vegan, atkins, raw, etc. are making people crazy and robbing them of the benefits of having a vast diet of healthy variety. If you just purchase your food with understanding and make informed choices that will make you feel amazing, then you’re set.

      • A thing to remember; the dose makes the poison. Cruciferous vegetables are bad for people low in iodine or with other Thyroid problems, but for most we can eat as much as we want and only be effected by the positive health benefits. Reasonable portions of meat and veggies have a huge net positive reaction in our bodies, but eating only meat or only vegetables has a net negative effect. For things like grains, legumes, other seeds, processed foods, and sugar research is showing any dose is a poison and so we seek to reduce our consumption of these things to as close to none as we can. We also try to eat mostly organic, pastured, wild , and grass fed whole foods to minimize toxin exposure. As to hesham’s question; tubers, such as potatoes and yams, are an another food you can include. I think most of us who forego grains quickly don’t miss them after.

  2. May I suggest people also consider the role of Melatonin as a detoxifying antioxidant.
    Improving melatonin secretion during the evening by using f.lux™ Better lighting…for your computer software, Also improving sleep hygiene by making sure kids get to bed early, prevent them sending texts into the night or using PC/TV when they should be asleep, have as little light (digital displays) in bedrooms as possible while ensuring bright light exposure in the daytime resets circadian rhythm.
    Stephan discusses how Disordered sleep affects obesity here
    I think our brains need that downtime for detoxification and controlling inflammation.

  3. Thanks for the correction, Jesse. I was thinking 6.5 trillion tons, not pounds. I’ve been working too hard :).

  4. Also, a minor note on the math at the top: 6.5 trillion pounds = 3.25 billion tons, so it would take ONE supertanker.

    • You guys are way off 🙂 The largest ocean tankers can carry less than 500,000 tons of crude. Love the info on the toxic stuff but huge mistakes like this may reflect negatively on your credibility with many readers.

  5. It’s a valid point. The best I can offer is that we do our best to eat grass-fed and at least hormone/antibiotic free when possible, and make sure you’re covered on steps 2 & 3. Some choose to eat leaner meats, but add fats like coconut oil that are less likely to have toxins.

  6. With increasing emphasis on higher fat intake for health, I’m concerned that this will also mean higher toxin intake, as many toxins are fat-soluble. Grass-fed is probably a good start but won’t likely be realistic for the whole population. Any thoughts?