Recently, I attended a conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, on environmental medicine with my father, Dr. Stephen Sinatra, and my wife, Dr. Briana Sinatra. I’ve always been interested in how environmental toxins can influence health, because as a child I suffered tremendously with asthma and allergies that I later learned were triggered by mold exposure from a flooded basement.
At the time of the flood, my mother, brother, and I all developed asthma within the same time period but, at that time, doctors didn’t really know that mold exposure could lead to poor health. We probably didn’t tell them either that our basement had flooded, so how would they have known? As a result, we were all medicated for many years while the true culprit—mold—was never questioned or addressed. It is now part of my life mission to make sure no one has to suffer like we did, so in my practice I always think “outside the box” and consider how the environment may be playing a role in a patient’s health.
Environmental medicine is an evolving field looking at the interaction between the environment and human health. There are many environmental toxins that we are ALL exposed to that can negatively impact our health. Some of these toxins (manmade or naturally occurring) or other harmful substances include the following:
- Heavy metals (mercury, lead, aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, etc.)
- Mold and mycotoxins (toxic byproducts of fungus and mold)
- Phthalates and other plastic compounds
- Flame retardants
- BPA (Bisphenol A) and other BPA-like compounds
- PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls)
- VOCs (volatile organic compounds)
In fact, this list could go on and on, but these are the main ones you need to be concerned about.
Where Do We Get Exposed to These Toxins?
The reality is no matter where you live on Earth, EVERYONE is being exposed to some or all of these toxins on a daily basis. Many of them are found in the foods we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, or even the products that we bring into our home. If you take a look under your sink, how many chemical-based cleaning products do you have down there? What about all the perfume/cologne and hygiene products you use on a daily basis? Do you recognize any of the ingredients on the labels, and how do you know those ingredients are safe?
Most of these toxins are invisible, and that’s what makes environmental medicine such a tricky field of medicine. Because if you cannot see, hear, taste, feel, or smell something, how do you know it’s problematic?
A study that I frequently discuss that puts all this into context is the one conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) back in 2005. The EWG collected umbilical cord blood from 10 babies and found the following:
- On average each sample contained over 200 industrial chemicals.
- Some of these chemicals, like DDT or PCBs, had been banned 30+ years before the study but were still found in the umbilical cord blood.
- Many of these chemicals are known endocrine disrupters and carcinogens, and others have been shown to cause birth defects and infertility.
- Very low doses (parts per billion) of these toxins can have detrimental effects on the body.
This information shows that even BEFORE we are born we are swimming in a sea of chemicals coming from mom and the environment. This is why detoxification is such an important concept and something we must do on a daily basis to keep our bodies healthy.
Natural Detoxification 101
Now that you understand the ubiquitous nature of these environmental toxins, I’m going to share some simple and effective ways to reduce exposure, and how to remove them from your body. When it comes to detoxification, I want you to remember these two steps:
- Reduce exposure
- Facilitate removal from the body
Reducing exposure is actually quicker and easier than removing toxins from the body. If you follow these simple tips, you’ll radically reduce your daily toxin exposure:
- Eat organic foods as much as possible as this will reduce exposure to pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides.
- Buy a really good air purifier (Blueair, Austin Air, IQAir, etc.) to filter the air inside your home.
- Check for hidden water leaks, water damage, or a musty/moldy smell, as any of these could indicate or lead to mold growth. If you are suspicious of mold but cannot find any, hire a professional to test your home.
- Use glassware as much as possible, and reduce use of plastic containers, or anything wrapped in plastic.
- If you drive a new car, leave the windows open as much as possible and air that thing out! That new car smell is really a plethora of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and other chemical cocktails.
- Only use natural eco-friendly cleaning materials in your home, or better yet, make your own.
- Only use natural eco-friendly hygiene products (deodorant, perfume, makeup, toothpaste, etc.), or make your own.
- Drink filtered water and try not to drink bottled water (too many plastic water bottles in our oceans).
- Avoid the high mercury-containing fish like tuna, king mackerel, and swordfish, and instead choose low mercury-containing fish like wild salmon, sardines, cod, or herring.
Facilitate Removal from the Body
The best detoxifiers are very easy to accomplish. Here’s how to remove toxins from the body naturally:
- Enjoy some sauna therapy. Saunas are one of the best tools for eliminating toxins from the body via sweat. Saunas can be used 3 to 4 times a week up to tolerance with proper electrolyte and fluid repletion.
- Make sure to exercise. Similar to saunas, exercise supports the cardiovascular system and can help mobilize toxins from the tissue to be eliminated via the bowels, urine, or skin.
- Focus on eating whole foods (and avoid processed/sugary foods) as the dense nutrient content and fiber will support the microbiome and allow for more efficient elimination.
- Practice dry skin brushing. Use a natural vegetable bristle brush or loofa brush. Starting at your feet use quick gentle strokes, and brush over all the skin on your body toward the direction of your heart. Skin brushing is excellent for supporting the skin and lymphatic system.
- Eat more liver-supportive foods that detoxify pathways and improve liver function.
- Root vegetables (beets, carrots, etc.)
- Dandelion greens
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.)
- High sulphur-containing foods (garlic, onions, eggs, legumes, etc.)
- Take liver-supportive herbs and supplements.
- Milk thistle
- Burdock root
- Dandelion root
- Gentian (very bitter tasting)
- NAC (N-acetyl cysteine)
- ALA (alpha lipoic acid)
Detoxification Is Essential
I strongly believe that supporting natural detoxification on a daily basis is critical in our modern industrialized world. This really starts with eating a clean diet, as the foods you eat (and avoid) can improve your gut health tremendously. Also, stay hydrated with filtered water and follow the other steps above. Your health is in your hands.