4 Toxic Triggers That Drain Otherwise Healthy People

Written by Dr. Woodson Merrell
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Toxins are a fact of modern life, and there is really no escaping them. (By "toxin," I mean a substance that is in some way essentially poisonous to the body.) They're in the air and the water and the food; they're in nearly everything we touch. They're in our bodies, created within as we struggle to keep up the pace. They're in our media and minds. And yes, they're even in our medicine.

The real problem, as I see in my practice every day, is a chronic onslaught of multiple chemical exposures. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed that the average person's body contains 153 chemical agents known to be toxic or probably toxic to the human body. And that's just what is known; many other chemicals are so new that we just don't understand their long-term effects.

The body was designed to deal with many toxic substances, both outside the body (exogenous) and inside it (endogenous) — think about our ancestors eating an occasional poisonous mushroom or flooding their systems with cortisol so that they could outrun a saber-toothed tiger.

Such an occasional physical insult could easily be addressed by the body's system of detoxification, ever ready to wage all-out war. But it was not meant to be in contact with so very many toxins 24/7. The body is simply not equipped to deal with the daily load of hundreds or even thousands of chemicals, many at or just below the level of what's acceptable.

The following are examples of common toxic triggers I see in my practice on a regular basis. Every one of us has a different tale to tell, a different set of circumstances and symptoms and exposures.

Toxic Trigger: Lack of Sleep

For the body's innate processes of detoxification to work at their best, you need plenty of rest. To be your healthiest, aim to get eight hours a night.

What to do about it

Go to bed a little bit earlier; sleep in when you can. If you wake in the night, practice dream remembrance — that is, as soon as you start to feel that you are going to wake, instead reject conscious thinking and keep your attention on the dream as tenaciously as you can.

If that doesn't do the trick, try some meditative breath work: Inhale for a count of four, hold for a count of one, then exhale for a count of five. Repeat as necessary to induce sleep — or at least reduce your anxiety about being awake.

Toxic Trigger: Convenience Foods

Convenience foods aren't inherently evil; in fact, they can be quite helpful to busy Americans ... if you take care to limit them and balance your intake with healthier choices.

What to do about it

Try not to eat out more than a couple of times a week, particularly from purveyors of cheap processed foods; the rest of the time, cook your own simple, organic fare. Never microwave in plastic containers or plastic-lined cardboard ones, which may leach chemicals into food. Use glass or lead-free ceramic instead.

Toxic Trigger: A Checkered Past

Ah, youth ... that magical time when we think we're invincible, able to do, eat, or consume anything without consequence. Experimenting with drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes is so common in our youth culture that we nearly consider it a rite of passage. Though we grow out of those habits, our bodies hold on to the memories, literally.

When the system is overloaded with toxins, it is forced to find a home for them. Mostly it tucks them away neatly in a nest of body fat, to be dealt with later. Problem is, most of us are carrying on in lifestyles that create ongoing toxic stressors — the body is so busy processing our daily exposures that it never has a chance to go back and clean up the past.

What to do about it

A detox creates space for it to do just that — and you need to do one, even if your transgressions occurred in the distant past. If they're more immediate, take steps to curtail bad habits now. Stop smoking immediately, limit your alcohol intake to one or two drinks five days per week, and avoid recreational drugs. You might also want to look askance at some of your prescriptions. Talk to your doctor about potential for toxicity and — if risk is high — about other options.

Toxic Trigger: Household Cleaning Products

Any parent with a sick child will take pains to create a home that is free from bacteria and viruses. Often the parents will choose antibiotic soaps and surface sprays, many of which can be toxic.

What to do about it

Soap and water has been proven just as effective in keeping bacteria and viruses at bay, so switch to natural cleansers, powered by essential oils. Ditto for air fresheners and candles, if you must use them, though a better investment would be in a houseplant or two, which are proven to clear the air pollution.

Adapted from The Detox Prescription by Woodson Merrell. Copyright (c) 2013 by Woodson Merrell, MD. By permission of Rodale Books.

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