There are almost 1 million Google entries and more than 3,000 articles in the National Library of Medicine regarding persistent organic pollutants (POPs) — and yet it's infrequent that I have patients who are aware of this group of chemicals.
More than 50 years ago, Rachel Carson wrote about the harmful effects of one POP, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), in her classic book Silent Spring. But I only learned about them in my training in integrative cardiology.
Since then I've been keeping up to date with the research, and the health concerns for POPs in humans are growing. In fact, this topic is of special concern to my practice of cardiology because exposure to POPs has been linked to higher levels of cholesterol, blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and cardiac deaths.
Here, I'm sharing some facts about POPs that may matter to your health and that of your family members:
1. POPs are environmental toxins.
You should know that they ...
- Are highly toxic to humans and the environment
- Persist in the environment, resisting degradation, and can be stored easily in human and animal fat
- Are able to accumulate in terrestrial and aquatic (fish) systems
POPs are used in agriculture, manufacturing, and industry and include such well-known names as dioxin and PCBs. The list of the 12 most serious chemicals is called the "Dirty Dozen."
In 2001, the United States joined 90 other countries in signing a treaty agreeing to reduce or eliminate the Dirty Dozen. Unfortunately, POPs are still being produced by countries not in the treaty and can easily be spread through contaminated waters worldwide.
2. POPs are linked to many health issues.
Plus, a link between the level of POPs and developing diabetes has been identified. Scientists studied more than 1,000 nurses over the long term and concluded that their findings supported “an association between POP exposure and the risk of type 2 diabetes."
3. POPs can be found in food.
In a 2010 study by the University of Texas School of Public Health, the highest levels of POPs in food purchased in supermarkets in Dallas were found in milk, catfish fillets, and salmon.
The amount of POPs in the fatty tissue of animals — particularly farmed salmon — may explain why eating oily fish has been linked to diabetes in humans.
4. POPs are stored in human fat.
These harmful chemicals can be found in more than 96 percent of obese individuals. It's feared that these stores can release POPs into the bloodstream and cause continual exposure and harm, even if measures are made to reduce intake of POP-contaminated foods.
What You Can Do to Reduce Your Risk
You can have your concentration of POPs measured by a health professional — usually by environmental or functional medicine practitioners — which can lead to recommendations for liver detoxification support, supplements that boost glutathione production such as N-acetyl cysteine, and infrared sauna therapy.
To lower your risk of exposure, reduce or eliminate animal foods from your diet, where POPs are found in higher concentrations. Avoiding farmed fish — particularly salmon and catfish — is wise.
Maintaining ideal body weight to avoid concentrated stores in fatty tissue is also recommended. And finally, I suggest staying up to date on efforts to educate and eliminate POPs and other chemicals in our food and home from reliable sources like the Environmental Working Group.
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