HYB Series PART 3: WERE YOU EXPOSED? IDENTIFYING ENVIRONMENTAL TOXINS
In PART 2, you were given my background and all the insults my little body was exposed to as a child. Now, we begin the functional medicine task of looking at each element to identify areas that are modifiable factors in all of our lives. This segment is going to focus on TOXINS I was exposed to from ages 0-20 years old. Don’t forget to catch PART 4 to identify the MEDICATIONS, giving you a thorough assessment of drug insults, and PART 5 to identify DIETARY FACTORS, giving you many potential food factors that could play part in your child’s health – or even YOUR health. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves and steer our ship back on course for the first topic: ENVIRONMENTAL TOXINS.
On a daily basis, I was continuously exposed to a barrage of environmental toxins. I was quite the little puffer! Just kidding — I’ve never smoked a day in my life, or even a second for that matter. I did, however, inhale quite a little secondhand smoke. The smoke came from the ends of cigarettes smoked by my parents, aunts and uncles during family gatherings, and from neighbors and adult family friends that visited our home. “Unlucky Strike” number one, secondhand cigarette smoke filled up my lungs with chemical tar and sludge, taxing already stressed out lungs.
Next, my entire childhood was spent living in agricultural communities. Farming utilizes high amounts of pesticides and herbicides and generates massive plumes of chemical pollutant dust. Just mentally visualizing the dusty haze makes me want to sneeze. While working the land during planting and harvesting, this ‘micro-particulate’ dust is continuously kicked up into the air. If that sounds like it may choke your lungs, add in the mixture of pollen and mold spores that are also being released by tilling the dirt and cutting the crops. Living in these remote areas, you are subject to unlimited sources of respiratory distress. A steady stream of dust irritates the sensitive lining of your nose and throat, causing allergies, sinus infections, sinus headaches, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and upper respiratory infections like bronchitis and pneumonia. “Unlucky Strike” number 2, breathing poison and irritants from the air.
As I continued to breath the toxins into my respiratory system on a daily basis, I was also ingesting chemicals seeping into the municipal water supply. By drinking ‘polluted’ tap water, chemicals were allowed to take up residence in my digestive system – wreaking havoc with yet another sensitive and crucial body system. We all consider organic gardening a wonderful way to avoid chemicals and supply our families with healthful food choices. However, as a child in the 1970s, we had no knowledge of the benefits of ‘organics’ or the dangers of chemical toxins we sprayed, sprinkled and doused all over our gardens. By consuming home grown “fresh” garden vegetables and fruit, I was being exposed to another source of pesticides and herbicides, like Round-Up, and many other chemicals utilized to kill the bugs and beetles that could potentially destroy the plants. “Unlucky Strike” number 3, ingesting chemicals from drinking water and fresh produce.
Another very unfortunate source of potential toxins and poisons came from consumption of fresh fish caught from local streams and lakes. My favorite family activity was, and still is, fishing. Not to toot my own horn, but I will admit I was quite the little angler! We were never a catch-and-release family, as we actually enjoyed having a beer-battered “fish fry” after a day at the river. For children, the sport of fishing is basically to see how many fish you can successfully land on shore, how fast you can get the fish off the hook, and equally how fast you can cast your line back in the water for a repeat. We never worried about who was going to clean the fish and take care of the dirty work – that would be good ol’ Dad’s job. On many occasions, our catch of the day consisted of fish like catfish and bullhead, because they were easy to catch and always yielded a productive fishing day. These nasty bottom feeding fish have very oily meat with a higher concentration of toxins — as the toxins are naturally attracted to, and concentrate in oily tissues. If we were fishing in North and South Dakota rivers, streams and lakes, where exactly did those toxins found in our fish come from? That is an excellent question and one that many do not take into consideration. Many lakes and streams are situated on land next to crop fields. Irrigation and rainwater runoff from the fields can find its way back into the streams and lakes, polluting these precious bodies of water with poisons. Additionally, many ranchers have built massive cattle feedlots and pig and hog farms near lakes and streams. I know this is extremely disgusting, however, the urine and feces runoff eventually makes its way to the water supply where we are innocently catching the fish – which we take home and EAT. I have never seen signs posted by the Game and Fish Department issuing any warnings of potential increased noxious toxins in the “wild” fish found in these local bodies of water. I have since warned my friends and family back home of the dangers of eating fish caught in tiny lakes that are stagnant with no outlets to keep the water flowing steadily, and also from streams and rivers located on farmed lands or near feedlots. “Unlucky Strike” number 4, ingesting contaminants found in locally caught “wild” fish from polluted waters.
This segment should have given you a good overview of just a few environmental toxins you could be exposed to, especially if you or a loved one was raised in rural farming communities. You will not want to miss PART 4, which will take a look at MEDICATION exposures and the dangers found lurking there.