Some buzzwords seem to be everywhere, and we tend to use in our everyday speech – sometimes without even knowing what they mean! One such word is toxins, and if you’ve always wondered what these actually are, today’s the day you learn about them.
What are Toxins?
We know what toxic means – poisonous. So, going by that, the simple definition for a toxin is a poisonous substance. However, toxins can be of two types – biological and environmental.
Biological toxins are harmful substances produced within living cells or organisms. They are small molecules or proteins that can cause disease or affect normal bodily functions. Some examples are the venom from bees, snakes or other animals and even some plants. Toxins of this kind can range in their effect or toxicity. For instance, a bee sting’s toxin is much less harmful than the potentially fatal botulinum toxin.
The other kinds of toxins are environmental toxins, which are added to the environment by human activity. The exact name for these is ‘toxicants’, although people generally use the word ‘toxin’ when referring to environmental toxins. These include industrial toxins, and it is believed that there are over 600 toxins in everyday things we use, such as azodicarbonamide in yoga mats, bisphenol A or BPA in consumer plastics and even mercury in the fish we eat.
You might think that toxins are a feature of modern lifestyle, but toxins have been around for ages, and it is believed that the Roman Empire’s fall was due to the toxins in leaded water pipes. In the past, most human contact in toxins was mainly occupational – people in certain jobs, like mining, were being regularly exposed to certain toxins. However, the picture is different today, with people in all spheres of life being exposed to toxins in their everyday lives.
Ayurveda and Toxins
Ayurveda considers toxins to be anything that the body can’t digest or eliminate. This means that the natural waste matter from body processes are also considered toxins. The body has its own way of dealing with such toxins.
For example, the lungs can push out some contaminants along with exhaling carbon dioxide. The intestines help in pushing out whatever undigested waste material enters the large intestine. The liver, kidneys, lymphatic and circulatory systems also filter out unnecessary substances and help the body get rid of them.
According to Ayurveda, some substances in the body may be a toxin for one person but not necessarily for another. This depends upon our individual constitutions or doshas and the specific organ weaknesses we may have. In such cases, our body finds it difficult to eliminate waste, and we start seeing symptoms like gas, bloating, bad breath, lethargy and dullness. Of course, these are minor, and sometimes symptoms that are ignored over a long period can result in more severe illnesses.
From this, it is quite evident that holding on to toxins isn’t a good idea for our health. However, to know precisely how to tackle them, we need to know the ways that toxins are damaging our bodies. Here is a look at some of the reasons you should stay away from toxins.
7 Reasons Why You Should Stay Away from Toxins
Toxins Cause Cancer
One of the reasons cancer seem to be on the rise and increasingly among younger people is because of the widespread presence of toxins. Toxins in food, cosmetics, household cleaners and everyday essentials can cause a buildup in our bodies which eventually leads to cancer.
Most people today use refined vegetable oils, which are quite high in omega-6 linoleic acid. Studies show that women who consume more omega-6 fats and less omega-3 fats have nearly a 90% higher risk of breast cancer. Excessive consumption of linoleic acid can cause the spread of breast cancer to other tissues as well.
BPA is another toxin present in consumer plastics, including containers for food and drinks. BPA has been proven to mess with reproductive hormones, increasing the risk of cancers in a developing fetus.
Another common toxin is PAH, referring to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons released by red meat being grilled or smoked at high temperatures. Research has found a link between PAHs and a higher risk of breast and prostate cancer, as well as kidney and colon cancer.
Cassia cinnamon, which is a lower quality variety of cinnamon, contains high amounts of coumarin. Increased consumption of coumarin can cause all kinds of cancer.
Toxins Cause Heart Disease
If you’ve been surprised at how young people are now succumbing to heart disease, the reason could be environmental toxins. In the case of heart diseases, the toxins in food are particularly responsible.
The high linoleic acid content of refined vegetable oil can damage the lining of the arteries, thereby increasing the risk of heart disease. Another culprit is trans fats, which are a well-known food toxin. Trans fats are solid fats created by pumping hydrogen into unsaturated oils. Since the body can’t process trans fats, it ends up causing damage.
Trans fats increase the risk factor for heart disease. The inflammation caused by trans fats is known to affect the arteries’ ability to dilate properly and circulate blood. These damages add up over time, leading to severe disease later.
Toxins Cause Inflammation
Inflammation of body cells is a root cause of many serious illnesses. Toxins in food and cosmetics go through reactions which cause inflammation and end up depriving the body of essential nutrients and hormones it needs.
We know overuse of refined oils is bad, but their adverse effects increase when they’re heated. At higher temperatures, they release toxic compounds that can cause a variety of inflammatory conditions.
Besides heart disease, trans fats are also among the primary causes of inflammation. Studies find that inflammatory markers are highest in people who eat the most trans fats. Eating trans fats increases a marker known as e-selectin, which is activated by other inflammatory markers. This causes damage to the cells lining the blood vessels.
Chronic inflammation can lead to many illnesses from overall malaise, joint trouble, pain to more serious conditions like insulin resistance, diabetes and even obesity.
Toxins Affect the Reproductive Health
We’ve all heard of conditions like PCOS and infertility increasing among urban women, while girls are now getting their period earlier and earlier. Along with other lifestyle factors, toxins also play a significant role in these.
For instance, BPA from food and drink containers can leech into the food, and this is known to affect normal estrogen function by binding to the receptor sites meant for estrogen. Other studies have found a link between BPA and polycystic ovarian syndrome, which is an insulin resistance disorder.
Mercury is another toxin that’s particularly harmful to pregnant women. Mercury is found in fish like swordfish and king mackerel, and it’s a neurotoxin. This means that it can affect the brain and nerves of the developing fetus.
Endocrine disruptors or EDCs are extremely dangerous to reproductive health since even tiny amounts can lead to hormone disorders, infertility, fetal abnormalities as well as trouble with puberty and menopause.
Toxins Alter Hormone and Enzyme Function
Toxins affect the function of hormones and not just reproductive ones. The main problem arises when they begin to mimic the hormones and block them from performing their usual functions.
Hormones are crucial in many body processes as basic as growth, metabolism, sleep and cell repair. For instance, arsenic, a toxin, affects the thyroid hormone receptors on the cells. As a result, the cells don’t get instructions from the thyroid hormones, affecting functions like metabolism.
BPA also binds to thyroid hormone receptors, due to their similarity to estrogen receptors. Along with hormones, toxins also affect enzyme function and end up limiting the body’s ability to produce haemoglobin or fight free radicals.
Toxins Cause Damage on a Cellular Level
The reason toxins are so dangerous is because they attack the body at a cellular level, even damaging genes and DNA. Pesticides and many ingredients in personal care products can damage our DNA and change the way our genes adapt to changes in the environment.
Our normal functions depend upon our cells receiving the right messages at the right time. Toxins disrupt this mechanism by damaging the cell membranes where the signalling happens.
Many toxins damage neurological function, which can be long term. Toxins also displace the calcium in bones, which results in weaker bones that can last for life.
Toxins Hinder Natural Detoxification
We know that our bodies have a natural mechanism to detoxify the body, through many organs like the kidneys and the liver. However, an overdose of toxins can affect this natural detoxification as well.
When the body is going through a toxin overload, the kidneys and liver are overworked in trying to eliminate the toxins, reducing their effectiveness. A lightly toxic body is easier to detoxify than a heavily toxic body. Additionally, toxins like coumarin can damage the liver, further weakening its ability to detox.