How (and where) your body stores toxins
How (and where) your body stores toxins
The real reason some toxicities are more dangerous than others
Most of us are well aware we are exposed to a number of different chemicals that are harmful to our health during the course of our day, although you probably don’t realize just where these chemicals go. You might think that if it gets on your skin you can wipe it off or if it enters your body you just pee it into the toilet in a few hours. The reality is it’s rarely so clean and simple, and our body will protect itself to an extent and the natural properties of some toxins mean they tend to be stored for long periods.
Fat soluble toxins
Let’s start with the place that is the most likely to be toxic – your fat. The thing about many toxins is they don’t dissolve well in water because they are lipophilic – which means they dissolve in oil a.k.a. fat. This can be a blessing and a curse – it can lock these toxins away where they might not do as much damage. We can think of belly fat and the toxins stored there as (relatively) low harm, since there is distance from our vital organs and central nervous system. More worrisome is the other place we see fat stored – directly around the organs in our visceral fat which is found on and surrounding our liver, pancreas, kidneys, GI tract and other organs. Toxins stored in visceral fat exposes our organs to different toxins, subjecting sensitive glands like our pancreas to toxins. There is a lot of research showing clear association with PCBs (a fat soluble toxin) and an dramatically increased risk of diabetes. The other downside of fat stored toxins is proximity to our extremely sensitive nervous system. The brain is estimated to be made of 60-80% fat, fat also wraps around our nerves in the form of myelin. This means certain toxins are very, VERY close to our nerves which is why symptoms like brain fog, mental impairment, headaches, tingling, numbness and mood problems are very common with this type of toxicity.
Some common toxins that are fat soluble.
- Solvents (benzene, xylene, gasoline, etc)
Blood (Water soluble toxins)
The other main place where toxins are found is in the blood, which is the shortest “storage place” in the body and easiest location for our body to eliminate toxins from. This is because our blood is purified constantly all day every day mainly by our liver and kidneys, where any toxins are quickly addressed and eliminated (given the required nutrients). The real problem of water soluble toxins comes from near constant exposures. If a toxin lasts in the blood for 30 minutes to a couple of hours before and then is completely eliminated, that’s usually fine. What happens when you re-dose yourself everytime you take a drink of water from a plastic bottle (BPA) or eat food contaminated with pesticides? It becomes a cycle of constant re-exposure to many toxins that act as hormone disruptors or worse causing damage throughout the body. Your blood washes over essentially every part of the body, and may even allow certain chemicals to cross the Blood-Brain Barrier.
A few common water soluble chemicals.
- Numerous heavy metals (arsenic, thallium, cadmium, lead etc)
- Chlorinated pesticides
The next storage place, bones, tends is more insidious. It generally protects us from lead, the main toxin stored there. You probably know that calcium is important for bone health, well on a chemical level lead and calcium look and function similarly enough that lead often displaces calcium in many functions and is often stored in our bones because of this. One problem comes when there is trauma that breaks the bone or when pregnancy and osteoporosis cause breakdown of our bones. In all of these cases the lead that has been stored in the bone is mobilized into the blood in much higher levels. This puts many different tissues and organs at risk, and especially harmful to a developing fetus in pregnancy. This is why addressing any lead exposure is very important to do long before pregnancy or osteoporosis enter the equation.
Main toxin stored in bone
The next place where toxins tuck away is actually the second most easy to remove them from. These are the nooks and crannies of our body like our joints, connective tissues, and lymphatic system. The main reason toxins hang out here is a lack of movement and exercise. As a society we are increasingly more sedentary with desk jobs, driving, tv and computers. The fluids are pumped through all of these tight areas by the movement of joints and muscles. Exercise and simple movement helps move these toxins and supply better oxygen and nutrition to the areas. Once the toxins are moved into the blood the liver and kidney take over. This is even more support for the new and popular catch-phrase “sitting is the new smoking.”
The bad news is that we all have some pretty nasty chemicals from the recent industrial revolution trapped in our bodies. The good news is with the right steps you can address and start reversing this toxicity. With optimal nutrition and lifestyle you can protect yourself from the negative effects of most of these chemicals and even support elimination and detox more toxins than you store. Step one is to minimize and avoid toxins, step two is to make and support our natural ability to detox through diet, optimal water intake and exercise.
- Plastics in all forms especially containers marked PC or #7.
- Conventional (non-organic=pesticides) produce and meats.
- Dental amalgams (silver fillings=mercury).
- Organic vegetables, wild caught fish, organic/grassfed meats.
- 70% or more vegetarian diet.
- Antioxidants: great sources are berries fresh or frozen.
- Brocolli, mustard, cabbage, etc: this family of plants (the brassicas) all upregulate our ability to detox so include them in your meals often.
- House plants: a few years ago NASA funded a study on the ability of plants to clean the air of numerous toxins, take advantage of this and make your home and office healthier.