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A No-Nonsense Look at Toxins and How Your Body Deals with Them
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim on Sep 13, 2012
Updated on September 13, 2012
The world wide web is overflowing with information on toxins and countless programs and products that are touted to cleanse your body of them. I hope that this post provides you with a clear understanding of what toxins are, how they can affect your health, and a sensible approach to preventing accumulation of toxins in your body.
First, let's differentiate between the two main types of toxins that you're exposed to on a day-to-day basis.
1. Exogenous Toxins
Exogenous toxins are chemicals that are made outside of your body and can harm your cells if they are ingested, inhaled, or absorbed into your bloodstream through some other channel.
While it's unrealistic to live and work in an environment that's free of exogenous toxins, you should strive to minimize your exposure to the following most common exogenous toxins:
MSG and aspartame - both are especially toxic to your nerve cells
Any over-the-counter or prescription drug that comes with a warning that use of the drug in question may lead to liver damage
Most personal care products, especially cosmetics that are applied around the mouth, which are easily swallowed in trace but potentially significant amounts
The exogenous toxins mentioned above may not be as harmful in one shot as other obvious toxins like carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds, but the four groups mentioned above tend to be used regularly by large segments of the population, so they're definitely worth highlighting.
For a closer look at other exogenous toxins that tend to be in modern living and working environments, please view my article on the most common household toxins.
2. Endogenous Toxins
Endogenous toxins are toxins that are produced inside of your body. Some of these toxins are waste products from normal metabolic activities - carbon dioxide, urea, and lactic acid are examples of endogenous toxins that your body churns out by the second. Unless your health is severely compromised, your body is well equipped to eliminate these endogenous toxins from your system.
An often overlooked source of endogenous toxins is an unhealthy gut. Over time, a diet that's rich in highly refined foods, poor eating habits (lack of chewing is a big one), and emotional stress can lead to an unhealthy balance of microorganisms in your gastrointestinal tract, a state that's called intestinal dysbiosis.
Intestinal dysbiosis is accompanied by steady production of endogenous toxins by undesirable yeasts, fungi, bacteria, and in rare cases, even parasites. These toxins include various aldehydes, alcohols, indols, phenols, and skatols, just to name a few.
While some of these endogenous toxins are eliminated as gas, some make their way into your bloodstream by traveling through your intestinal walls, and once they make it into your bloodstream, they can get into your cells.
Now that we've reviewed the two main types of toxins that your body is exposed to, let's assume that you haven't yet taken steps to reduce your exposure to toxins, and that these toxins are steadily making their way into your blood.
How does your body deal with this constant influx of toxins?
Your body always works within the framework of trying to preserve health, so its first defense against toxins is to eliminate them through one of your main eliminative channels - these are your urinary tract, colon, lungs, skin, and mucosal linings in your nose and ears.
So your body may create symptoms like diarrhea, a persistent cough, a skin rash, nasal discharge/congestion, and even chronic recurrent ear discharge/infections, all with the intent of protecting your cells against toxins.
By recognizing these processes as being helpful and allowing them to take their course, and working to identify and eliminate their root cause(s), you can support your body's self-preserving mechanisms to keep you well over the long term.
Let's continue to assume that you're not aware of toxins that you're steadily being exposed to, and that toxins continue to roll in. Eventually, the pace of incoming toxins may overtake the pace at which you can eliminate them.
If you reach this point, your body will have no choice but to store some of these toxins.
Keeping in line with its desire to preserve its health, your body will first store "excess" toxins in your fat tissues. This is because your fat tissues are less vital to your immediate survival than other tissues like your ligaments, muscles, and nerves. This is not to say that fat tissue that's found throughout your body isn't important. It's to say that your body instinctively seeks to preserve more important tissues whenever possible.
Accumulation of toxins in your fat tissues is what can lead to so-called harmless conditions like cysts, lipomas, and other benign tumors. These are conditions that conventional medicine typically cite as having no known cause, but they most certainly have a number of causes, with a major one being steady exposure to endogenous and exogenous toxins.
Myelin - the fatty sheath of insulation that lines all of your nerves - is also a target site for toxin accumulation. And whenever your body has the energy to cleanse such accumulations of toxins, the nerve(s) in the area being cleansed may get irritated, which is one potential cause of chronic, intermittent headaches. This is why some people experience headaches when they get more sleep than usual. Getting more sleep allows the body to use its resources to stir up stored toxins - good for long term health, but uncomfortable in the short term.
Getting back on course, let's assume that your body continues to be exposed to a steady diet of exogenous and endogenous toxins. At some point, your body may need to start storing these toxins outside of your fat tissues.
Alternative storage sites are connective tissue (ligaments, bones, blood, etc.), muscle tissue, and nerve tissue. Of these choices, connective tissue arguably has the greatest capacity to store toxins without causing debilitating problems in the short term.
As toxins begin to accumulate in connective tissue, you may start to experience generalized joint pain and even aches and pains in various bones. You may even develop a blood-related health challenge, as blood itself is considered connective tissue, and actually originates from bone, which is another connective tissue.
Hopefully, the big picture is coming into focus. Accumulation of toxins in specific tissues can lead to health challenges in those tissues.
And if your exposure to toxins goes on long enough, the individual building-blocks of your tissues (your cells) can begin to accumulate toxins within their membranes and inner lumen areas.
If enough cells in one organ or gland become dysfunctional due to a build-up of toxins, you may experience organ or glandular dysfunction - examples of such dysfunction include thyroid disease, impaired vision, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney failure, and any stage of liver degeneration (fatty liver, cirrhosis, etc.).
If the innermost part (nucleoli) of enough cells in one area accumulate enough toxins, the DNA that controls those cells can become affected, and this is where you may increase your risk of experiencing a lack of control over cellular reproduction, the hallmark of malignant growths.
Clearly, exposure to toxins is only one potential cause of disease and dysfunction. If you haven't already done so, I encourage you to review my article on the ten main causes of disease and dysfunction. Any one of the factors listed in that article can contribute to disease and dysfunction.
It's also important to note that as your body accumulates toxins and develops dysfunction and disease, it's constantly doing the best it can with the resources that it has to cleanse and repair itself.
So the bottom line on toxins and their ability to affect your health: Toxins can most definitely hurt you. On their own or in concert with other disease-causing factors, toxins can create life-ending diseases over time. But your body is well designed to recognize and eliminate toxins. Your job is to minimize your exposure to exogenous and endogenous toxins, and to provide your body with the support that it needs to clear out toxins that make their way into your system.
Put another way, if you're looking to overcome any health challenge or just to maintain optimal health, it's essential that you understand that your body is on your side. Your body is always working to get and keep you healthy. Your job is to consistently make healthy food and lifestyle choices, observe how your body reacts to your choices, and to make adjustments when necessary.
If you'd like to experience a safe and effective cleanse, one that you can do while going about your regular activities of daily living, I encourage you to have a look at my full body cleanse program.
If you have any comments on this article that you'd like to share, please use the comments section below. Thank you.
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