Minimizing Toxin Exposure… Without Fear!

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I’ve been putting off writing about this topic because it can seem like one of the pieces of healing from autoimmune disease that seems way too overwhelming for a lot of folks. I’m writing about it now hopefully in an approachable and informational way, because I do think a lot of these areas are worthy of investigation by anyone suffering from autoimmune disease (and honestly, healthy people too!).

I’m going to start by saying that I in no way advocate trying to “live in a bubble” or freaking out about perfection as far as this area goes. Part of living in the modern world comes with the realization that we are going to encounter toxins in our daily lives… this is a sadly a part of living on this planet in this day and age. The good news is that we have an organ that does the work of detoxifying and eliminating all of these things we unwittingly consume or come into contact with — the liver!

Unfortunately, our toxic loads have increased dramatically over the past century making an over-burdened liver and other detoxification systems of the body the norm. Combined with a decreased awareness of what in our environment is a source of toxins, this can become a real problem for not only people with chronic illness, but the population as a whole.

Below I’ve provided some areas that you can think about and prioritize as you progress through your journey to wellness. It is likely there are some things on this list you are already doing – like using a water filter or natural personal care products. There may be other areas, however, you haven’t really considered, like a mattress free from flame-retardant chemicals or an air purifier. It is my hope that this list helps you learn about some of these areas and tackle some of these changes slowly, without fear. Who knows – you might discover something here that was really impacting your health!

#1: Water

I believe having a clean water source to be the most important of everything on this list. If you can only change one thing mentioned in this article, I highly recommend getting a quality filter to ensure you aren’t getting toxins in your drinking water.

What kind of toxins are found in the water supply? To name a few… chlorine, flouride, heavy metals (like lead and mercury), PCBs, pesticides, insecticides, prescription medication residue, and other chemicals. Often municipal water sources are heavily treated in order to reduce bacterial or parasitic load, and these treatment chemicals are toxic to our bodies (like chlorine).

The brand of water filter I personally use and recommend is Berkey Water Filters, because they are affordable, the filters last a long time, and they are very effective. You can read my review and thoughts in my Berkey Water Filters Review.

#2: Food/Cookware

If you are eating on the Autoimmune Protocol, chances are you are already doing a great job of avoiding toxins in the food supply by shopping organic and avoiding processed foods (this is one of the reasons why this way of eating is so healing!).

Still, if you aren’t able to afford all organic produce, you can use the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists in order to prioritize your purchases. These are the fruits and vegetables that have the highest and lowest amounts of pesticide load, respectively.

Next, consider your cookware. Many people are still using Teflon-coated and aluminum pans, even though the toxicity of both is well documented. In addition, BPA-containing plastic goods, like storage containers, can be a problem. Make an effort to use stainless steel, cast iron, ceramic, wood, and glass when possible (see our Amazon store for products we use and recommend).

#3: Air

Next it can be helpful to consider the air you breathe at home or work. This might be more of a consideration if you live in a city with a higher level of pollution, or if you live in a new home with “off-gassing” of toxins from furniture and new construction. An air purifier, as well as house plants that help purify the air can be helpful at mitigating some of these effects.

The brand of air purifier I use and recommend is Blue Air, because of its cost, filter replacement schedule, and effectiveness. I use mine in my bedroom only since I live in the country.

#4: Personal Care Products

The skin is our largest organ, and many are surprised to find out that it is a semi-permeable membrane that absorbs some compounds it comes in contact with. Many products we use on our skin, like soaps, shampoos, deodorants, and makeup contain well-known toxic chemicals, in addition to absorption-enhancers, which can make things exponentially worse.

I suggest looking up all of the products you use on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Website, which gives a score for each one based on the known effects of every ingredient.

#5: Household Cleaning Products

These products we use to keep our homes clean, like laundry detergent, dish soap, and bathroom cleaners all have the potential to contain particularly chemicals that are both known toxins to the human body as well as bad for the environment.

There are many brands that make products that are healthier for both us and the environment, using natural compounds, essential oils, and other cleaning elements. In addition, you can use some ingredients like baking soda, borax, and vinegar to make your own non-toxic cleaning solutions. See Christina Feindel’s book, A Clean Space for more information and recipes for natural cleaning products.

#6: Home Goods/Furniture

Many of the products contained in our homes and work spaces are manufactured using chemicals that are known toxins. Now, this is an area where a lot of us can panic, and I’d encourage you not to get too far down the rabbit-hole of thinking that you need an all-green home or furniture.

Here are some areas I think most of us can look into with some balance:

  • Mattresses: It is illegal for mattresses made after 2007 to be sold without being sprayed with flame retardants, which are known toxins that cause cancer and endocrine disruption. Fortunately, there are many manufacturers that are now making products with a fabric (non-chemical) solution to comply with the law, and others who will make mattresses without flame retardants with a doctor’s prescription. Since we sleep on our mattresses directly every night, I believe this is the first priority over other furniture (which similarly is sprayed with retardants if upholstery is involved). I have a latex mattress made here in Portland by Mulligan Mattress.
  • Plastic shower curtains: Most of these are made of plastic and exposed to a high-heat environment. It is a simple fix to change to a fabric shower curtain here.
  • Interior paint: Now, if your paint is not fresh it is likely to have off-gassed long enough to not be causing a problem. But if you decide to repaint any interiors, a low-VOC paint like Colorhouse may be a nice option.

#7: Specific Exposures

Lastly, you may have some specific ongoing toxic exposures in your life that you might not have thought of.

Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Workplace related – for instance, hairdressers, construction workers, artists, and housekeepers. Steps to minimize will be specific to the industry involved, and may just mean using/upgrading safety gear (like masks and gloves) to minimize exposure.
  • Dental work – especially those who know they have mercury fillings. Some choose to have them removed, or to see a biological dentist to have work done with less toxic exposures.
  • Vaccines – commonly contain toxins as fillers and adjuvants.
  • Mold – it isn’t common for people to discover they have a mold problem at home or work that is casing them issues.

I hope this article has taught you about some areas of toxic exposures you might be experiencing. Anything ring a bell for you?

I’d be curious to hear about how you avoid toxins in your daily life, and if you have made any changes that you correlate to an uptick in your healing journey!

About Mickey Trescott

Mickey Trescott is a cook and one of the bloggers behind Autoimmune Wellness. After recovering from her own struggle with both Celiac and Hashimoto’s disease, adrenal fatigue, and multiple vitamin deficiencies, Mickey started to write about her experience to share with others and help them realize they are not alone in their struggles. She is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner by the Nutritional Therapy Association, and is the author of The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook, a guide and recipe book for the autoimmune protocol, and AIP Batch Cook, a video-based batch cooking program. You also can find her on Instagram.

28 comments

  • Caren says

    Hi. I would add to the list of specific exposures the copper IUD. There is burgeoning research linking the use of this device to the early onset of autoimmune disease. Copper overload/toxicity was a triggering factor for me. Here is an article about some recent research: http://www.newswise.com/articles/choice-of-contraception-may-influence-rheumatoid-arthritis-autoimmunity-risk.

    • Mickey Trescott says

      Hi Caren! Thanks for the link, this is interesting research indeed. Do you suspect your copper overload was due to using a IUD?

      • Caren says

        Hi Mickey! Actually maybe I would restate my first comment since it’s confusing. In the research that links copper IUD use with the onset of autoimmunity, the concern is primarily with endometrial inflammatory response that can act as a trigger for autoantibodies. So there’s that whole issue. And then there’s copper toxicity, which I experienced as well, pretty immediately in tandem with IUD insertion, in my case. And this can (to my understanding) mess with your ability to absorb bio-available copper, increase estrogen levels, and can cause symptoms including anxiety, depression, heart palpitations, and joint pain. I’m still trying to learn a lot about it, but I do know that for me it was important to remove this device.

  • FPlus says

    To add to the first comment posted, I would include all synthetic hormones. The birth control pill is a IARC Group I carcinogen (known to cause cancer in humans), among a host of other health issues. This would be expanded to hormonal injections, implants, rings, IUDs, etc. Certainly something to look into.
    For those concerned about healing their cycles (rather than masking the problems with the pill), there are a number of system of natural family planning and restorative reproductive healthcare that are as effective at avoiding pregnancy as the birth control pill while also looking at and healing health. They’re also more effective and completely non-harmful compared to artificial reproductive technologies (which will include the suppression of the natural system and the use of those same synthetic hormones).
    Just another thing to consider!

    • Mickey Trescott says

      Hi FT, thanks for the info here – great addition!

  • Sue says

    I have been doing a lot in small stages. I have gotten rid of all the plastic from the kitchen & switched to glass & some stainless steel cups because I have incorporated food grade essential oils into my life, ditched the Teflon for ceramic, have a Blue Air filter in my bedroom. I have a holistic Dr. that has a liver detox protocol I try to do 4 times a year. Since learning more about pure essential oils (not the ones purchased from the store), I have been able to ditch so many cleaning products, makeup, personal care products like toothpaste, deodorant, lotions, shampoo, store bought sunscreen & insect repellant, nutritional supplements with fillers & so much more! I have made so many healthy changes & it feels really good! It has made me so much more aware of how many toxins we really are exposed to. I know you mentioned the EWG app & that, along with the Think Diety app have really made it clear that I can not rely on well known brands (even the ones that are marketed to be “gentle” or are recommended by dermatologists can fullnof formaldehyde! You’d never guess it by the packaging! Thanks for the links to your amazon favorites. The next biggest thing I need to do is invest in a Berkey Water system – I just get overwhelmed with which kind (under the sink or portable). It seems there are so many options & so many different opinions so I start out with good intentions but then I do get overwhelmed! I just have to make a decision & go with it! Thanks for all your help & links to make things easier!

    • Mickey Trescott says

      Thanks for your feedback here Sue! It sounds like you’ve developed an approach that works for you and isn’t driving you crazy or creating too much fear. Wishing you the best!

  • Jennifer says

    Also cotton is sprayed with glyphosate and all the other chemicals in roundup so I use organic tampons. I had really bad mold toxicity that caused Addison’s disease and encephalopathy and have recuperated about 80% so I avoid as much toxic exposure as I can within reason. Thanks for the reminders 🙂

    • Mickey Trescott says

      Jennifer,
      Good point with the tampons!

    • Rebecca says

      Have you tried the DIVA cup? great alternative to tampons. Just get the right size.

  • Morgan says

    Environmental health is one of the issues I am most passionate about as a nurse. It’s probably impossible to know what helped trigger an autoimmune disease, but I personally think my exposure to workplace toxins in healthcare during the several years leading to my diagnosis was a factor. Reducing exposure to harmful substances was one of the first switches I made even before I was diagnosed. I try not to be crazy about it- it can be hard when you start considering what you and your family are exposed to!- but we do what we can in the same areas highlighted here. One thing I want to caution though is push back against vaccinations. Some people have true contraindications to vaccinations, like a history of a severe allergic reaction or Guillain barre, but my view as a nurse is that the exposure to the chemicals used to keep vaccines preserved and effective until they are administered is balanced by the benefit of the immunization. To me it is more than worth it, for my own health, and the health of others who cannot tolerate immunizations or who are immunocompromised and rely on herd immunity.

    • Mickey Trescott says

      Hey Morgan,
      Thanks for your input regarding vaccinations here. I agree this is a very complex topic, and up to individual choice.

  • Brenda says

    I would also like to add EMFs (electro-magnetic frequencies) as another area that has a large negative impact on health, but is often overlooked by mainstream media. There have been many studies over the past few decades and researchers have established that EMFs are harmful to living things, including plants, animals and people. Those of us who have health issues such as toxic overload, immune issues and adrenal and thyroid dysfunction seem to be more sensitive to EMFs.
    There are few resources for those who want more information:
    http://www.emfanalysis.com
    http://www.electricsense.com
    Books: Zapped by Anne Louise Gittleman
    Overpowered by Martin Blank, PhD

  • Christal Janis says

    I have ulcer issues, histamine problems and have been vegan for so many years. There are so few foods I can eat I’m basically malnourished! OTC vitamins have products in them I can consume. How is a person supposed to survive? One food product on one list counteracts the other list!
    Thank you for advice!
    Christal Jais

    • Mickey Trescott says

      Hey Christal! Sorry to hear you are having issues, perhaps a visit with a nutritionist or other professional educated in supplements that can help you find some products that work for you? I personally had to change my diet after being vegan for 10 years, as supplementation was not working out for me and I was not getting better. Wishing you luck!

  • B says

    RE home/school/workplace: There is formaldehyde in medium density fiberboard (MDF) – a material commonly used to make furniture, counter tops, cabinetry, ‘wood’ flooring, and sub-floors. The MDF is often veneered with either real wood, a wood-look paper, or other material glued onto it. The formaldehyde can out-gas for 10 years. [Think FEMA trailers after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.] There is vinyl chloride in flooring tiles & sheet goods, wallpapers, and often in the cleaning solution used on tile floors in schools, churches, and workplaces. Take a whiff of kids’ soft toys or the coating on the back of rugs/carpets; that’s either vinyl or latex. All these materials are likely hazardous to people with autoimmune issues, and, I’d say, also to people in general.

    • B says

      How about a ‘comment editing function’? Computer auto-filled with my surname. I’d like it removed from my first comment. Thanks!

      • Angie Alt says

        Handled for you Barbara.

      • Mickey Trescott says

        I’ve gone ahead and added just your initial. Thanks for the discussion here!

  • Kim says

    I have recently walked this journey and have found an awesome product that is toxin free and affordable. H20 at Home is a French based company that came to the US in 2009 and sells cleaning and beauty products. Before I found them I was doing DIY but it ended up making more sense just to buy the product! Thank you for the information on this post!

    • Mickey Trescott says

      Thanks for sharing that resource Kim!

  • Lorraine says

    “The human body produces and uses formaldehyde as part of the process of metabolism. The amount of natural formaldehyde in a 2-month-old infant’s blood (around 1.1 milligrams in total) is ten times greater than the amount found in any vaccine (less than 0.1 milligrams). A pear contains around 50 times more formaldehyde than is found in any vaccine.” -University of Oxford’s Vaccine Knowledge Project. Would love more info on naturally occurring formaldehyde in foods. Thanks.

  • Karen says

    The link for the Amazon store appears to be broken. Can you repost it, please?

  • Rose says

    Did you seriously list vaccines? Are you trying to suggest that vaccines are more dangerous than what they were designed to protect us from? Sorry not sorry. Anyone with a science background knows that the benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks. As some one educated in environmental science I was with you up until you put vaccines on this list. Not so sure I should take this blog seriously now.

    • Angie Alt says

      Hi Rose-
      I’m answering here for Mickey about our general opinion on vaccines as a partnership & how we navigate this on our blog. She did seriously list vaccines, but we are definitely not suggesting that vaccines are more dangerous than what they were designed to protect us from. We think anyone with autoimmune disease needs to carefully weigh vaccine decisions, but we are not anti-vaccine (for me personally, having lived in W. Africa I got to see up close & personal the horrifying results of a society that does not have access to vaccination against severe diseases). We do believe, however, that it is prudent for those with autoimmune disease to work closely with their doctors to carefully plan a slower than normal vaccine schedule (so as not to overburden the already revved up immune system) and to thoughtfully consider which vaccines are the most important for the individual and their community. Following vaccination, we also believe that those with autoimmune disease can benefit from gentle detoxification protocols to support their bodies in eliminating some of the fillers and other ingredients that are important to vaccine production, but not that great for a body already burdened by chronic disease. What we are referring to here is things like taking extra care with hydration (just like after a massage), soaking in hot epsom salt baths, eating lots of liver supporting beets, and/or drinking some extra dandelion tea. We are not suggesting any intense, prolonged detox protocols or detox supplements that are also hard on the body. We agree that overall the benefits of vaccine for society outweigh risks, but we are here to advocate for those with autoimmune disease specifically and feel that a thoughtful approach best serves our bodies. Sorry, we are not sorry about this reasonable approach.

  • Rebecca says

    Great post and discussion! Endocrine disruptors are found in quite a large amount of the products we depend on in our homes. I’ve found it essential to detox them using infrared sauna and colon hydrothereapy (with the guidance of my doctor) to balance hormones and recover from Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Making the changes you suggested above can be quite overwhelming, especially when we are cooking AIP and not yet full of the energy we desire. My consulting service, LightenUp Simply, focuses on #4 and #5, to help people find a simple, affordable path forward to switch to non-toxic personal care and cleaning products. It seems that so many people don’t make this change because they feel it’s “too hard to figure out”. I take out the overwhelm and customize solutions for individual needs.

    • Mickey Trescott says

      Lovely to heard Rebecca! This service is so needed in both our community and the world.

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