Doctor’s Tip: How to avoid toxins in your food
January 23, 2017
This is the last column in a series about foods we need to avoid if we want optimal health. It seems obvious that we should avoid toxins. Here's the scope of the problem:
• According to the CDC, essentially 100 percent of people in the U.S. are contaminated with multiple toxins, such as heavy metal, solvents, endocrine-disrupting chemicals, fire retardants, chemicals from plastic, PCBs, and even pesticides such as DDT that have been banned for years but which stick around for decades in our environment.
• Even if you live in a pristine place such as Rocky Mountain National Park, you are bombarded with many of these chemicals via rain and groundwater.
• Infants are born with toxins in their cord blood, which they get from their mother during pregnancy, and in one study 95 percent of infants had cord blood samples positive for DDT. After birth they get more toxins through breast milk; but formula is worse, so for this and many other reasons breastfeeding is best.
• Children are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of toxins and have higher levels of toxins above the danger level than adults.
• If you want to clean up your diet before getting pregnant, some toxins can disappear within a few months, but others have such a long half-life it would take 100 years to get rid of them.
Here are a few examples of adverse health effects from toxins:
• According to Neal Barnard, M.D., in his book "Power Foods For The Brain," heavy metals such as mercury, copper, zinc, aluminum and heme iron (the iron found in meat versus the non-heme iron in plants) are linked to Alzheimer's.
• According to Dr. Michael Greger ("How Not to Die" book, nutritionfacts.org), persistent exposure to pesticides, flame retardants and other toxic chemicals is linked to Parkinson's Disease and to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's Disease).
• Endocrine-disrupting industrial toxins in the aquatic food chain affect testosterone levels, genital development of boys, sexual functioning in men and women, memory capacity, sperm count and bone density.
• According to Dr. Joel Fuhrman in his book "The End of Heart Disease," toxins such as mercury increase the risk of hypertension, heart disease, mental disorders and endocrine diseases.
• Many toxins are carcinogens, increasing the risk of many types of cancer.
Here are the foods that contain toxins:
• In the modern world, it's almost impossible to completely avoid toxins. Even plants have some toxins, but organically grown plants have less.
• Animals including fish, being higher on the food chain, have much higher toxin levels than plants. As Dr. Greger puts it: "Consider that before she's slaughtered for meat, a dairy cow may eat seventy-five thousand pounds' worth of plants. The chemicals in the plants can get stored in her fat and build up in her body." We call this process bioaccumulation.
• Most DDT comes from meat and fish.
• Hexachlorobenzene, banned nearly 50 years ago but still present in the environment, is found mainly in dairy, meat and eggs.
• Dioxins are most concentrated in butter, followed by eggs and processed meat. Dr. Greger says a plant-based diet would wipe out 98 percent of dioxin intake.
• Salmon is one of the worst toxin offenders (sorry), farmed being worse than wild.
In summary, we all should avoid toxins if we want optimal health, and the way to do this is to eat at the bottom of the food chain, namely plants, and buy organic or grow your own garden. If you think this healthy diet might be bland or restrictive, I'd encourage you to eat at the Pyramid Bistro in Aspen, above the Explorer Book Store (chef-owner Martin Oswald is the master of tasty vegan cooking) and come to the plant-based potluck the fourth Monday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at the Third Street Center in Carbondale.
Be sure you reserve a seat for Dr. Greger's talk in Carbondale on Feb. 9: Go to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, now has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and any other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at email@example.com.