Naturopaths who have been practicing for decades tell me that things have changed. It used to be that fairly simple interventions would “move the needle,” as it were, for most people: clean food, fresh air, sunlight, stress management.

That is still the case for the genetically blessed. But for those with compromised Phase 1 and Phase 2 liver detox mechanisms, chronic illness starts with toxic exposures. These individuals may very well be the proverbial “canaries in the coal mine”: at a certain toxic saturation point, even a healthy liver will get overwhelmed.

There’s only so much we can do, of course—but we can limit our exposures. Primary sources of toxic exposures are in our food, our water, our cleaning chemicals, our air, and our toiletry items. Here are the ones to look out for.

The Big 10 Toxins

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry lists the top offenders, ranked yearly.

  1. Arsenic: This poison is highly associated with cancer, diabetes, and gout. Found in rice (even organic rice, sadly), the water supply, and non-organic chicken (we feed it to our chickens in order to prevent parasites, bulk up and improve the color of the poultry meat, and decrease the chickens’ feed consumption).
  2. Lead: Associated with cardiovascular disease and a decreased IQ, particularly in children, lead is found in old paint, and solder in plumbing (and therefore in drinking water). Lead initially gets stored in the bones, and is released when bone turnover increases (such as in pregnancy and menopause).
  3. Mercury: Associated with dementia and other neurological disorders, among other things. Mercury is most often found in contaminated seafood (usually farmed or Atlantic, especially high in canned tuna), but you can also get a whopping dose from the silver amalgams in your mouth every time you chew.
  4. Vinyl Chloride: A known carcinogen, and also associated with cardiovascular disease and liver disease, vinyl chloride is found in cigarette smoke, and it is also a common dry cleaning agent (as perchloroethylene).
  5. Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs, including Aroclor 1254): Associated with cancers, heart attacks, diabetes, and Rheumatoid Arthritis, these are primarily found in non-wild caught fish. Other sources include things you mostly can’t avoid unless you leave the Westernized world, including plasticizers, inks, adhesives, flame retardants, paints, wire insulators, elastic sealants, and heat insulators.
  6. Benzene: This carcinogen is a VOC (volatile organic compound), and it’s a byproduct of a number of industrial processes. The sources we can avoid include cigarette smoke, and sodas (it’s formed as a byproduct of benzoates and ascorbic acid, two common ingredients in sodas.)
  7. Cadmium: This carcinogen can cause not only various cancers, but kidney failure and gout. It’s primarily found in cigarette smoke, but it is also concentrated in the water, air, and soil especially in industrial areas where smelting and refining occurs. Thus, it can be found in the food supply in those regions.  It is also used in the manufacture of batteries or plastics.
  8. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH, including Benzo(a)pyrene and Benzo(b)fluoranthene): These are a group of over 100 different chemicals, produced as a byproduct of asphault, burning coal, cigarette smoke, and even charred meats. and they are considered to be carcinogens, and are also associated with infertility and immunocompromise.
  9. Trichloromethane (chloroform): Also considered a VOC (Volatile Organic Compound), chloroform is a suspected carcinogen, affecting the liver, cardiovascular system, nervous system, kidneys, and reproductive system. It’s a byproduct of chlorine and water, and it’s used to produce other industrial chemicals.
  10. DDT: These pesticides are found in non-organic fruits and veggies. They are hormone disruptors, obesogens, and are also associated with excitotoxicity, tremors, and seizure.

The Upshot: Avoidance

To avoid all of these as much as possible:

  • Food: minimize rice (sorry). Buy your chicken organic, and your fish wild-caught. Filter your water. Stop drinking soda. Don’t char-broil your food; if it’s blackened, avoid it. Buy the dirty dozen fruits and veggies organic.
  • Dental: If you have mercury amalgams and you can afford to do so, I recommend seeing a holistic or biological dentist to discuss getting them safely removed and replaced.
  • Environmental: don’t smoke, and avoid second-hand smoke if you possibly can. Don’t dry-clean, or if you must, take your clothes outside to off-gas for a few days afterwards to avoid breathing it in. Or, go to a green dry-cleaner. Get a HEPA filter for your house to clear out some of the PCB sources.