Whilst most people are currently worrying about infectious diseases, my attention keeps being drawn to something else, affecting all of us, wherever we happen to live. A plague that is airborne, waterborne, foodborne. That blurs the links between cause and effect. That results not in sudden death, but in recurrent, often chronic disease and discomfort.
The culprit: the toxic chemicals that have accumulated in our bodies since before we were even born. This “chemical body burden”, which is increasing at an unprecedented rate, is a direct consequence of the advent of the chemical age.
In the United States alone, there are more than 80,000 different chemical products on the market – of which only a few thousand have been tested by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for their long-term effects on human health. Minute amounts of one of these chemicals may not be of much damage. But continuous exposure overloads the body’s natural detoxification capacity. In addition, some of these toxins can’t be broken down in the first place, and persist for decades in the environment and in the body. As a result, we accumulate them as we get older, and are exposed to their synergistic effects.
Just to give you an idea, in 2004, the Environmental Working Group conducted a study designed to test the body burden at birth. They found over 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in the umbilical cord blood of newborn babies. And that was before they even drew their first breath!
Why should we care?
Because whether they are chlorinated dioxins, pesticide residues, PCBs, BPA from plastics or others, many of these components have been linked to disease. And much more simply, if you suffer from any number of recurrent symptoms that range from migraines to allergies, skin-rashes to chronic sinusitis or chronic fatigue… the culprit could well be a high body burden. When your system is under constant stress from a high chemical load, your natural detoxification capacities are overloaded, your immune system is stifled, making you more vulnerable to other ailments.
So, what can we do?
As my friend suggested last week: “Health is an activity, not a state of being”. I couldn’t agree more. As everything else in life, it is dynamic, ever-changing. If we want to be healthy, then it is an activity that should feature prominently in our lives, and to which we must devote our attention.
How do we start? A simple way to think about it is to compare the body with a barrel that is slowly filling with rain-water – representing the toxic load. At any given moment, rain falls in, and simultaneously some is broken down and eliminated. If more rain falls in than we are able to process and eliminate, over time, the barrel will fill and we will get sick.
If the barrel is full, the first thing we must do is to stop adding any further “rain”, by paying full attention to our food and our environment – which is easier said than done. And simultaneously, we must help our bodies as much as possible in the natural detoxification process, through a combination of diet, exercise and spending time in nature.
Putting ourselves in a situation where we eat only organic food, drink pure water and live in an environment free from chemicals may seem like an impossible feat in today’s world. It is certainly highly inconvenient, and demands constant effort. It means forgoing many of the things most people take for granted. Yet, we can go down that road, individually, and collectively, if we want to.
It is simply a matter of how much we value our health and wellbeing.