It’s Your Health: Environmental toxins, Part 1

Have you had a dose of hydrogen sulfide gas today? Never mind, there are thousands of environmental industrial chemicals out there, ready to alter your nervous system and brain.

For many years, extensive exposure to neurotoxins (nervous system damaging substances) has been implicated in a number of neurobehavioral and neurological problems in children. Developmental delays, autism, and ADH are prime examples. But now, in addition, scientists suspect a proliferation of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s could be the result of the same malady — long-term toxic endangerment.

Last November in the online edition of The Lancet, researchers from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Harvard School of Public Health listed 201 familiar industrial chemicals found in the environment that are ascertained to cause neurological damage in humans. Even more have ‘wrecked havoc’ with laboratory animals’ nervous systems. After reviewing available data, researchers discovered that less than half of the 80,000 chemicals registered for commercial use in the United States have submitted to basic testing.

“Our environment contains numerous substances that can have negative effects on the brain, and most of us have been exposed to at least some of these toxins at one time or another,” states an expert on the neurological effects of heavy metal contamination.

Jack Rogers, PhD, Program Director of the Laboratory for Neurochemistry at Massachusetts General Hospital continued, “Among other health effects, research suggests that toxins may play a role in the development of neurodegenerative diseases. Exposure to industrial metals such as aluminum and mercury have long been suspected of increasing risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and new evidence suggests that dietary iron, copper and zinc may also be involved in the formation of plaque found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Recently, excess aluminum has been linked with multiple sclerosis.”

Luckily, we can protect our brain and possibly reverse damage caused by pollutants such as pesticides, solvents, and heavy metals. Scientists are experimenting with drugs that in the future could detoxify the brain. For the present, Dr. Rogers offers this advice: “It’s important to restrict as much as possible your exposure to toxins such as pesticides and solvents. For example, choosing organic fruits and vegetables may help reduce pesticide residues in your food. A good way to eliminate toxins from the body is to increase dietary intake of antioxidants and natural chelators — substances that bind with toxins so they can be eliminated by the body. Green tea is an antioxidant-rich chelator that binds with excess iron as well as trace metal toxins. Melatonin supplements may help neutralize the toxic effects of metals as well. The curry spice turmeric (or curcumin) also acts as a chelator.”

It’s no surprise that humans introduced many of the environment’s most insidious neurotoxins. Next week I’ll discuss some of the worst. Please email me if you’ve had a bad experience or allergic reaction to toxins. I’ll work it into the column. In the meantime, follow these tips:

• Avoid exposure to industrial chemicals, if possible;

• Eat plenty of high antioxidant-rich foods such as grains, vegetables, and berries;

• Ingest natural chelators such as green tea and turmeric;

• Choose pesticide-free organic foods;

• Ask your health care provider about melatonin supplements;

• Neurological symptoms? See your doctor.


Kay Sager is a certified fitness and aquatic specialist living at Port of the Islands. She is a personal trainer using land and water fitness and teaches swimming. She also has written articles for Physician and Sports Medicine among other publications. Kay can be reached by e-mail:

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