Posts Tagged ‘environment’

This Canary Sings a Tale of Toxins

December 17, 2014

Chronic illness is on the increase. Why is it so? I first learned that multiple chronic illnesses have at least two common contributing factors over eleven years ago when I came across an arIMG_4246ticle in the Weekend Australian newspaper about Australian doctors getting significant improvements with autistic kids by using the same strategies my research had shown were successful in treating Chronic fatigue Syndrome (CFS); improving gut health and detoxifying environmental toxins like heavy metals and chemicals. Further research revealed that many other chronic illnesses have links to these same two factors. There are often also genetic and additional factors at play.

 

When the article was published on 22nd February 2003 it stated autism affected 1 in 500 to 1 in 1000 Australian children. Accelerating rapidly since then, a 2012 article puts the figure at 1 in 110. A startling increase. I’ll focus on environmental toxins in this blog post.

We’re all exposed to an increasing array of toxins and this can go part way to explaining the increase in chronic illness. IMG_3685Since the Industrial revolution billions of tonnes of toxic metals have been mined from the earth and used by humans to make things. They’ve been released into the air, water and soil and hence the food chain and there is a bio-accumulation effect in plants, animals and humans that has reached every corner of the earth. Seals, whales, polar bears and walruses, staples of the Arctic Inuit people’s diet have become deposits for the world’s 12 most toxic chemicals and they are passed on in breast milk. Toxic metals do not degrade into less harmful substances over time.

In the north of Greenland, where twice as many girl babies are being born to Inuit families than boys, scientists have discovered that toxic chemicals in their food are affecting their hormones and affecting the gender of the children being born.

 

We begin accumulating toxins in the womb. The Environmental Working Group in America (www.ewg.org) tested the umbilical cord blood of 10 newborn babies and found nearly 300 chemicals, including BPA, fire retardants, lead, PCBs and pesticides that were banned more than 30 years ago.IMG_4078

What do these heavy metals and chemicals do to our body? The short answer is damage it. They affect various enzyme systems, our excretory organs, liver and kidneys, our nervous, endocrine, immune and digestive systems and may contribute to allergies, chronic viral infections, Alzheimers disease and other neurological conditions like Parkinsons and Multiple Sclerosis. Genetic factors mean people with the same chemical exposure will manifest different symptoms .

Why are some people more affected ? It seems that some of us have a genetic predisposition to not excrete heavy metals and chemicals as well as others.

 

An article in the August Prevention magazine says “’We all have a IMG_3941different genetic ability to detoxify…it is not uncommon to be missing one or two detoxification genes or have a polymorphism (genetic variation) which may affect your ability to detoxify’…says Jan Purser, naturopathic nutritionist and clinical detoxification expert. ‘If someone says to me things like, ‘I can’t have more than a few drinks without getting a bad hangover’, or ‘I feel really unwell if I don’t eat vegetables every day’, I think to myself, ‘I bet they’ve got a polymorphism in their detoxification genes.’ “ .

A hair mineral analysis is one way to get information about the toxic heavy metals you have stored in your body. My hair analysis reveals that I still have high levels of mercIMG_3860ury, lead, arsenic, silver and uranium, despite years of detoxifying. I also used to have high levels of copper and aluminium. They all damage the human body.

The circumstantial evidence is strong that I, like many others, have genetic factors at play in dealing with the increasing amount of toxins we’re exposed to in our everyday lives.

When I was 18 I began going out to clubs with my friends, dancing, drinking, meeting boys and experimenting with this new freedom of being a ‘legal’ adult. One memorable ‘morning after’ saw me being  violently ill up until the next night. My friends who drank a similar amount to me had no significant side effecIMG_4218ts from our night out. Understandably I’ve been a cautious drinker ever since! Even one drink of alcohol can make me feel ill.

The other pointer to me possibly having a genetic pre-disposition to not excrete toxins so well is the fact that my sister Carole, the eldest of my 4 siblings, has also experienced Chronic Fatigue in her life and her daughter Fibromyalgia. When I told Carole earlier this year that I’d worked out the fumigation chemicals on the imported jewellery at work had been affecting my health, she recounted a story that I’d not heard before, which put another piece of the jigsaw in place for me.

She told me that when she worked as the Manager of a shoe store many years ago IMG_3808she became very sick and worked out that it was due to the chemicals used on the leather products. Leather tanning is one of the most toxic industries in the world because of the chemicals involved. She felt sick when she opened the shop door in the morning, as the off-gassed toxins had built up in the air in the shop overnight. It was the onset of many years of debilitating chronic fatigue. I asked her ‘when did you recover?’ and she said, ‘ I don’t think I ever have fully’.

Genetic predispositions to detoxifying may explain why Carole and I have both been affected by toxins in our work environments, whilst others working in the same or similar environments are not. Perhaps genetic pre-dispositions to detoxification may partly explain why some people develop chronic illnesses, from autism to MS and Parkinsons and some do not.

I was fortunate to find a doctor many years ago who diagnosed my illness correctly after one doctor told me my ill health was psychological, a common and distressing occurrence for people with these type of conditionsIMG_4247 and two other doctors shrugged their shoulders, having no idea how to help me.

That doctor explained to me the exponential affect of having multiple heavy metals in the body. Apparently adding one more heavy metal or chemical has the effect of times 10 or times 100 rather than plus 10 or plus 100.  One recent GP who had no understanding of environmental toxins on health said to me ‘Megan we are not taught about this in medical school’.

 

The Australasian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine provides training and education in this field. Anyone looking for a doctor with awareness about these issues can look at a practitioner list on the ACNEM website.

Those of us with genetic issues impacting detoxifying can be considered to be the ‘canary in the coal mine’. Canaries were once regularly used in coal mining as an early warning system. Toxic gases in the mine would kill the bird before affecting the miners. Signs of distress from the bird indicated to the miners that conditions were unsafe. The use of miners’ canaries in British mines was only phased out in 1987.IMG_4158

There are things we can all do to support our body to detoxify, like eating foods that support our liver and support detoxification, including fresh green foods. We can have saunas and take herbs and nutritional supplements. I recovered my health this year, as I did previously, by following a comprehensive and extended detoxification program with a skilled and experienced practitioner and  I recommend getting professional support from a detoxification expert, especially if you have a chronic condition.

There are also ways to limit our exposure to toxins in the first place, like eating organic foods and using chemical free personal and cleaning products. The first step is becoming aware of what chemicals and toxins are in our environment, in products we use or eat and in environments we spend time in. There will be more than you think. You may already know about mercury in dental amalgams and aluminium in dIMG_4079eoderants for example but did you know there is often lead in lipsticks and mercury in eye drops?  Do you cook food in non stick or aluminium pans? We are surrounded by them in our homes and work places.

 

There are many resources available on this topic, one resource on my bookshelf is called Invisible Killers. It is an invisible but very real factor that contributes to a lot of ill health. I’ve learnt to trust my instincts and act on this when the tangible evidence is hard to find and when there is little awareness of these issues amongst medical professionals. When the word ‘neurotoxin’ popped into my mind during a massage earlier this year as my health was declining I listened and acted.

We can all make a positive impact on our own health as well as the health of the world by the consumer choices we make. It’s become much easier to source organic and chemical free products due to higher demand from a more aware populace.  As an Inuit leader said ‘We are the land and the land is us. When our land and animals are poisoned, so are we.’  Awareness is the first step.

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In the Forest

August 6, 2014

I went for a walk in the forest. A meandering walk. Not my usual purposeful morning exercise walk. I needed to be with things I heard at the Byron Bay Writers Festival last weekend. I felt stirred up.

A session provocatively titled “The Ocean is Broken” with Tim Flannery and Lisa-ann Gershwin was sobering. I know that we need to hear these tIMG_1001hings and it is not easy to take in all in one go. Our life support system, our ecosystem has been and is being altered by us humans.

Overfishing, chemicals and water temperature increases have changed things and the aquatic ecosystem is becoming more toxic and responding with things like a worldwide overgrowth of jellyfish. Lisa described one species which does not die, it just regenerates and multiplies.

Lisa reported that even if we stopped our human impact immediately it would take 10,000 to 100,000 years to begin to repair and millions more to do so and then it would be to a new ‘normal’, not what once was. We can’t go back to what was.

 

It is not in our hands, it is in the hands of this dynamic living system we live within and are one small IMG_0953part of. An anthropocentric world view, the belief that human beings are the central or most significant species on the planet, has driven unrestrained human development and is based on the illusion that we are somehow in control of nature.  The people who introduced a handful of toxic cane toads to Northern Queensland probably thought they were in control, yet 200 million cane toads prove otherwise.

 

I love saying the word, ‘anthropocentric’ out loud, I like the way it rolls around in the mouth. My other favourite word to say out loud for a similar reason is ‘recalcitrant’ and I think it applies to us humans in this time. The stubborn refusal to obey rules, in this case nature’s laws.

 

When I feel the pain, anger, sadness and helplessness that comes inevitably from facing these issues, I know the best solace is to go and connect with the earth IMG_0951herself and to listen.  I once attended a workshop run by Joanna Macy, whose work centres around needing to feel our feelings about the damage to the earth, to fuel and inspire action, rather than being overwhelmed and immobilised.

 

Joanna described to us the work she did with the people of Novozybkov, a town in Russia, 294 kilometres from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor and only one kilometre from the exclusion zone created after the 1986 disaster. It is a town that had all its wooden homes bulldozed to make way for concrete high rise homes, to get the people off the contaminated ground. They will never be allowed to enter their radioactive forest. They had always been people of the forest and they were grieving.

I felt the grief rise up in me aIMG_0998nd I went outside and lay on the earth under a huge fig tree, under the gaze of Mt Warning and cried for them, for the poisoned earth, for us all.  After a while I began to feel soothed. I am not a religious person and as I lay there some words from a long ago psalm came into my mind. ” He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, he restoreth my soul. ” As I lay there I felt a deep sense of being connected to something much greater than myself.

John Seed has said, “I finally surrendered to the earth. Now I find myself asking for guidance and direction and energy and wisdom from the earth, knowing that I am part of the earth.”

 

As I entered the forest this week it had rained overnight so the ground was damp, the colours deeper. I took my camera along to take a photo for the Breakfast Club Diaries, a Facebook group started locally and now 1000 strong and global. The invitation is to take a snap on your morning walk and post it with the time and location.

In the forest, the damp forest, I smelt the leaf litter, the musty smell of damp decaying leaves returning to thIMG_0935e soil. I saw new shoots beginning their journey upward to the light. The whole cycle of life and death right there. I listened, bells birds calling and responding, taking me back to my childhood and a drive in the family car through another forest. I looked up into the canopy of gumtrees, a grey sky filtering through. I love the grandeur of gumtrees, their majesty.

 

In the forest, the breeze whispered through the foliage. I listened. I began to feel acceptance. Acceptance that what has happened has already happened. We can’t go back. We can only go forward with what is and we all have a part to play in what the future looks like by the choices we make today. What choices will I make ?

In the forest peace finds me.