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Chemicals, Toxins, Pollution, Mould

OUR TOXIC WORLD

On a website that is dedicated to the Paleo lifestyle, you might imagine that we would discuss toxins and the chemical burden of our environment with a degree of melodrama and paranoia. Obviously the chemicals, pollutants and toxic substances that we come into contact with on a daily basis are immeasurably higher than that of our Palaeolithic ancestors. And yet, if you have read our ethos you will understand that we here at Paleo in the UK aren’t focused on any recreations of prehistoric living.

 

We focus instead on how the modern environment – from the foods we eat to the products we use and the situations in which we find ourselves – is suited to our modern human bodies.

 

When it comes to toxins and the pollution which surrounds us there are real and viable concerns about the levels of foreign, often chemical, substances which we face on a daily basis. Some figures suggest that we come into contact with over 200 chemicals prior to leaving our houses for work, though this is an extreme example.

 

As you will hopefully have recognised, at Paleo in the UK we are not interested in being extremist or unrealistic. However, we do recognise that everything within the human body is designed to function adequately up to a certain limit. Beyond this limit, the combined stressors can become overwhelming and tip the balance from health to ill health.

 

Within the realm of pollution and toxicity – from pollution in the air, to pollution and contaminants in the water, through to toxins on our foods and the toxins we actually choose to interact with in household cleaning products and personal care products every day – there is a real potential to minimise overall toxin load. Reducing our exposure to toxic stressors in these areas, therefore, may improve the amount of stressors we are able to buffer from elsewhere in our lives.

We present this section, therefore, not as a rule book for which products you must stop using and as an instruction manual on how to wrap yourself in cotton wool to insulate yourself from every toxin you can think of (though you can find ‘clean’ products within our Resources section). Instead, we want to illuminate where there are toxic burdens which you are asking your body to ‘buffer’ and offer some solutions – some completely free, others which are more costly – to give your body some assistance in contending with the levels of toxicity inherent in our modern environments.

Want all of this information in a handy e-book / PDF guide? Just fill in your email to have the full Paleo Environments PDF emailed straight to your inbox:

THE 'PALEO PHILOSOPHY' ON MODERN TOXICITY

There are real reasons to exercise caution when it comes to toxicity. Our bodies have really exceptional detoxification systems (for more on this read our ‘Liver Detoxification’ Article from our Deeper Science section). But we have never before been exposed to the levels of ever-present toxicity which we currently face. It’s like we’re playing a great experiment with our bodies and our biology. We have learnt, over time, that we’re not necessarily suited to having to metabolise and process this level of chemicals, foreign substances and artificial ‘stuff’ in our bodies.

At Paleo in the UK we don’t think that our detoxification systems are entirely useless against this modern onslaught of substances that we’ve never encountered before in human history. On the contrary, we think that our bodies are generally doing an exceptional job.

But we are not infallible and toxicity becomes a problem because it can create disease states. Illnesses are the manifestation of a body under one, or many, forms of stress and we see it as an investment in future health outcomes to minimise exposure to substances that our body has to ‘deal’ with (regardless of how well it might seem to deal with it).

In order for our detoxification systems to work effectively, gut function, kidney function and sweat functions and most importantly our liver have to be ‘healthy’. For this reason the gut health, nutrient density and movement practices promoted as part of a Paleo lifestyle are all contributing towards improving our ability to deal with toxic loads.

And yet… there is a simpler way.

Whilst it’s always sensible to improve our detoxification capacity, it’s also pertinent to avoid toxicity in the first place.

What follows is a guide to where toxins are coming into your life – so you can eliminate them from your world rather than having to process them and eliminate them from your body.

AIR POLLUTION

 

Urbanisation of our country means that it’s possible that you never escape the toxic fumes of traffic and industry.  The UK was a pioneer in the industrial revolution and there are certain areas of the country which are synonymous with the funnels and infrastructure of this industrial heritage… and all of the toxic pollution that it brought with it.

That said, much as the urban environment is part of our landscape, do remember when you fly over the country the predominant scene is one of rolling green fields – the ‘Green and Pleasant Land’ is still here, and whilst there is a lot of ‘city’, there’s also so much more ‘country’ here than we sometimes realise.

We are not going to make a case here for avoiding air pollution – there are enough headlines, concerns and conventional medical journals writing about the dangers of car fumes and the chemicals and particulates which accumulate in lungs just from one walk down a busy street.

 

What we want to do instead is provide you with an idea of what to do about it.

 

For some people, removing themselves from the pollution of the urbanised environment is a fundamental requirement to gain any sort of health improvements, but this is not true for everybody.

However, everybody would benefit from taking time to walk and be in a more rural setting regularly, even if that’s a country park or golf course. Getting to our coastline is also quite easy, no matter where you live you are no more than 70 miles from the sea. But other bodies of water are always accessible: rivers, lakes, lochs, springs.  Water is refreshing because it moves the air in the environment and is a reset for the system. Walking is good for you and we gain much benefit from being in a more ‘wild’ environment – so walking in nature achieves two health goals in one.

Being in nature serves two purposes: it removes us from toxins in the air and also resets something internally. It is partly to do with grounding (read the SCIENCE about that here), but it is also a lot to do with the sounds and smells of our ‘original’ human habitats.  Modern housing insulates us from anything ‘natural’ and sometimes it bears fruit to simply reconnect to that which is more organic and natural for us.

This is not about crunchy-granola pagan rituals of worshipping the land.  It’s simply about recognising that fresh air and fields do much for our beings, some of it quantifiable and some of it simply because we know what is not in a country environment (think cars, fumes, traffic, stress, technology and screen time).

 

WATER POLLUTION

 

You will hear the US Paleo contingent go on and on about water being fluoridated and filled with chemicals.  That is a very real concern in the US and, thankfully, it is not one which we have to regularly deal with in the UK.  MOST (though not all) UK water companies do not fluoridate their water supply, which is good news.

Without going too deep into the science on fluoridation, fluoride is known to compete with some other vital minerals in the body. Whilst in some cases supplemental fluoride can be beneficial (dental health, for example), in others the presence of excess fluoride can prevent our absorption and utilisation of certain other vital minerals leading to adverse metabolic consequences. Fluoride-free is therefore a good thing (and this goes for toothpaste and mouthwash, of which more in Personal Care Products below).

If you want to check your local supply you need to either visit their particular website or check this pro-fluoridation website, or this anti-fluoride site. (Same data, different slant.)

But fluoride is not the only issue with water – and there are myriad concerns with what we’re drinking from our taps. Think untreated bugs, chemicals and hormones, suboptimal mineral composition and everything from chlorine to heavy metals, viruses, bacteria, parasites and toxic waste products being present in our water supplies.

In fact, the potential ‘stuff’ that might be in your water is alarming. So rather than worrying about what is *in* your water, it is much better, yet again, to focus on what you should do about it.

You could buy bottled water – but plastic bottles are another minefield of potential issues.

So the best option is to filter your water at home. We have no affiliation with any company but can recommend researching Reverse Osmosis filters, finding a company local to your area or perhaps this online site. But do your research.  Reverse osmosis filters must be plumbed in, the water needs ‘re-mineralising’ once filtered and they waste an inordinate amount of water.

For a fantastic standalone option, we can highly recommend a Berkey Water Filter, in whichever size works for you. We are not one of the ‘affiliates’ that you will see on the internet for Berkey but would still recommend their use and purchasing from a UK- or Europe-based website.

This will obviously only filter drinking water and cooking water, which for many people is enough. However, if you choose to purchase their shower filters you can also have filtered shower water: important for some people with more sensitive health conditions.

 

HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTS

 

Most things inside your house can be cleaned with some kind of acid and bicarbonate of soda.  Sounds ridiculous, but that’s how people did it for centuries.  The difference is that cleaning with these methods also requires elbow grease and time, and a little bit of home DIY concoction of ‘solutions’.

It might be more difficult than picking up an off-the-shelf cleaner, but the chemicals utilised in modern household cleaning products are vast, and they really are toxic. (Even the labels on the bottles tells you so!)

Inviting excess toxic chemicals into your home means that you are also inviting their fumes into your lungs, their chemicals across your skin and into your body and you are demanding that your body deal with them. Whilst your liver might be perfectly OK with this – it’s not something you have to put it through… so why on earth would you?

We would recommend that if you really want to decrease the toxic burden, you slowly and over time reduce your use of mass-produced, chemical-based cleaners and washing agents. Every time you finish a product, either replace it with a more ‘natural version’ (check out our Resources Section to find options) or do a bit of DIY…

Check out something like this site if you want to try and make your own home cleaning products.

It is difficult in the UK to get reputable, reliable, effective and truly ‘clean’ cleaning products. We will add to our Resources section dedicated to this, as and when we find suppliers that we trust. If you are wondering about whether your ‘clean’ brand is ‘clean enough’, please email us – we’ll be happy to guide you and will add your suggestion to the approved list on our Resources page (crediting you if you would like).

 

PERSONAL CARE AND BEAUTY PRODUCTS

 

When it comes to personal care it is remarkable how willing we are to forget that what we put on our skin very simply and easily comes inside our bodies. The toxins, chemicals, fragrances, powders and ‘foreign’ substances found in our shampoos, cleansers, toothpaste, makeup, lotions and potions are not just staying on the surface we put them on.

We are literally drinking them in through our pores – and this contributes to the ‘stuff’ inside our body that shouldn’t be there and must be processed by our detoxification systems. With personal care products we are looking at oestrogenic compounds which disturb our own hormonal activity, on top of multiple acids and astringent agents which affect our cell structure and function. This is the type of slow exposure to a constant supply of foreign chemicals that have no business being near a body that will incrementally affect your body and biology over time.

So are there any options for personal care which are more natural and do not contribute to the load on the body’s detox capacity?

Well… if only this were easy – we struggle with non-toxic beauty products here in the UK.  The US has brands like Beauty Counter and Araza Beauty who have created their lines of Paleo/Clean beauty products, but these simply don’t exist in the UK. Araza will ship worldwide, but this gets expensive and you can’t try any of these products. Whilst they both receive rave reviews from those in a Paleo or natural-focussed community, as with all makeup there is no guarantee that things will suit your skin.

Don’t get me wrong, if you Google “natural beauty uk” you will get loads of results.  However, these are mostly emporium-style sites which are listing products from a host of brands. Realistically, not all of these brands are healthy for humans. They might all be ‘green’ (which means environmentally and eco-friendly) but they are not necessarily benign and friendly to the human body.

And just to confirm – “Organic” doesn’t mean anything in the Beauty-sphere except that the ingredients are organically sourced, wherever they can be. It doesn’t mean free of alcohols, free of parabens and fragrances, and it certainly doesn’t mean that the product works (we’re looking at you Green People and Caudalie). And likewise just because a product is labelled ‘Paraben-free’ or ‘fragrance-free’ or supposedly ‘natural’ there is little to no guarantee that these products exclude all of the things that you would be wise to avoid putting on your skin.

The best overview of personal care products we have found is Liz Wolfe’s Purely Primal Skincare Guide.  This is not useful for the products she lists, because they’re mostly not available in the UK.  However, the best way to find skincare that is ‘safer’ is to know exactly what you’re looking for. This guide is the ultimate, complete and total handbook to the ingredients on the ‘avoid’ list of Paleo skincare – and provides a whole host of options for homemade or natural alternatives.

And a quick tip to start you off: oils are great for cleaning everything.  If you are like many Paleo people you will eventually end up with three separate tubs of coconut oil in your life. One in your kitchen for cooking, one in your first aid kit for rashes, irritated skin and fungal infections and one in your bathroom cabinet for removing of makeup. (It doesn’t always work for waterproof mascara but can be great for everything else.)

This said – as with everything, some people are really sensitive to the coconut oil so other oils might work better. A word of caution here too on the ‘natural’ deodorants you will find – most are made with some form of bicarbonate of soda and this is notoriously reactive to some people’s underarm skin. START SLOW! and discontinue use of anything that causes reactions, no matter how ‘natural’ it might claim to be.

If your skin is an issue and/or you want to know how to go forward in moving towards more natural skincare (and whoever are, you should want to do this given the ease of toxin translocation through the delicate skin) then the investment in Liz’s book is worthwhile for healthy skin, for life.  She also tackles skin-specific conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis. She will also bring you right back to the inside-out approach of using the nutrient-dense diet such as is presented on this site. Naturally, being healthy on the inside is reflected in the quality of our skin on the surface.

 

ENVIRONMENTAL TOXICITY: WIFI, NOISE, PEOPLE, MOULD

 

We are discovering, almost on a daily basis, how some elements of our modern world are ‘draining’, to human health.  These are perhaps not technically ‘poisons’ that we must deal with and detoxify.  Instead, they are stressors which affect our cellular function, deplete our energy levels, compromise the integrity of the barrier functions of our body and thereby reduce our ability to be optimally healthy.

 

Light

 

We are spending less time in the outdoor sunshine (see above) and more and more time in environments filled with artificial lighting. The recommendations, and in some countries legal stipulations, for ‘eco-friendly’ lighting (i.e. ‘good for the planet’) actually increase our use of LED bulbs which are linked to negative impacts on human health.

Every moment we are no more than a short distance away from a computer screen, a source of so-called ‘blue light’ or an unnatural glow. We use light at all times of the day, showing the cells of our body and our eyes that it is daylight when it could be midnight. Nothing about the way we interact with the light – and the light we interact with – is natural in a modern environment.

So how can you protect yourself in the environment of ‘bad light’?  One of the best articles we’ve read on everything to do with light can be found on Dave Asprey’s blog.  Be aware that he sells supplements (Eye Armor, actually a great product) and is an affiliate, investor/advisor and endorser for TrueDark. These are glasses which block out artificial light and in so doing have benefits such as reducing overload of certain frequencies of light, entraining circadian rhythms (if used correctly – i.e. at the right times) and preventing stress from too much bright, artificial lighting.

Many ‘Paleo people’ are affiliates for the TrueDark alternative (daytime glasses, NOT night time glasses) called Swannies, so if you want to order these products and give them kickbacks, go through their links.  If not, clear your cache and visit the website for Swannies (Swanwick) independently by searching through Google and purchase that way. We’re not affiliates. Why? Because this is a little bit of a biohacking, Paleo craze which, whilst based in solid theory – their use is not actually evidence based. It was definitely a zeitgeist thing in the Paleosphere approximately two years ago. Now, however, we feel like the more intelligent move is to use the natural sunlight (exposure for at least 5 minutes, first thing in the morning) and place a curfew on your screen time at night (1 hour before sleep time).

 

Now, the glasses look a little ridiculous, but they do actually serve a purpose: they help you to focus attention on the fact that the light in your eyes (and on your skin) has signalling potential to your body, mitochondria and microbiome.

 

It is light levels which indicate timing to your body. Installing f.lux or Nightshift mode on all devices is not actually enough (though there are other apps/programs like Iris which really do help dim the disturbing vibrational light from devices).  Wearing TrueDark glasses prior to bed will help to show your brain and body (and mitochondria and microbiome) that it is time to up the production of melatonin and encourage sleep. Sleep is the mother of all resets, which is why we’ve dedicated a whole special page to Sleep. Light can be toxic because it can interfere with it – so protecting your sleep cycles by protecting your light environment can greatly help.

Like we said, however, this involves thought and attention – and a willingness to surrender modern conveniences and access to smartphones at all hours. Our recommendation would be to trial a week where you get early morning sun into your eyes and evening light curfews. See the difference it makes to your energy and overall health and decide on this biohack for yourself.

 

Noise and People

 

This is a difficult area to talk about because it is so individual. However, people have varying degrees of sympathetic nervous system alertness and sensitivity to the environment – and the people – around them.  Whenever your sympathetic nervous system is on high alert (and thus your immune system is prepped to pounce) it takes very little for things to startle, alarm and shock you. This is highly energised, metabolically demand state for the human body to be, and remain, in.

This is why we place noise and people in the pollution and toxicity category – for some. When attempting to remove stressors from your life it is wise to recognise that relentless, insistent noise and energetically draining people have an identical effect on your energy reserves as, for example, foods which are aggravating to your digestive system.

This is not a question of ’never’ exposing yourself to these stimuli – but we at Paleo in the UK know the burden that such social situations can put on us. We encourage that an awareness of the way the world impacts your body includes an awareness of the space around you which you allow people to infiltrate. This includes ‘virtual’ encounters, or the constant ‘noise’, ‘chatter’ or ‘demands’ from your tech alerts or social media feeds. All of these require a neurological and mental alertness which, over the long term, can be incredibly depleting to our vitality.

If you are feeling vulnerable and/or on high alert, you may wish to police your environment a little more carefully and try to create situations where you do not need to devote energy to the management of toxic individuals or toxic streams of information or media.

Everyone has a different degree of tolerance and ‘coping mechanisms’ within crowded, noisy scenarios (both literally and in terms of the cacophony of media).  If you are someone who finds these situations overwhelming there is absolutely no shame in extricating yourself from them.

Remember also that life is about balance. If your week is spent dealing with frenetic, busy, loud, taxing and overwhelming situations – this may be fine. But you may need to counterbalance this with a weekend that is calmer, more harmonious and freed from these stressors. This will allow your body to reset, though this may not be enough. If your health is really compromised you may need to examine how your daily life is lived in order to provide your body and mind with the space it needs to turn off the sympathetic drive and relax/restore/heal.

As with everything approached from a Paleo perspective, this really is a question of respecting your body, your space and your psyche by making sure that you give yourself the time and the support that you need in order to effectively deal with your life. What that looks like for everyone will be different – but it all begins with mindful awareness of the fact that the energetic drains of the situation and those around you is a very real ‘thing’.

 

WiFi and EMF

 

This is an area where there is much speculation, growing evidence, some hard facts and then a lot of fear mongering to accompany them.

Essentially every human being vibrates at a certain frequency because we are electromagnetic beings. This is not ‘woo-woo’, it’s just a fact. It is not too much of a synaptic leap from this fact to recognise that the electric frequencies amongst which we exist 24/7 in modern life might have some sort of effect on our biology and our own frequencies. Technology emits Electro-Magnetic Frequencies (EMFs), that’s just the way it is. Some of these are more powerful than others. For a really good overview into the health concerns linked with EMFs, this is a good resource.

Like with the water question – accepting that this is of at least some concern is one thing. But what do we do about it?

Nobody is going to retrofit and hardwire (instead of Wifi) their entire house, though that’s supposed to be a good option (!). You can buy defenders for a lot of devices which reportedly protect you, but there is contention about niche scientific issues such as radiation direction – with some companies stating that others’ products actually radiate the EMF BACK towards the body with their ‘shielding’ technology.

Obviously that’s not great…

But do you need to do anything at all?

We at Paleo in the UK are never going to fall on an extreme of any spectrum. Looking at the ‘getting outside’ tips above you can actually offset some of the electrical waves by spending at least some proportion of time completely away from them. There are, however, some really good rules of thumb for internal house electricity and electronic device management which can only help you and will do no harm, so are ultimately worth thinking about implementing in the long run:

  1. Switch devices off at the wall, not just on standby – especially in bedrooms. (This also helps with sleep because believe it or not that little red standby light is enough light to alert your mitochondria and prevent them truly switching into restore mode.)
  2. Your mobile phone should be used with headphones (corded) as much as possible. Bluetooth headsets are OK, but wearables that are constantly emitting bluetooth may interfere with your health.
  3. Furthermore, at night devices should NOT be on your bedside table and they should NOT be on. Airplane mode is an OK option – but still place it across the room or in another room
  4. Laptops should be preferably used on tables, not laps – and all devices that connect to the internet should be disempowered at night time by turning the WiFi off at the wall.

Sound extreme?  It is. How far you go down this track depends on how your health and sleep are being affected by the devices, electricity and EMFs that percolate throughout your life.

Unsure? Try a self-imposed, at-home tech holiday. Try the above steps for just one or two weeks and see if it makes discernible differences to sleep, mood, focus, energy levels and overall wellbeing.  If it does, you have your own answer as to how important this is for you personally.

 

Mould

 

A brief mention here of a topic we will eventually cover extensively in both our Deeper Science section and on the Blog. There is a growing understanding about the nature and prevalence of mould-related illnesses, most notably from water damaged buildings (WDBs). There are some scientists who really stress that this is a foundational cause and contributing factor behind many chronic, debilitating illnesses. Other scientists have been openly critical about the work that has been done in this area and sceptical about the data obtained.

The reality is that mould and chemical sensitivities are, again, completely individual. A genetic link has been found within a specific part of the Human Leukocyte Antigen genes (HLA) which encodes for vulnerability to immune dysregulation and overwhelm upon exposure (either acute or chronic) to mould and chemicals. This tells us that some people are going to be much more affected than others by the presence of mould in their environment. We think that mould can affect people in two ways:

1) an inability to eliminate mould from our systems which can then hide in mucosal and glandular tissue and wreak inflammatory havoc whilst the immune system is not able to get rid of it or

2) an up-regulation of the immune system initially to fight off the mould is unable to be turned off because of the way the spores affect the individual. This creates an almost permanent immune cascade, even after the origin mould is gone.  The result is continuous inflammatory processes which create their countless physiological issues.

Mould-related illnesses are diverse, with symptom maps that are far-reaching and can appear far-fetched. There is no doubt, however, that there is evidence to suggest that the inflammation response of some individuals is switched on by living in a WDB and being subject to longterm (and especially nighttime) exposure to moulds.

Certain blood markers that can be tested through Functional Diagnostic laboratories in the UK, though treatment can be tricky without the support of a very clued up doctor (very difficult to find in the UK).

So if you’ve been affected by mould, what do you do?

Natural methods have been proposed to address mould toxicity. Mostly these revolve around a flushing of the body to remove toxins that are held within glandular and/or mucosal areas after mould exposure.

However, the perspective of us here at Paleo in the UK is always that our bodies are capable of brilliant things, providing they have the infrastructure and resilience to perform as was intended. Ridding ourselves of viruses, toxins and moulds falls into the category of ‘perfectly possible’ providing the immune system is functioning optimally and the detoxification pathways have all of the nutrients required.

For this reason, examining and investigating the complexities of what has become known as Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS) as a result of mould exposure is something that we will save for deeper reviews of the data.

Instead, here we want to stress two things: the first step in any healing protocol is removal of the stressor. If you believe you are being affected by mould, get away from that mould source. This does not just mean surface cleaning, it means leaving altogether. Yes, we have recommended that people change jobs, move house, get brand new clothes, books, possessions and furniture – all to try and rid their lives of the sources of their stress.

The next step is to do everything else found on this website. Focusing on healing our bodies from every angle, providing ourselves with exceptional nutrition and healthful energetic movement, sleep and meditation practices is the best way to guarantee that our immune system and detoxification systems are as strong as they can possibly be. Once our bodies are thriving they will be able to naturally eliminate most toxicity which may have built up inside.

This is obviously not a ‘problem – cure’ suggestion, but a long term strategy. There will be some for whom more drastic measures are necessary and you are more than welcome to reach out to us here at Paleo in the UK if this is your situation and we will point you in the right direction to obtain more help.