Detoxification: The Health Effects of Environmental Toxins
by Jenna Greenfield MD
If you read our page Environmental Toxicity, you now know just how prevalent and pervasive environmental toxins are. We all have toxins, including pesticides, flame retardants, and heavy metals, in our blood, brains, organs and fat cells. There is no avoiding them in our environment. Detoxification has never been more important!
The Harmful Effects of Environmental Toxins: Why Detoxification is Important
There are many ways that environmental toxins cause us harm. One way is by causing oxidative damage, and damage to the mitochondria in our cells. Heavy metals in particular are known to damage cells this way (1). Redox reactive metals have the ability to produce free radicals, which then damage our cells by stealing electrons from our cell components, causing DNA damage, lipid per oxidation (damage to cell membranes), and protein modifications. Oxidative damage is the primary cause of cell aging, and leads to diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, and chronic inflammation.
The organ systems more vulnerable to environmental toxins
The two organ systems that are most harmed by environmental toxins are the brain and the endocrine system. These two systems are closely related and are sometimes together referred to as the neuroendocrine system. Neurons (brain cells) are particularly susceptible to oxidative stress because of their high metabolic rate and oxygen consumption. Pesticides are specifically designed to be neurotoxins, altering cation channels at the nerve synapses that are required for communication between neurons (2). Many organic pollutants act as endocrine disruptors, binding to hormone binding sites and increasing or blocking normal hormone activity (3).
Environmental Toxins Cause Damage to the Brain
Organophosphorus pesticides are a group of about 40 different pesticides that are currently the most commonly used in the world. Chronic occupational exposure has been shown to impair neurobehavioral functions such as motor speed and coordination, information processing speed and executive functioning, verbal abstraction, sustained attention, attention and short term memory, and perception (4). There is also an association between pesticide exposure and depression (5).
In the US, we are universally exposed to polybrominated-diphenyl-ether (PBDE), a flame retardant found in furniture, carpets, car seats, and many other common products. Levels in the US are about 10 times higher than levels in Europe and Asia because of US mandates for decreased flammability of consumer products. It has been shown to have thyroid disrupting effects, and causes developmental neurotoxicity, hyperactivity, and deficits in learning and memory (6).
DDT and dementia
There is evidence linking all three of the most common neurodegenerative disorders, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer's Disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, to long term low dose pesticide exposure (7). Dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE) is linked to the development of Alzheimer's Disease. DDE is a metabolite of DDT, a pesticide banned in the US since the 1970s. There is continued risk of exposure from foods that come from countries where DDT is not banned, along with soil and water pollution, and these molecules have a very long half life. DDE is found in 75-80% of blood samples taken from the general population.
Other common toxins linked to dementia and Alzheimer's Disease are brominated flame retardants (PBDEs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) (8).
Environmental Toxins Cause Endocrine Disruption and Obesity
Environmental toxins cause significant harm by disrupting the endocrine system. The plasticizers bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) and dioxins all disrupt hormone signaling by binding to hormone receptors, either increasing or blocking their effects (3). DDE is a potent androgen receptor antagonist, blocking the effects of testosterone. Many organic pollutants have estrogenic activity, including biphenyl A, DDE, PCBs, and parabens. Endocrine disrupting toxins are associated with disrupted puberty and sexual development, decreased fertility in men and women, increased incidence of endometriosis, early menopause, and hormone dependent cancers including breast, testicular, and prostate. In addition, endocrine disruptors contribute to obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes, so much so that this class of toxicants has been called “obesogens” (9).
Far Infrared Saunas for Detoxification
The good news is, most of these harmful effects are reversible when we reduce our toxic load! And sweating is the most effective and efficient way to do so. Many of the most common environmental toxins have been measured in sweat, in comparison to the levels in blood and urine. The heavy metals arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury, organochlorine pesticides including DDT, DDE, methoxychlor, endrin, and endosulfan sulfate, the plasticizers biphenyl A and phthalates, and the flame retardant PBDE, have all been shown to be present in sweat in higher concentrations than are present in the blood (2, 10-13). This means that not only do these chemicals pass freely from the blood to the sweat, but they are actively concentrated and excreted. In many cases the chemicals were present in sweat even when they were not detectable in the blood, which shows that they are actively being transported from their stores (usually in fat cells) into the sweat. An acclimatized person, who regularly uses an infrared sauna, can sweat up to a liter every 30 minutes (2).
A study on sauna use for detoxification was done on electrical workers exposed to hexachlorobenezene and polychlorinated biphenyls. After 3 weeks of a daily intensive sauna detox regimen, the subjects showed 30% reduced hexachlorobenezene levels and 16% lower PCBs (14).
High Tech Health Far Infrared Saunas: Optimized for Detoxification
Our High Tech Health Transcend far infrared sauna is truly the most effective infrared sauna you can get for detoxification. We take great pride in the fact that everything about our saunas is thoroughly researched and designed to optimize your health and detoxification.
One reason that we are ideal for detoxification is our patented technology to virtually eliminate electromagnetic fields. Interestingly, the effects of EMF parallel many of the harmful effects that toxins have on our bodies, causing oxidative damage and neuroendocrine disruption. They have even been shown to exacerbate the harmful effects of toxins, making toxins more toxic, and carcinogens more carcinogenic. For more details and references please visit our page on The Dangers of EMFs.
We use the 100% Poplar wood, which is the cleanest, most hypoallergenic wood. Other woods used to build saunas, such as cedar, basswood, and spruce, emit hydrocarbons that are lung irritants and can contribute to your toxicity. To read more about our wood please visit our page on Comparing Sauna Wood.
We are the only sauna company that has a fresh air fan in the roof of our infrared saunas. When sweating and detoxifying in a small enclosed space, it is important to vent the carbon dioxide and other toxins that we emit.
- Jomova K, Valko M, Advances in metal-induced oxidative stress and human disease. Toxicology. 2011 May 10;283(2-3):65-87
- Genuis SJ, Lane K, Birkholz D, Human Elimination of Organochlorine Pesticides: Blood, Urine, and Sweat Study. Biomed Res Int. 2016;2016
- Sears ME, Genuis SJ, Environmental determinants of chronic disease and medical approaches: recognition, avoidance, supportive therapy, and detoxification. J Environ Public Health. 2012;2012
- Rohlman DS, Anger WK, Lein PJ, Correlating neurobehavioral performance with biomarkers of organophosphorous pesticide exposure. Neurotoxicology. 2011 Mar;32(2):268-76
- Beard JD, Umbach DM, Hoppin JA, Richards M, Alavanja MC, Blair A, Sandler DP, Kamel F, Pesticide exposure and depression among male private pesticide applicators in the agricultural health study. Environ Health Perspect. 2014 Sep;122(9):984-91
- Chen A, Yolton K, Rauch SA, Webster GM, Hornung R, Sjödin A, Dietrich KN, Lanphear BP, Prenatal Polybrominated Diphenyl Ether Exposures and Neurodevelopment in U.S. Children through 5 Years of Age: The HOME Study, Environmental Health Perspectives. 2014 May 28; 122(8): 856-862
- Baltazar MT, Dinis-Oliveira RJ, de Lourdes Bastos M, Tsatsakis AM, Duarte JA, Carvalho F, Pesticides exposure as etiological factors of Parkinson's disease and other neurodegenerative diseases--a mechanistic approach. Toxicol Lett. 2014 Oct 15;230(2):85-103
- Genuis SJ, Kelln KL, Toxicant Exposure and Bioaccumulation: A Common and Potentially Reversible Cause of Cognitive Dysfunction and Dementia, Behavioural Neurology. 2015 Feb 4; 2015
- Darbre PD, Endocrine Disruptors and Obesity. Curr Obes Rep. 2017 Mar;6(1):18-27
- Sears ME, Kerr KJ, Bray RI, Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead, and Mercury in Sweat: A Systematic Review, Journal of Environmental and Public Health. 2012 Feb 22; 2012
- Genuis SJ, Beesoon S, Lobo RA, Birkholz D, Human Elimination of Phthalate Compounds: Blood, Urine, and Sweat (BUS) Study, The Scientific World Journal. 2012 Oct 31; 2012
- Genuis SJ, Beesoon S, Birkholz D, Lobo RA, Human excretion of bisphenol A: blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study. J Environ Public Health. 2012;2012
- Genuis SK, Birkholz D, Genuis SJ, Human Excretion of Polybrominated Diphenyl Ether Flame Retardants: Blood, Urine, and Sweat Study, BioMed Research International. 2017 Mar 8; 2017
- Schnare DW, Robinson PC, Reduction of the human body burdens of hexachlorobenzene and polychlorinated biphenyls. IARC Sci Publ. 1986;(77):597-603