How to Poison Your Body (Or Not!)
There are many poisons or toxins in our daily lives that can seriously affect our health. Ignoring them can easily lead to an early death or serious disability. For example, most of us know that tobacco smoke is deadly and we choose not to smoke. Yet 53,000 non-smoking Americans die every year from secondhand tobacco smoke!
Tobacco is the second most common toxin in our environment, but there are several others that are equally deadly!
One problem with toxins is that they often sneak up on you in tiny amounts. You think it's not having any effect on you until it's too late. For example, some unsuspecting people have been murdered by an enemy putting tiny amounts of arsenic in their food. They never noticed any effect until it killed them! A recent study has shown that traces of arsenic are often found in soil, and foods that are grown in that soil can be contaminated with arsenic. One of these foods is baby rice cereal, so we are now recommending baby oatmeal instead, until the rice cereal problem can be fixed.
We can't completely eliminate all poisons from our environment, but the more care we take to avoid them, the longer we can live and stay healthy.
There are many serious poisons that creep into our food, drinking water and air. Here is a list of some of the more common ones:
Fructose is the most common toxin in the US, where much of our food supply contains fructose in the form of refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup. We used to think that sugar was not healthy because it had extra calories, and would make you gain weight, but it was OK if you were not overweight. However, an important medical breakthrough in 2006 has now shown that fructose is converted in your liver to triglyceride (the "bad cholesterol"). Triglyceride poisons the body in several ways, by causing diabetes, high blood pressure, strokes, heart disease, and liver disease. Some people also get obese, but healthwise this is the least of your worries.
It's not easy to avoid fructose, but there are some simple ways to cut way back on the amount that you ingest, and that could save your life! Much of the fructose that poisons our bodies comes from things we drink, such as sodas, sport drinks and fruit juice. Even 100% natural no-sugar-added fruit juice has more fructose than a soda. It's OK to drink beverages sweetened with sugar substitutes. Skim milk and water are the best things to drink.
Foods that contain large amounts of fructose are generally known as "junk food" such as candy bars and sugar-coated foods. Avoiding sugar completely would be impossible, but look on labels, and try to pick foods with less than 5 grams of sugar per serving.
Tobacco remains a major killer, even though less than 20% of Americans are smokers. Like other poisons in small doses, the effect is gradual and you may not feel it at all, until it is too late. Even if you are a non-smoker, you may be getting deadly doses of tobacco from secondhand or even thirdhand smoke (lingering residue on clothing and walls). Over 50,000 non-smoking Americans die every year from secondhand smoke, a shocking statistic from the US Surgeon General's 2006 Report.
Try not to eat at restaurants that allow any smoking. Even if you sit in the non-smoking section, you are getting a pretty large dose of cancer-causing chemicals. Even in my small town (Bowling Green, KY) there are over 100 restaurants that are entirely smoke-free by choice. Thousands or cities across the country have passed laws to prohibit smoking in the work place (which would include restaurants, as well). This should be the job of OSHA, to protect workers from dying of toxins in the workplace.
Radon is a natural substance in the earth's crust that is a radioactive gas. As such it can cause cancer in humans if we breath small amounts of it over a long period of time. The danger is living in a house or working in a building that is built right over a natural deposit of radon. We can check for that by using a radon test kit, available at many stores. If the radon level is higher than 4-8 ppm, there are ways to seal the ground, and ventilate the crawl space to keep radon from entering your living space (and the air that you breathe!).
Lead is a heavy metal that can poison your brain and your blood. Old water supply pipes may be contaminated with lead, so it's good to run the cold water a few seconds before filling your glass to drink. Also, we should not use water from the hot water tap for drinking since hot water dissolves more lead from the pipes. (No cheating by adding hot water to your soup or instant coffee to get it hot faster!) Old pipes should be replaced whenever possible.
Carbon monoxide is a deadly poison from burning fuel (unventilated fireplace, car exhaust, etc.). Always be suspicious of possible carbon monoxide when you are in an enclosed space where fuel is burning. Early signs of poisoning include headache, dizziness and nausea. Sometimes carbon monoxide can leak from the exhast pipe into your car, so be wary of fuel smells or headache and other symptoms when in the car.
Of course burning cigarettes also produce carbon monoxide. It's not enough to kill you, but enough to kill some of your brain cells. Babies born to smokers have 5-10 points lower IQ on average. This is thought to be due to the carbon monoxide in the mother's bloodstream.
Some of the side effects of androgenic steroids are listed in the illustration above.
About 1% of high school students use androgenic steroids (like testosterone) illegally, for various reasons. Most boys use it for presumed sports advantages, but some boys and most girls use it to "improve" their looks. However, there is a controversy about whether or not any true advantage is gained by using these drugs, and there are certainly dangerous side effects, including high blood pressure, seizures and death.
Methamphetamine, other drugs
It goes without saying that taking recreational drugs carries a big risk of damage to both body and mind. Some will lead to damage quicker than others. I don't recommend using any of them.
"Meth Mouth" from using methamphatamine.
A disturbing trend in teenagers and college age kids is an increase in binge drinking. This can result in an untimely and tragic death. It is also getting much easier to kill yourself this way with the new habit of adding alcohol to stimulant drinks, such as the so-called "energy drinks". In the old days kids would drink alcohol until they passed out, then sleep it off. Now, the Red Bull® keeps them awake long enough to drink a much higher amount of alcohol, and when they pass out they also stop breathing and die.
It's also a poor prognosis for life, when a college kid becomes an alcoholic before the age of 20. Alcohol is definitely a toxin, as it causes alcoholic fatty liver disease which is deadly. Most people are able to tolerate small doses of alcohol, such as a glass of wine or beer. One problem is that alcohol impairs your judgment, and too often leads to a higher intake than just one glass. Another problem is that impaired judgment leads many drinkers to drive when they are not able to drive safely. This can lead to their own death and often the deaths of innocent bystanders. Lastly, alcohol is addicting. Just ask a million members of AA.
Antibiotics are poisonous to bacteria, but can be a life-saving treatment for humans. However, most of the antibiotics used today are used for an inappropriate reason, such as treating viral illness, which does not work. This over-use of antibiotics has led to the emergence of resistant bacteria, so that bad germs cannot be killed by antibiotics. It also makes your normal body bacteria resistant so that when you get a bad infection, your normal germs "teach" the bad ones to be resistant (by transferring the genetic material that makes them resistant). In this sense, you have poisoned your body, because you have set yourself up for a MRSA (resistant staph) or other potentially deadly bacterial infection.
To be safe, only use an antibiotic for a specific infection that you KNOW the antibiotic can kill. Never use antibiotics inappropriately, such as for viral colds, sore throats, bronchitis, viral pneumonia, or when there is not an identified bacterial infection.
PCB's (polychlorinated biphenyls) are chemicals used to make transformers and insulators. Ingesting even trace amounts of PCB can cause liver cancer or brain damage.
Before 1960, their adverse health effects were not recognized, and manufacturers dumped tons of waste PCB's into rivers. These chemicals last for centuries, and many New York rivers are still contaminated, even though PCB manufacture was banned in 1966. The Great Lakes are still heavily contaminated. Recently, it was found that pigs and cattle in Ireland were eating contaminated feed, and had 200-400 times the safe amount of PCB in their meat, and milk. To be safe, limit your intake of fish from New York or the Great Lakes area, and avoid beef or pork from Ireland.
Pesticides can kill insects that attack fruits and vegetables, and are often sprayed on them. In a larger dose they can kill a person. It's a good idea to wash produce well before eating it.