Speakers: Dr. Winnie Siu & Dr. Aviad Elgez
Written by: Sheena Jain & Esha Jain
Dr. Siu and Dr. Elgez are a part of EnviroMed, a clinic that specializes in Environmental Medicine. Their mission is to educate their patients and the community regarding the connection between the state of the Environment and human health. Working alongside Dr. Mansoor Mohammed, a clinical Geneticist, they focus on proper genetics and home environment assessments as well as environmentally exposed individuals suffering from the following illnesses:
- Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Autoimmune Conditions
- Chronic infections/Mild-immunosuppression
- e.g. Chronic Lyme Disease
- Neurological Conditions
- Electro Hypersensitivity Syndrome
- Non-responsive patients to standard treatments
They found that the conditions listed above as well as many other illnesses are directly related to daily environmental exposures of pollution, workplace hazards, radiation, climate change, pesticides, mold, plastics, heavy metals, solvents and electromagnetic frequencies. Their goal is to identify exposures that are related to health concerns.
In understanding what we are being exposed to, it is important to ask the following question: “what is the difference between toxins and toxicants?”
- TOXINS come from a biological source like molds or bacteria. This means that a toxin is a poisonous substance produced within living cells or organisms. (E.g. Mycotoxins, Biotoxins etc.)
- TOXICANTS are synthetic chemicals, such that the poisonous substances are created by artificial processes. (E.g. metals, pesticides, solvents, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl) & Phthalates)
The doctors at EnviroMed focus on the total environmental load and the non-specific load and try to decrease the total body burden by figuring out the source and reducing exposure as much as possible. They have created an analogy of a barrel. The barrel is a toxic barrel that represents what we carry within us.
Within the total body load is this toxic barrel that is filled with water at the bottom and oil at the top. The barrel also consists of a faucet at the bottom where toxic materials are released from the body.
The water can contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), plastics, heavy metals, arsenic and aluminum to name a few. These are not persistent therefore the body can clear them out rapidly and get rid of them completely. The oil contains PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid), DDT (Dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane), lead and mercury. These are persistent, as the body has minimal capacity to remove them, taking months to years to clear them. If the level of the toxic material within the barrel rises, to the extent at which toxins are entering the “barrel” faster than they are being removed, the faucet may cause a backup of the harmful substances. This is when patients start demonstrating symptoms of toxicity. Therefore it is important to remove as much toxic material as possible in order to ensure adequate functioning of the body.
There are 2 components affecting the opening of the “faucet.” While some factors may cause the faucet opening to be wide, others may cause it to be narrower.
- Genetics Varying genetics between individuals can cause a 4-10x difference in the rate at which toxicants are cleared from the body. An example of this is alcohol consumption. While one individual may consume a full glass of wine and experience no symptoms, others may consume as little as half a glass of wine and become flushed. Genetics is the key element responsible for this difference. The reason being is that alcohol gets metabolized into an aldehyde, which gets processed and emitted from the body. There are specific genes that encode enzymes that are responsible for the rapid metabolism of alcohol in some individuals, while other genes can slow the rate of removal of aldehyde. Such that individuals of Asian descent lack the enzyme that breaks down aldehyde and thus get aldehyde toxicity. Therefore, even a small amount of alcohol consumption, can cause symptoms of intoxication. Thus even with similar exposure and environmental factors, individuals can experience different symptoms based on their genetics.
- Nutrients Specific nutrients are needed in order to remove toxins from the body. However, long term toxin exposure leads to depleted nutrients, causing the “faucet” to narrow. This causes a backup of toxins within the barrel and can become difficult to reverse. This is seen in an individual who consumes large amounts of alcohol on a regular basis, ultimately experiencing vitamin B1 deficiency.
Therefore it is essential to clear out as much as we can from the top of the barrel (55%-90%) and open the faucet to remove things from the bottom of the barrel. Once the toxicants are removed and identified, determine what genes are affected and up regulate those genes through dietary changes, such as eating kale or broccoli. Such greens will genetically upregulate what nutrients are deficient. Other options include, doing colonics for cleansing. Genetics could lower your symptoms based on chemicals you are exposed to. Therefore limit toxin exposures.
The following are substances to beware of and the negative health effects they encompass:
Toxic SubstanceNegative EffectsAdditional Information
BPA & BPS- Hormone Disruptors
- Menstrual irregularities
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
- Immuno/environmental mitochondrial
- Females: Hormone Disruptor
- Young Males: ↓ Testosterone Levels
- Liquid plastics added to
hard plastics in order to
make them softer
(i.e. saran wrap)
Heavy Metals- Mercury
→ Anxiety, Irritability & Fatigue
→ Parkinson’s Disease
→ Children: Neurological Developmental
→ Note there are large
amounts of mercury in
→ Leaves body rapidly,
therefore you do not
need to worry too much
about it, just get rid of
→ Note that Arsenic from
seafood and shrimp is
→ Arsenic from rice or
non-organic chicken is
→ May have a hangover feeling in the morning
- Found in Memory Foam &
- Have off-gassing
Organophosphate Pesticides- Neurotoxins
→ Parkinson’s Disease
- NOT persistent
→ Therefore clears rapidly
from the body
→ However, if you do not
eat organic foods, you
will be re-exposed to
these pesticides every
PCBs & Dioxins- Developmental problems in developing
→ Parkinson’s Disease
- Persistent and therefore
remain in the body longer
- Mostly in fish
→ Therefore leads to
the food chain
Molds & Mycotoxins- Neurological symptoms
→ Memory loss
→ Decrease concentration
- Immune symptoms
- Chronic sinusitis & congestion
(Linked to mold exposure 99% of the time)
1) Can toxin exposures that affected your great grandparents persist in your genes and change your DNA?
A study was conducted in which pregnant lab rats were exposed to an agricultural fungicide, Vinclozolin. This endocrine disruptor was meant to interfere with the process of the fetus becoming male or female. However, sexual differentiation was unaffected. What they did find was when male offspring’s reached adulthood, they had lower sperm counts and decreased fertility. They believed the study was insignificant. It was not until, someone within the lab made an error and continued to bred more rats; such that grandchildren were bred from the rats who had been exposed, creating a fourth generation i.e. great-grandchildren of the originally exposed rats. They decided to investigate the next generations and found that the three generations after the initial pregnant mother exposed to the fungicide, also displayed low sperm counts, but was not due to a change within their inherited DNA sequence. Uncertain of this finding, they bred more rats and continued to test them, using more chemicals that lead to diseases in the prostate, kidney, ovaries and immune system. Over and over again, they discovered these diseases were being seen in the fourth and fifth generation offspring of the mothers who were originally exposed to a chemical. Biologist Michael Skinner found that as toxins were entering the rats, they altered the configuration of methyl groups that hung onto DNA in the fetus’ germ-line cells, and eventually became its egg or sperm. He used the analogy of burrs on a knit sweater to explain the methyl groups latching onto the DNA in particular arrangements. It was these methyl molecules that were interfering with the functioning of the DNA and was being passed onto future generations, causing them to face the same diseases. Skinner conducted another study in which he exposed pregnant rats to bug spray, jet fuel and BPA. He yet again found that each exposure exhibited a distinct pattern of methyl groups attached, that persisted in the great-grandchildren of the pregnant rats that were initially exposed. Skinner concluded that your great-grandmother’s environment does affect your health and that the chemicals she was exposed to may be traceable in the future. An example of this is seen within an unintentional human trial with DES (diethylstilbestrol) exposure. DES was a medication given to pregnant women from the 1940’s to the 1960’s, to prevent pregnancy complications. Later it was discovered that DES negatively affected those exposed in utero, females affected by vaginal cancers and males affected by testicular abnormalities. Studies of grandchildren of DES exposed mothers are now surfacing, findings display that this generation may suffer from infertility, reproductive birth defects and some cancers.
2) What is the interaction between nutrition and environmental toxin exposures?
There are 3 main ways in which nutrition and toxicants interact:
i. Food can be the source of exposure to toxins
- Toxic chemicals can be presented to the food while it is being grown
- The processing and storage of food may also increase hazardous chemical content of food
→ (e.g. drying or smoking food over coal-burning stoves as seen in Chinese rural communities,
increases food arsenic content)
→ Another example in which food acts as a source of toxicant exposure is through fish and
seafood, due to the methylmercury.
- Inorganic mercury is released into the air, settles in water and undergoes methylation
- 2 studies were conducted, which presented prenatal and early postnatal exposure to
seafood. Both studies resulted in having children with cognitive deficits, which included
attention, perceptual and selection language deficits.
ii. Nutritional deficiencies influence the level of exposure and toxicity
- Lead exposure is associated with cognitive deficits in children, especially among disadvantaged
Evidence exists for interaction between lead and nutrients at the level of intestinal absorption,
neurochemistry and cognitive function.
Note: Iron and lead share a common intestinal transporter, such that, iron deficiency contributes
to increased lead absorption.
There has been some evidence that adult women and children who consume higher amounts of
dietary calcium have lower blood lead concentrations. Also placental transfer of lead was lower
in women who consume diets rich in iron and who have higher hemoglobin levels.
- Another example would be cadmium exposure, which is associated with renal tubular toxicity,
decreased bone density, and increased bone turnover and fractures. Other than tobacco smoke,
diets are the main source of environmental cadmium exposure. Cadmium is especially high in the
→ Leafy veggies
Evidence shows that low iron stores and intake are associated with higher body cadmium
burdens. As both cadmium and iron are absorbed into the small intestine by the divalent metal
transporter 1, once inside enterocytes, cadmium is moved via calcium transporters and
ferroportin, into the blood stream. The absorption of cadmium may increase at early states of
iron deficiency, even before iron absorption is observed.
iii. Nutrient deficiencies and toxicants yield similar outcomes
- Arsenic exposure for example may occur from ground water in areas such as India and Bangladesh. It is also common in drinking water in areas such as Mexico, Argentina and Vietnam, where an estimated 100 million people are exposed to levels above 100g/L.
- Other sources of arsenic include: coal-burning stoves and contaminated food.
- Arsenic is associated with lung and bladder cancers, skin lesions, and in populations with high arsenic exposure, diabetes mellitus and hypertension are prevalent.
- In children, arsenic is associated with low IQ scores, decreased memory and attention.
- A study conducted, presented evidence for the association among nutrients, and arsenic toxicity in Bangladeshi women. With a double burden of women of reproductive age being vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies and environmental exposures, women become a source of exposure to their fetuses and infants through placental exchange and breast milk. Therefore, when toxin exposures interact with poor nutrition, it results in high costs to the health and well-being of the resource-poor individuals and communities, who are less likely able to cope with those costs.
1) Interlandi, Jeneen. "The Toxins That Affected Your Great-Grandparents Could Be In Your Genes." Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian Institution, n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2017.<http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/the-toxins-that-affected-your-great-grandparents-could-be-in-your-genes-180947644/>.
2) Joshua. "Difference Between Toxin and Toxicant." Difference Between. N.p., 22 Dec. 2011. Web. 26 Jan. 2017.
3) Kordas, Katarzyna, Bo Lönnerdal, and Rebecca Stoltzfus. "Interactions between Nutrition and Environmental Exposures: Effects on Health Outcomes in Women and Children." The Journal of Nutrition, 01 Dec. 2007. Web. 26 Jan. 2017. <http://jn.nutrition.org/content/137/12/2794.full>.
4) "Our Mission Statement – EnviroMed Clinic." EnviroMed Clinic. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2017. <http://enviromedclinic.com/our-mission-statement/>.
5) Tuller, David, Dullhunk/Flickr, Tom Philpott, and Sydney Brownstone. "Can Exposure to Toxins Change Your DNA?" Mother Jones. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2017.<http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2012/06/can-exposure-toxins-change-your-dna>.