How toxins affect your immunity and what you can do about it
It’s no secret that we urban dwellers are constantly exposed to toxins, ranging from pesticides in our food, gases emanating from paints and carpet in the office, and chemicals used to treat drinking water. Current studies estimate that up to 300,000 new chemicals are added into the environment each year.
Dr Kanin Tripipitsitiwat, a
physician at the Vitallife Wellness Centre of Bangkok’s Bumrungrad International Hospital, says that both the volume of toxins and the type of toxins used in manufacturing are especially worrying.
“Many of the products we commonly use in everyday life are made from petrochemicals, and these chemicals are classified as xenoestrogens,” he says. “This means they mimic oestrogen in the body and disrupt hormonal balance and immune function.”
While our bodies naturally detoxify, they cannot compete against the onslaught and complexity of chemical poisoning that’s happening today.
“Petrochemicals are fat-soluble so they soak through our skin and the skin of the fruits and vegetables we eat,” Dr Kanin continues. “It’s a little scary to realise, but we are constantly bombarded by chemicals that have the potential to alter our biology.”
The industrially produced compound bisphenol A (BPA) is the most insidious of them all. BPA is commonly used in the manufacture of plastics, especially drink packaging for bottled water. BPA is a known endocrine disruptor and may pose a significant risk to pregnant women and a child’s prenatal and early postnatal development.
Fortunately, many of the toxins are flushed from our body through normal metabolic processes, but long-term exposure increases the risk of life-threatening diseases like cancer, and can also trigger a host of immune related problems, like allergies, skin rashes, asthma and inflammation.
While acknowledging that it is virtually impossible to avoid chemical exposure, Dr Kanin says avoiding over-exposure is the best defence. He suggests:
>> Limiting use of plastic particularly water bottles exposure to heat and sunlight.
>> Washing all produce, and if possible purchase organic options when possible
>> Avoiding products with the term “fragrance” as these are chemical additives
>> Don’t smoke.
>> Keeping plenty of plants in the home to help clean the air
If toxin exposure is especially worrying for you, then Dr Kanin suggests you consider a blood and urine test to assess toxin levels in your body. Toxins can be removed from the body through various methods, including chelation.
Those worried about their immune systems tend to go wild for vitamins and other supplements. Dr Kanin, however, advises caution.
“If you serious about building a strong immune system,” he says, “then supplements can help, but understand that supplements support a healthy lifestyle, not replace it.”
In the world of supplements, there are a few key players that pack a powerful punch in boosting immune function and fighting off illness.
Glutamine is a non-essential amino acid vital to maintaining a healthy gut lining and boosting overall immunity. Glutamine levels decline in the body after training, and so does the body’s ability to fight off infections. Ensuring steady glutamine levels can enhance recovery and reduce susceptibility to colds and flu.
Vitamin C is another key nutrient that researchers know has a strong impact on our immune system as well as being a powerful antioxidant that prevents the formation of free radicals. Studies show that vitamin C supplementation increases the response of neutrophils and lymphocytes, the “front-line soldiers” of the immune system.
Vitamin A is not only essential for maintaining healthy mucous membranes in the body, but it helps fight off infection too. Researchers have discovered that vitamin A deficiency impairs mucosal immunity and leaves the body more prone to respiratory infections. Dry mucous membranes in our nose and throat, often causes by air conditioning, also make it easier for bacteria and viruses to penetrate our immune defences.
Zinc is another heavyweight associated with more than 300 different functions in the body, including immune function. Zinc is an important fuel for the thymus gland, which produces special T-lymphocyte white blood cells that come to the fore once the invaders have penetrated our first line of defence.
In addition to vitamin supplements, honey, ginger and chillies are all heavyweight immunity builders that help fight off colds and flu. Honey is one of the strongest anti-bacterial agents found in nature and ginger and cayenne “warm” the body, stimulating circulation of energy and blood. Dr Kanin also says that we should never forget the importance of water and hydration as an immunity-boosting tool. Water is the “liquid of life” and hydration keeps cells healthy and strong to fight off bacteria and viruses. This is especially the case for athletes and office workers, who tend to dehydrate easily.
We all know the benefits exercise has on our bodies. People who exercise regularly typically have better cardiovascular function, a stronger musculoskeletal system (bone, muscles and joints) and a stronger immune response system to fight against germs and diseases.
But like all things, exercise is best done in moderation and too much can actually put excessive strain on the body and immune system, leading to fatigue, injuries and susceptibility to colds and flu.
The best way to boost your immunity is to make exercise a “healthy ritual” along with adequate rest, a balanced diet and supplementation with key nutrients. “The formula to staying well and maintaining a strong immune system is not complicated, but it does require discipline to make it stick.
The correct exercise regimen involves alternating intensity and duration of workouts. This improves resistance to upper respiratory tract infection – primarily colds and flu. If you overdo it, however, and over-train or stick to one type of exercise only, then the body is more susceptible to infection.
Current research shows that excessive aerobic endurance training, like running marathons or triathlons, is harder on the immune system than anaerobic training, like yoga. Thirty minutes of moderate exercise will boost immune response and lessen the duration and severity of a mild infection.
Make it part of your life today.