Immune health has never been more relevant than now, and while there are many dietary and lifestyle patterns Americans are working to improve, there is one major aspect of modern life that is devastating for immune function, yet fades into the background, to the detriment of our immune systems.
In this article, you’ll learn how toxin exposure from ordinary actions can contribute to an increased toxic load, which is one major component of immune dysfunction.
Let’s take a look at what kind of toxins contribute to your body burden, and functional medicine solutions to reduce your toxic load and boost your immune system.
What Is Your Body’s Toxic Burden?
Our bodies are constantly exposed to toxins, both from the outside environment and from within our own tissues, and you’ll learn the top offenders for each in a moment.
Fortunately, we possess built-in pathways to properly package up and remove these toxins, but problems occur when these pathways become overwhelmed, leading to painful, but often vague symptoms. Functional doctors use their skills to identify and correct possible toxin overload when treating patients.
Accumulation of toxins within the body can cause endocrine (hormone) disruption and inflammatory dysregulation which can then alter the chemical messengers your body relies on to carry out proper immune function.
From the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink–almost everything we come into contact with deposits a small number of unwanted substances our body must metabolize and excrete, so as not to allow buildup which damages our tissues.
Your body’s toxic burden is the accumulation of all toxins and unwanted substances at any given time.
What Causes High Toxin Levels
The body is exposed to two main categories of toxins. Some come from outside the body in the form of environmental toxins, and others are produced from within the body.
The top most common environmental toxins are:
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS): Used in products like Teflon and Scotch Guard, PFASs are resistant to breakdown and are found in our soil and groundwater. For decades, chemical companies covered up PFAS’ health risks, which include cancer and other diseases. Today, virtually all Americans, including newborn infants, have PFAS compounds in their blood, and upwards of 110 million people in the U.S. are drinking PFAS-tainted tap water (1).
Heavy metals: Mercury, cadmium, lead, and other harmful heavy metals are found in our soil, water, and food. It’s estimated that lead exposure alone cost U.S. children 78 million IQ points over a 15-year period (2).
Pesticides, Herbicides, Fungicides: Chemicals like glyphosate, and other organophosphates have made their way into our food and our bodies. One study evaluating 8 countries, including the U.S., detected pesticide metabolites in every sample of urine tested (3).
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs): PCBs are a mixture of very toxic chemicals no longer produced in the U.S. but which we’ve likely all been exposed to. Studies have linked high PCB exposure with increased cancer risk, and have demonstrated early childhood exposure to PCBs with ADHD (4).
EMF sensitivity: A relatively new topic in research, recent studies show that electromagnetic frequencies from cell phone, tablets, Wi-Fi, and other devices can impact systems in the body regulated by voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCC) which play a role in dozens of essential biologic functions.
The most common bodily toxins include:
Candida overgrowth: More commonly recognized as yeast, this is a bacteria that naturally reside in the digestive tract, skin, and vaginal canal of the body. It becomes problematic when a change in pH or high sugar diet allows this opportunistic bacteria to overgrow, causing inflammation, hormonal imbalance, and even mental health symptoms.
Gut bacteria: Anyone who has experienced chronic digestive issues may have a bacterial imbalance in their gut. A healthy digestive system depends on a balance between the “good” and “bad” bacteria in the gut.
Excess hormones: The body relies on properly functioning detox pathways to clear hormones the body no longer needs. If these hormones remain in the body, they can build up and increase risk for hormone imbalance symptoms, irregular cycles, and even some types of cancer.
When treating toxin overload symptoms, integrative doctors will evaluate both environmental exposures and evaluate detox function within the body.
Symptoms of Toxic Overload
Overworked detox systems can be difficult to isolate, as the body is naturally built to handle a certain threshold of unwanted substances. An integrative physician can help you determine if your symptoms are related to toxin exposure.
When your body’s toxic burden exceeds the threshold of healthy detox, it kicks the immune system into overdrive and it struggles to keep up.
Signs your toxic burden is high include things like:
- Brain fog or difficulty concentrating
- Sugar cravings
- Trouble losing weight
- Nasal/sinus congestion
- Skin issues (breakouts, eczema, redness)
- Digestive problems (diarrhea, indigestion, acid reflux, etc.)
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, schedule an appointment with a functional medicine provider now.
These symptoms, if caused by a high toxic burden, can lead to increased inflammation and significant immune dysregulation.
Causes of a Weak Immune System
Your immune system is an infinitely complex network of cells, proteins, and chemical messengers that rely on specialized communication between the body and its main components.
Certain lifestyle, diet, and toxin exposure patterns can cause the immune system to misfire, contributing to autoimmunity and immune dysregulation:
- Poor gut health
- Reduced sleep
- Toxin exposure
While all of these factors can alter immune function and contribute to inflammation, we’ll focus specifically on how to lower your toxic burden to improve immune function.
High Toxic Burden Harms the Immune System
The most significant detriment the immune system faces when the body has a high toxic load is a chronic, but low-grade inflammation that often goes undetected. It will quietly simmer beneath the surface, creating confusion among the signals the immune system needs to function.
Environmental toxins also shrink the thymus, which is a small organ just behind your lungs where immune cells go to mature (5).
A mature immune cell will be equipped to figure out which cells belong to you, and which don’t–helping them to determine friend from foe.
When the thymus shrinks in response to toxin exposure, there’s a diminished production of T regulatory cells, which have an important role in regulating the immune system. If the thymus shrinks and T regulatory cells get diminished, there is a greater potential for immune dysfunction.
How To Reduce Toxins in Your Body
Due to lifestyle and genetic factors (like MTHFR) some people are efficient at performing detox processes, and others perform these actions slower than others.
For example, if you possess one or two copies of a genetic variant on the MTHFR gene (as up to 40% of the population do), your detox pathways may be less efficient, and reducing overall exposure is that much more crucial to not overwhelm detox pathways.
There are two things everyone can do to reduce toxic burden in the body:
- Reduce overall exposure
- Support natural detox pathways
Functional medicine doctors will help you optimize detox function both with lifestyle factors, and by supporting genetic components like MTHFR mutations.
Reduce Toxin Exposure at Home
While it can be tempting to think that living in a bubble is your only option, there are several very impactful ways you can reduce your toxin exposure overall. It’s impossible to avoid all toxins, but these are the main ones we struggle with as part of modern life.
Filter Your Air and Water
Water is essential for healthy detox, but can also be a major exposure of harmful toxins. Use a high quality fine-pored filter or similar. Indoor air is also one of the top offenders for toxin exposure, containing up to 10x more pollutants than outdoor air. Change household filters often, and make sure they’re rated to filter mold, and other household airborne contaminants.
Choose Organic Produce When Able
Most of the pesticides and heavy metals were exposed to find their way into our bodies via contaminated food and produce. If budget is a concern, consult the Environmental Working Group’s “Clean 16” list for fresh produce which is less likely to have pesticide residue.
Use Clean Body Care & Household Products
Swap body care products for those without parabens, phthalates, or other endocrine-disrupting compounds. Be mindful of household cleaning products that can harm bodily tissues if inhaled or when they come in contact with skin.
Address EMF Sensitivity
Even some things like increased exposure to WiFi and electromagnetic frequencies (EMF) in the environment may result in negative health outcomes.
Support Natural Detox Pathways with Integrative Medicine
Fortunately, for those wanting to live as clean as possible, the body has several stellar detox pathways that are easy to support with a little targeted effort. Mainly, you’ll want to prioritize pathways in the liver, skin, and digestive system.
Your gut is your immune system’s first line of defense, and is responsible for properly eliminating toxins.
- Having healthy and regular bowel movements allows unwanted substances to leave the body.
- “Good” gut bacteria help identify intruders and communicate with the immune system.
- A healthy intestinal lining ensures that pathogens are not released into the bloodstream.
If digestive issues are your pain point, Belly Fix is a comprehensive digestive support supplement, that can not only improve gut function, but can tame belly bloat and inflammation as well.
Fight fatigue and boost immunity with IV therapy. IV drips deliver nutrients directly to the cells that need them, bypassing slow and ineffective digestion processes. Glutathione is the body’s strongest antioxidant and detoxifier, and is one of the most popular and beneficial IV boosts available.
Learn more about our Recharge Drip, the Cold & Flu Buster, and the increasingly popular Weight Loss Drip.
Comprehensive Detox System
For a comprehensive detox support system that upregulates Phase 1 and Phase 2 detox enzymes, Core Restore is a 7- or 14-day program to reduce toxic burden and boost liver function.
Improving Immune Health with Functional Medicine
Though symptoms of a high toxic burden can be difficult to diagnose, decreasing toxin exposure and supporting detoxification pathways is one cornerstone of successful integrative medicine philosophy.
While it can be easy to feel overwhelmed when it comes to immune health and exposure to toxins, it’s important to remember that you have incredible control over your health. It’s always possible to take small steps in the right direction to achieve bigger goals.
By using the functional strategies in this article, you can boost immune function, and ensure your body is better able to rid itself of harmful toxins.