Toxins and Health: A Personalized Medicine Perspective
Written by: Dr. Bobbi Kline
We are all bombarded by potential toxins every day, all day. Many of these are the result of biological processes that are necessary for normal functioning of our bodies, including hormones such as estrogen and testosterone, oxygen for energy, even common nutrients such as iron or copper. Generally, as long as these processes are supported through the right diet, exercise and lifestyle, our bodies handle these without any problem.
The entire biological process that is designed to transform toxic compounds into nontoxic ones is termed biotransformation, more commonly called detoxification - or detox for short. There are typically multiple biological steps that end with eliminating these compounds from our bodies, and every step along the way involves proper functioning of various proteins called enzymes, transporters, and receptors. To make it even more complicated, these very processes designed to protect us from these toxic chemicals often create compounds temporarily that are actually even more highly toxic, before they are finally eliminated from our bodies in a form that is no longer harmful.
Getting the detoxification process to function at its best, with everything happening in the right sequence and having the right raw materials relies on our genetic code. If a person’s genetic code has small errors, in the form of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs for short) [see: genetics vs genomics], this can cause one or more of these proteins to function sub-optimally. Over time, this can damage cells and their content including our mitochondria [see: mitochondria review] and DNA. This then predisposes to a wide range of diseases, including cancer. And if that person also has SNPs in the genes that are responsible for repairing this damage, that person’s risk is compounded.see 2/27/2021 Feature on military Burn Pits]. They also come from catastrophic environmental events such as forest fires, petrochemical spills, hurricanes and floods.
(To be continued in the lower half of this issue)
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Toxins and Health: A Personalized Medicine Perspective (continued from page 1) by: Dr. Bobbi Kline
These toxins enter our bodies through a variety of ways including our lungs, skin, eyes, and digestive tract and get eliminated primarily through sweat, urine and feces. At every point along the way there is the potential for short-term and long-term damage. The reality is that over 80,000 chemicals are currently in use in the U.S.(1), most of them under-regulated or unregulated. While we cannot avoid them, raising awareness of toxin sources and how to minimize exposure is a key part of minimizing their impact on our health.
This exposure starts before birth, with an EWG study demonstrating 287 toxins present in the cord blood of babies at birth. But these are not limited to newborns, they are found everywhere in our environment and include mercury from coal-fired plants, perfluorinated chemicals (PFC’s) present in nonstick cookware coatings, organochlorine pesticides including DDT, polychlorinated napthalenes present in wood varnish, and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’S) from burning gasoline and garbage.
Beyond a person’s genetic code and environmental exposure, there is another powerful element: food. All of the proteins in our bodies require nutrients from our diet to function properly. This is another area where personal choices can make a big impact that toxin exposures will have. The ultimate health outcomes of various toxin exposures are the result of a complicated equation that takes into account the interaction of total exposures with our ability to handle them. Each person, depending on their genes and their exposures, will have differing levels of risk. This is why two people can have the same apparent exposure, and one person ends up with multiple cancers over their lifetime and another does not.
While we can’t avoid these chemicals, we don’t have to feel hopeless. Some simple strategies that everyone can do are to minimize exposure chemicals in their everyday routines, stay well hydrated, eat the recommended 5 servings/day of colorful fruits and vegetables, and maintain a high fiber intake. Managing emotional stress and regularly exercising at an intensity high enough to sweat are also key components to helping your biochemistry function well.
There are also numerous strategies being used in integrative and functional medicine. These include use of specific herbs, nutrients, and bioactives that both support the body’s natural systems as well as help bind and eliminate toxins more effectively. Other therapies that work on an energetic level, including acupuncture, are also being used with some success.
PERSONALIZED MEDICINE is promising to be an even more effective approach. By leveraging each person’s unique genomic blueprint, we can see where their vulnerabilities are and use that understanding for both prevention and treatment (3). With this deep knowledge of the “hiccups” in each person’s detoxification process due to SNPs, a personalized strategy can be used to reduce both exposure and potential effects of these toxins.
Newer technologies may further enhance our ability to personalize prevention and treatment. In particular, I feel exosomes are an exciting prospect. (4) While much research still needs to be done, I see the potential to target specific toxins and/or locations after acute exposures to interrupt their damaging effects.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
(3) Aronica L et al. Genetic Biomarkers of Metabolic Detoxification for Personalized Lifestyle Medicine. Nutrients. 2022 Feb 11;14(4):768
(4) Harischandra DS et al. Exosomes in Toxicology: Relevance to Chemical Exposure and Pathogenesis of Environmentally Linked Diseases. TOXICOLOGICAL SCIENCES, 158(1), 2017, 3–13