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5 Environmental Hazards and How We Can Protect our Health

By Sat Dharam Kaur, N.D., Ontario, Canada

As we pursue a path of conscious living, we must extend our awareness to the environment, which ultimately is a part of us and will affect us physically and spiritually. With awareness we can contribute to the healing of the Earth, decrease the impact of our own ecological footprint, and share our knowledge with others.

A few weeks ago I taught a yoga set for balancing the tattwas, the elements—earth, water, fire, air, and ether—which exist in combination in our bodies, as well as on the Earth and within the Universe. As we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves. It occurred to me as I was teaching the set that the Earth also needs help in balancing the tattwas. We need many more environmental stewards to help educate the masses, lobby industry and government, and develop technologies of sustainability. We also must stretch ourselves to be conscious participants in the healing of the Earth.

Our health and the health of many other species is negatively affected by five broad environmental hazards (the environmental equivalents of lust, anger, greed, pride, and attachment): electromagnetic fields, radiation, toxic chemicals, toxic metals, and soil mineral depletion.

Electromagnetic Fields

Electric and magnetic fields are produced by power lines, electrical wiring, appliances, cell phones, computers, and televisions. Electromagnetic fields, or EMF's, are invisible lines of force that surround any electrical device. Many studies have shown an association between EMF exposure from power lines, and leukemia and brain cancer—although there is ongoing debate about this link. One study showed that when children lived within 50 meters (164 feet) of a transmission line or when the average EMF strength in the home measured greater than 3 mG (milliGausse), the leukemia incidence was higher. Some 40 studies show that electrical workers have increases in deaths from both leukemia and brain tumors. Laboratory studies demonstrate that EMF exposure causes cancer cells to grow faster than do non-exposed cells, and they become more resistant to destruction by the immune system. EMF exposure is linked to a higher incidence of breast cancer. Extra-low-frequency EMF's disturb the normal growth pattern of cells by interfering with their hormonal, enzymatic, and chemical signals, causing DNA damage. Proximity to EMF's may also cause a drop in melatonin levels, which increases breast cancer risk and lowers immunity.

To protect ourselves from EMF exposure:

    • Use a Gauss meter to measure fields in our homes and workplaces and avoid the places where levels are high
    • Reduce our reliance on electrical gadgets and appliances (possibly get rid of the microwave)
    • Stay three feet away from electrical appliances, where the field strength drops off
    • Practice a meditation before bed to attempt to increase nightly melatonin levels
    • Become familiar with yoga exercises to balance the body's electromagnetic field and practice them regularly

Radiation

Since the 1940's, all life on this delicate planet has been altered by increased radiation exposure. The effects of radiation are cumulative. Younger people are more sensitive to radiation and are more likely to die of cancer because of it. Possible sources of radiation include nuclear fallout from weapons testing, fission materials from nuclear power plants, leaking radioactive disposal sites, flying at high altitudes, and mammograms and x-rays. A jet flight of six hours exposes us to 5 millirad of radiation (flight attendants have an increased incidence of breast cancer); a chest x-ray exposes us to 16 millirad; and the smallest dose of radiation from a single screening mammogram is 340 millirad. It can take up to 40 or more years for a cancer to appear after radiation exposure. Many of the breast cancer patients I see now were exposed to high levels of radiation as children. Breast tissue is particularly sensitive to radiation. Radiation exerts a greater effect when absorbed into the developing breasts of young women 8-20 years old. When a woman receives significant radiation before the age of 20, she is more likely to develop breast cancer before the age of 35.

To protect ourselves from radiation:

    • To limit the effects of radiation from flying, try to travel at night to decrease exposure and take 3 mg of melatonin before and after the flight to protect your cells from damage
    • Consume at least two tablespoons of seaweed daily, such as dulse, kelp, or nori, and learn to cook with it. Sea vegetables contain sodium alginate, which is able to bind to radioactive substances so they can be excreted.
    • A diet rich in antioxidants or supplements containing vitamins E and C, beta-carotene, grape seed, coenzyme Q10, and the minerals zinc and selenium, is also protective. Pumpkin seeds and Brazil nuts provide us with food sources of zinc and selenium.
    • Investigate the possibility of using solar or wind power, design your home to be more energy efficient
    • Use fewer electrical devices in order to decrease reliance on nuclear power.
    • If you can, choose to live more than 100 miles from a nuclear power plant.

Toxic Chemicals

In the last ten years, scientists have discovered that many commonly used chemicals are hormonally active and disrupt our glands, the guardians of our health. The following chemical terms may seem unfamiliar at first, but get to know them so you can recognize these hormone imposters.

Organochlorines are a class of chemicals that contain both chlorine and carbon molecules and are very stable, persisting in the environment for decades or centuries. They mimic the hormone estrogen, and increased exposure to many organochlorines is linked to increased breast cancer risk. Organochlorines are found in pesticides, plastics, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), pulp and paper manufacturing, sewage treatment, and solvents. By far the greatest amount is used in the production of PVC plastic, which is found in shower curtains, raincoats, blinds, siding, water pipes, furniture, hospital supplies, and children's toys. Because organochlorines are stable they resist breakdown in the environment or by our detoxification mechanisms. They steadily accumulate globally and are dispersed worldwide through air and water. They concentrate in the fatty tissues of animals and humans and move up the food chain. The more dairy products, fish, and meat we eat, the higher our load of persistent chemicals that mimic estrogen in our bodies. They remain in our tissues for life, and we pass them on to each successive generation in increasing amounts in utero and through breast milk.

Phthalates are not organochlorines but are used in about 50% of all PVC products to soften them and add flexibility. They are an ingredient in Saran Wrap and food packaging and are used in paints, inks, nail polish, and adhesives. They also act like estrogen. Male rats exposed to phthalates before and after birth had lower testicular weights and reduced sperm count. Phthalates are toxic to developing embryos, causing malformation and death. They can lower progesterone levels, potentially contributing to PMS symptoms, breast cysts, breast cancer, and miscarriages. Phthalates are ubiquitous, and at least one study has linked them to earlier onset of puberty in girls. Phthalates may be present in and can be absorbed from plastic baby bottles, nipples, and plastic pacifiers. Fatty foods such as cheese and oil, are easily contaminated with phthalates and bisphenol-A when packaged in plastic.

Bisphenol-A is an ingredient in epoxy resins and polycarbonate plastics, which are hard plastics. Although it is not an organochlorine, it is an endocrine disruptor. It is used in formulas to seal cracks in water pipes, and it is used in some dental materials designed to provide "protection" against tooth decay and in the plastic fillings used to replace mercury amalgam fillings. Bisphenol-A is present in the plastic coating that manufacturers use to line metal cans.

    • By avoiding canned food and food packaged in plastic, we can decrease our exposure to bisphenol-A and phthalates.
    • Never microwave in plastic.

Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) are hormone-disrupting chemicals used in household and industrial soaps and detergents, natural and synthetic textile processing, plastic manufacturing, pulp and paper manufacturing, petroleum refineries, pesticides, and oil extraction. They are one of the ingredients used to make plastic soft, and they readily leach into fluids at room temperature. We may find them in our water bottles, fruit juice containers, and convenience food packaging.

    • Use glass bottles or stainless steel containers to store your water and food.
    • Use natural cleansers like baking soda and vinegar and environmentally friendly detergents to avoid NPEs.

Brominated flame-retardants are a newer environmental toxin now showing up in breast milk, human blood, food, remote rural air, and in the sewage sludge being applied as fertilizer on food crops across the U.S. Eight chemical corporations manufacture about 300 million pounds of brominated fire retardants each year, of which about 80 million pounds are members of the class known as polybromodiphenyl ethers, or PBDEs. PBDEs leach into the environment from the plastics in appliances, TVs, and computers, foam in upholstery and the fabrics of carpets and draperies. Like organochlorines, PBDEs persist for years in the environment, accumulate in the food chain, and concentrate in fatty tissues.

Some PBDEs can cause cancer, interfere with hormones, and disrupt normal growth and development in laboratory animals. Brominated compounds can interfere with thyroid hormones, which are necessary for the proper development of the brain and central nervous system in animals and humans. Mice exposed to PBDEs show permanent behavioral and memory problems, which worsen with age. PBDEs are similar to PCBs, which are among the most harmful and persistent chemicals ever made. Within 15 years, PBDEs will have surpassed PCBs as an environmental hazard. We must demand regulations to govern the manufacture, use, and disposal of PBDEs.

Breast Cancer Prevention

Breast cancer prevention begins before conception. Whether you are a man or a woman, if you plan to have children one day, do an intense sauna detoxification at least 6 months before conceiving. Breast milk, nature's "perfect food," contains at least 17 pesticides, 13 furans, 65 PCBs, 10 dioxins, and 30 other organochlorines. In only six months of breast-feeding, an infant in Canada, the United States, or Europe receives the maximum recommended lifetime dose of dioxin and five times the allowable limit of PCBs set by international standards for a 150-pound adult. A woman passes half of her lifetime accumulation of dioxins and PCBs on to her child when she nurses for just six months. These contaminants in breast milk affect the neurological, glandular, and immune health of our children for life. PCBs alone are linked to immune deficiency, chronic ear infections, learning disabilities, thyroid abnormalities, and attention deficit disorders in children. If we do the sauna detox before conception, we will not pass this body burden on to our children and subsequent generations. Get together in your community and build a sauna. The infrared saunas are the most efficient at eliminating chemical toxins. If you have children, take them into the sauna with you at least once weekly.

Toxic Metals

Over the last two years, I had the mercury fillings in my mouth replaced with ceramic fillings. Although these do contain aluminum, which I was told was inert, I wanted to avoid the estrogenic effect of the plastic fillings. Last month, my husband and I did a 24-hour urine collection from Doctor's Data Lab in the U.S. to test for residues of toxic metals (http://www.doctorsdata.com). The toxic metals include aluminum, antimony, arsenic, mercury, nickel, copper, cadmium, and several others. These metals can interfere with glandular function and cause neurological and immune problems, and they are toxic to the kidneys and liver. Several are carcinogens. Lead, cadmium, and mercury are hormone disruptors. Most people have elevations of at least one of these metals, which may be at the root of a health problem.

As a health precaution, it is useful to do this test once a year. In general, a minimum dose of 2,000 mg of vitamin C daily, 400 IU of vitamin E, 200 mcg of selenium, 50 mg of zinc, and 1,000 mg of N-acetylcysteine or reduced glutathione offers protection against the accumulation of toxic metals. Coriander helps to remove mercury, and silica helps to remove aluminum. The sauna will also ship these metals out of the body through the skin. Avoid the use of aluminum foil and aluminum pressure cookers or pots. Do not use and avoid contact with pressure-treated wood, which contains arsenic. Check the web sites listed above to find out which metals may be in your air or water from local industries. 

Soil Mineral Depletion

Just as the sperm count in men has dropped 50% in the last 40 years, so too has the mineral content of the soil and the food we eat dropped substantially. There is a connection. Analysis has found that in the last 50 years the average potato has lost 100% of its vitamin A, 57% of its vitamin C and iron, 50% of its riboflavin, 28% of its calcium, and 18% of its thiamine. Broccoli has lost over 50% of its calcium and vitamin A and over 30% of its iron, thiamine, and riboflavin. That's a heavy loss. In general, farmers are not replenishing the soil with compost, seaweed, or bone meal to keep the mineral content high. Industrial farming relies on fertilizers and pesticides to make the food look good rather than to boost nutritional value. Consequently the "soil" in our bodies will be mineral and nutrient deficient unless we know how to nourish it in today's environment.

The foods with the highest mineral content are the seaweeds and seeds.

    • Use 2 tablespoons of sea vegetables daily, or take a kelp supplement.
    • Replace regular salt with sea salt. Consume a total of 2-4 tablespoons of sunflower, pumpkin, flax, and sesame seeds daily.
    • For your vitamin fix, be sure to eat six to nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily, and take a powdered green supplement at least once daily.
    • Use a good-quality multivitamin and mineral supplement as well.

Making Conscious Choices

It is difficult to comprehend the magnitude of the environmental devastation we participate in with our daily use of chemical toxins. I feel overwhelming grief when I reflect upon and absorb this information. Kundalini Yoga gives me the capacity to live with this knowledge and act on it to create positive change to protect the Earth. I do what I can in my local sphere, and I ask you to join me to create a global shift. We can become the white blood cells of the Earth to create a healthier future for all by changing our own environment and educating others.

We can make conscious choices to protect ourselves and future generations from the cumulative effects of hormone-disrupting chemicals:

    • Eat lower on the food chain, consume a primarily vegetarian diet, and minimize meat, fish, and dairy products.
    • Choose to exercise your power as a consumer and stop buying plastic, particularly PVC plastic and food stored in plastic.
    • Grow or buy organic food and ask supermarkets to stock it.
    • Educate neighbors who spray their lawns about the effects of pesticides on health and find alternatives to chemical sprays.
    • Become an activist and demand that government and industry phase out PVC plastic and other hormone-disrupting chemicals. You can find out which industry is releasing pollutants in your area by checking the web site www.scorecard.org in the U.S. and www.pollutionwatch.org in Canada.
    • Support the World Wildlife Fund, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, or other organizations that are trying to make a difference—or create your own group.
    • We can sweat out most of these chemicals through regular sauna use. (Adhere to standard medical cautions when using a sauna.) Set a goal of 150 hours of sauna time and determine the shortest time possible for you to achieve this goal. Details on sauna detoxification are found in my book, The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to Women’s Health.

[Edited and reprinted with permission from Aquarian Times magazine]

Sat Dharam Kaur is a naturopathic doctor practicing at Trillium Healing Arts Centre in Owen Sound, Ontario. She was awarded the Naturopathic Doctor of the Year award by the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors in 2000 for her work in breast cancer prevention and environmental education. Sat Dharam's books, The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to Breast Cancer and The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to Women’s Health are available in bookstores and online. For more information about the Healthy Breast Program and Sat Dharam’s teaching schedule, visit www.mammalive.net and www.trilliumhealingarts.ca or contact Sat Dharam Kaur at (519) 372-9212 or [email protected].