Toxins can impact your physical health, specifically your thyroid, in many ways: increasing inflammation in your body, disrupting your hormones, putting you at risk for an autoimmune disease, like Hashimoto’s, MS or Lupus, and even causing cancer. As I discuss in my book, we’re exposed to hundreds, if not thousands, of toxic chemicals on a daily basis that can accumulate in our bodies and significantly impact our health.
These are the three toxins that pose the greatest risk to your thyroid, and how you can minimize your exposure and clear them from your body.
Mercury can be found everywhere from cosmetics, to fish, to pesticides, to vaccines, to your dental fillings. What’s more, coal-burning plants emit over 70,000 pounds of mercury into the air each year, where it settles into our water, meaning even if you’re taking precautions to avoid it, you’re still being exposed. What most people don’t realize is that mercury is particularly dangerous for the thyroid.
First, your thyroid can sometimes store mercury in place of iodine (a necessity for your thyroid to produce hormones) and won’t have enough iodine to produce adequate levels of T4 and T3 hormones, which can cause you to develop hypothyroidism. Second, it puts you at risk of developing an autoimmune disease, like those mentioned above. No one knows exactly how heavy metals like mercury lead to autoimmune disease, but research has shown a demonstrated link between the two, including a 2011 study that found that women with high mercury exposure were more than twice as likely to have thyroid antibodies.
One suggested reason is that mercury damages the cells of your thyroid gland (as well as other cells in your body) so much that your immune system can no longer recognize these thyroid cells as “self” cells. Another theory is that your immune system goes on high alert to get rid of the mercury, and this chronic state of inflammation stresses your immune system so much that it starts attacking your whole thyroid.
This chemical is used primarily to create rocket fuel, but is also used to produce fireworks, and sometimes fertilizers. Due to runoff, it is commonly found in the water supply, as well as produce irrigated with perchlorate-contaminated water. Like mercury, perchlorate is quickly absorbed by the thyroid, sometimes preventing it from absorbing enough iodine. A 2006 study by the Centers for Disease Control found that even very low levels of perchlorate exposure caused decreased thyroid function in women.
Nitrates are a group of nitrogen and oxygen-containing chemicals that are used in fertilizer and foods. Some foods like spinach and celery naturally contain nitrate, but other foods, primarily processed or cured meats like hot dogs and bacon, have nitrates added to them as preservatives. Nitrates also block iodine absorption, which reduces thyroid function, but they have also been linked to increased rates of thyroid cancer.
Avoid Exposure and Reduce Your Toxic Burden
I take a two-fold approach to reducing your toxic burden. Part one is reducing your future exposure to toxins and part two is clearing your body of the toxins that have accumulated in your system over the course of your lifetime. I outline my approach to in this blog post, in a podcast episode, and you can read about it fully in my book, The Autoimmune Solution. Here we will cover those strategies specifically for the three toxins that most threaten your thyroid.
Clean Your Air
To avoid breathing in mercury and increasing your risk for thyroid disease, I recommend using a HEPA filter in your home and office. The Sierra Club created an interactive map that allows you to see if there are any coal-burning power plants (where mercury levels are high) in your area.
Clean Your Water
To protect your water I recommend installing water filters on all of your taps and showerheads. Remember, chemicals can be absorbed through the skin too!
Buy Clean Food
Eating organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised food will significantly reduce your risk of exposure to toxic chemicals. Unfortunately, you can never 100% eliminate your risk of mercury and perchlorate contamination because even certified organic farming practices don’t account for public water sources being contaminated through runoff.
Additionally, avoid eating (or reduce your intake of) fish that are particularly high in mercury, such as tuna, and instead stick with lower levels of mercury, such as salmon. To reduce your nitrate exposure, purchase nitrate-free cured and processed meat products, or avoid them altogether.
Buy Clean Body Products
Like I always say, you aren’t just what you eat, you’re also what you apply to your skin! Some foreign-produced skin lightening cosmetics, including products that claim to lighten age spots and freckles, were found to have dangerous levels of mercury by the Food and Drug Administration. Although American-made products have more stringent regulations, they can still be full of harmful chemicals. The Environmental Working Group put together a helpful Dirty Dozen list of chemicals that impact the endocrine system, as well as Skin Deep®, a tool that ranks the risk level of cosmetic products and each of their component ingredients.
Know Your SNP Status
SNPs, pronounced “snips” and short for single-nucleotide polymorphisms, are genetic mutations that can affect all sorts of processes in your body. Three of these mutations in particular, reduce your ability to detox heavy metals like mercury, so you need to take extra care to avoid exposure and use supplements to support your body’s detoxification process. You can test for these mutations through a regular lab.
Examine Your Mouth
Most dentists use amalgam fillings, which contain mercury and emit mercury vapor that can leach into your bloodstream. If you have amalgam fillings I recommend seeing a biological dentist to discuss the impact it might be having on your health and your options for having them replaced.
Support Your Detox Pathways
To reduce your existing toxic burden it is important to support your liver, where most of your body’s detoxification takes place. Eating a diet rich in nutrients will support your liver, as well as eating actual animal liver. For a delicious way to incorporate animal liver into your diet, try a recipe like this: Organic Beef Liver with Bacon and Rosemary. You can also use supplements for additional detox support, such as glutathione (your body’s natural detoxifier), or a methylation support supplement to aid in heavy metal detoxification.
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Note: PLEASE consult with your doctor before making any changes to your diet or medications. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only, and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.