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Toxins From Environmental Factors Affecting Internal Functions

Water pollution
It is important for you to know where your drinking water comes from, if it is treated, and if it’s safe to drink. Be aware that water can be contaminated by organisms such as bacteria or fungi, by chemicals such as pesticides, and by metals such as lead or mercury. Tap water is teeming with toxins. The Environmental Working Group found over 140 contaminants in tap water.

Exposure to pesticides may come from residual agricultural pesticides in foods; from household or workplace products used to control rodents, insects, and termites; and from disinfectants and fungicides. The most likely ways you are exposed are small quantities of pesticides in the foods you eat and by direct contact with surfaces (such as plants, soils, or structures) where pesticides have been used.

Most conventional food production uses pesticides, so people are exposed to low levels of pesticide residues through their diets. While the health effects of pesticide residues are not entirely clear, research from the National Institute of Health showed that farmers who use agricultural insecticides experience an increase in headaches, fatigue, insomnia, dizziness, hand tremors, and other neurological symptoms, while licensed pesticide applicators have a 20-200% increased risk of developing diabetes. Other data found that individuals reporting regular exposure to pesticides had a 70% higher incidence of Parkinson’s disease than those reporting no exposure.

To reduce exposure to pesticides:
Wash and scrub all fruits and vegetables, organic or conventional.
If possible purchase mostly organic fruits and vegetables, particularly the ones consistently found to have the highest pesticide residues – apples, strawberries, celery, peaches and spinach.


Mercury in fish
For most people, the level of mercury absorbed by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern. But in a fetus or young child, this can damage the brain and nerves (nervous system). Because of the mercury found in fish, we advise women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children to avoid eating fish high in mercury and to eat limited amounts of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.


Chemicals from plastics and other products
Concerns about bisphenol A (BPA). This is a chemical found in some types of plastic (polycarbonate) bottles. BPA also is used to line the inside of some types of food cans and other containers. A study has shown that people who have high levels of BPA in their urine have a greater risk for heart disease. And a group of experts concluded that bisphenol A may have some effect on the behavior, brain, and prostate gland of a developing baby (fetus) or young child. If you are concerned about BPA, don’t use bottles marked with the number 7 or the letters “PC” near the recycle symbol. You can use glass or BPA-free plastic bottles instead.

Phthalates are chemicals used to soften plastics. They are found in a wide variety of products, including bottles, shampoo, cosmetics, lotions, nail polish, and deodorant. At one time most flexible plastics contained high levels of phthalates. Fortunately, they are being phased out in the US and Europe due to emerging recognition of their risks.


The biggest culprit for toxic exposure is processed foods, which are full of chemicals and additives that can create symptoms ranging from cravings and weight gain to poor digestive health and food allergies. To reduce your exposure to food toxins: Choose whole foods instead of processed foods. In addition, choose organic fruits and vegetables. Organic produce is grown without harmful pesticides and even better, the soil is more mineral rich. Eating organic, whole foods is a great step you can take toward health and wellness.


Stress and negative thinking

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that up to 90% of all illness and disease is due to stress. Stress can kill the good bacteria and yeast that live in your intestines and keep your immunity and digestive health strong. As the good bacteria and yeast die off, the bad bacteria and yeast are able to take over. Body Ecology teaches that this creates an imbalanced inner ecosystem, which can set the stage for illness and disease.



The body is under constant attack from oxidative stress form causes aforementioned.

Oxygen in the body splits into single atoms with unpaired electrons. Electrons like to be in pairs, so these atoms, called free radicals, scavenge the body to seek out other electrons so they can become a pair. This causes damage to cells, proteins and DNA.

Atoms are surrounded by electrons that orbit the atom in layers called shells. Each shell needs to be filled by a set number of electrons. When a shell is full; electrons begin filling the next shell.

If an atom has an outer shell that is not full, it may bond with another atom, using the electrons to complete its outer shell. These types of atoms are known as free radicals.

Atoms with a full outer shell are stable, but free radicals are unstable and in an effort to make up the number of electrons in their outer shell, they react quickly with other substances.

When oxygen molecules split into single atoms that have unpaired electrons, they become unstable free radicals that seek other atoms or molecules to bond to. If this continues to happen, it begins a process called oxidative stress.

It is ironic that oxygen, an element indispensable for life, under certain situations has deleterious effects on the human body during oxidative stress. Most of the potentially harmful effects of oxygen are due to the formation and activity of a number of chemical compounds, known as ROS, which have a tendency to donate oxygen to other substances.

Oxidative stress can damage the body’s cells, leading to a range of diseases and causes symptoms of aging, such as wrinkles.


How do free radicals damage the body?

Free radicals are unstable atoms. To become more stable, they take electrons from other atoms. This may cause diseases or signs of aging. According to the free radical theory of aging, first outlined in 1956, free radicals break cells down over time.

As the body ages, it loses its ability to fight the effects of free radicals. The result is more free radicals, more oxidative stress, and more damage to cells, which leads to degenerative processes, as well as “normal” aging.

Although free radicals are produced naturally in the body, lifestyle factors can accelerate their production.

Substances that generate free radicals can be found in the food we eat, the medicines we take, the air we breathe and the water we drink, alcohol, tobacco smoke, pesticides and air pollutants, and some foods we eat.

Free radicals are thus the natural byproducts of chemical processes, such as metabolism. Dr. Lauri Wright, a registered dietitian and an assistant professor of nutrition at the University of South Florida, said, “Basically, I think of free radicals as waste products from various chemical reactions in the cell that when built up, harm the cells of the body.”

Yet, free radicals are essential to life, Wanjek wrote in 2006. The body’s ability to turn air and food into chemical energy depends on a chain reaction of free radicals. Free radicals are also a crucial part of the immune system, floating through the veins and attacking foreign invaders.


The danger of free radicals

According to Rice University, once free radicals are formed, a chain reaction can occur. The first free radical pulls an electron from a molecule, which destabilizes the molecule and turns it into a free radical. That molecule then takes an electron from another molecule, destabilizing it and tuning it into a free radical. This domino effect can eventually disrupt and damage the whole cell.

The free radical chain reaction may lead to broken cell membranes, which can alter what enters and exits the cell. The chain reaction may change the structure of a lipid, making it more likely to become trapped in an artery. The damaged molecules may mutate and grow tumors. Or, the cascading damage may change DNA code.


Oxidative stress occurs when there are too many free radicals and too much cellular damage

Oxidative stress is associated with damage of proteins, lipids and nucleic acids. Several studies throughout the last few decades have suggested that oxidative stress plays a role in the development of many conditions, including macular degeneration, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, emphysema, alcoholism, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ulcers and all inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis and lupus.

Free radicals are also associated with aging. “The free radical theory of aging states that we age because of free radical damage over time,” said Wright. Free radicals can damage DNA’s instructional code, causing our new cells to grow incorrectly, leading to aging.


Symptoms of oxidative stress

According to a 2010 article in Methods of Molecular Biology, there are no officially recognized symptoms of oxidative stress. According to naturopathic doctor Donielle Wilson’s website, however, symptoms include fatigue, headaches, noise sensitivity, memory loss and brain fog, muscle and joint pain, wrinkles and gray hair, vision trouble and decreased immunity.  


A Brief Look at Chemical Bonding

The human body is composed of many different types of cells. Cells are composed of many different types of molecules. Molecules consist of one or more atoms of one or more elements joined by chemical bonds.

As you probably remember from the Biology section in this package, atoms consist of a nucleus, neutrons, protons and electrons. The number of protons (positively charged particles) in the atom’s nucleus determines the number of electrons (negatively charged particles) surrounding the atom.

Electrons are involved in chemical reactions and are the substance that bonds atoms together to form molecules. Electrons surround, or “orbit” an atom in one or more shells. The innermost shell is full when it has two electrons. When the first shell is full, electrons begin to fill the second shell. When the second shell has eight electrons, it is full, and so on.

The most important structural feature of an atom for determining its chemical behavior is the number of electrons in its outer shell. A substance that has a full outer shell tends not to enter in chemical reactions (an inert substance). Because atoms seek to reach a state of maximum stability, an atom will try to fill its outer shell by:

  • Gaining or losing electrons to either fill or empty its outer shell
  • Sharing its electrons by bonding together with other atoms in order to complete its outer shell

Atoms often complete their outer shells by sharing electrons with other atoms. By sharing electrons, the atoms are bound together and satisfy the conditions of maximum stability for the molecule.


How Free Radicals are Formed

Normally, bonds don’t split in a way that leaves a molecule with an odd, unpaired electron. But when weak bonds split, free radicals are formed. Free radicals are very unstable and react quickly with other compounds, trying to capture the needed electron to gain stability. Generally, free radicals attack the nearest stable molecule, “stealing” its electron. When the “attacked” molecule loses its electron, it becomes a free radical itself, beginning a chain reaction. Once the process is started, it can cascade, finally resulting in the disruption of a living cell.

Some free radicals arise normally during metabolism. Sometimes the body’s immune system’s cells purposefully create them to neutralize viruses and bacteria. However, environmental factors such as pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke and herbicides can also spawn free radicals.

Normally, the body can handle free radicals, but if antioxidants are unavailable, or if the free-radical production becomes excessive, damage can occur. Of particular importance is that free radical damage accumulates with age.


How Antioxidants May Prevent Against Free Radical Damage

The vitamins C and E, are thought to protect the body against the destructive effects of free radicals. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals by donating one of their own electrons, ending the electron-“stealing” reaction. The antioxidant nutrients themselves don’t become free radicals by donating an electron because they are stable in either form. They act as scavengers, helping to prevent cell and tissue damage that could lead to cellular damage and disease.

Vitamin E – The most abundant fat-soluble antioxidant in the body.

One of the most efficient chain-breaking antioxidants available. Primary defender against oxidation. Primary defender against lipid peroxidation (creation of unstable molecules containing more oxygen than is usual).

Vitamin C – The most abundant water-soluble antioxidant in the body.

Acts primarily in cellular fluid. Of particular note in combating free-radical formation caused by pollution and cigarette smoke. Also helps return vitamin E to its active form.


Oxidative damage to protein

Proteins can be oxidatively modified in three ways: oxidative modification of specific amino acid, free radical mediated peptide cleavage, and formation of protein cross-linkage due to reaction with lipid peroxidation products. Protein containing amino acids such as methionine, cystein, arginine, and histidine seem to be the most vulnerable to oxidation.

Free radical mediated protein modification increases susceptibility to enzyme proteolysis. Oxidative damage to protein products may affect the activity of enzymes, receptors, and membrane transport. Oxidatively damaged protein products may contain very reactive groups that may contribute to damage to membrane and many cellular functions. Peroxyl radical is usually considered to be free radical species for the oxidation of proteins. ROS can damage proteins and produce carbonyls and other amino acids modification including formation of methionine sulfoxide and protein carbonyls and other amino acids modification including formation of methionine sulfoxide and protein peroxide. Protein oxidation affects the alteration of signal transduction mechanism, enzyme activity, heat stability, and proteolysis susceptibility, which leads to aging.


Lipid peroxidation

Oxidative stress and oxidative modification of biomolecules are involved in a number of physiological and pathophysiological processes such as aging, artheroscleosis, inflammation and carcinogenesis, and drug toxicity. Lipid peroxidation is a free radical process involving a source of secondary free radical, which further can act as second messenger or can directly react with other biomolecule, enhancing biochemical lesions. Lipid peroxidation occurs on polysaturated fatty acid located on the cell membranes and it further proceeds with radical chain reaction. Hydroxyl radical is thought to initiate ROS and remove hydrogen atom, thus producing lipid radical and further converted into diene conjugate. Further, by addition of oxygen it forms peroxyl radical; this highly reactive radical attacks another fatty acid forming lipid hydroperoxide (LOOH) and a new radical. Thus lipid peroxidation is propagated. Due to lipid peroxidation, a number of compounds are formed, for example, alkanes, malanoaldehyde, and isoprotanes. These compounds are used as markers in lipid peroxidation assay and have been verified in many diseases such as neurogenerative diseases, ischemic reperfusion injury, and diabetes.


Oxidative damage to DNA

Many experiments clearly provide evidences that DNA and RNA are susceptible to oxidative damage. It has been reported that especially in aging and cancer, DNA is considered as a major target. Oxidative nucleotide as glycol, dTG, and 8-hydroxy-2-deoxyguanosine is found to be increased during oxidative damage to DNA under UV radiation or free radical damage. It has been reported that mitochondrial DNA are more susceptible to oxidative damage that have role in many diseases including cancer. It has been suggested that 8-hydroxy-2-deoxyguanosine can be used as biological marker for oxidative stress.


ENZYMATIC – Types of antioxidants

Cells are protected against oxidative stress by an interacting network of antioxidant enzymes. Here, the superoxide released by processes such as oxidative phosphorylation is first converted to hydrogen peroxide and then further reduced to give water. This detoxification pathway is the result of multiple enzymes, with superoxide dismutases catalyzing the first step and then catalases and various peroxidases removing hydrogen peroxide.

Superoxide dismutase

Superoxide dismutases (SODs) are a class of closely related enzymes that catalyze the breakdown of the superoxide anion into oxygen and hydrogen peroxide. SOD enzymes are present in almost all aerobic cells and in extracellular fluids. There are three major families of superoxide dismutase, depending on the metal cofactor: Cu/Zn (which binds both copper and zinc), Fe and Mn types (which bind either iron or manganese), and finally the Ni type which binds nickel.  In higher plants, SOD isozymes have been localized in different cell compartments. Mn-SOD is present in mitochondria and peroxisomes. Fe-SOD has been found mainly in chloroplasts but has also been detected in peroxisomes, and CuZn-SOD has been localized in cytosol, chloroplasts, peroxisomes, and apoplast.



Catalase is a common enzyme found in nearly all living organisms, which are exposed to oxygen, where it functions to catalyze the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide to water and oxygen.  Hydrogen peroxide is a harmful by-product of many normal metabolic processes: to prevent damage, it must be quickly converted into other, less dangerous substances. To this end, catalase is frequently used by cells to rapidly catalyze the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide into less reactive gaseous oxygen and water molecules. All known animals use catalase in every organ, with particularly high concentrations occurring in the liver.


Glutathione systems

The glutathione system includes glutathione, glutathione reductase, glutathione peroxidases, and glutathione S-transferases. This system is found in animals, plants, and microorganisms. Glutathione peroxidase is an enzyme containing four selenium-cofactors that catalyze the breakdown of hydrogen peroxide and organic hydroperoxides. There are at least four different glutathione peroxidase isozymes. Glutathione peroxidase 1 is the most abundant and is a very efficient scavenger of hydrogen peroxide, while glutathione peroxidase 4 is most active with lipid hydroperoxides. The glutathione S-transferases show high activity with lipid peroxides. These enzymes are at particularly high levels in the liver and also serve in detoxification metabolism.


NONENZYMATIC  – Types of antioxidants

Ascorbic acid

Ascorbic acid or “vitamin C” is a monosaccharide antioxidant found in both animals and plants. As it cannot be synthesized in humans and must be obtained from the diet, it is a vitamin. Most other animals are able to produce this compound in their bodies and do not require it in their diets. In cells, it is maintained in its reduced form by reaction with glutathione, which can be catalyzed by protein disulfide isomerase and glutaredoxins.  Ascorbic acid is a reducing agent and can reduce and thereby neutralize ROS such as hydrogen peroxide. In addition to its direct antioxidant effects, ascorbic acid is also a substrate for the antioxidant enzyme ascorbate peroxidase, a function that is particularly important in stress resistance in plants.



Glutathione is a cysteine-containing peptide found in most forms of aerobic life. It is not required in the diet and is instead synthesized in cells from its constituent amino acids. Glutathione has antioxidant properties since the thiol group in its cysteine moiety is a reducing agent and can be reversibly oxidized and reduced. In cells, glutathione is maintained in the reduced form by the enzyme glutathione reductase and in turn reduces other metabolites and enzyme systems as well as reacting directly with oxidants. Due to its high concentration and central role in maintaining the cell’s redox state, glutathione is one of the most important cellular antioxidants.  In some organisms, glutathione is replaced by other thiols, such as by mycothiol in the actinomycetes, or by trypanothione in the kinetoplastids.



Melatonin, also known chemically as N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine,  is a naturally occurring hormone found in animals and in some other living organisms, including algae.  Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant that can easily cross cell membranes and the blood–brain barrier. Unlike other antioxidants, melatonin does not undergo redox cycling, which is the ability of a molecule to undergo repeated reduction and oxidation. Melatonin, once oxidized, cannot be reduced to its former state because it forms several stable end-products upon reacting with free radicals. Therefore, it has been referred to as a terminal (or suicidal) antioxidant.


Tocopherols and tocotrienols (Vitamin E)

Vitamin E is the collective name for a set of eight related tocopherols and tocotrienols, which are fat-soluble vitamins with antioxidant properties. Of these, α-tocopherol has been most studied as it has the highest bioavailability, with the body preferentially absorbing and metabolizing this form. It has been claimed that the α-tocopherol form is the most important lipid-soluble antioxidant, and that it protects membranes from oxidation by reacting with lipid radicals produced in the lipid peroxidation chain reaction. This removes the free radical intermediates and prevents the propagation reaction from continuing. This reaction produces oxidized α-tocopheroxyl radicals that can be recycled back to the active reduced form through reduction by other antioxidants, such as ascorbate, retinol, or ubiquinol.


Uric acid

Uric acid accounts for roughly half the antioxidant ability of plasma. In fact, uric acid may have substituted for ascorbate in human evolution. However, like ascorbate, uric acid can also mediate the production of active oxygen species.



Free radicals damage contributes to the etiology of many chronic health problems such as cardiovascular and inflammatory disease, cataract, and cancer. Antioxidants prevent free radical induced tissue damage by preventing the formation of radicals, scavenging them, or by promoting their decomposition. Synthetic antioxidants are recently reported to be dangerous to human health.

In addition to endogenous antioxidant defence systems, consumption of dietary and plant-derived antioxidants appears to be a suitable alternative.


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