Science is great when scientists use it to manufacture products that make our lives easier. But science can sometimes be the worst culprit when it is misused to hide the dangers that some chemicals pose to human health. In the first article of this series, I demonstrated how easily chemicals get into the food supply and how every time humans, animals and the environment are exposed to them, disease is not only created but also continually fed.
In the second part of the Chemical Reality series I exposed what is perhaps the most dangerous chemical commonly found in products manufactured by the food industry. Bisphenol A along with other synthetic chemicals are intentionally put in industrialized products by an industry that seems to be worried only about supplying a food market without taking into consideration that the chemicals used in the production of those industrialized products are destroying the environment and consequently our health.
One of those chemicals that circulate in our food supply are Dioxins, which is the second chemical in our list of the most dangerous ingredients. Dioxins are multi-tasker chemicals produced from the burning of chlorine and bromine. Just as BPA does, Dioxins disrupt the delicate hormonal balance in male and female organisms.
Even while exposed to very low levels of dioxins, this chemical endangers the life a unborn children, damage sperm quality and count, and the bodies of pregnant mothers. Research has found that dioxins bio-accumulate in organisms including humans, plants and animals, building up to levels that turn it into a dangerous carcinogen. Dioxins are powerful enough to disrupt the immune and reproductive systems.
As in the case of BPA, Dioxins act by interacting with a specific intracellular protein, which in turn causes disruptions on other regulatory proteins in organisms. The aryl hydrocarbon (AH) receptor, the one that is most likely affected by dioxin toxicity, is involved in the expression of many genes. Since many industrial by-products are identified as dioxins, it is not known which of those chemical compounds causes the most harm to organisms exposed to them, but it is abundantly clear that they are responsible for immunotoxicity, endocrine effects, tumor promotion and toxic responses.
The damage caused on humans
Two of the main negative effects that dioxins have on humans are reproductive and developmental problems. Additionally, dioxins are also responsible for damage to the immune system, hormonal disruption and cancer. While in unborn children heavy exposure to dioxins can be deadly, in adults the most common consequences are liver damage, alterations in heme metabolism, disruptions in serum lipid levels, thyroid functions, diabetes and immunological effects.
Perhaps the most studied effect of dioxins in the human body is their ability to cause cancer. Even the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has labeled dioxins as “likely human carcinogens”. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classified dioxins as carcinogens type 1 because of their ability to accelerate formation of tumors and affect the mechanisms for inhibiting tumor growth.
It is important to highlight that in most of the Western world, both bromine and chlorine, whose industrialization process releases dioxins into the environment, are contained in bottled water which people purchase in supermarkets. Some of the most powerful chemical companies such as Dow Chemical are heavily involved in the processing of chlorine. This chemical is mainly used to manufacture plastics, chemical solvents, pesticides and other products that are also used in a number of industrial processes as well as in the production of supposed food items.
Because dioxins are a by-product released from the processing of other chemicals, it is easily found in plants and animals on which humans rely heavily for their nutrition. That is why most of human exposure to dioxins comes from the intake of animals products like meat and dairy as well as fish, fruit and vegetables. Even though some governments managed to decrease emissions of dioxins, bio-accumulation of this toxic chemical compound is likely to increase in humans between 20 and 60 years of age.
Among some of the most dangerous examples of dioxins are PCBs and PCDD/F-compounds, which spread around the environment during waste incineration, leakage during transportation, air circulation and of course soils that are contaminated with dioxins such as landfills, which in turn contaminate underground natural water depositories. Despite significant advances in dioxin sequestration, this chemical is still bio-accumulating in the environment and in our bodies.
Neither humans nor animals, not even microbes are able to get rid of dioxins in their organisms fast enough. In fact, dioxins are one of the most persistent toxic compounds in the environment. As if its persistence and capacity to bio-accumulate were not bad enough, dioxins also possess the capacity to bio-magnify their effects. In other words, the concentration of dioxins can exceed its background persistence in humans, animals and the environment.
The capacity shown by dioxins to be persistent, to bio-accumulate and to bio-magnify its effects affects the whole food chain, from microbes to plankton that are later used as food by insects, animals as well as other flora and fauna that eventually becomes food. Every time dioxins reach another level of the food chain their toxicity is multiplied, a fact that makes humans the most endangered receptor of dioxins because humans are at the top of the food chain.
A recent study performed by Professor Niels Skakkebaek, of Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark, proves that endocrine disruptors such as dioxins have an even more dangerous effect on human health than first thought. “For the first time, we have shown a direct link between exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals from industrial products and adverse effects on human sperm function,” says Skakkebaek. The study also found that the accumulation of several kinds of endocrine disruptors cause what is called a “cocktail effect”, that is, the damage caused by unwanted chemicals in our bodies are exponentially higher than when they act alone.
This Danish study also determined that the concentration levels needed for chemicals to negatively impact sperm health and hormonal balance, for example, are very low, similar to the amounts found within the human body. As per Professor Skakkebaek’s study, most of the chemicals that threaten human health are ingested or acquired through the use of everyday products such as soap, toothpaste, plastic containers and toys.
“In my opinion, our findings are clearly of concern as some endocrine-disrupting chemicals are possibly more dangerous than previously thought. However, it remains to be seen from forthcoming clinical studies whether our findings may explain reduced couple fertility which is very common in modern societies,” Professor Skakkebaek told The Independent. According to him, at least one in three substances deemed as “non-toxic” actually have the power to greatly affect the potency of sperm cells, which could explain the high levels of infertility in humans.
According to the Centre of Advanced European Studies and Research in Bonn, Germany, some 30 of every 100 chemicals used in household products, which are considered safe, directly disrupt the “catsper” protein, that is the substance responsible for managing sperm motility, agility and ability to fertilize the female egg. “In human body fluids, one does not find one of a few particular chemicals, but rather complex chemical cocktails with many different endocrine-disrupting chemicals at very low concentrations. We tried to mimic this situation in our experiments,” said Dr. Timo Strünker.
With some much evidence showing that dioxins are indeed a threat to human fertility and even fully grown human beings, there is not doubt that the best thing to do is avoid products that contain dioxins. In fact, it is best to avoid processed, industrialized products completely. Because dioxins and other toxic chemicals are in plastic, cans and other types of wrappings that are used by the so-called food industry, the best way to eliminate exposure to dioxins is avoiding the consumption of all processed foods. Unfortunately, most people do exactly the opposite.
Having plenty of evidence about the dangers posed by chemicals in the food doesn’t seem to be enough for most people to stop eating out of cans, drinking from bottles or feeding themselves with heavily processed fast-food. In fact, it seems like eating oneself to death is fashionable. For those who are into health rather than into fashion, here is a simple reason why it is necessary to eliminate processed foods once and for all: Processed foods are an illusion. The use of words such as “healthy” on a can or a bottle as well as other like low fat, no carbohydrates, fortified, contains omega-3s, etc are all lies, because none of those ingredients, assuming they are actually present in the processed foods, are naturally obtained and added. Take for example milk with added vitamin D. Most, if not all vitamin D added to milk is created by extracting materials from sheep’s wool. I am sure this fact comes as a shock to many.
In our next part of the series Chemical Reality I will continue shrinking the list of things that humans should ingest in order to remain healthy, with a very alarming trend towards the fact that there is very little in our diet that we should be eating and drinking.