Health – Not just about what you eat

IMG_0859 (1)As a functional medicine practitioner, I look at the ‘whole person’, not just an isolated symptom.

Likewise, when addressing a client’s health, I consider not just the nutrients (or lack of) that they are consuming, but the other environmental and lifestyle factors that may be contributing to their current state of wellness or ‘dis-ease’

So, as a change from me honing in on a specific nutrient and telling you of it’s relative health benefits, I thought I would devote this blog post to just a few strategies you can use on a daily basis to minimise risks from environmental factors.

  1. EAT ORGANIC: wherever possible. Residues of pesticides and herbicides are left on the skins of ‘conventionally’ grown fruit and vegetables. These can have direct effects on our digestive system and can also be absorbed into our bloodstream from where they can exert toxic effects. Such chemicals (eg glyphosate which has been found in the serum of breast-fed infants, transferred via breast milk) then have to be cleared from our body using the main organs of detoxification, the liver and kidneys (1). Glyphosate was recently reclassified as a Group 2a probable carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the United Nations WHO(2). Any accumulation of toxins is stored in fat cells. food_news 2016Thus, fat can be seen as having a protective role, removing toxins from our general circulation from where they can do harm.
    The Environmental Working Group, a US organisation publishes an annual list, ‘The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen’ which is a useful guide. The items on the dirty dozen list are those most affected by pesticides etc so should be avoided unless organic. Those on the clean fifteen list are less affected so will be less of a priority to buy organic if you cannot find them or are on a limited budget
  2. REDUCE USE OF PLASTIC: be mindful of what it is made of. Many plastics used in food storage (bottles, linings of cans and cartons, clingfilm etc) and preparation (ready meal & takeaway containers, microwave dishes) contain plasticisers such as bisphenol A(BPA), that can leach into the food or drink being contained. This is more likely to happen if the plastic is heated or in contact with fats or oils as the substance is fat soluble. When ingested, BPA has hormone disrupting effects on the body (it is known as a xenoestrogen) in both males and females. Thermal receipts from credit card machines are also coated with BPA so you may wish to think twice with regard to accepting your receipt when you next pay by card, as this substance is also absorbed transdermally (3). When storingIMG_0860 leftovers, use BPA-free containers, preferably glass. Wrap cheese, meats etc in greaseproof or waxed paper and if heating foods in a microwave, transfer from the plastic ready-meal or takeaway container to a plate or glass dish. Better still, home made soups/casseroles can be conventionally heated at home then transported to work in a flask, to entirely negate the need for a microwave. Avoid leaving plastic water bottles in the car as the contents will heat up throughout the day, and together with sunlight, this further enhances leaching of plasticisers into your drink. Do not re-use disposable plastic water bottles. If you do like to take your own drinks with you then transport in a reusable BPA-free water bottle or stainless steel drinking bottle. Also be aware of non-stick coatings on cookware and bakeware as the perfluorochemicals from these can migrate into foodstuffs. One of the worst culprits is the lining of the bags for microwaveable popcorn (4).
  3. COSMETICS AND TOILETRIES: Have you heard that an average European woman will use about 150 different chemicals A DAY just through exposure to personal care products and make up?(5). These chemicals have specific functions such as preservatives, colours, perfumes, UV filtration, surfactants, flow agents etc and may be natural or synthetic. Many can be absorbed  through the skin, but they can also be inhaled, and have systemic effects like hormone disrupting properties as above and/or can exacerbate asthma (6). Further exposure can be via the environment as the chemicals or their metabolites can be excreted, enter the sewage system or landfill and ultimately contaminate our soil.Makeup-Stash Some of the chemicals to be aware of are phthalates, parabens, siloxane, triclosan, synthetic musks, hydroxyquinone, toluene……this list is not exhaustive. So, just as I advise clients to check the list of ingredients in their foods, it is really important to check the ingredients of the substances they are applying to their skin/ hair/ nails on a regular basis as the effects of lots of small amounts of all of these additives is cumulative. Better still, be mindful of the number of products being used. Are they all really necessary? For example, coconut oil can be used for several cosmetic purposes as well as in the kitchen. Use environmentally friendly products where possible- kinder to your health AND the planet that our children and grandchildren have been kind enough to lend to us during our lifetimes.

There are lots of alternatives to these potential hazards that we encounter every day. The Environmental Working Group has a fantastic website and app that can provide you with valuable information regarding additives in cosmetics, toiletries and cleaning products etc as well as commonly encountered plasticisers and pesticides.

I hope this helps you on your journey to optimal wellness.


(1) John Peterson Myers, Michael N. Antoniou, Bruce Blumberg et al. Concerns over use of glyphosate-based herbicides and risks associated with exposures: a consensus statement Environ Health. 2016; 15: 19.PMC. Web. 27 July 2016.

(2) Faria, Miguel A. Glyphosate, Neurological Diseases – and the Scientific Method. Surgical Neurology International 6 (2015): 132. PMC. Web. 27 July 2016.

(3) Annette M. Hormann,1 Frederick S. vom Saal,1 Susan C. Nagel,Holding Thermal Receipt Paper and Eating Food after Using Hand Sanitizer Results in High Serum Bioactive and Urine Total Levels of Bisphenol A (BPA). PLoS One. 2014; 9(10): e110509.PMC. Web. 27 July 2016.

(4) Begley TH1, White K, Honigfort P,et al. Perfluorochemicals: potential sources of and migration from food packaging. Food Addit Contam. 2005 Oct;22(10):1023-31. PMC. Web. 27 July 2016.

(5)Breast Cancer UK Information Sheet: Cosmetics and Personal Hygiene Products. Accessed online 27July2016

(6)Dodson, Robin E. et al. Endocrine Disruptors and Asthma-Associated Chemicals in Consumer Products. Environmental Health Perspectives 120.7 (2012): 935–943. PMC. Web. 27 July 2016.


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