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What is Your Total Toxic Burden?

Genexa Genexa 2018-07-24 15:30:00 -0700

What is Your Total Toxic Burden? Jill Carnahan, MD

By Jill Carnahan, MD, ABFM, ABIHM, IFMCP

I believe environmental toxicity is one of the biggest contributors to the rise in chronic illness today. And yet, because doctors don't really learn about chronic toxic burden in medical school, it's now become somewhat of an elephant in the room.

The fact of the matter is when it comes to toxicity we mostly understand when it's acute – when it causes sudden and definitive symptoms. However, most toxin exposures are chronic, involve more than one toxin, and happen after years, even decades of accumulation. This accumulation overloads the body's detox mechanisms and causes symptoms such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Memory disturbance
  • Sleep issues
  • Headaches

Over time, if the environmental toxicity and detox pathways aren’t addressed, the toxic burden can lead to conditions like:

  • Cancer
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Neurodegenerative diseases

In a 2015 review in the prestigious journal Carcinogenesis, researchers found that lifestyle factors are responsible for a considerable portion of cancers worldwide. Concluding that 7-19% of all cancers are attributable to toxic environmental exposures. On top of this, they examined 85 chemicals and found 59% of them exerted low-dose effects.

In my personal practice, I've seen the devastating effects of environmental toxin exposure. Because the symptoms are chronic and multi-system it can lead to a perplexing situation for both the patient and the practitioner. I found the best method for helping a patient with a chronic condition is to reduce their levels of toxin exposure and improve detoxification to bring down their toxic burden.

So today I want to talk about different types of toxins, other factors that add to your burden, symptoms and conditions of suspected environmental toxicity, and detoxification.

17 Possible Environmental Toxins

Toxins can either be introduced to the body through external exposure or internal exposure.  I break different exposures down into exotoxins (external) and endotoxins (internal). A huge part of reducing your toxic burden is being aware of different sources of toxins so that you can avoid potential exposures. With that in mind the list below is meant to be a resource for different areas of your life that should be considered when you work to reduce your toxic burden.


1. Heavy metals – Can come from cookware, tap water, personal care products, and home furnishings.
2. Solvents/VOCs – Can come from cleaning products or off gas from new furniture or carpet. Oftentimes are indoor air is more toxic than the air outside.
3. Pesticides – As an exotoxin, pesticides affect people when they work with them either at their job or in their personal garden or lawn.
4. BPA – BPA is an endocrine disruptor and also found in plastics.
5. Phthalates – Can be found in personal care products, home cleaning products, and makeup.
6. Parabens – Also found in personal care products, home cleaning products, and makeup.
7. EMF radiation – This comes from electronics and Wi-Fi sources, so cell phones, smart TVs, microwaves, fitness trackers, routers, cell phone towers, and airplanes.
8. Heterocyclic amines – These are chemicals that are released from animal products when they are cooked at high temperatures.
9. MoldI've written extensively about mold, if you'd like to learn more I encourage you to explore the rest of my website.


1. Intestinal bacteria – Such as endotoxemia from LPS.
2. Yeast/candida – Candida produce the toxin acetaldehyde.
3. Other infectious diseases – Common ones include Epstein-Barr and Lyme disease.
4. Food – Standard American Diet contributes to total toxic burden. Chemicals, food additives, and glyphosate all cause problems. When it comes to food your best bet is to eat as organic as possible.
5. Insulin resistance – When insulin resistance climbs in your body it causes stress. Work to promote insulin sensitivity instead.
6. Medications – Medications generally contribute to overall toxic burden.
7. Stress – Stress is an extremely powerful influence in your overall health and yet it's often not taken into consideration.
8. Emotions – Emotions cause biochemical reactions in the body and are often overlooked.

What Else Can Add to Your Total Toxic Burden?

Besides toxins there are other things that can contribute to your total toxic burden that you might not have considered. This is because your total toxic burden includes all stressors on the body, which means things like emotional and psychological stress.

I mentioned stress and emotions above but it's worth taking the time to dig a little deeper on each because they are all too commonly overlooked. They don't fit our traditional idea of a toxin. A few potential stressors that are outright “toxins” include:

> Age
> Sex
> Financial stress
> Sedentary lifestyle
> Career stress
> Toxic personal relationships
> Significant life events, such as a death in the family or divorce
> Unresolved emotional trauma

In my next article, I'll share some of the environmental factors that can contribute to toxicity.

Jill Carnahan, MD, ABFM, ABIHM, IFMCP is a board certified physician in both Family Medicine and Integrative Holistic Medicine. She founded the Methodist Center for Integrative Medicine and is currently the Functional Medicine Consultant at Flatiron Functional Medicine in Louisville, CO.

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