Billions of deadly foreign invaders – toxic molecules – visit every part of our bodies, wreaking havoc on the delicate machinery of life. If it weren’t for the body’s miraculous repair and maintenance capabilities, we would be quickly overcome by the deadly invaders and succumb to their onslaught.
Each and every one of us has a hundred or more types of toxic chemicals coursing through our bodies, and what does this mean? How do these toxic chemicals affect different parts of our bodies? How does the body neutralize or destroy or eliminate them? These are complicated, technical topics, and I don’t pretend to deeply understand them, so I will present a simplified discussion.
Toxic chemicals from the environment in which we are all immersed enter the body via the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and to a lesser degree via direct skin contact. It follows that the primary organs that encounter toxics for extended periods of time are the lungs, stomach, and intestines. It should then be no surprise that each of these organs is common site of cancers. Each year sees about 200,000 cases of lung cancer and 100,000 cases of colon cancer.
Then what: what is the fate of these internal toxic chemicals? The answer primarily depends upon the solubility of the chemical and how susceptible it is to degradation by the body’s detoxification mechanisms. The majority of toxics (e.g., DDT, PCBs, flame retardants) are most soluble in oil and fat, and will be absorbed in fatty tissue, such as in breasts, and accumulate there. Each year sees about 200,000 cases of breast cancer and 200,000 cases of prostate cancer. Some toxics (e.g., organophosphate pesticides and fluorinated coatings) are more soluble in water, and will be more readily end up circulating in the lymph, and be eliminated in the urine. Each year sees about 65,000 cases of cancer of the lymph glands, and 70,000 cases of cancer of the bladder. It is really more complex because different tissues have different compositions, and therefore different affinities for these two general classes of toxic chemicals. Hence one tissue (e.g. prostate) may have more affinity than the pancreas for a class of toxics, and therefore contain a higher concentration of those toxics.
The body’s master detoxifying organ is the liver; it can chemically transform many foreign toxics (including natural ones from plants), reducing their toxicity or making it easier to eliminate them in the urine. It is probably better at neutralizing natural toxins, to which humans have been exposed for centuries, than to synthetic toxic chemicals which are new on the scene. Even though the liver is the great neutralizer, it is not immune to the effects of some of the toxic chemicals that it processes: a mere 20,000 cases of cancer per year. The more water soluble degradation products in the blood pass through the kidneys and into the bladder, where they are stored before elimination. As some of the water soluble degradation products (e.g., DDE from DDT) can also be carcinogenic, the bladder and kidneys are susceptible to cancers.
Something is still missing from the picture of toxics moving through the body: their transport in the blood. The blood is the carrier of ALL toxics absorbed in the lungs, stomach, intestines, and secreted by the liver. The blood is a most complex mixture of substances – salts, food stuffs (e.g. glucose and amino acids), red blood cells, white blood cells, colloids (carrying oil-soluble cholesterols), and hormones. It would be surprising if some of these vital substances were not damaged by foreign toxic chemicals. The blood carries its essential materials to every tissue of the body: the muscles, bones, organs, brain, and the eight endocrine glands that produce over twenty hormones which regulate all the body’s complex processes. If any of these master regulators are damaged, we are in serious trouble.
It is not a pretty picture! It is one thing to intentionally ingest mood-altering chemicals (e.g., alcohol and antidepressants), and quite another thing to have toxic chemicals circulating in our bodies, without our permission, and doing damage to our health. With awareness and simple actions, we can keep these foreign invaders out of our bodies!