Persistent organic pollutants, which stay in the environment for a long time, can linger in our bodies as well. New science shows how pollution impacts our health—from oxidative stress and inflammation to endocrine disruption and infertility.
8 Ways Pollution Harms Us
A new study published in the journal Cell maps the ways toxic pollutants contribute to disease. The researchers, from Columbia University, Ludwig Maximilian University, and Hasselt University, determined that contaminated air, food, water, and soil overwhelm the body’s natural immune response and ability to detox.
They pinpointed eight ways pollution can impact our health:
- Oxidative stress and inflammation
- Genomic alterations and mutations
- Epigenetic alterations
- Mitochondrial dysfunction
- Endocrine disruption
- Altered intercellular communication
- Altered microbiome communities
- Impaired nervous system function
The researchers concluded that these eight pathways of physiological damage are just the tip pf the iceberg. There are innumerable combinations of pollutants that have not yet been identified that also cause physiological harm.2
Reproductive Health and Pollutants
Emerging around the same time as the Cell article is a book by Shanna Swan, PhD, an environmental and reproductive epidemiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. In her book, titled Count Down: How Our Modern World is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race, she writes that endocrine-disrupting chemicals—found in everything from plastic wrap to personal care products—could be responsible for plummeting sperm counts, shrinking penis sizes, and increasing infertility. According to Swan, sperm counts have dropped almost 60% since 1973 and some twentysomething women are less fertile than their grandmothers were at 35. “The current state of reproductive affairs can’t continue much longer without threatening human survival,” writes Swan. “It’s a global existential crisis.”3
We Live in a Polluted World
Sadly, in the US and around the world we are breathing, drinking and ingesting unacceptable levels of toxic substances. In 2019, the US Environmental Protection Agency reported that 70 million tons of pollution are released into the atmosphere annually.1 The US Geological Survey (USGS) warns of pesticide contamination in rural farm areas, which 50% of the population relies on for drinking water.5 Plus, 90% of aquatic life is contaminated with pesticides, according to a 2014 USGS report.4 These pollutants lace the air we breathe, the foods we eat (even organics), and the water we drink.
Why Your Body Can’t Keep Up and How Ayurveda Can Help
While some researchers argue that the body can effectively detoxify itself, the new Cell article elucidates eight documented physiological pathways that are damaged or compromised by pollutants—suggesting that the body’s natural detox pathways cannot keep up.
Thousands of years ago, Ayurveda engineered elaborate detoxification procedures to reduce the toxic load on human physiology. One of the most well-studied is a process called lipophilic (or fat-liking)-mediated detoxification, in which healthy fats are ingested and attach to unhealthy fats, helping to excrete them from the body.6
This procedure is uniquely beneficial for our times because the vast majority of pollutantion we ingest and inhale is fat-soluble.
In a study measuring the effects of an Ayurvedic detox using ghee as the lipophilic detox agent, researchers reported a 48% decrease in polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) (once commonly used as flame retardants and considered persistent organic pollutants) and 58% decrease in pesticides such as beta-hexachlorocy-clohexane (β-HCH).6
We RecommendHow to Detox Pesticides and Chemicals
Ayurvedic Oleation and Purgation
The Ayurvedic version of science’s lipophilic-mediated detoxification combines the ingestion of ghee or clarified butter (olive, coconut or flax seed oil are alternatives) each morning on an empty stomach for four to seven days. The theory behind the detox effect of this type of Ayurvedic cleanse is four-fold:
- The ingestion of ghee first thing in the morning kicks the body into a state of fat-metabolism. If a no-fat or very low-fat diet is followed during the day, the body will stay in a state of fat metabolism. This explains the reduction in hunger and cravings experienced during an Ayurvedic cleanse.
- The ghee or alternative oil will oleate the intestines and tissues, attaching to and pulling stored fat-soluble toxic substances into the intestinal tract for elimination. This is the lipophilic mediated detox effect.6
- Ghee also delivers high concentrations of butyric acid into the intestinal tract, which is the main seat of gut immunity, intestinal cellular health, and metabolism. Ghee feeds the gut microbiome.7
- The ghee or oil alternative will force the gallbladder to contract and expel toxic, thick and viscous bile that can compromise the body’s effective digestion, detox and elimination of toxins.8