When you hear or read the words, “environmental toxins,” some kind of factory or power plant might come to your mind first, but what if these toxic chemicals can be found in your own home?
In a fast-paced, ever-changing world, we are constantly exposed to certain amounts of toxins. They can be found in our food, water, air, and even in everyday items we can found in our home, including cleaning supplies, lotions, and building materials.
Recently, however, a growing number of studies have indicated that exposure to these toxins within long periods of time can ultimately lead to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other memory disorders.
Read on to learn more about the growing medical evidence that links a number of toxic substances to memory loss and cognitive decline.
What are Environmental Toxins?
Environmental toxins are chemicals that can interrupt our body’s normal biological functioning. These substances are endocrine disruptors which have long been linked to cancer and a wide array of other health concerns, including diabetes, obesity, heart disease, reproductive concerns, and Alzheimer’s disease, to name a few.
Our endocrine system is composed of different glands that produce hormones which are helpful in regulating body functions. Environmental toxins are chemicals, both man-made and naturally occuring, that interfere with the proper functioning of these hormones.
According to a number of research, the top environmental toxins linked to cognitive decline are heavy metals, mold and mycotoxins, plastics, and pesticides.
The general public is constantly exposed to these endocrine disruptors which can have adverse reproductive, developmental, immune, and neurological effects.
Environmental Toxins and Cognitive Decline
Lately, an increasing number of medical literature has associated certain toxins with an increased possibility of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Alzheimer’s is the most common neurodegenerative disease worldwide. an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly affects memory and thinking skills, and ultimately, one’s ability to do simple tasks.
Up to this day, the exact causes of Alzheimer’s are still not fully understood by scientists, and there is still no cure for the disease, although there are medications which help treat the symptoms and potentially delay the progression of AD.
In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved a new Alzheimer’s drug called Aduhelm, the first in nearly two decades. The approval, however, continues to be controversial as disease experts and even FDA’s very own advisory committee express doubts on whether the medication can actually slow down cognitive decline.
Aside form that, clinical trials have also shown that it actually carries a wide array of risks and side effects, including brain swelling and bleeding, amyloid-related imaging abnormalities (ARIA), headache, nausea, and dizziness.
This dilemma that experts and scientists encounter when the regulating agency granted approval to the new Alzheimer’s drug just solidifies the statement of Bernard H. Munos, founder of the InnoThink Center for Research in Biomedical Innovation, when he told Drug Discovery & Development that, “Alzheimer’s is a field that is notorious for its false positives and frustrated hopes.”
It is said that the main risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is age, while other studies have identified other causes including genetic, lifestyle, and environmental risk factors.
Let’s have a look at some of these chemicals and understand why exposure to these substances have been linked to many diseases:
Arsenic is a chemical element naturally found in soil and is widely distributed throughout the environment in the water, air, and land. People are exposed to arsenic in small doses through drinking water and food.
Exposure to elevated levels of arsenic has been linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline and is considered a health risk for several biological systems, including the dermal, endocrine, cardiovascular, and nervous system.
This environmental toxin is said to block the production of energy in the brain which leads to an interruption in cell functioning.
Long-term exposure to the inorganic form of arsenic, which is highly toxic, is possible through drinking contaminated water and eating contaminated food and can ultimately result in chronic arsenic poisoning.
Pesticides are chemicals used to kill, repel, or control rodents, insects, and unwanted weeds which may affect crop yield during food production. At times, however, these substances intended to control pests may affect non-target organisms as well, including humans.
In recent years, the association between pesticide exposure and cognitive decline has been the topic of many studies. Mounting evidence has shown a higher risk of cognitive decline in people who have been steadily exposed to toxic amounts of pesticides.
In fact, a certain herbicide has been the target of many lawsuits in the United States recently. Plaintiffs who have filed Paraquat lawsuits claim that occupational exposure to the dangerous chemical can cause lung scarring, liver failure, heart failure, lung damage, and Parkinson’s disease, among others. Not only that, but it can also affect individuals who live near farms through environmental exposure to the chemical.
Mercury is an element that has been known to have a toxic effect on the nervous system in cases of acute exposure to the metal. However, even exposure to small amounts of mercury has been known to cause serious health problems, including its negative effects to a baby’s growing brain as well as its adverse effects on memory.
People are mainly exposed to methylmercury or organic mercury, whenever they eat fish and shellfish that contain the compound. In some cases, mercury poisoning happens as a result of being exposed to too much mercury, mostly through one’s diet.
Moreover, studies have also found increased blood levels of mercury in patients with Alzheimer’s disease as compared to those without the disease.
Lead is a highly toxic metal that adversely affects multiple systems in the body and is particularly harmful to young children. But children are not the only ones negatively affected by lead. Even adults can suffer from a higher risk of cognitive decline through cumulative exposure to the toxicant.
In fact, according to the World Health Organization, no level of lead exposure comes with no harmful effects. At high amounts of exposure, lead attacks the brain and our central nervous system, causing convulsions, coma, and even death.
At lower levels of exposure, lead can still affect a child’s brain development, resulting in lower IQ and behavioral changes. Even children who survive lead poisoning may be left to live with mental retardation and behavioral disorders.
Aluminum is the most plentiful metal found on Earth. And becasue there’s an abundance of aluminum, it is used in many products, including food additives, cosmetic products, food packaging, cookware, and many others.
Different studies, however, have demonstrated the negative effects of aluminum on our nervous system. For instance, according to a 2013 study, aluminum exposure in adults lead to neurological deficits resembling Alzheimer’s disease.
Toxic mold exposure have been linked to asthma and lung disease, but it has also been known to attack the brain. This can cause more serious and long-term effects including memory loss, anxiety, depression, confusion, insomnia, and trouble concentrating.
In many cases, toxic exposure can lead to brain damage which can cause changes in personality, decreased neurological function, and difficulty concentrating.
Other Health Concerns Linked to Hormone Disruptors
Mounting evidence has linked hormone disruptors to other health problems, including diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
Studies have found an association between the chemical DDE and diabetes. DDE is a metabolic byproduct of DDT, which is a pesticide that has been widely used following World War II. DDT has been banned in most countries during the early 1970s because of its adverse environmental effects and its potential human health risks.
Is it Possible to Avoid Exposure to Environmental Toxins?
Just like what we mentioned, these environmental toxins are basically present even in everyday products that you see at home. Therefore, it may be unrealistic to completely avoid them.
However, being a wise consumer and being mindful of what goes in and out of your body might be a starting point in reducing your risk of exposure to environmental toxins.
For instance, you can always opt for organic foods in order to avoid potential pesticide exposure through residue. It is important to keep in mind though, that whether organic options are more helpful and safer is still being highly debated among experts today.
You can also try switching your home cleaning products to more natural alternatives.
Moreover, today, many companies are making conscious efforts to avoid the use of these chemicals. Particularly, products that are labeled with paraben-free and BPA-free are the ones you should choose if you want to limit your exposure to toxins and protect your cognitive functions as much as possible.