What if you discovered you or your loved ones were being exposed to a dangerous toxin that could affect the health of your brain? This may sound like the plot of a Sci-Fi movie, but according to research, exposure to environmental toxins in our high-tech age is becoming more and more common. And, repeated exposure to these contaminants can increase your susceptibility for developing mild cognitive impairment (pre-dementia), dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Although diet, lifestyle, and genetic makeup affect one’s risk for mild cognitive impairment, dementia, and Alzheimer’s, environmental toxins also come under scrutiny as risk factors. In one study, 20% of those with a cognitive disorder had been exposed to chemicals at work or through another source, and researchers have found early-onset mild cognitive impairment and dementia to be associated with a history of toxic exposure. Also, studies show certain pesticides and solvents increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease, mild cognitive impairment and dementia.
The Top 3 Environmental Toxins That Affect Brain Health
- Lead – It’s well known babies and children should avoid lead, but so should adults. Research shows increasing levels of lead in the bones is associated with accelerated cognitive decline. Those with higher lead toxicity showed an additional 15 years of cognitive aging compared to those with lower levels. Also, prenatal exposure to lead may trigger genes that increase production of abnormal brain proteins associated with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s. Manufacturers are still legally allowed to use small amounts of lead in paints and other products, even research shows there are no “safe” levels of lead exposure.
- Aluminum – Many people avoid antiperspirants containing aluminum because of older research associating aluminum with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s risk. One study even suggests aluminum-based antiperspirants increase the risk of Alzheimer’s by 60 percent. Newer studies also show aluminum from dietary sources accumulates in the brain, and that higher dietary levels are associated with memory loss. (Read about 8 ways to protect yourself from aluminum poisoning here.)
- PCBs – Polychlorinated biphenyls were once used in flame retardants, plasticizers, lubricants, and adhesives; but they were banned in the 1970s. However, because they do not break down easily, dangerous levels continue to contaminate our air, water, and food. PCB exposure still affects most of the U.S. population, especially those consuming contaminated fish. PCBs not only affect fetal brain development, but are also may increase the risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Studies show that higher levels of exposure are associated with an increased risk of mild cognitive impairment. Also, the toxin significantly increased the rate of death from Parkinson’s and dementia for workers exposed to PCBs on the job. (Read more about endocrine disruptors here.)
How to Lower Your Risk of Dementia and Alzheimer’s
To “clean up” your brain, employ these important strategies:
- The most obvious way to lower your risk of contamination from toxins is to lower your exposure. Avoid them as much as possible. This means using household and body care products that are natural. The Environmental Working Group has great resources to help you select the best natural products. Many people also prefer organic bedding, clothing, and furniture and use an air filter in their home to remove airborne contaminants.
- Eeat a whole foods diet free of additives, pesticides, and preservatives, and drinking filtered water. Buy organic or locally-grown produce that is free of these harmful chemicals.
- Don’t heat food or baby formula in plastic containers or bottles. Heating plastics (especially in the microwave) can cause toxic chemicals such as PCB’s to leach into the food or beverage. Also, don’t drink out of water bottles that have been left in a hot car or sunlight for long periods of time. Again, this can cause leaching of the chemicals into the water.
It is important to note that in today’s world, being totally toxin-free is nearly impossible. Unfortunately, toxins have infiltrated every aspect of our environment and we are all contaminated to some degree. Therefore, to further reduce your risk of developing mild cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer’s, it’s important to follow other proven strategies such as exercising regularly, avoiding processed “junk” foods, reducing consumption of sugar laden and starchy foods, and minimizing chronic stress.
Should I Detox?
When most people think of detoxes, they think of herbs to boost the liver. However the liver cannot process most environmental toxins today, so a liver detox is not really the answer. Instead, by minimizing stress and following other prevention strategies, you can avoid depleting glutathione levels- your body’s master oxidant.
Keeping your levels of glutathione sufficient is key for protection from toxins. Foods that boost glutathione include asparagus, broccoli, avocado, spinach, raw eggs (best to use organic pastured eggs from a clean farm), garlic and fresh unprocessed meats. Glutathione cannot be utilized as an oral supplement. Instead, people take precursors that can boost glutathione, such as n-acetyl-cysteine, milk thistle, alpha lipoic acid, or undenatured whey protein. Glutathione can also be absorbed through an IV at the office of a naturopath or integrative doctor, from transdermal creams, a nebulizer, or a suppository.
 Safer Chemicals Healthy Families health report. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases.
 Jansson, Erik T. “Aluminum Exposure and Alzheimer’s Disease.” Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. 3(2001): 541-549. 9 Jan. 2008.