Deconstructing “Toxins” and “Oxidative Stress”
In our business, we constantly strive to create foods that help rid our bodies of “toxins”, and help combat “oxidative stress” and “inflammation.” But, what do all these terms really mean? In this blog post and the one that follows, we will take apart these buzzwords and explain what they mean and what they do to our bodies.
What is a “Toxin”?
It seems like these days everyone is throwing around the word “toxic” to describe just about everything we come into contact with. Is this Chicken Little Syndrome, or is the world really that toxic? And what the heck is a toxin anyway?
A toxin is a substance that, simply put, damages the body. And unfortunately, they really do pop up pretty much anywhere you look. There’s toxins that we make (pesticides and other industrial chemicals), toxins in our water (chlorine, heavy metals like lead and mercury, and even traces of pharmaceutical medications), toxins in our air (mold and mildew, fumes, smoke), toxins in our food (additives, fillers, stabilizers and synthetic coloring and flavoring), and even toxins in our beauty and health products, cleaning products, furniture, and clothes. In fact, there’s over 85,000 chemicals that we’re living among. While many of these have been tested for their toxicity threshold in the human body, i.e., a small amount of mercury or lead is technically “ok,” there’s no way to know what that magic number really is, how much you’re really being exposed to, or what’s happening when all these substances interact with one another. All these toxins can build up in your body and cause all kinds of harm to your cells and tissue, resulting in discomfort, disease, or chronic conditions. It’s called “toxic burden.”
The good news is that your body has a built-in detoxification system made up of your cells, blood, skin, and a number of organs (like your liver and kidneys, which we’ll talk about in more detail in a bit). They work hard day in and day out to keep these toxins from permanently taking up residence. Problem is, it’s a system that worked best 100 years ago when the air and water were cleaner and things like ethoxylated surfactants weren’t in our face cleansers or butylated hydroxytoluene in our breakfast cereal. Now, though, that system is, for most of us, struggling to keep up with our modern food supply, industrial pollutants, and all the other insults we expose it to on a daily basis. Our detoxification systems are overwhelmed by our toxic burden, and as a result we’re seeing illness, fatigue, headaches, mood disorders, and all those nagging aches and pains that aren’t contributing to a healthy, happy life.
What Does a “Toxic Load” Look Like?
When the body fills with toxins, you start to see damage at the cellular level. This is what that could look like to you:
Memory loss or “brain fog”
Skin issues, ie. eczema, dull skin, acne, rashes
Dry hair and brittle nails
Disease, ie. Diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure
Dry mouth and bad breath
FatigueMood disorders, ie. anxiety, depression, mood swings
Toxins affect our health on a cellular level. Two of the main ways they inflict damage is through oxidative stress (more on that below) and inflammation (more on that next week).
In a nutshell: Our tissues and cells are always rusting or decaying. Just like a piece of fruit left out, our cells too are constantly battling being broken by harmful agents in the body.
It looks a little something like this: The cells in our active organs (think muscles, heart, brain) have little energy factories called mitochondria. These mechanisms turn the food we eat and oxygen we breathe into energy. This fuel, which runs the body, is called ATP. But even though this is a highly beneficial function of the body, it also creates dangerous byproducts. These include highly toxic free radicals. Not to get too textbook on you, but free radicals are essentially rogue, unstable atoms that are looking to snatch electrons from other molecules in the body in order to make themselves whole or stable again. In doing so, they create even more unstable molecules, which then go on the hunt for their missing electrons. It creates a chain-reaction that causes extensive damage throughout the body. This is compounded by the already burdensome toxic load the body carries, since toxins coming in from the outside (anything we’re eating, breathing, drinking, exposed to, or rubbing on our skin) can also create oxidization. The result is—you guessed it—disease.
Luckily, the body isn’t defenseless to these attacks. It protects itself by creating a physical barrier that can contain the marauding free radicals. Its shield? Anti-oxidants. That’s right, those mysterious entities that people are always celebrating in their blueberries and face creams. It turns out there’s really something to them.
Anti-oxidants come from the food you eat (the good stuff, that is). Plants—primarily fruits and vegetable—contribute vitamins A, C, and E; co-enzyme q-10, manganese, iodine; and polyphenols, which lock down free radicals and neutralize them. They also help to heal and repair the mitochondria.
Without a diet rich in plants, though, your body can’t produce enough anti-oxidants to protect itself from oxidation. That’s why we’ve loaded our soups with fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other ingredients packed with anti-oxidants, so that during your cleanse and long afterwards you can give your body the strong defense it needs. And because the soups are so much easier on your digestion than your regular diet, your body is expending less cellular energy. When that happens, free radical production drops!
Next week we will delve into inflammation and alkalinity. For more on all of these subjects, go to our book The Soup Cleanse, available on Amazon.