Exposure to toxic chemicals is unavoidable



Bryan Bradford walks briskly along the rows of food at the Healthy Approach Market he manages, past the aisles with nutritional supplements and "gluten-free" foods.

Shoppers say hello to Bradford, 35, a soft-spoken, affable man who shyly waves in response. A licensed nutritionist, he has counseled many of them on how to improve their lives through better diet. They come to his Colleyville store to buy herbal stimulants, vitamin supplements and organic foods.

There's little doubt in Bradford's mind that Healthy Approach's products help.

There's also little doubt in his mind that they are a prime reason that in a Star-Telegram project that tested the blood of 12 Tarrant County residents, Bradford's had some of the lowest concentrations of toxic chemicals. The project is designed to illustrate the chemical burdens that we all carry.

"I think I just have more of an awareness that these chemicals exist out there and that we're bombarded by them in our society every day," Bradford said.

Still, the Star-Telegram study found 36 chemicals in his blood.

Other study participants, such as corporate manager Bob Koehn and retired Fort Worth nurse Charlotte Landon, are also trying to reduce their exposure.

But they had a lot more chemicals in their blood than Bradford did, some of them in much higher concentrations.

That raises fundamental questions: Is there anything you can do to avoid exposure? Or is there little you can do to keep such chemicals from building up in your body as long as they are in widespread use?

Most health experts say the way to keep the chemicals from building up is to avoid exposure as much as is practical.

One simple step is to avoid fatty meats and fish, as well as dairy products, where chemicals like dioxins and PCBs can accumulate.

Also, you can look for products from some companies that have stopped using brominated flame retardants in their furniture and other items.

But once a chemical is in your system, "you can't remove it," said Dr. Lynn Goldman, a pediatrician at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

You just have to wait for your body to excrete it, said Dr. Arnold Schecter with the University of Texas School of Public Health in Dallas.

"There's no pill you can take," he said.

Koehn, of Arlington, doesn't believe that. The Star-Telegram analysis found 42 toxic chemicals in his body.

He has as many ideas about how to get rid of them as he does theories about how they got there to begin with.

Koehn, 64, hopes that nutritional herbs and vitamin supplements can help.

"You're basically finding things to harmonize with the basic body cycles and functions," he said, "to make those more efficient than what they're normally designed to do."

Landon, 59, has focused her efforts on avoiding exposure to the chemicals.

But she said she'll also explore the effectiveness of detox remedies. The analysis found 47 chemicals in her blood.

"It makes you want to do a little better job of taking care of yourself," she said.

Bradford said he was not surprised to learn that all 12 participants in the Star-Telegram study had numerous toxic chemicals in their bodies.

When he counsels someone on nutritional matters, he has that person's hair follicles chemically analyzed to obtain a profile that shows levels of protein, magnesium, arsenic and mercury.

"We have got to get to a point of either bettering our bodies or figuring out how to decrease the chemicals in our society," he said.

"Even if it's something that's there at 1 part per trillion, something extremely small, that's still something that's not supposed to be in the body normally. You have to look at it from that point," he said. "It's just another factor that the body has to deal with. It's one more burden on the body, and we already have enough burdens on the body."

What you can do

Medical researchers say there's little you can do to speed man-made chemicals out of your system. But you can:

Limit the amount of animal fats you eat. Toxic substances like dioxins build up in animal fats and can accumulate in your fatty tissues for decades. Opt for low-fat meats and dairy foods, such as skim milk, and frozen yogurt instead of ice cream. Trim the fat off steaks, and broil and drip away fats while cooking.

Don't buy products that contain brominated flame retardants. A number of high-profile companies have moved away from using such chemicals. Clean Production Action, a nonprofit group, has compiled a list of companies that have stopped using or committed to phase out such chemicals. Visit the group's Web site, www.cleanproduction.org.

Limit the amount of fast food and microwave food you eat. Nonstick chemicals that are showing up in most people's bodies are commonly used to keep food from sticking to fast-food wrappers and microwave popcorn bags.

Dust your home and office. Dust is a main route of exposure to chemical flame retardants.

Informant: binstock


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