Are you struggling with prediabetes or diabetes? Have you tried all sorts of things – lowering your carbs, doing intermittent fasting, taking supplements – and still can’t get your blood sugar to drop down to or stay in the optimal range? Or, do you have a family history of diabetes and want to do everything you can to prevent yourself from ever developing diabetes?
Then stick around, because today, we’re going to talk about environmental toxins and diabetes. Toxins are often the root cause and the key for effectively reversing diabetes. And today we’re going to discuss the magnitude of our modern toxin burden, how environmental toxins can cause and worsen diabetes, and what you can do right away to reduce your body’s toxin burden to help prevent and reverse diabetes.
This is Part 4 of a 4-part series on Reversing Diabetes Naturally. Here’s a quick summary of the contents of this series:
- Part 1 – It Starts With Food
- Part 2 – Digestion and Diabetes
- Part 3 – Improving Immunity
- Part 4 – Taking Care of Toxins
Toxins Are Everywhere
The sad truth about our world today is that environmental toxins are everywhere – in our air, our water, and our food – and both the numbers of these toxins and their quantities are ever-expanding, as are their impacts on the environment and on human health.
In 1962, Rachel Carson wrote in her ground-breaking book, Silent Spring: “The most alarming of all man’s assaults upon the environment is the contamination of air, earth, water, and sea with dangerous and even lethal materials”. The publication of Silent Spring helped to launch the field of ecotoxicology, and catalyzed the modern environmental movement. At that time, there were 200 pesticides in the US market, and the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 1 billion pounds of pesticides were being applied to the Earth’s land surface annually. Now, there are over 17,000 different pesticide products in the US market, and approximately 5.6 billion pounds being applied annually worldwide – a 5.6-fold increase in the past 60 years.
And pesticides are just one type of environmental toxin that we are exposed to on a daily basis. There has been a fiftyfold increase in the global production of chemicals since 1950, and this is projected to triple again by 2050. Plastics are of particularly high concern, as plastic pollution soared from two million tons in 1950, to 348 million tons in 2017. Plastic pollution is now found from the summit of Mount Everest to the deepest oceans, and some toxic chemicals, such as PCBs, are widespread, and are particularly long-lasting in the environment and inside our bodies.
It is estimated that, nowadays, the average person is exposed to more than 700,000 toxic chemicals every day. From perfumes to cleaning products, from cosmetic products to plastic water bottles, much of your everyday life includes exposure to chemicals that aren’t good for your health.
There are many things you can do to minimize your exposure, and to help your body rid itself of these harmful chemicals on a regular basis, and we’ll talk about those more in a minute. But first, let’s look at how toxins affect overall health, and specifically, how they can cause and exacerbate blood sugar regulation issues and diabetes.
How Toxins Affect Your Health
It is estimated that approximately 8 million people every year die from diseases caused by exposure to various types of environmental toxins. Damage to human health by these toxins has been well documented over the past sixty years, and includes the development of both acute and chronic diseases in every system of our bodies (1). One of the systems that is strongly affected by environmental toxins is our hormone (endocrine) system, as many human-made toxins, even at very low doses, are endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that interfere with the synthesis, secretion, transport, binding and elimination of our natural hormones (1).
This hormone disruption by toxins includes the hormone insulin, which is responsible for the regulation of blood sugar through the movement of sugar (fuel) out of the blood and into our cells for use in energy-production. Environmental toxins have been shown to damage the functioning of insulin, as well as to impair the beta-cells of the pancreas, which are the primary source of insulin stimulation. In this way, exposure to toxins can, over time, cause our bodies to have a diminished ability to properly regulate blood sugar, which then often leads to the development of diabetes. And in this way, too, reducing toxin exposure and healing some of the damage done by toxins is often a necessary component for the successful prevention and reversal of diabetes.
What Can We Do About It?
As daunting as this issue might feel, there are many positive things you can do to both minimize your incoming load of toxins every day, and assist your body in clearing more toxins more quickly, to limit and ultimately heal from toxin damage to your body. Taking these steps can help prevent diabetes from getting a hold in the first place, and can also help reverse diabetes once it has begun.
Minimize Your Toxin Load
Step one is to work on reducing the number of toxins that are getting into your body in the first place. There are many ways to do this, the top five being:
- Detox your diet
- Drink filtered water + electrolytes
- Choose low toxin personal care products
- Keep your home and office clean naturally
- Minimize prescription drugs
Let’s look at each of these in detail.
Detox Your Diet
Since we typically eat multiple times per day, and our foods can either contribute to our toxin load, or lighten that load, what you choose to eat has a lot of power to either increase or reduce your toxin load (and affect your overall health). So let’s start there!
Proteins and Fats
First, source your proteins and fats carefully, since these can be laden with toxic chemicals, including pesticides, herbicides (ex. Roundup/glyphosate), hormones, antibiotics, and PCBs. For sourcing guidelines and links for poultry, pigs, ruminants and seafood, check out my article The Best Pastured Meats.
Avoid Processed Oils
Another way to lighten your dietary toxin load is to minimize your consumption of industrially-processed seed oils (aka vegetable oils) such as canola, corn, safflower, soy and sunflower oils, as their production involves the use of several toxic chemicals which end up in the finished product, including bleaches and deodorizers. For more on this topic, see my article The Best and Worst Vegetable Oils.
On the bright side, eating clean, healthy fats instead – such as cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, macadamia nuts, organic walnuts, wild-caught seafood, and pastured butter – lowers your intake of toxins, and has also been shown to ameliorate the development of high blood sugar and insulin resistance and help prevent and reverse diabetes. (2)
Fruits and Vegetables
Whenever possible, buy organic fruits and veggies, since these are not only cleaner (contain fewer toxins), but they are also more nutritious! If buying all organic isn’t feasible for you, then check out the Environmental Working Group’s well-researched annual report, The Dirty Dozen, which comes out each spring and lists the 12 most crucial fruits and vegetables to buy organic that year. And for their more complete list of the top 46 fruits and veggies to buy organic, go here.
If you eat grains, always choose organic, since non-organic grains are sprayed with pesticides and herbicides, and contain chemical additives. But I’d like you to also consider minimizing your intake of these inflammatory foods altogether, because nowadays even organic grains contain herbicide and pesticide residues from drift, and they also contain other damaging toxins – whether the grains are organic or not – including lectins, phytates, gluten, heavy metals and mycotoxins (mold toxin). For more on why avoiding grains is good for your health, check out my article What’s Wrong With Grains.
Like grains, all legumes (beans, peas and lentils) contain the toxin group called lectins, which block your absorption of many nutrients. In addition, legumes contain several other toxins, including tannins, goitrogenic factors (which damage thyroid function), cyanogenetic glucosides, saponins, alkaloids, and trypsin and amylase inhibitors. In the context of today’s discussion about reducing toxins to help prevent and reverse diabetes, these last 2 types of toxins are the most relevant, as they directly affect pancreatic function, causing impaired insulin production and impaired carbohydrate metabolism.
Fortunately, soaking and cooking legumes properly does remove most of their toxin content, so this is an important step to include in your food preparation when you are going to eat beans, peas and lentils. For info on how to properly soak and cook legumes, check out this guide. On the rare occasion when I make legumes, what I like to do is soak and cook a big batch all at once, and then freeze them in smaller containers for future use. This also comes in handy for those times when we have vegetarian visitors!
To further lighten your body’s toxin load to help prevent and reverse diabetes (and improve overall health), you can avoid the foods that block your natural detoxification pathways (yes, there are foods that block detoxing!), and instead choose foods that actively boost your body’s ability to detoxify.
The main foods that block detox are high carb foods that stimulate insulin and promote body fat storage rather than body fat burning. And the primary foods that have the power to boost your natural detox processes and lighten your toxin load are what I call the ABCs of detox:
- As: alliums, asparagus, artichoke
- Bs: brassicas, berries, bone broth
- Cs: citrus (non-sweet types), cilantro, curcumin
Another way to lighten your toxin load is to keep plastics away from your foods, since plastics will leach into any food (or beverage) they are in contact with. A few steps you can take in this direction are:
- use aluminum foil rather than plastic wrap
- use glass or ceramic food-storage containers rather than plastic (I like these)
- buy products that are packaged in glass or metal rather than plastic
- avoid cooking with non-stick cookware (yes, still), especially with high heat, and opt instead for cast iron, stainless steel, and oven-safe glass
Baby steps accrue over time, so implement changes as you’re able. As I often say: Progress is more important than perfection!
Drink Plenty of Filtered Water + Electrolytes
To help lower your toxin load and reverse and prevent diabetes, proper hydration is essential, and drinking filtered water with unsweetened, unflavored electrolytes added is the best way to achieve this. Proper hydration not only helps flush toxins, but it also helps to dilute and thus lower your blood sugar level (as well as being good for you in a million other ways).
How much water is enough? I recommend aiming for ½ ounce of water per pound of body weight daily, ideally spread throughout each day.
Now, whether it’s municipal water or well water or bottled water, our drinking water is, unfortunately, almost always contaminated with various toxins these days, so using an effective water filter is key. I use a glass Zero water filter, and I love it. Independent testing has shown that the Zero water filters remove the most contaminants and solids (helpful when you have very hard water like we do here in New Mexico), and they make the water taste fabulous, IMO.
Like with foods, keep your water away from plastics.
As for the electrolytes, you need these in order to properly utilize the water you are drinking – electrolytes help to escort the water into and out of your cells, bringing in water-soluble nutrients and flushing out waste products (including toxins). And without plentiful electrolytes, nothing in your body works optimally! So I recommend adding plain (unsweetened, unflavored) electrolyte drops to every glass of water you drink to optimize hydration and detoxification of water-soluble toxins. Trace Mineral brand is my favorite.
I like to measure out my day’s water allotment (67oz) each morning into a ceramic or glass pitcher, add 2 drops of electrolyte liquid per ounce of water (that’s 1.5 teaspoons of electrolyte liquid for my 67oz of water), and then drink a 12oz glass of water from that pitcher every 2 hours or so.
IMPORTANT NOTE ON RO WATER: If you use Reverse Osmosis (RO) water, you need to drastically increase your electrolyte intake to keep that RO water from damaging your kidneys (and please consider not using RO water any more!) Visit here for the World Health Organization’s warning on RO water.
Choose low toxin personal care products
Your skin is surprisingly absorbent, and most of what comes into contact with your skin gets inside your body. Personal care products often contain a whole boatload of harmful toxins, so choosing low-toxin personal care products is a powerful way to lighten your incoming toxin load. This includes all sorts of products, including:
- Hair sprays & gels
- Body powders
But with tens of thousands of these products on the market, how do you go about choosing? Check out the Environmental Working Group’s well-researched database of 87,000+ personal care products, here. You can search by ingredient, brand or product to find what you’re looking for. Want to simplify your search for new, clean products even more? Then visit the EWG Verified list of products, here.
Keep your home and office clean naturally
How you keep your home and office clean can also increase or decrease your toxin load.
One quick and easy way to decrease the number of toxins in your home or office is to take off your shoes when you enter. This keeps you from tracking in toxins that frequently stick to your shoes, such as pesticides and herbicides (ex. from contact with dirt and landscaping), petroleum-based residues (ex. from streets and sidewalks), and bacteria and viruses.
Another way to lighten your indoor environment’s toxin load is to vacuum and damp-dust frequently – since dust contains more hazardous chemicals than you might think, including lead, fire retardants, and pesticides – and to use nontoxic cleaning products, such as those in the EWG’s Verified cleaning products list, here.
And finally, running a HEPA air filter regularly, especially in the rooms where you spend the most time, and adding more plants to your indoor spaces, will help clean the air you breathe and lighten your body’s incoming toxin load.
Not sure which plants to choose? Check out Good Housekeeping’s article The 20 Best Air-Purifying Plants.
Want some guidance on picking an air filter? I like the Coway AirMega AP1512-HH – it’s relatively affordable, very effective at cleaning the air, fairly quiet and a low-energy user (it’s Energy Star Certified), and you can turn off the display lights, so you can run it in the bedroom while sleeping and still keep the room dark, as it should be!
Minimize prescription drugs
Medications are meant to help reduce suffering, but often times, they do more harm than good, especially when multiple drugs are combined. And many medications – like persistent environmental toxins – are difficult for our bodies to get rid of. This is often by design, yet adds to the body’s overall already too-high toxin burden.
And in the context of reversing and preventing diabetes, some prescription drugs can actually accelerate the development of diabetes as an unintended side effect (3, 4).
So doing what you can to limit your use of prescription drugs will help minimize your body’s toxin burden, limit the damage that prescription drugs often do, and reduce the risk of causing or worsening diabetes.
If you have diabetes or prediabetes, or you have a family history of either, and you want to do all you can to prevent or reverse these conditions, you have lots of possible tools to help you! And one of the most important tools is taking care of toxins, especially when the other key tools haven’t been enough to turn things around for you.
So if you have tried a low carb, nutrient dense (Paleo) diet, intermittent fasting, working on your digestion, and/or boosting your immunity, and you still aren’t consistently able to get/keep your blood sugar in the optimal range, then look to toxins as the culprit.
We are all exposed to environmental toxins every day, throughout our lives, and they can do a considerable amount of damage to our bodies, including our ability to properly regulate blood sugar. But there are many actions you can take to both lower your incoming toxin load and boost your body’s natural detoxification processes, to lighten your body’s overall toxin burden, heal from toxin damage, and optimize your overall health. Those actions include:
- Detoxing your diet
- By eating:
- Carefully sourced proteins and fats
- Organic fruits and vegetables
- Soaked legumes
- Detoxifying foods (the ABCs of detox)
- And by avoiding:
- Processed seed oils (aka vegetable oils)
- Drinking plenty of filtered water + electrolytes
- Choosing low-toxin personal care products
- Keeping your home and office clean naturally
- Take off your shoes
- Damp-dust and vacuum regularly
- Use nontoxic cleaning products
- Run a HEPA filter
- Add more plants
- Minimize prescription drugs
- By eating:
Want to learn more about effective detoxing, so you can improve your overall health and well-being, now and for the years ahead?
If you’d like to do a deeper dive into the what, why and how of detoxing naturally, and learn all about the foods, beverages and activities that boost your body’s natural detoxification processes, then check out my acclaimed e-course, Dr. Emily’s 10-Day Detox.
In it, you will learn exactly what to do, why, and how, and then you can detox naturally again and again over your lifetime, any time you feel like your body needs a cleansing boost. Many of my detox course students find it very helpful to do the detox quarterly, and they consistently get amazing, life-changing results from it each and every time.