Exposome seems like a made-up word someone’s coined up, right? But, it’s actually one of the most important things that determines health, gene expression, and our risk of disease.
The first time I heard of the Exposome was during a podcast with Dr. Todd LePine and Dr. Mark Hyman called, The One Factor That Determines 90% of Your Risk for Disease.
The exposome is the measure of all the exposures an individual encounters in a lifetime, starting in utero (the womb).
These toxins can be both internal and external, and can include things like food, environmental toxins, air, water, heavy metals, even our thoughts and emotions can be a toxin.
Toxin exposure in the uterus includes things like stress hormones, flame retardants, plastic chemicals like phthalates and bisphenol-A (BPA), and more.
The good news is that the body is able to remove these toxins through detoxification.
A Toxic World
Exposure to toxins isn’t only exclusive to our external world. It includes everything, both inside and out, including endotoxins and exotoxins which both stem from bacteria.
It doesn’t help that we’ve created a world for ourselves that is actually pretty toxic. There is a lot of air pollution, water contamination, chemically sprayed food, and more.
Even where you choose to live will determine your level of toxin exposure. Those who live in more of a city environment, where there’s particulate matter from cars, petrol fumes, factories, etc. are more susceptible to developing breathing issues and asthma.
The water we drink has been contaminated with pesticides, flame retardants, antibiotics, hormones, medications, and more.
We are exposed to enormous amounts of toxins like these, every single day.
Even the way toxicology is studied has become old and outdated.
To work out the dosages for medication, a baseline is created by figuring out the certain dosage that produces cancer. So, if a person is given that dose, or given a dose and it doesn’t produce cancer, then it’s classified as “safe”. Not exactly fool proof. Yet that’s how we decide whether something is safe or not…
As a result of this, we’re now finding that some toxins taken at very low doses, like BPA (Bisphenol A), can actually disrupt the endocrine system. According to Dr. Todd LePine, two compounds found to have some of the biggest effects on our health in terms of small dosage amounts include Atrazine (a herbicide) and Tylenol (a paracetamol medication used to treat pain and fever).
Studies found that low doses of Atrazine, which is commonly used in corn, can actually have endocrine disrupting molecules and can cause a male frog to turn into a female (and could possibly be one of the reasons why we’re seeing decreased male fertility).
When Tylenol and alcohol are taken together at the same time, it can cause liver failure, even when having the normal prescribed amounts.
Even our thoughts have great impact and influence on our microbiome. The plethora of bacteria in the gut are constantly changing and responding to our thoughts.
The Power of the Exposome
It’s been found that the exposome has more impact on our health than even our genes, as stated by Dr. Mark Hyman, MD, a recognised leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in the field of Functional Medicine: ‘What I learned in medical school is that your health is sort of determined by your genes. You’re at risk for diabetes, you’re at risk for Alzheimer’s, you’re at risk for this and that autoimmune disease. Turns out it’s the exposome that is the thing that determines 95 percent of what happens with your health in terms of chronic disease. It’s not your DNA.’
Even if we may have a predisposition for certain diseases, like heart disease, and are more genetically vulnerable in those areas, it doesn’t necessarily mean we will develop those conditions.
Our genes don’t necessarily determine our risk for disease, our environment and what we’re exposed to have a much bigger impact. As Dr. Mark Hyman and Dr. Todd LePine so cleverly stated, ‘Our genes load the gun, our environment pulls the trigger.’
We may not be able to change our genes, but we can change how those genes are turned on or off, or how they’re expressed.
The Power of Sleep in Determining DNA Expression
Sleep quality is actually a major regulator in the function of our DNA. As Shawn Stevenson explains in his book, Eat Smarter, ‘your genetic expression (determining everything from the health of your skin, to your body composition, to your ability to prevent chronic disease) is heavily influenced by your sleep quality. Getting your sleep wrong can have catastrophic consequences, but getting your sleep right can positively transform every area of your life.’
It’s recently been found that our gut bacteria play a huge role in regulating our sleep cycles. One of the major reasons that our gut health has such a profound impact on our quality of sleep is due to the sleep-related hormones and neurotransmitters produced and/or stored in the gut. One of these hormones include Serotonin, well-known for it’s role in promoting positive mental and emotional health. But, this feel-good hormone plays a much bigger role in the body than just regulating our moods. Serotonin also helps with bone health, sexual function, regulating the movement of the digestive system, and even helps with sleep.
Approximately 90 percent of serotonin produced in the human body is found in the gastrointestinal tract. Serotonin not only helps improve sleep on its own accord, but the body also uses serotonin to make melatonin, the body’s number one sleep-regulating hormone. A 2007 report found that low levels of serotonin can be linked to insomnia.
‘Yes, melatonin is glorified as a “sleep hormone,’ says Shawn, ‘but it’s really so much more than that. It’s involved in regulating your body’s circadian timing system (influencing when various hormones are released throughout the day and night, mental energy, digestive function, etc.), as well as regulating blood pressure, body temperature, cortisol levels, antioxidant defences, and immune function.’
Shawn Stevenson shares how there are specific bacteria that interact with the cells in the gut (known as enterochromaffin cells) that produce and secrete serotonin for us. He explains how these cells are in constant communication with our bacteria cells, and if something interferes with or damages the microbiome in any way, this has a big effect on our quality of sleep.
Factors that Impact the Gut Microbiome
It’s crucial that we protect our microbiome to support healthy sleep, but it’s not just what we consume but also what we avoid consuming that will help maintain a healthy gut microbiome moving forward.
Limiting your exposure to the following will help in minimising damage to your gut bacteria:
- Pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and other agricultural chemicals
- Antibiotics (they do have a time and a place, and can be lifesaving, but what I’m referring to is more haphazard or repeated use of these gut sterilising compounds)
- Processed foods (seed oils, excess sugar and starchy foods, refined carbohydrates, etc.)
- Artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols
- Chronic stress
- Artificial food additives and preservatives
- Chlorinated water (Chlorine acts like an antibiotic in the body, and can damage gut bacteria even in small amounts)
- Poor quality sleep and sleep deprivation
- A sedentary lifestyle
Ensuring you have a healthy gut microbiome is essential for good sleep, which is an important part in regulating proper function of your DNA.
How to Reduce Your Exposome
Reducing the toxin load on the body is one of the best places to start, along with assisting the liver in detoxification of the many toxins the body is bombarded with on a daily basis. Some specific toxins to watch out for include:
Heavy metals can disrupt detoxification enzymes in the body, interfering with the body’s ability to properly detoxify, and are also thought to play a part in neurodegenerative conditions. These metals include things like mercury, lead, aluminium, arsenic, iron, and cadmium. Almost everyone has some level of heavy metal toxicity in their body.
Metals can disrupt the folding of protein, and when there is an excess amount of metals in the body, it can cause proteins to misfold. Misfolded proteins are linked to a lot of neurodegenerative conditions like ALS, or Alzheimers.
The problem with typical blood tests is, if exposure to heavy metals hasn’t been current, the body clears it after 90 days. But it doesn’t necessarily mean the body has completely gotten rid of it. It could be stored in tissues, in the liver, in the muscles, almost anywhere. It is recommended to do a urine provocation test which may help give a more accurate view of heavy metal toxicity.
It’s also important to note that these toxins don’t manifest the same way in everyone. Some may develop autism, others may develop chronic fatigue syndrome or an autoimmune disease. Each person is individual.
Pesticides, Herbicides, and More
A really harmful pesticide, which has been banned in Europe, is the neonicotinoids, which has been associated with bee colony collapse.
Pesticides are neurotoxins and have been linked to ADD and other neurological conditions.
A pesticide works by attacking the nervous system of insects. However, our nervous system is not that different. Consuming high levels of these chemicals has severe implications for our health.
The Dirty Dozen is a great guide sharing the twelve most contaminated foods, which should, ideally, be bought organic due to their high pesticide content.
Glysophate, is it to be Banned in Modern Agriculture?
Glyphosate is actually not a pesticide, but a herbicide, and is sprayed on more than 70 percent of American crops.
This herbicide is the most widely used agrochemical in the world, but what’s most concerning about it is it has the ability to destroy the human microbiome. It’s just like an antibiotic except it not only kills our gut flora, but the microbiome of the soil as well.
Increased use of Glyphosate has been correlated with conditions like Autism.
As Glyphosate is considered a herbicide, it’s “supposed” to have no affect on the human system because it works on a different pathway, the shikimate pathway. However, this pathway is also found in bacteria.
This means that Glyphosate has a direct impact on our gut microbiome. Studies have found that most kids with Autism tend to have terrible guts.
Gut bacteria have been found to be responsible for producing the social hormone, oxytocin (the ‘love molecule’). It’s thought that when there is a disruption in the microbiome, it could also disrupt the social network of your gut, which may play a role, one of many factors, in the rise in Autism seen today.
Persistent Organic Pollutants (PCBs – polychlorinated biphenyl)
These toxins are generally lipid soluble meaning they love fat. This results in these toxins being stored in the body as fat where they stay, indefinitely, as the body is not able to detoxify them until the fat is used.
They accumulate overtime and can disrupt the endocrine system, affect thyroid function, and may even cause insulin resistance. Upregulating your body’s natural detoxification system can help in effectively flushing these toxins out.
Food is Medicine
Foods like broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, Brussel sprouts, watercress, arugula (basically any cruciferous vegetables) can help to upregulate detoxification. Green tea and various nutrients like selenium and all the B vitamins can assist with detoxing, too.
It’s very important to have alkaline urine to help with urinary excretion of toxins. It’s recommended to have a pH of 7 or above, which has been shown to help facilitate detoxification. Drinking plenty of water and eating a plant-rich diet will help to alkalise your urine.
Eliminating toxins through poop (to put it plainly) is the final stage of detoxification. If you’re severely constipated, it exposes you to more toxins over time as the faecal matter ferments in your bowel. Things like milk thistle, selenium, acetylcysteine, and folic acid are wonderful herbs and vitamins to help your body detoxify.
Sweating out the toxins in a sauna is also extremely effective (I prefer using a red light therapy sauna). Exercising can also be a great way to sweat, too, and also gets the lymph and blood moving in your body, helping you detoxify better. (Some other ways to help detox).
Thoughts can be toxic. It’s really important to be mindful of the inner dialogue you’re using and how you talk to yourself. It’s about being more conscious of how you think and respond to the events that arise in your life. We don’t always have the power to change things outside of ourselves, but we do have the power in how we choose to respond. There’s a powerful difference between responding and reacting. One gives you the power to choose, the other, you give up your power and allow life take the wheel, reacting unconsciously to things around you.
We’re naturally energetic beings. We give off our own electromagnetic frequency. Planet Earth has its’ own electromagnetic field, too. Therefore, it’s only natural that our bodies interact with bioenergetic fields around us. More and more evidence is finding that continuous, long-term exposure to non-native EMFs has a big impact on the immune system.
To counteract the effects of EMFs on the body, studies have found that immersing yourself in nature for extended periods of time, away from EMF fields, can actually reset the body’s natural circadian rhythm, helping you to sleep better.
Check out ewg.org for more on reducing your exposure to toxins through skin care products, sunscreens, household cleaning products, foods, soaps, shampoos, beauty products, EMFs, and more. These are the things we have control over. It’s almost impossible to eliminate all toxins in our modern world, but we can dramatically reduce our exposure through mindful choices. For medical professional help in improving your body’s ability to detoxify, find your local functional medicine practitioner near you, or see here for more healthy living tips from Mark.
As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor before trying or using any new products. I am not a doctor. All opinions expressed are my own personal thoughts and feelings of the products mentioned. Check with your doctor or health practitioner if you are uncertain about trying out any of the products, recipes or tips mentioned in this post.
How do you reduce your exposure to toxins? Share in the comments below.
Lots of love,