What are POPs?

POPs or Persistent Organic Pollutants are organic compounds that are resistant to environmental degradation through chemical and biological processes. Exposure to POPs have been linked to cancer, neurobehavioral disorders and severe illnesses.  They persist in our environment, bio-accumulate in human and animal tissues, bio-magnify in food chains, and have potentially significant negative impacts on our health and environment. Many POPs are currently or were historically used as pesticides. Others are used in industrial processes and in the production of a range of goods such as solvents and pharmaceuticals. There are a few natural sources of POPs, however most are created by humans in industrial processes, either intentionally or as byproducts. POPs disturb hormonal functioning and have negative impacts on our reproductive and immune systems.  Read on to learn more!

Here is a list of common POPs to watch out for and try to avoid as much as possible:

DDE (Dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene) is a breakdown product of DDT, which is a banned pesticide. However, we can be exposed to DDE through air, food and water. DDE and DDT can accumulate in humans and can lead to nerve impairment, which can result in altered sensation and tremors.

Bisphenol A (BPA)
This well-known harmful chemical has been banned from the majority of plastic bottles, but it is still found in plastic food containers and in the lining of canned foods. There is evidence to suggest that low-level exposure to BPA, may lead to persistent alterations in hormonal, developmental, metabolic, and/or reproductive processes later in life.

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) consist of  over 100 different chemicals that are formed during the incomplete burning of coal, oil and gas, garbage, or other organic substances like tobacco or charbroiled meat. We are exposed to PAHs by eating grilled meats and vegetables, by breathing in air from wild fires, and car exhaust. With BBQ season just around the corner, it is important to not burn your meats and ensure you pick low-fat meats to reduce the amount of PAHs you are exposed to.

Phthalates 
This chemical has been shown to effect leptin and insulin levels (which have an effect on our body's metabolism). Phthalates are used to make plastics more flexible. These plastics are found in toothbrushes, food containers, toys and cosmetics. Phthalates have also been classified as a possible carcinogen (cancer causing agent) by the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer). 

PBDEs (Polybrominated diphenyl ethers) & PBBs (polybrominted diphenyls) are used as flame retardants in furniture, carpets, curtains, computers, and TVs. However, we can also be exposed through dietary intake. PBDEs are not manufactured in Canada but are imported from other countries in different forms. Animal studies have shown liver, kidney, thyroid, and immune system effects from long-term exposure to high doses. Like phthalates, the IARC has classified these as possible carcinogens. 

VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) are used in dry cleaning, perfumes, detergents and nail polish removers. We are exposed to VOCs most commonly for a short period of time but at high levels. Exposure can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, confusion and change in one's balance. 

So what are some ways you can reduce and avoid exposure to POPs? 

1. Eat Clean and Organic food
I know it can be difficult to eat organic all of the time, but please do so as much as possible.  If you eat non-organic meat remove the skin and fat first as most chemicals accumulate in the fat so this will decrease your exposure to carcinogens. Peel the skin on non-organic fruits and vegetables as well. Sticking to the 'Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen' will reduce your toxic load as well.   See our article on organic produce for more information.

2. Grow your own herbs and vegetables
It is true what they say--freshly picked fruits and vegetables taste so much better!  An added bonus is that you control the amount of pesticide you need (in some cases, you do not require any!) and the kind of pesticide you use.  Some vegetables require more attention and space, but herbs such as basil, rosemary, and cilantro are easy to grow and do not require much space at all.

3. Buy more plants
Plants help clean the air. Some of the best plants for cleaning the air include ficus, peace lilies, mass cane and the snake plant. 

4. Drink water!
Check out Dr. Michelle Peris's post on water to learn all the benefits of drinking enough. Water also encourages the elimination of toxins from our body.  

5. Avoid fish with the highest mercury content 
These fish include: swordfish, tuna, shark, lobster, halibut, snapper and farmed or Atlantic salmon. 

6. Exercise every day  
Help eliminate toxins through getting your sweat on daily!

best in health,
kate kokoski 

 

Resources:
www.ewg.org 
Kennedy, Deborah (2012). Environmental medicine. Lecture at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine. March 9.
Petty, Lisa (2012). Is something else making us fat? Chemicals in our environment may be contributing. From alive magazine April, 2012 pg 69-73. 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persistent_organic_pollutant

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