Published On: Sat, Aug 24th, 2013

Toxic Chemicals in Our Environment and the Role of Biotransformation

 chemicalsby Kean Ashurst

Biotransformation refers to metabolizing enzymes that play a major role in regulating drug metabolism and minimizing the mutagenic effects of chemicals that we encounter on a daily basis in our environment. These mutagenic chemicals can be absorbed topically through the skin, inhaled from the air we breathe, the water we drink, or the food we eat.  

The danger lies in a very important but well understood fact that the “single dose” level of these chemicals we receive on a one time or casual basis may not harm us. If our body’s  immune system is operating at optimal levels- we are able to repel this intrusion; but what if we were bombarded daily with multiple intrusions from the food we eat, the air we breathe and the water we drink?

Our immune system can become compromised, and if and when it does, we age faster, and our chances of acquiring some form of chronic disease dramatically increases over time. 

For example: 

  • Moderate exposure to UV light from the sun is very beneficial in that it aids in the synthesis of vitamin D, whereas over exposure to UV light from the sun can result in skin cancer. 
  • The pollutants and particulates in the air create oxidative stress that contributes to inflammatory effects in the human upper airway— resulting in chronic asthma.
  • Phthalates have crept into widespread use over the last several decades because of their many beneficial chemical properties. Now they are ubiquitous, not just in the products in which they are intentionally used, but also as contaminants in just about anything.  About a billion pounds per year are produced worldwide. Intentional uses of phthalates include; softeners of plastics, oily substances in perfumes, additives to hairsprays, lubricants and wood finishers. And guess where that “NEW CAR SMELL” we like so much comes from? Phthalates leaching into the air from the plastic dash cover. Much of the existing literature on phthalates’ toxicological properties focuses on the old approach to toxicology: high level exposure for cancer endpoints, and occupational exposure leading to adult infertility. New studies reveal that low-dose toxicity of phthalates during crucial windows of fetal development by (DBP) and diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) produced dramatic changes in male sexual characteristics. Well guess what it is found in our plastic bottled drinking water? How much do you consume every day?
  • Chlorine used in our drinking water to protect us from microbiological hazards has worked for many years in the United States and has provided us with the safest water supply in the world. But what about the HOT STEAMY SHOWER we all enjoy at the end of the day. Chlorine can vaporize into a gas and enter our lungs.  Low doses of chlorine gas over a life time of 50 years may be attributed to many upper respiratory problems in our later life.

agricultureThese are just a few of the environment contaminates we encounter on a daily basis. The result is manifested with chronic fatigue, malaise and inflammation, (the silent killer).

Inflammation is the immune system’s response to tissue injury. It eliminates the offending agent, removes the debris and initiates healing.  However, when the immune system employs oxidative activity to do its work, and when oxidation gets out of balance, inflammation can cascade out of control. Long-term, chronic inflammation is associated with atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases, various cancers, intestinal malabsorption, macular degeneration, prostate hypertrophy and multiple degenerative neurological diseases.   

 What has changed over time is the bombardment of various types of compounds on our bodies, and this has increased with “development” in our society.   Everywhere we turn we encounter a new contaminant;  thus, this is the price of a technically advanced society! 

 The above issues replace the many problems our ancestors had when they came to this great country.

 Today we enjoy a better quality of life, we have fewer deaths in childbirth, we don’t starve in harsh winters, we have a greater assortment of food available, we are not contracting yellow fever or small pox, and we live 30 to 50 years longer than  men and women did in 1795.

 And NOW, we have a solution to aging and chronic disease– and it can be found in our diet. We can boost our antioxidant reserves through diet and science-based nutritional supplements. It’s ok to have an occasional fast food hamburger or pizza on Friday night with the family, but don’t make it the only meal of choice every day of the week. 

 We can minimize the mutagenic effects of chemicals accumulating in the body and slow down the aging process by consuming fresh fruits and vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli in particular, contain high concentrations of glucosinolates that metabolize into isothiocyanates (ITC’s) and indoles (I3C’s). These compounds modulate biotransformation enzyme systems, (e.g., cytochromes P450 and conjugating enzymes), that may contribute to a reduced risk of chronic diseases. There are two main groups of biotransformation enzymes; Phase I enzymes, (i.e., cytochromes P450), convert hydrophobic compounds to reactive electrophiles by oxidation, to prepare them for water soluble reactions with Phase II enzymes, (i.e., glutathione S transferases (GST) glucuronosyltransferases (UGT), N-acetyl-transferases), so toxic compounds can be excreted from the body. 

 The unique effectiveness of cruciferous vegetables to protect against chronic and neoplastic disease is attributed to the fact that they are the richest sources of glucosinolates in the human diet. Glucosinolates, (β-thioglycoside-N-hydroxysulfates), are hydrolyzed by the plant enzyme myrosinase when the cells in the plant come together, releasing the biologically active isothiocyanates (ITC). If myrosinase has been inactivated, (with cooking, for instance), intestinal microbial metabolism of glucosinolates also contributes to ITC exposure, but at a lower level. Sulforaphane from broccoli is the most studied and most active of these ITC compounds, and it functions as an indirect antioxidant and chemical detoxifier.

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