Every year on April 22, we celebrate Earth Day. Earth Day was founded in 1970, by Gaylord Nelson, a Wisconsin Senator, who had become particularly concerned about the deteriorating environment in the United States. Since it’s first observance, Earth Day has become the largest civic event in the world, with over 1 billion people participating every year. And the goal has always been to lessen the human impact on the Earth. But despite decades of Earth Day celebrations, we are still living in a toxic environment. And in some ways, it has gotten worse.
Humans have been exposed to toxins for hundreds of years. One of the first connections made was during the days of the Roman Empire, when it was discovered that water coming from lead pipes was actually deadly. As society grew, it seemed that exposure to toxins was limited to specific careers, like coal miners inhaling toxic dust. But with the industrial revolution, came greater exposure to more people and that growth has not stopped, nor has our exposure to toxins in our environment.
There are eight specific ways that daily toxin exposure can damage our bodies. Here’s how:
1. Toxins poison enzymes so they don’t work properly. Our bodies are enzyme engines. Every physiological function depends on enzymes to manufacture molecules, produce energy and create cell structures. Toxins damage enzymes and thus undermine countless bodily functions—inhibiting the production of hemoglobin in the blood, for example, or lowering the body’s capacity to prevent the free-radical damage that accelerates aging.
2. Toxins displace structural minerals, resulting in weaker bones. People need to maintain healthy bone mass for lifelong mobility. When toxins displace the calcium present in bone, there is a twofold effect: weaker skeletal structures and increased toxins, released by bone loss, which circulate throughout the body.
3. Toxins damage the organs. Toxins damage nearly all your organs and systems. If your digestive tract, liver, and kidneys are so toxic they are unable to detox effectively, your detoxification will backfire and your body will remain toxic.
4. Toxins damage DNA, which increases the rate of aging and degeneration. Many commonly used pesticides, phthalates, improperly detoxified estrogens, and products containing benzene, damage DNA.
5. Toxins modify gene expression. Our genes switch off and on to adapt to changes in our bodies and the outer environment. But many toxins activate or suppress our genes in undesirable ways.
6. Toxins damage cell membranes so they don’t respond properly. “Signaling” in the body happens in the cell membranes. Damage to these membranes prevents them from getting important messages—insulin not signaling the cells to absorb more sugar, for example, or muscle cells not responding to the message from magnesium to relax.
7. Toxins interfere with hormones and cause imbalances. They induce, inhibit, mimic, and block hormones. One example: Arsenic disrupts thyroid hormone receptors on the cells, so the cells don’t get the message from the thyroid hormones that cause them to rev up metabolism. The result is inexplicable fatigue.
8. Toxins actually impair your ability to detoxify. When you are very toxic and desperately need to detoxify, it’s harder to do than when you are not toxic. In other words, just when you need your detox systems most (to address health issues), your hard-working detox system is most likely to be functioning below par. Why? Because the heavy toxic load you already carry has overwhelmed your detox capacity. That’s right. The more toxins you have burdening your body, the greater the damage to your body’s detoxification pathways.
This may seem hopeless because we are surrounded by toxins everywhere we turn. Toxins can be found in every aspect of life where humans come into contact with nature. We are exposed to toxins in our water, our air and our food. In fact, it is currently estimated that we ingest about a credit card’s worth of microplastics per week!! All of this causes harm to our bodies over time and can lead to chronic conditions like leaky gut, arthritis, diabetes and much more.
But this is where East Asian Medicine and the 5 elements that this medicine focuses on, can be very beneficial. And linking it all to the observance of Earth Day can lead to some vast improvement, both individually and globally.
East Asian Medicine views the world and everything within it as having aspects of five elements.
These Five Elements are:
- Fire: associated with the heart, tongue, circulation and heat.
- Earth: associated with the spleen, stomach, mouth, muscles and damp weather.
- Metal: associated with the lungs, nose, skin and dry weather.
- Water: associated with the kidneys, ears, bones and cold.
- Wood: associated with the liver, gallbladder, eyes and wind.
Each is associated with a season, as well as with certain organs, flavors, tissues, colors, etc. Each element also promotes and controls another. And each of us has a different constitution of these five elements within us. When the elements are imbalanced, we can fall ill, experience emotional and mental distress, suffer from pain and generally just feel out of whack.
But acupuncture and herbal formulas can help restore balance to your body, while also helping to eliminate toxic buildup in your system. A good example is when a patient presents with chronic constipation. Maybe this patient needs to eat more fiber and drink more water, which most of us need to do. But the constipation could be caused by the excess buildup of biofilms in the gastrointestinal tract, coupled with a sick gut microbiome and poor circulation. All of these issues can be addressed using East Asian Medicine and the 5 elements. Constipation is frequently attributed to the elements of earth and water. Once this is determined, the acupuncturist can use points and herbs that help bring balance back to these elements, while eliminating waste and toxins.
Earth Day is a great day to get started on your healing journey. Not only can you do things within your own home and neighborhood, but you can help on a global level too. Let’s say you decide to use less plastic in your everyday life, meaning using reusable bags for groceries or glass containers for storage. This also contributes to decreasing the amount of microplastics that end up in our water supply and ultimately in your body. It’s a win – win situation. But that’s just half the battle. If you then add in a weekly acupuncture treatment, you can start healing your body and mind. This can lead to increased energy and happiness, less physical pain, improved sleep and more. With a healthier body, you can then choose to help around the neighborhood. Possibly participating in a neighborhood clean up effort or starting a community garden or volunteering your time with others in need. The possibilities are endless.
So this Earth Day, focus on ways that you can extend your reach. And instead of observing Earth Day just one day per year, make it into an everyday celebration of reducing your personal toxic load, as well as your global footprint.