According to Dr. Steven Gundry, author of The Plant Paradox, there are seven broad categories of toxins that are widely prevalent in modern life. Avoiding them is an important step in restoring or preserving good health.
Broad spectrum antibiotics: These include both the drugs we take intentionally to treat infections, and those present in the foods we consume. Not only is it true that you are what you eat, Gundry says, “but you’re also what what you eat, eats.” In livestock farming, “antibiotics promote growth and fatness — that is why they are used, not to cure disease,” Gundry warns. Despite new regulations to curb excessive agricultural use, farm animals –especially in industrial-scale production operations–are still regularly exposed to broad-spectrum antibiotics. Overuse presents several major health concerns, from the destruction of beneficial gut flora to development antibiotic resistance.
Further, when farm animals eat a diet high in lectin-containing plants, those lectins then end up in the animals’ flesh, milk, and eggs. Take chickens, for example. A chicken’s natural diet consists mostly of insects — but factory-farmed chickens are generally fed corn, soy, and grains. The same is even true of some organic, free-range, pastured poultry.
NSAIDs: While appropriate in some cases, NSAIDs cause health problems of their own, wreaking havoc on the mucosal barrier in the small intestine and colon. Particularly when used over long periods, NSAIDs can erode the protective lining of the bowel and worsen intestinal permeability. Gundry told stories of autoimmune disease patients who initially sought medical attention for sports injuries before showing any signs of autoimmunity. Told by their physicians to “chew painkillers like Advil and Aleve like candy,” the patients later developed autoimmune conditions like lupus and Rheumatoid arthritis.
Acid blockers: Acid-blocking drugs such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) should “be avoided at all costs,” Gundry warns. PPIs are “a great tool to stop acid production in stomach” and “were life saving when we had to remove whole stomachs,” Gundry said. But our mitochondria — the energy powerhouses inside our cells — work by moving protons, and we now know that PPIs inhibit proton pumps throughout the entire body. Inhibited mitochondrial proton transfer triggers a host of health challenges, including disrupted heart and brain function.
Artificial Sweeteners: Sugar substitutes that simply did not exist 100 years ago, are now plentiful in our food supply. These chemical sweeteners can tip the gut microbiome from a healthy state into an obesogenic one. Gundry pointed out that the receptors on our tongues are not specific to any specific type of sugar. Rather, we have sweet receptors that can bind a wide range of sugars and sugar substitutes. In a case where we think we taste sugar — even if it’s an artificial sweetener — insulin production jumps up in anticipation of the sugar’s arrival. But if the actual sugar never arrives, our brains continues to receive signals to keep searching for a sweet fix. This creates a situation where “the brain feels cheated,” laying the groundwork for sugary foods addiction, Gundry says.
Endocrine disruptors: Hormone disrupting compounds are found in many plastics, cosmetics, and preservatives. These low-dose estrogen-like agents “play havoc with our hormones” and are linked to numerous health problems including metabolic diseases, female and male reproductive issues and cancers, thyroid problems, and impaired brain and neuroendocrine system development.
GMOs and Glyphosate: These two “deadly disruptors” go together, says Gundry. The majority of genetically-modified organisms in our food supply are wheat, corn and soy, that are modified specifically to withstand intense exposure to pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides. Glyphosate, the primary chemical in Monsanto’s Roundup and other herbicide products, is a known carcinogen implicated in many serious human and environmental health problems. “These compounds are rogue pattern matchers that turn genes on or off within our cells, fundamentally changing the signaling within the body,” he writes. Traces of the powerful agricultural poisons wind up in the milk and flesh of animals that eat grains and beans, as well as in crops and other products made from them — so when we eat those products, we eat the poison, too.
Blue light: The final piece of advice Gundry offers is to limit exposure to blue light. Computers, smartphones, televisions, some energy-efficient lightbulbs, and many of the other digital devices we use daily emit massive amounts of blue light, something for which our eyes and our nervous systems are not evolved.
For millennia, our daily and seasonal behavioral patterns were governed by daily and seasonal changes in sunlight exposure. In the summer, warm, long days and short nights encourage higher food consumption to fill the body with extra fuel to burn during the upcoming colder months. In the winter, colder, shorter days and longer nights meant fewer food options, less time for activities like hunting or gathering, and more time for rest and sedentary activity. At least this was the general pattern for people living in the parts of the world with more-or-less distinct seasonal changes. In more tropical regions, similar though different patterns evolved around dry versus rainy seasons.
Today, blue light dominates modern life, “creating an unnatural and practically nonstop exposure to this wavelength,” Gundry says. Our bodies associate blue light with daylight, and the consequences of this confusion are significant. Not only does blue light disrupt hormones like melatonin, which helps regulate normal sleep, but it “tricks our bodies into thinking we’re perpetually in the season with longer daylight hours” — in other words, summer. This prompts us to consistently seek food and bulk up in anticipation of what our bodies assume is an upcoming winter season. In actuality, that dark season never comes, owing to the constant stream of blue light emanating from our screens and light fixtures.
Gundry encourages patients to avoid blue light as much as possible, particularly in the evenings after sunset. In his book, he presents several blue light reduction strategies to help restore natural rhythms, from apps that adjust light emission to blue-blocking glasses and lightbulbs. He encourages regular exposure to sunlight, ideally for an hour each day at or near midday, and recommends refraining from sunscreen use, excepting zinc- or titanium-based products.