Chemical Toxicity

February 1, 2017

Chemical Toxicity

Everything in the physical world around us is made of chemicals. The earth we walk on, the air we breathe, the food we eat, the cars we drive, and the houses we live in are all made of various chemicals. Living organisms such as plants, animals, and humans are also made of chemicals.

Some of the chemicals we contact in our daily lives are man-made. Many more chemicals which we are exposed to each day occur naturally and are found in our food, in the air, and in water. There are far more natural chemicals in our environment than man-made ones. Both man-made and natural chemicals can have poisonous effects. Man-made chemicals are in use all around us – from pesticides to cosmetics and baby bottles to computers our day today life depends on them.

Many useful household projects contain toxic chemicals. Common examples include:

  • drain cleaner
  • laundry detergent
  • furniture polish
  • gasoline
  • pesticides
  • ammonia
  • toilet bowl cleaner
  • motor oil
  • rubbing alcohol
  • bleach
  • battery acid

In other cases, toxic chemicals are simply a by-product of metabolism. Some natural elements and minerals are poisonous. Here are some examples of natural toxic chemicals:

  • mercury
  • snake venom
  • caffeine in coffee, tea, kola and cocoa
  • arsenic
  • ricin from castor beans
  • petroleum
  • hydrogen sulfide
  • chlorine gas
  • smoke

What makes chemicals toxic?

Exposure to toxic chemicals in food, water and air is linked to millions of deaths, and costs billions of dollars every year. The term toxicity is used to express how poisonous a chemical is. Scientists distinguish between two kinds of toxicity: acute and chronic.

  • Acute toxicity – A poisonous effect produced by a single, short-term exposure to a toxic chemical, resulting in obvious health effects and even death of the organism.
  • Chronic toxicity – A poisonous effect that is produced by a long period of exposure to a moderate, less-than-acute dose of some toxic chemical.

Chemicals can be toxic because they can harm us when they enter or contact the body. Exposure to a toxic substance such as gasoline can affect your health. Since drinking gasoline can cause burns, vomiting, diarrhea and, in very large amounts, drowsiness or death, it is toxic. Some chemicals are hazardous because of their physical properties: they can explode, burn or react easily with other chemicals. Since gasoline can burn and its vapors can explode, gasoline is also hazardous. A chemical can be toxic, or hazardous, or both.

Chemicals that can cause chemical poisoning include toxins and toxicants. Chemicals that are produced by living organisms are called toxins. There are a wide variety of toxins, including biotoxins, which cause biotoxin poisoning. Examples of biotoxins include snake venom, honey bee venom, and cyanotoxin, which is produced by blue-green algae.

Toxicants are chemicals are synthetic or are natural substances that are not produced by a living organism. There are a wide variety of toxicants, such as pesticides, chlorine, ammonia, pepper spray, and acetone.

Once a toxic substance has contacted the body it may have either acute (immediate) or chronic (long term) effects.

Example – Spilling acid on your hand will cause immediate harm, i.e. a burn to the skin.

Exposure to asbestos or tobacco smoke may result in lung cancer after as much as twenty years (this is a long term effect).

Routes of Entry

There are three primary routes of entry into the body: ingestion, skin or eye absorption, and inhalation.

  • Ingestion – This means taking a material into the body by mouth (swallowing). Ingestion of toxic materials may occur as a result of eating in a contaminated work area.
  • Absorption – Substances that contact the eye and the skin may be either absorbed into the body or cause local effects. For the majority of organic compounds, the contribution from skin absorption to the total exposure should not be neglected.
  • Inhalation – This means taking a material into the body by breathing it in. In the lungs, very tiny blood vessels are in constant contact with the air we breathe in. As a result, airborne contaminants can be easily absorbed through this tissue. In the occupational environment, this is generally the most important route of entry.


Chemical poisoning can be caused by exposure or ingestion of ammonia, antifreeze, art supplies, batteries, chemical cleaning products, chlorine, cosmetics, dicholorodiphenyltricholoroethane (DDT), disinfectants, drain cleaners, fungicides, gasoline, some glues, heavy metals (cadmium, mercury, and lead), herbicides, some house plants, insecticides, mothballs, mouthwashes, some mushrooms, nail adhesive or polish, paints, pesticides, petroleum products, recreational drugs, solvents, toilet cleaners, and purposeful ingestion of toxic substances.

Local proximity to landfills or industrial complexes can also statistically increase the probability of exposure.

The improper or excess use of one or more medications can also cause chemical poisoning.

Chemicals in food – Advertisements and labels on food packaging can be very misleading and often play on the consumer’s concerns about mysterious “nasty chemicals”. Campaigns of this sort overlook the fact that our food is made of chemicals, be they naturally occurring or synthetic. EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) is a common preservative and is especially useful in oils and fats. Sodium nitrite (NaNO2) is used as a preservative in processed and smoked meats like bacon, salami and pastrami.


Signs of chemical poisoning can appear in seconds or hours, depending on the type of poison, exposure quantity, and individual genetic makeup and resistance.

Symptoms include asthma, blurred vision, breathing difficulties, choking, coughing, delirium, diarrhea, digestive problems, dizziness, dry mouth, faintness, fatigue, headache, itching, nausea, nervous system disorders, skin rashes, stomach pain, sweating, and vomiting.

Other chemicals, such as nerve agents or some types of venom, affect the nervous system. Symptoms can include paralysis.

Some chemicals, such as cyanide, can interfere with the body’s use of oxygen. Poisoning can result in coma apnea, and cardiac arrest. Chemical poisoning by narcotic drugs, such as morphine or heroin, depress the body’s respirations and can also result in apnea and death.

Some chemicals, such as mace and tear gas, can cause irritation, discomfort to the eyes, and temporary blindness, but do not usually result in permanent complications.

Corrosive liquids can cause burning in the throat and esophagus upon ingestion. Generally, do not induce vomiting unless advised by your poison control centre, naturopath, or other health practitioner.

Poisoning can lead to decreased and/or cessation of function of one or more internal organs. Again, medical attention is strongly recommended. The liver and kidneys are particularly at risk when chemical poisoning occurs and measures must be taken to restore these organs to full health. Pneumonia may also be experienced.


Biodetoxification – The biodetoxification process is designed to remove toxicants using three basic mechanisms –

  • Mobilization of bound chemicals from storage sites through lipolysis (the breakdown of fatty tissues).
  • Enhancement of the body’s natural systems of detoxification and biotransformation.
  • Enhancement of excretion and inhibition of re-absorption.

These three mechanisms permit acceleration of the body’s system of detoxification, making it possible to decrease the time normally required to reduce a body burden of toxicants from months to weeks.

Alpha-lipoic acid is known as the “antioxidant’s antioxidant” or the “universal antioxidant”. In addition to being a powerful coenzyme, this antioxidant enhances the effectiveness of several antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, glutathione, and coenzyme Q10.

Grape seed extract is a nutrient primarily derived from the seeds of grapes but is also found in the skin and stems. It has powerful antioxidant properties and has protective compounds known as flavonoids. These include oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs), anthocyananins, quercetin, catechin, ellagic acid and reveratrol, which is also found in red wine.

Pycnogenol is extracted from the bark of French maritime pine trees grown in the south of France. The resulting extract contains approximately forty antioxidants and a number of flavonoid compounds, making pycnogenol one of the most potent antioxidant preparations currently available.

Acidophilus and Bifidus supplementation will restore beneficial bacteria counts in the digestive tract and promote proper function.

Cat’s claw has antioxidant properties and boosts immune system function. However, the majority of reports on this herb are anecdotal and findings are only preliminary.

Licorice root is a very good liver botanical and promotes the elimination of toxins from the body. It works as well as milk thistle (see below) in protecting and repairing the liver and both herbs often have improved results when used together.

Milk thistle promotes liver function and helps cleanse the body of toxins.

Sarsaparilla is an excellent blood purifier and is used to remedy the toxic effects of many poisons.

Selenium is a powerful antioxidant. One Brazil nut contains enough selenium to satisfy your daily requirement.

Coenzyme Q10 is a powerful antioxidant that also helps rebuild the immune system and increases tissue oxygenation.

Vitamin C supports the immune system, has antioxidant properties, and promotes the elimination of toxins.

Reference –

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