If your body generates excessive free radicals, it can overwhelm antioxidant defenses. When this takes place you enter a state called oxidative stress. It’s the cause of many chronic diseases.
The poisons in our environment are major sources of free radicals and oxidative stress.
For those keen to remain physically young, this poses a special threat because telomeres are vulnerable to cumulative toxic exposure. With the help of a microscope, you can see the consequences in your telomeres — a shorter length. And in due course you may see a reduced lifespan.
Yet in some cases, toxins are linked to longer telomeres. Is this a good thing? Will such toxins extend our lives?
Read on to learn what scientists know about this strange puzzle.
2,4-D: Growing Use of a Dangerous Pesticide
Pesticides: More than 1,200 farm workers were questioned on their lifetime use of 48 pesticides and herbicides. Shorter telomeres were linked to five poisons still in daily use and two that are now banned.
In another study, 57 agricultural chemicals were evaluated in 568 agricultural workers. Two of the chemicals were significantly associated with reduced telomere length.
Only one poison was linked to shortened telomeres in both studies. It’s a weed-killer or herbicide called 2,4-D
In 2015, an agency of the World Health Organization believed there was “strong evidence that 2,4-D induces oxidative stress… and moderate evidence that 2,4-D causes immunosuppression….”
They classified it as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
This herbicide is used on farms, home lawns, roadsides, industrial areas, and pastures. It’s found in over a thousand products sold in the United States.
Three years ago, the EPA authorized the combination of 2,4-D with another weed killer, Roundup, for use on genetically engineered crops. The Department of Agriculture estimates that this means 2,4-D use will increase by a factor or two times to six times over by 2020.
Cadmium & Lead Will Shorten Your Life
Heavy Metals: Although found at highest levels in cigarette smokers, cadmium finds its way into all of us from fossil fuel burning, house dust and municipal waste incineration.
Several studies have linked exposure to shorter telomeres. In one large study of nearly 9,000 Americans, telomere length was six percent shorter in those with the highest levels of blood cadmium. This corresponds to 11 years of biological aging.
As for lead, blood levels were measured in 144 Chinese battery manufacturing workers exposed to it every working day. Six out of every ten had extremely high lead levels and significantly shorter white blood cell telomere length than did those with lower levels of lead.
Lead is still found in the paintwork of older homes and in drinking water via lead piping in many old homes and buildings and in towns and cities with out-of-date water systems. It used to be thought safe for use in water pipes.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons: This airborne pollutant is a product of combustion. It is therefore widespread in the environment. Several studies have linked greater exposure with shorter telomere length.
Quality nutrition, regular exercise, healthy sleep and stress management all help maintain telomeres and may lengthen them.
But strange as it seems, some chemicals act through different mechanisms to increase telomeres in a dangerous way. Very long telomeres reflect uncontrolled cell growth – like what is seen in cancer.
These chemicals include dioxins and furans formed in many industrial processes; arsenic, found in water and some foods; airborne particulate matter and benzene from tobacco, gasoline and petroleum products; and – even though banned – polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) which can still be detected in high fat animal products.
With tens of thousands of chemicals and toxins in our environment, there is only so much we can do, but it would be wise to whatever we can.
Steps we can take include filtering water, eating organic food, avoiding genetically engineered crops which are heavily sprayed with chemicals, buying greener household cleaners, cosmetics and personal care products, and reducing the use of plastics and chemicals in cooking (microwave meals and non-stick cookware).
To avoid air pollution, move away from major highways if possible, and surround yourself with greenery.