How Toxins Affect You As You Age

By now, if you are over 65, you might be experiencing subtle changes in your health as you age. You might find that you are taking longer to recover from a cold or flu, and you need to rest longer after you exercise or do a chore. You may notice other subtle changes, like patches of eczema on your skin, or ridges on your fingernails, or pervasive physical and mental fatigue. Normally, you shrug off these symptoms—you’re just grateful that you are not suffering from some drastic illness, and decide to leave well enough alone.

But if you are curious about why these changes occur, and how they might affect you in the future, you might want to learn more. As it happens, an entire body of research and scientific thought is devoted to immunosenescence, “the gradual deterioration of the immune system brought on by natural age advancement”.

Some of the research involving immunosenescence,  discusses toxins—how they enter the food we consume, and how they adversely affect our health and compromise our immune systems. It’s a contentious subject, and represents a clash of beliefs, which has been raging for decades in various books and articles, now joined by hundreds of blogs and sources online.

There are two distinct points of view, the first reflecting the beliefs of the holistic community, and the second, the views of conventional medicine:

a: Dangerous pesticides and other substances collect in our bodies over the years, and must be removed by a variety of prescribed methods.

b: Dangerous substances do enter our bodies, but are removed naturally, and as a matter of course by our own body systems. No intervention is needed.

Here is the ‘holistic’ view

Experts like Laura Barklay, writing on behalf of the Algonquin College of Applied Arts and Technology, outlines the beliefs commonly found in the holistic and alternative communities. She poses a convincing argument.

“These days we are exposed daily to high levels of toxins (i.e. chemicals, pesticides, water contaminants, food preservatives, heavy metals and electromagnetic radiation) through our food, water, air, body and home products. These toxins lodge in the bowel, liver, kidneys, lymphatic system and especially fat tissue. The toxic build up prevents the normal uptake and utilization of nutrients. It reduces the body’s oxygen uptake and creates an acidic, septic, low-energy state, prone to disease.”

The conventional view, and the rebuttal

The medical and scientific community, representing doctors and conventional clinicians, are strident in their response.  Negative reports, like this 2014 Guardian article, You Can’t Detox Your Body. It’s a Myth, appear regularly in the media:

“If toxins did build up in a way your body couldn’t excrete, you’d likely be dead or in need of serious medical intervention. The healthy body has kidneys, a liver, skin, even lungs that are detoxifying as we speak, there is no known way – certainly not through detox treatments – to make something that works perfectly well in a healthy body work better.”

rebuttal, Is Detoxing Really a Myth? written by Ben Greenfield, appeared in an edition of the Huffington Post a short time later:

“And while heavy metals are only one form of a toxin that can accumulate in your tissues, there is no doubt that science has proven that these toxins can indeed be removed via the use of these specific “detox” compounds found in nature. So when the article in The Guardian“guffaws” at the ideas of superfoods such as spirulina, I would actually beg to differ.”

A promising shift in the debate

Key the word, toxins, online, and you will see that the debate rages on. It’s becoming increasingly clear, though, that the long-held beliefs of the holistic community are gradually making inroads into conventional thinking about detoxification. The biggest support comes from scientific experts in the field of medicine, like (Hope4Cancer), which is pioneering radical methods of preventing and treating cancer.

Everyday threats, they say, eventually take a toll over the years. A lifetime of stress, as well as exposure to radiation, chemicals and diseases, can indeed contribute to a diminished immune system. And here is their response to the claim that the body can detoxify itself:

“Our body’s built-in detoxification pathways are powered by important organs: the intestines, skin, lungs, liver and kidneys. These organs, when healthy, eliminate toxins. But when our body is overloaded and overwhelmed with toxins, the functioning of these organs can deteriorate and become unable to handle the toxin build-up. “

Finally, a short quiz from Dr. Subrata Chakravarty Ph.D of Hope4Cancer, to help you identify some of the symptoms of toxicity:

“Is your body toxic?”

So we’ve now explored why detoxification is critical. Could your body be toxic? You might benefit from detoxification if you have some of the following symptoms:

Constant fatigue
Regular muscle aches and pains
Weight you just can’t shed
Bad breath
Constipation, bloating or irritable bowel syndrome
Broken-out skin, rashes, acne, puffy eyes, eczema or psoriasis
Sensitivity to smells
Arthritis or gout
Mental fatigue

I feel I have waded into shark infested waters with the introduction of this topic. There are many aspects to toxicity, and many suggestions about how to fix it—herbal cleanses,  antioxidants, and especially the use of saunas may be effective measures. So, I’ll be back with more!

It’s important to note, when reading the above list of symptoms, that it applies to the general population, and is a commentary on toxicity, and not a diagnosis of cancer.
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33 Responses to How Toxins Affect You As You Age

  1. For years and years I have only bought organic chicken. It costs more but after I saw how the poor chickens were raised, it turned my stomach to think about eating chickens from a big producer. Then came the report about chicken from those producers having a large level of arsenic. When we had our heavy metals tested we didn’t have any arsenic in our blood. What you eat is very important.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Our food is only a part of it, unfortunately. There are other toxins lurking in many other products we use. Which is why I’ve avoided this topic for years—too complicated! But I’m kind of forced into it now, since I seem to be more susceptible than I used to be.

  2. Janis says:

    I probably come down somewhere in the middle of this debate. I think it’s foolish to deny that we aren’t impacted by the chemicals and toxins all around us. On the other hand, I wonder how much many of the “fixes” work (except to line the pockets of the providers). I am interested in reading more about what you’ve discovered.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Janis, I decided long ago not to listen to the scare mongering on this topic. But I’m taking it more seriously now!

  3. Good grief–immunosenescence? That’s something I didn’t know I’d have to worry about. But it makes sense. All our bodily systems are wearing out, so why not the immune system too? Funny you should publish this today. I’m in Wyoming on vacation, and woke up sick this morning. I’ve asked my doctor via email to send a prescription to the nearest pharmacy. Regarding toxins and all that, I have a young friend who is a D.O., physician, and she does detoxifying monthly with a fast and some kind of special juice drinks. She’s lost 100 pounds in 18 months. But she’s a lot younger than we are. Looking forward to your next post on this topic!

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      The process of detoxifying is fascinating. There are so many different theories! I’ll be ticking most of them off in the next few posts, and I’m looking forward to hearing your feedback!

  4. aunt beulah says:

    Really, Diane, i have not given this issue much thought and knew little about the debate. But, once again, you’ve opened my eyes and forced me to think. I am looking forward to your next piece and will be paying more attention to the debate. Thank you.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      I’m finally taking it seriously now, Aunt Beulah. I’ve had chronic cold-like symptoms this summer, and am looking into the reasons why—it’s been a mystery!

  5. Interesting article, and so far I don’t have the symptoms you list, so I’ll stick with what I’m doing until something drastically changes.

  6. DJan says:

    I don’t have those symptoms, but I do know that everything in my body is beginning to wear down, so why not my immune system? I take several vitamins that are supposed to boost it, and I try to stay away from GMOs and non-organic food. Prescription drugs are a huge drain on our systems, so I take only what I must. Thought-provoking post. Thank you. 🙂

  7. Rummuser says:

    A very interesting post on a topic that is of great interest to me being a very senior citizen that I am. Thank you. The suggestion to detoxify sounds good and I shall explore it further.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      I wrote this article to raise awareness only, and hope that readers do their own explorations from here. I’d also advise that anyone undertaking efforts to detoxify involve a naturopath or other trusted professional. Most conventional doctors won’t support this, as I have learned.

      • Rummuser says:

        The Indian Ayurvedic system revolves around detoxification and there are any number of spas available under the care of trained Ayurvedic physicians.

        • Still the Lucky Few says:

          I am VERY well acquainted with Ayervedic healing, and went to a practitioner for years. When he moved away, I couldn’t find another one, and missed his wisdom and advice tremendously! I have since done a lot of reading about it, and follow some practices today. Thanks for bringing this up—I think the Ayervedic approach to detoxification is above reproach!

  8. May says:

    Another great article thank you. I have read far too much on this topic this last decade and it makes me want to pull my hair out. I am diabetic and already have to traverse the food and drug mine field daily. I cook from scratch when possible, eat local as much as I can and grow a nice summer garden. Still, this effort is a losing battle. Each year the chip fall and the system struggles, it is obvious I’ll never be a centenarian.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Being a diabetic complicates things, for sure. My husband lives with that condition, and I find it necessary to cook from scratch every day. He has a sweet tooth, and struggles daily with cravings for desserts and sweets. We have been using stevia for years—that helps a lot. And no, it isn’t a losing battle. You are aware, and that makes success more of a likelihood.

  9. Susan R says:

    I’m the daughter of an MD and a former medical editor. I’m devoted to traditional allopathic medicine and ideas and understand that as I age, my immune system is weakening (as is everything else). That’s perfectly normal. To date none of my doctors has suggested detoxifying, fasting, cleansing, avoidance of GMOs or non-organic foods, etc. I’m very skeptical of such things, consider them fads, and am inclined to think all of them originated as a way for someone to make money. If I die from not having done those things, you can laugh at me then.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Thanks, Susan. Glad to have your feedback. You have very strong opinions about this, and, of course, they reflect your experiences and background. My own experiences with the medical community is that allopathic doctors do not engage in preventive measures—they see their role as treating infirmity. Can you imagine going to your doctor with vague symptoms such as constant fatigue, muscle aches, rashes, or (God forbid) ridges on your fingernails! Yet everyone of those conditions are indications that you are not in optimum health, and you may be in the earlier stages of something more serious. I believe in being aware of what is going on in our bodies, and doing everything we can to stay healthy for as long as possible—in other words, taking responsibility for our health. Many of the measures you mention do help us to support our immune systems and stay well. And if people do earn a living while helping others, that’s fine with me.

  10. Very topical article for me. I have noticed big changes in my skin and fingernails, especially. I’ll have to do some research on what you’ve said.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      I’ve had such symptoms for years. After a truly disturbing bout with a spring cold this year, which has resulted in a blocked eustachian tube, I’ve decided to stop going to doctors (who haven’t helped) and do some research myself. It has been a learning experience!

  11. Susan R says:

    I do pay attention to my health, although not as much as I probably should. I report anything unusual to my doctor and together we figure out what’s going on. I see her every 6 months for check-ups, more often if I’m concerned about something. If there were good solid research that tedoxifying, etc. made a difference, and if my doctor were recommending it, then of course I’d consider it. Meanwhile, I’m due for a flu shot, and that’s certainly preventative.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Flu shots are effective, but not necessarily for all older people. I don’t know what can explain the cold I got this March, after having the flu shot last fall. It was the most severe illness I’d ever had, and really frightened me. I am still feeling the effects now, several months later. I think my immune system is not responding like it used to, flu shot or not. There may be a time span during which it is effective, which of course, had lapsed.

      • Susan R says:

        Flu and colds are not the same thing. Flu is viral and colds are generally bacterial, so the flu shot would not have prevented your cold. (It’s formulated each year specifically for the flu strains that are expected to be most common that winter.) Yes, our immune systems naturally weaken as we age, so it gets more difficult to fight off infections of all kinds. The flu vaccine for seniors is much stronger than that for younger people, to compensate for our weaker immune systems.

        • Still the Lucky Few says:

          Thanks, Susan! I stand corrected. I recall that I didn’t have a fever, chills, or the weakness generally associated with the flu, so it was probably a cold.

  12. Joe Wasylyk says:

    How are we going to survive as seniors 50+ in order to maximize our human potential and maintain our good health situation? We probably need to look at a more ‘holistic approach’ for identifying what is really going on in our bodies. In addition to de-detoxifying for better physical health we probably also need to bring into the picture our own mental, emotional, and spiritual health concerns. Also, our DNA could have some important information about how susceptible we are to to any major diseases. I’m hoping that instead of listening to ‘magic wand’ health & wellness practitioners we could develop some more cutting edge digital healthcare products that could steer us in the right direction with respect to optimum health & productive longevity.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Allopathic medicine is relatively new, in the scheme of things, but holistic medicine has developed over eons of time. Surely we can trust the wisdom of herbalism and healers who have developed their craft and helped people throughout history. Ancient knowledge is actually the foundation of today’s medicines and treatments. Anyone who has studied the history of herbalism is awed by what has been achieved by these practitioners. That knowledge, partnered with cutting edge digital products could be a powerhouse.

  13. joared says:

    I’ve long believed our bodies have increasingly been exposed to and adversely affected in a cumulative manner to all sorts of foreign toxins, chemicals and who knows what else which some body systems are better able to dispel or adapt to than others. I’m more likely to accept health information that has developed from verifiable conclusions reached through the scientific method. I do give consideration to anecdotal accounts of what individuals report as being effective, but believe follow-up study important.

    Bottom line is we each have to know our bodies and take responsibility for researching what works for us — always keeping in mind the power of the placebo effect. From what I know there is a lack of consistent reliable oversight of other approaches to providing health care treatments than those derived from scientific method results. I would be extremely cautious implementing solutions offered for effective interventions to address people’s health issues by any other approach as they can be rife with exploitive treatments.

    To do no harm has to be a mandatory guarantee, then individuals are free to expend their funds however they want and can reach their own conclusions about the effectiveness — if successful — was it just coincidental natural self-healing? — was it the treatment? — was it the placebo effect? — why not then submit treatment by designing hypothesis for scientific study method so other independent scientists can see if they can replicate reliably with meaningful numbers of people?

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Unfortunately, the herbal and supplement industry has had to depend on anecdotal accounts for verification of success. This is not without merit. Thousands of years of cultural history stand behind many of the claims made. I have used herbal preparations, and have had some amazing results, which I am sure I didn’t ‘imagine’. Your final paragraph outlines how complex research into scientific proof might be. It’s a topic I’m looking into, and plan to write about. Thanks for your thought provoking comment, Joared!

  14. Lynne Spreen says:

    Fingernail ridging? That’s happening to me, and I never really knew why. Now I’m going to look it up. Thanks, Diane. If I have to suffer the negatives of physical aging, at least I have you in the wheelhouse with me!

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      I think weakened nails (and ridges) are a sign of toxins in our bodies or maybe some deficiency due to not absorbing the nutrients in food. I am doing a gentle herbal cleanse of my liver, and using probiotics for my digestive system. I’m also cutting out meat. Something is working, and my nails are much stronger, although I still have the ridges. Actually there are always signs of something missing or not working well, if we just knew how to read them!

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