The Dirt On Toxins

Dirt and a scoop of dirt on a tabletop

When introducing patients to the concept of toxin avoidance—one of FoundationMED’s five critical lifestyle interventions—I often refer to it as the “low hanging fruit”. This is not to undervalue its importance or the crucial role it plays in shifting your underlying health.  Rather, it’s because improvement in this area involves less dramatic behavior change and more awareness and understanding.  


To start, simple changes in your purchasing choices can yield potentially big results.  Upgrading your personal care and household products as you need to replace or replenish them can be an effective place to start, once you know what to avoid.  A great resource is the Environmental Working Group’s website (  There you will find several consumer guides on everything from skin care products, to seafood safety, to healthy cleaning and household products.


Toxin reduction is also closely tied to the other 4 lifestyle areas. Here are other simple shifts:

Nutrition:  Any of our recommended food plans will have one thing in common—a focus on high-quality, whole, unprocessed food.  Plant based foods should, as much as possible, be non-GMO, free of pesticides, insecticides and herbicides (i.e. organic),  and dairy and meats should also be organic and  come from pasture-raised and/or grass-fed animals.  Properly filtered water is also critical—and we strongly recommend a filter or filtration system that removes fluoride from your household water supply.  It’s also important to ditch the plastics and non-stick cookware in your kitchen.  Use glass, ceramic or stainless steel for food preparation, consumption and storage.

Movement: In general, movement and exercise aids the lymphatic system and improves circulation by burning more fat and eliminating toxins from the fat cells. We recommend getting a good “sweat” everyday, ideally by way of exercise/exertion, which doesn’t take too much effort during the hot summer months!

Sleep: Getting the proper amount and quality of sleep allows the brain to recharge and remove waste that has accumulated throughout the day.  One of those toxic byproducts is a protein called beta-amyloid, which contributes to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.  When you are sleep deprived (consistently getting 6 hours or fewer a night), the “rest and repair” cycle doesn’t get a chance to properly do its job.  

Stress: Prolonged exposure to stress decreases your ability to properly detox.  When you are in a persistent sympathetic state (fight or flight) your other systems slow down, so that you have all the energy you need to “run from the tiger”.  Your body’s natural detox strategies are hijacked, making you more susceptible to illness.  


Other factors to consider:

Exposure to environmental toxins, heavy metals, mycotoxins (molds) and chemicals, including smoking and alcohol, can cause an array of issues from gut disturbance, to hormone disruption and even mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Your FoundationMED physician has a variety of methods to assess possible exposure and will provide more targeted interventions based on lab results.


Bottom line: learning where the most common toxins can lurk and taking steps to avoid them is an important step to getting on the right track towards optimal wellness!

Kelly O'Brien, NBC-HWC Kelly Day O’Brien is a Duke Integrative Medicine trained Integrative Health Coach and has over 25 years of healthcare-related experience. As a FoundationMED Health Coach, Kelly provides resources, support and accountability as you strive to make healthy changes. She has extensive experience with the diet and lifestyle recommendations that serve as the foundation for your treatment plan. Guided by her coaching expertise, you’ll set a plan in motion to achieve your vision of optimal health. Through a collaborative partnership, you’ll identify obstacles to change and create strategies for sustainable health and wellness goals.

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