The dangers of living in a chemical world

Anna Rodgers, author of the new book Toxic World Toxic People.
Anna Rodgers, author of the new book Toxic World Toxic People.
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Every day we are exposed to hundreds of different chemicals, but is the toxic world we live in really bad for our health? Grace Hammond reports.

Anna Rodgers doesn’t subscribe to the theory that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

She’s not a scientist, nor a doctor or a dietician, but following years of research she is convinced of one thing - every years each of us come into contact with 80,000 different toxins and they’re damaging our health.

“Toxins weren’t really a problem until after the Second World War,” says Rodgers, whose book Toxic World, Toxic People has just been published. “It was then chemicals developed for use in the war began being used in industry. Now they can be found in countless products including food, cosmetics, cleaning products, building materials.”

Aluminium is one of the main toxic threats, says Rodgers, who notes that exposure to the chemical element has been linked with Alzheimer’s Disease. It has also been linked with bone density problems and is found in numerous foods, including bread, processed cheese, self-raising flour and tinned foods, such as tinned tomatoes, as well as in certain medications.

In Rodgers’ eyes, widespread acceptance of toxins is linked to “irresponsible companies”, poor regulation, and the fact that while a small amount of one chemical on its own may not cause ill health, problems can arise when it accumulates in the body and is combined with other chemicals.

“There are so many studies showing that it’s not just about the dose, it’s about the accumulation [over time], ” she says. “A chemical on its own might not be harmful, but once you add it to another chemical, that can be when the damage occurs.”

Rodgers’ major reason for writing the book was that she suffered from depression, chronic fatigue and a number of other health problems by the age of 25. Having cut out as many toxins as she can, she insists she is now “100 per cent better”

While there’s no question that toxins exist, not everybody shares Rodgers’ level of concern. Toxicologist Professor Alan Boobis points out: “We have been actively detoxifying potentially harmful chemicals in our diet for millennia, at much greater levels than those to which we are now exposed from man-made sources.” Boobis, a professor of biochemical pharmacology, and director of the Public Health England Toxicology Unit at Imperial College London, explains that the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from certain chemicals means that “very few chemicals in use today accumulate in the body”.

He stresses that advice from organisations like the Food Standards Agency, the European Food Safety Authority and the World Health Organisation, on acceptable exposures takes into account possible accumulation in the body. “There is no good evidence that exposure to chemicals at levels considered acceptable by regulatory authorities is associated with cancer or other illnesses,” he says. “Indeed, the focus on environmental chemicals can detract from addressing the major risk factors that have been identified.”

As for diet, he points out that while there are certain risks associated with seafood, these are well recognised, and dietary advice from the FSA and others balance the risks against the undoubted benefits of such food.

“Complete elimination of fish from the diet would cause considerably more harm than good,” Boobis warns. “Tinned food and conventionally farmed foods serve an important function, enabling ready access to affordable, nutritious food. There is no good evidence that either are a cause of ill health in consumers.”

Toxic World Toxic People is published by Soul Rocks on June 27, priced £21.99.