Why Are We So Sick?
What are we doing about it?
By Eve Hillary

What if tonight’s evening news included a special feature about a rapidly spreading but silent epidemic: killing, maiming and destroying millions of human lives worldwide.

As our attention is captured by the chilling scenario, we focus on the TV screen while the epidemic is described:“ Undetectable by the human eye, often colourless, odourless, it is airborne, waterborne, food borne, capable of invading human genes and altering genetic codes that can be passed on to future generations.”
The newsreader informs us that this mysterious entity is capable of causing birth defects, immune and endocrine dysfunction, behavioural disorders, learning disabilities, cancer, brain dysfunction, reproductive problems and wholesale infertility. It is not confined to a lab with elaborate security measures but has found its way into the global environment, is moving up the food chain and coming to a place near you. We might briefly wonder what life would be like with an invisible and stealthy predator among us. A virus? Or some other virulent microorganism? If so, imagine the public outrage. Politicians and public would unite in their call for immediate research and funding to develop vaccinations, prevention measures and treatment for unfortunate sufferers. Imagine how you feel when the newsreader goes on to report that some of those responsible for this global epidemic have known about the consequences for years but have done nothing because profits were at stake.
Science fiction? No. This scenario is science fact, and the ‘substance’ is any number of 75000 potentially toxic synthetic chemicals in common use, released into the environment each day by way of consumer products.
The human consequences of chemical exposure occur around the world each day. In Chile, Eugenia Mejias gave birth to a child with a swollen brain, and deformed hands, feet, and spine. Eugenia, like many other chemically exposed parents in Chile, worked in the fruit export industry .
Recently in Brazil, more than a dozen coffee farmers died from the effects of a pesticide. They are not isolated cases. The World Health Organization estimates that in developing countries alone there is a minimum of 3 million cases of acute pesticide poisonings each year.
Unfortunately, the course of chemical exposure is not confined to an isolated event but usually means ill health for years to come, often ending in death from an exposure related illness. An example of this occurred in 1984, when an explosion rocked the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, India, killing thousands of men, women and children within weeks. Still today, among those who lived in the vicinity of the Union Carbide factory, 15 people die each month from the aftereffects of the deadly methyl isocyanate gas, an ingredient in many chemical products.
It is easy for us to remain in our comfort zone when we are faced with the horrible images of an industrial disaster. However, if we live in pleasant, tree-lined suburbs and towns away from chain link perimeter fences and chimney stacks belching out the acrid odours of the chemical industry, we think we are somehow immune to chemical exposure. But we are unaware that we purchase carcinogens and other toxic products from our store shelves almost every day.
Almost none of these products contain adequate labeling as to their potential health effects. So we continue our dangerous ignorance, unaware that thousands sustain chemically related illness. Some are reported in the newspaper, such as the residents of a youth hostel in Sydney who became ill after the hostel had been fumigated. Others are silent victims such as the 50 year-old Melbourne man fighting for his life in a hospital intensive care unit, after ingesting a commonly used garden pesticide recently. The man suffered abnormal sensations throughout his body and a pervasive angst that he would die or go insane, while his heart galloped in a bizarre rhythm. He suffered numerous crises and staff had to revive him with atropine, the antidote to the deadly nerve poison. While attached to monitoring equipment and lifesaving intravenous infusions, he could not grasp the fact that this poison could cause lifelong health problems. There was no information on the label to that effect. The product he misused in an impulsive and ill conceived moment of self destruction was a chemical relative to nerve gas used in warfare, readily available in stores. The job it was designed to do killing garden pests could have been achieved by a number of nontoxic or least toxic products.
Meanwhile, a few years previously, a child became permanently incapacitated after being exposed to chemicals his school used to exterminate cockroaches. This intellectually gifted 14 year-old was once in robust good health, but is now forced to stay in a controlled home environment because of his extreme sensitivity to even small amounts of chemicals. For him there will be no get-togethers with friends at pubs or clubs, and few opportunities to meet girls his age. He lives a life of isolation, as do countless other adults and children, because someone manufactured a product with more regard to profit than safety. A faultily-designed child’s cot or stroller that maimed or killed even one child would have been recalled or withdrawn from the market. Not so, it seems with chemicals. These casualties are not seen on the evening news, but form a silent epidemic of millions worldwide, many of whom will never be able to live a normal life again.
It is difficult to understand why these chemicals are still on the market. According to the USEPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency), 70% of all pesticides in use are based on fraudulent reports of animal safely tests, and manipulated data. To date, only two companies and responsible employees have been convicted of fraud. However, these products are still in use. The bad news is: no toxicity data is available for 80% of the 49,000 chemicals in commercial use. And of the 75,000 chemicals in daily use, complete toxicity data is available on only 2%. That means government regulators, who are continually assuring us they have conducted a full risk assessment, actually have little or no data on which to make their assessment. When asked how these assessments are done, “world’s best practice” is often cited. This means government regulating authorities will take the manufacturer’s assurances about the safety of their product. In most cases no independent test data is available. The consumer would be well advised to remember this when they make the next purchase particularly a personal care product that will end up in or on the body.
It is not merely pesticides that put people at risk. In 1995 a British teenager died after routinely spraying underarm deodorant in a confined space. Highly fragranced aerosol personal care products especially geared towards the teenage market often contain a variety of potentially toxic chemicals including petrochemical derived fragrances, propellants and heavy metals such as aluminum. Many other personal care products, including shampoo, routinely contain chemicals that are known to cause blindness, tremors, dermatitis and damage to various organs. According to the (US) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, there are on the market 183 chemicals that cause convulsions, 62 causing paralysis, 177 that cause tremors, 179 causing weakness, 131 causing central nervous system depression, 125 causing narcosis, 25 causing hallucinations, 25 causing delirium, 40 causing depression and 119 causing sleep disturbances. These chemicals are commonly used in consumer products and are available to anyone who ventures into a retail outlet.
Recent research indicates it is not necessary to have high level chemical exposure to produce clinically evident health effects. Varying degrees of chemical exposures have now been implicated in ADD/ADHD, learning and behavioural disorders, Parkinson’s disease, multiple chemical sensitivities/chronic fatigue syndrome, cancer, infertility, motor neuron disease, autism, asthma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, depression and countless other serious disorders .
The steeply climbing rates of cancer and other illness, despite daily reports of new medical breakthroughs, tell us the public are misinformed when they are told genetic factors are wholly responsible for many diseases. There is something going on that cannot be accounted for by genetic changes, as they take generations to manifest. However, the new thinking of functional medicine and environmental medicine involves the determination of environmental factors. A growing body of medical research reveals that exposing human cells to carcinogens and other harmful chemicals (such as are found in many consumer items) is asking for trouble. Secondly, it is now known that good nutrition is vital to detoxifying manmade chemicals within the human body.
According to Dr. Jeffrey Bland, a leading US researcher, bathing human cells (and genes) in a cocktail of alcohol, junk food, sugar and chemicals will further increase the risk of illness no matter how strong or sturdy a person’s genetic legacy is.
Conversely, avoiding unnecessary chemical exposure by using least-toxic or non-toxic options and ensuring we get the essential nutrients daily is crucial to maintaining health, and could possibly even offset a predisposing genetic weakness. In other words, most cancers and many other diseases might be entirely preventable. Over the last 50 years humans have changed the face of the earth. The chemical revolution has brought us consumer delights as well as the toxic soup we now live in. Our current agricultural practices have brought us chemically laden foods, depleted of vital nutrients, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and antioxidants. Twenty-first century lifestyles are frantically paced. Many family breadwinners are locked into impossible work schedules in order to meet the high cost of living. Stress has become a catchphrase and is now epidemic. Living on fast food is becoming accepted as a timesaving necessity. Most of these foods contain any number of chemical preservatives, colourings and artificial flavours. This puts humans in a crucible for which they were never designed, and we are melting down, and hitting the wall in ever increasing numbers. Our physiology is on a collision course with our environment because our bodies consume more nutrients when under stress and require more nutrients and antioxidants to process our toxic environments as well as the toxic foods we choose to eat. Many seemingly functional people are teetering on the edge of their body’s ability to cope with their environment and lifestyle. Ever increasing numbers are sick and tired and don’t know why.
The solution to this dilemma requires a quantum leap in thinking and awareness. Firstly, we need to understand that there is no meaningful regulation over the toxic cocktail of consumer items. It is up to the individual consumer to seek out companies that manufacture non-harmful, non-carcinogenic products. This is important to reduce the risk of chemically related illness, but also to reduce the total chemical load (or oxidative stress) on the body. This has now become the personal responsibility of each individual consumer. We only have to sniff the air to realize there is no benevolent government department ensuring our environment is clean.
Secondly, according to a Rutgers University (USA) study, the nutrient content of non-organically grown vegetables is extremely low. This means we are not getting the essential nutrients from our food, no matter how ‘good’ our diet might be. In short, if we live in a toxic and stressful environment, and eat any kind of conventionally grown food, we should probably consider taking nutrient supplements.
The twenty-first century will pose challenges humans have never encountered before. Orthodox medicine still tries to solve new health problems in outmoded ways. Governments cannot keep abreast of regulating new technology. But there are some exciting changes afoot. The internet has given the public access to information. Books and pamphlets abound with previously inaccessible information. And it is just as well, as it will be more essential than ever before to be well informed about health issues. Our future health might literally depend on it. The good news is that knowledge is power, an old saying, but never more relevant than today. We now have the power in our hands to reduce our toxic load by making informed choices about the products we use and to ensure our intake of nutrients is adequate. These two factors alone can potentially improve our health, prevent illness and create a better world for our children. And we can start today. All it takes is making the decision that the planet, your children and you are worth it.