Your body may be as polluted as the environment. Government research has revealed that most people’s bodies contain pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, heavy metals, chemicals from plastics, industrial byproducts, and traces of secondhand tobacco smoke.

Long-term health effects of this pollution are being studied, but Donna Harris of Tahlequah said she now leads a different life because of her sensitivity to artificial ingredients and low-quality food.

“In order to live, I had to make huge changes in my life,” she said. “I had to change my house, my diet, and make my garden organic.”

Harris had been a healthy person. Then in 1960 she began to suffer from a variety of unexplained symptoms, including 12 years of depression. Doctors were unable to treat the problem. Harris says no physical or psychological treatment worked, but she has nothing against mainstream medicine.

“People have to question their doctors,” she said. “Sometimes it takes a lot of testing to get to the real causes. I think most of them have great intentions, and we have wonderful emergency care. But when it comes to the day-to-day diagnosis, they don’t have the time to learn some of this new information. They’re so busy doing what they’re taught to do.”

Harris was faced with chronic health issues and no information.

“It was 25 years ago when I experienced this,” she said. “Now there is so much health information on the Internet, on television and in magazines and newspapers.”

But at the time, Harris had to take charge of her own quest for a remedy. She began researching reports of other people with similar problems, and she read books about new or alternative medical ideas. That’s how she discovered she had a yeast infection in her body. She says that she healed herself by changing her diet to health foods and nutritional supplements.

“Some people don’t want to take the time and trouble,” she said. “But I’m living more consciously now. I had to take control of my health; that’s how I got to the cause of my illness.”

Harris said she believes chemicals in her environment contributed to her problems.

“We are literally bombarded daily by thousands of chemicals and substances that compromise our health,” she said. “Generally it is very slow and silent, and builds up in the body.”

Her statement about all of us being exposed to questionable chemicals and substances is backed up by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2005, the CDC released its Third National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. It described America’s exposure to 148 compounds found in consumer goods and manufacturing byproducts.

This mix of compounds in human tissue is referred to as a chemical “body burden.” The CDC report revealed that people in the United States are contaminated with pesticides, solvents, plastics and metals absorbed during the process of daily life.

The report may have only scratched the surface of the issue, considering that approximately 80,000 chemicals are registered for commercial use.

The CDC found that:

• Children often have higher concentrations of pollutants than adults, especially in the case of many heavy metals, pesticides and a group of chemicals called “phthalates” used to improve plastic.

• Children show traces of secondhand tobacco smoke at levels twice as high as adults, and nonsmoking African Americans have concentrations double that of white or Latino nonsmokers.

Two groups of products developed by E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co. — fluorotelomers and fluoropolymers — are used to make products like nonstick cookware, grease-resistant food packaging (microwave popcorn and pizza boxes), stain-resistant fabrics and carpets, shampoos, conditioners, cleaning products, electronic components, paints, and firefighting foams.

Scientists are now showing those and related compounds in people and animals all over the planet. The properties that make them useful in industry also make them almost indestructible.

Industrial chemicals are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Its staff has only 90 days to review any scientific data bearing on a new chemical’s toxicity or persistence in the environment.

Dr. James Madison, a specialist in nephrology and hypertension who practices at Tahlequah City Hospital, said avoiding hazardous chemicals is one part of a larger picture of staying healthy.

“What is accepted in medical community is that there is not enough effort to impress on our patients the importance of lifestyle,” he said.

Madison said his work has made him aware of one particular group of potentially dangerous chemicals.

“There is a huge body of work regarding advanced glycosylation end-products,” he said. “They are used in food processing and sodas. There is good evidence they are toxic. I suspect that over time we will see that these particular products are contributing to some of the changes we are seeing in older patients.”

Madison said the public’s first line of defense against toxic substances is the federal government.

“If it’s going to be something that ends up in the food supply, then that’s the whole purpose of the Food and Drug Administration,” he said.

Madison said he would support any patient who expresses an interest in avoiding sources of potentially toxic chemicals.

“I would endorse any patient’s efforts to truly commit to leading a healthier lifestyle,” he said.

Reach Keith Purtell at 684-2925 or

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