Environmental pollutants trigger chronic pain
Increasingly, more people from around the world are suffering from great discomfort in their limbs. This may begin as an itchy or tingling sensation, pins and needles, or numbness, and can develop into intense pain. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find relief.
The condition, Peripheral Neuropathy (PN), affects a million Canadians and much more in the US.
What is “Neuropathy”?
Neuropathy is nerve damage, a complex issue usually as a result of injury, infection, metabolic (energy from food) problems, or other underlying health issues, such as diabetes or Lyme disease. Peripheral neuropathy refers to the dysfunction of nerves outside the brain and spinal cord.more
Three types of nerves can be affected:
Automatic or involuntary nerves, involving heart rate, blood pressure, or sweating - symptoms can manifest as heat intolerance; bowel, bladder, or digestive problems; and dizziness or light-headedness brought about by changes in blood pressure.
Motor nerves, involving muscle control - symptoms manifest as muscle weakness or paralysis.
Sensory nerves, sensations passing back to the brain, such as cold, heat, or pain signals - symptoms manifest as numbness, tingling, burning in feet or hands developing to legs or arms, extreme sensitivity to touch, or lack of coordination
What is Toxic Peripheral Neuropathy?
This is when the human nervous system is affected by exposure to toxic industrial chemicals in the workplace, environmental pollutants, or certain pharmaceuticals (after either limited or long-term exposure).
Typical sources of poisonous toxins that can cause PN are industrial chemicals, heavy metals, and pharmaceuticals. Heavy metals are known to cause PN are lead, arsenic, thallium, and mercury.
“Toxic metals can cause or contribute to a long list of diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other brain and neurological disorders. While the medical establishment recognizes the acute toxicity that comes from high levels of metals in your body, far more people suffer the adverse effects of low-level, chronic exposure.” - Dr. Joseph Mercola, DO.
How have we been exposed to toxins?
Exposure to heavy metals may occur from diet, medications, pesticides, insecticides, or solvents. Environmental pollution is a further source of toxins; for example, unlined landfills can affect air quality and groundwater sources.
Due to legislative action, the use of lead, arsenic, thallium, and mercury in industrial chemicals has been significantly reduced. Unfortunately, many of us have been exposed to these toxic substances already. They were quietly accumulating inside of us as we grew up in a time of unrestricted chemical use.
The decision to limit the industrial use of toxic substances does not simply make them disappear from our environment.
Our living and working environments remain affected - this is clearly illustrated by the growing number of people today with toxicity-related diseases and illnesses. To complicate this issue further, some pharmaceuticals may make the problem worse; several products have now been specifically identified as being the cause of toxic peripheral neuropathy.
Mercury in industrial waste
A classic example of the effect of environmental contamination is the Minimata Bay disaster. In the 1950s, industrial waste was consistently dumped into Japan’s Minimata Bay. As a result, mercury accumulated to exceedingly high concentrations in local fish. Although some adults did develop signs and symptoms of toxicity, the greatest impact was on the next generation, many of whom were born with severe neurological defects.
Why do environmental health problems go unnoticed?
Most physicians are not trained to ask questions about patients' work practices or environment regarding toxic chemical exposures and especially heavy metals; most do not understand the source of the symptoms and why they are occurring in the first place.
Which heavy metal affects nervous systems the most?
Although removed from gasoline and most house paints several decades ago, lead is still in the environment. Our accumulated levels of lead are a great deal higher than those of people who lived before the industrial age.
“We continue to be exposed to lead from our soil and water sources. It is now inside our bones, where it is stored. Nearly 40 percent of all Americans are estimated to have blood levels of lead high enough to cause serious health problems. In Washington, DC, the water was so contaminated with lead recently that the government had to provide free water filters for everyone in the city. Up to 20 percent of the city’s tap water may be contaminated”. - Mark Hyman, MD.
How is lead affecting us?
One study of lead toxicity showed unsettling results. The study tracked 13,946 adults over a 12-year span and was published in the conservative medical journal Circulation in 2006. Researchers found that:
- A blood level of lead over two micrograms caused a dramatic increase in heart attacks, strokes, and death.
- Deaths from heart disease increased by 55 percent.
- Risk of heart attacks increased by 151 percent.
- Risk of stroke increased by 89 percent.
- The risk of death from any cause for people who had lead levels over two micrograms rose 25 percent.
(According to the CDC in the US and Statistics Canada, the average blood lead level for adults is 1.2 micrograms.)
One group particularly affected by lead is postmenopausal women. A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that high blood pressure in this group is strongly correlated to blood lead levels. This is because bones break down faster during menopause, releasing their stored lead, injuring blood vessels, and leading to high blood pressure.
“So what was arsenic doing in our chicken, anyway?” (BloombergView - Oct 10, 2013)
Necessary for pressure-treated wood and wood preservatives, arsenic is also used in animal feed (strangely enough to promote growth - fortunately, this type of application has recently been considerably reduced.) Arsenic is also found in herbicides, pesticides, metal alloys, cigarettes, and in semiconductors.
Human exposure to arsenic is still mainly through groundwater, with drinking water posing the greatest threat to health. In 2010, the World Health Organization called effects of arsenic in the drinking water in Bangladesh, “the largest mass poisoning of a population in history.” Investigations revealed that a large part of that heavily populated country developed PN after extensive exposure to arsenic.
Neuropathy symptoms from arsenic begin 2-3 weeks after the first exposure. Pain starts in the lower extremities and later changes to numbness and weakness. Eventually the unpleasant symptoms progress to the upper extremities.
Not well-known but just as harmful
Originally used for killing rodents and ants, Thallium is a toxic substance that is still used in some medical procedures today. It was banned from use in pesticides in the 1970s, but thallium is still part of certain manufacturing processes, some electronics, lens production, and imitation jewelry.
The problems and symptoms associated with thallium poisoning are similar to arsenic poisoning. The pain gets progressively worse depending on the extent and length of exposure. It mainly causes sensory nerve damage. This develops within 1 to 2 weeks after exposure. Just as in PN from other metals, the pain and sensations in the nerves are excruciating.
Reducing accumulated toxicity
Accumulated toxicity is at the core of toxic peripheral neuropathy, and may well be the reason for chronic neuropathic pain. Given the prevalence of heavy metal toxicity in our world today, reducing accumulated toxicity is a practical solution.
“Heavy metal toxicity, just like chemical toxicity, has become one of the most pressing health hazards of our day. Your body is assailed by chemicals and heavy metals on a daily basis. It has now gotten to the point where babies are BORN toxic due to the toxic load of their mothers.” (Dr. Joseph Mercola, DO.)
We cannot always escape toxins in our environment and are bound to accumulate them over our lives, even if we weren’t born with toxins already inside us. The best we can do for ourselves is detoxify our bodies, before anything else, as a first step to regaining our health.
We know that if you are experiencing toxic peripheral neuropathic pain, and especially if it has been for some time, it may seem that you don't have any options. But maybe this is one area worth following up. We have seen people turn their health around after years of suffering from this condition.