Healthy Life

What day to day environmental toxins do we encounter that can impact our brain health? 

February 7, 2024

There are potential harmful chemicals in almost everything we touch, from household cleaning products to the make-up we use and the air we breathe. Prolonged exposure to these chemicals have the capability of negatively impacting our brain health and contributing towards neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in later life.

These chemicals can either be inhaled into our respiratory system or come into contact with the skin, the largest organ and protective barrier of the human body. There they work to penetrate the skin’s surface, making their way into the bloodstream or, if inhaled, the lungs. These toxins are considered to be harmful, and sometimes even fatal. The question is, what are we coming into contact with on a daily basis that we could possibly avoid, or switch out to with a healthier alternative… 

  1. Household cleaning products: many cleaning products contain chemicals including ammonia, bleach and volatile compounds, commonly known as (VOCs). Each one of these releases fumes into the air and can become a danger when there is exposure for long periods of time. This can lead to respiratory issues damaging the central nervous system and further impacting cognitive function in the long term. 
  1. Make-up products: whether opting for a natural look or heavy glam, make-up products are in constant contact with the skin. Fortunately over the last few years, the beauty industry has shifted away from using carcinogens such as silica and parabens in favour of more natural alternatives. For example, castor oil for skin hydration. 

“According to current European laws, all cosmetics approved for use must be completely safe for their users, and the responsibility for this lies with manufacturers, distributors, and importers.”

There are however some companies that continue to use toxic substances within their products such as phthalates and heavy metals, and over time these toxic chemicals are absorbed through the skin. While the body’s biological systems are designed to eliminate these toxins, when they’re overwhelmed toxic effects such as headaches, memory loss and poor concentration can begin to take place. 

  1. Cigarette smoke: in 2007, the smoking ban came into effect with the hope of sparing future generations the side-effects associated with chronic exposure to cigarette smoke. Exposure on a daily basis can contribute to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the third leading cause of death worldwide which further impacts brain health. (World Health Organization, 2022). Symptoms include neurocognitive dysfunction and brain structural abnormalities which pave the way for neurodegenerative diseases including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. 
  1. Pesticides: these are chemical compounds that are used to kill pests, but according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), approximately 80% of an individual pesticide is used indoors. Pesticides contribute to a range of cognitive and psychomotor impairments, including memory loss, attention deficits and a loss of alertness. When next selecting your indoor plant pesticide spray, be sure to opt for a natural alternative that uses cinnamon or vinegar as a repellent. Prolonged exposure to ‘outdoor pesticides’ can contain neurotoxic substances that can damage long-term cognition and function. 
  1. Air Pollution: traffic-related air pollution significantly impacts our brain health. Evidence has shown that when we inhale exhaust fumes there is a clear link to cognitive decline in later life. When we breathe these fumes in, the central nervous system becomes inflamed and according to the recent paper, ‘The Effects of Air Pollution on the Brain’, this type of pollution not only contributes to cognitive decline but it can further impact behaviour and psychomotor skills.

The relationship between toxins and neurodegenerative diseases is complex, however it is clear that certain toxins can contribute to the development or progression of neurological conditions primarily through oxidative stress and inflammation.

While there is evidence suggesting an association between environmental toxins and cognitive decline, it’s important to note that this is not the only link. Many factors can contribute, including genetics, lifestyle and overall health. However, by reducing exposure to toxins and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, the risk of cognitive decline in later life can be significantly reduced.