Environmental Toxins and Auto­Immune Disease

3 Hidden Toxins Every Auto­Immune Sufferer Should Be Aware Of

Most people are aware that chemicals exist in our environment that can damage our health. Lead, mercury, radon, formaldehyde, benzene and cadmium are well known names of chemicals that occur naturally, and have the potential to cause diseases such as cancers, hormone disorders, growth and development diseases and auto­immune disease.

But in the last 100 years, many new chemicals have emerged along with the industrial revolution, and for most of them, science doesn’t even know the ways they could impact our health. Over 80,000 chemicals have been introduced into our society since 1900, and only 550 have been tested for safety. Some of those which have shown the potential for a negative impact on our health include BPA (bisphenol A), phthalates, and pesticides.

But increasing awareness of the sources and impact of many of these chemicals and their impact on health has helped to increase government regulation and ensure some of them are eliminated from our environment. Lead has been removed from our petrol, paint and pipes, mercury has been taken out of thermometers and cadmium has been reduced from industrial waste. But there are simply too many sources of environmental toxins for science to keep up with identifying them all and we are still learning day by day which of these toxins can profoundly affect our health. Here are three lesser known sources of environmental toxins that could be affecting your auto­immune disease, and which you should look out for to take better control of your health.

Amalgam (Silver) Tooth Fillings

You may think your smile looks good, but what lurks behind your pearly whites? For 150 years the use of amalgam for tooth filling has been popular as a cheap and durable substance for use in dentistry. However, a survey in the U.S. revealed that 72% of people with amalgam fillings weren’t aware that the amalgam filling material is composed of 50% elemental mercury. This mercury has been shown to leech from the fillings in small amounts and usually in vapour form. Once you are exposed to mercury, it can hang around in the body in a process known as bioaccumulation, ‘sticking’ in the body tissues such as the kidneys and the brain. It’s not surprising to then learn that 92% of those surveyed wished they had known about the potential risk of mercury in amalgam fillings before having them put in.

Mercury that enters the body can damage healthy gut bacteria and affect the integrity of the gut barrier, spilling on to auto­immune disease. It’s important to talk to your dentist before getting your fillings placed, because it isn’t simple to remove amalgam fillings once they have been put in. If you believe your amalgam filling are affecting your health, discuss the options with your dentist in terms of removing the amalgam and using a safer filling product.

Certain Plastic Containers and Drink Bottles

BPA or Bisphenol A is a type of plastic that has been used since the 1960s in plastic bottles and containers, and in the linings of some cans. BPA can leech out of these plastic containers, bottles and linings and enter our food. Once in the body, BPA acts as a xenoestrogen, a compound that mimics the effect of natural estrogen in the body. Xenoestrogens pose a problem to our health, because any excess of oestrogen in the body will decrease the body’s natural production of oestrogen, and cause hormonal disorders.

A recent study has also highlighted the exacerbating effect of BPA on auto­immune disorders, which is created through a variety of pathways including the disruption of oestrogen signalling and other immune mediators.

Plastics can also contain another group of ‘softening’ chemicals called phthalates which also affect the health by imbalancing hormone levels, and there is emerging evidence that they can trigger auto­immune disease in susceptible individuals.

Avoiding the negative effects of these chemicals leeched from plastics mean storing food and drinks in containers that are BPA and phthalate free where possible, or using glass, ceramic or china containers. Avoid heating food and drinks inside plastic containers or in contact with cling wrap. Using less canned foods also means less exposure to the chemical that can leak from the can’s lining.


Pesticides are used on almost all of our fresh foods, because they allow farmers to produce a higher yield of crops without loss of profits or damage caused by insects and pests. However, concerns have been raised over the safety of these chemicals being used on food sources, particularly without adequate safety testing. Pesticides have been known to cause headaches, fatigue, insomnia, dizziness, hand tremors, and other neurological symptoms, while licensed pesticide applicators have a 20­200% increased risk of developing diabetes.

Pesticides in food products can be avoided by choosing organic produce. Soak and scrub all fruits and vegetables whether conventional or organic to remove any chemical residues. If you find organic food too expensive to buy on a regular basis, focus on choosing organic for just those fruits and vegetables that usually have the most pesticides, called the ‘Dirty Dozen’, including apples, strawberries, celery, peaches and spinach.

With these tips you can focus on eliminating some of the most common environmental toxins to help manage your auto­immune disease and enjoy better health.


  • Schmidt CW. Questions Persist: Environmental Factors in Auto­immune Disease.  Environmental Health Perspectives. 2011;119(6):A248­A253.
  • Datis Kharrazian, “The Potential Roles of Bisphenol A (BPA) Pathogenesis in Autoimmunity,” auto­immune Diseases, vol. 2014, Article ID 743616, 12 pages, 2014. doi:10.1155/2014/743616