The Total Body Load or Toxic Load Explained

By Dr. Susan Tanner, MD

Chronic health problems can be frustrating and difficult to understand. Patients don’t always grasp why, after years of good health, they are now constantly suffering and faced with multiple health issues and symptoms. Many times, I have found it helpful to explain to my patients that it is not the “what” but the “why” that I am most concerned with and want to suss out to help them get better. In other words, we shouldn’t just focus on the obvious symptoms and on trying to give them a name or a diagnosis, but on why those symptoms are occurring.  So many diagnoses are given to patients that do not provide solutions or help with treatment, and I have heard them all–chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, lupus-like syndrome, somatic depressive disorder, the list goes on and on. And, while these are all very real entities, figuring out their root causes is much more important than giving them each a label.

When a patient comes to me with chronic symptoms or illness and a previous diagnosis of exclusion, I like to take a step back and look at things a little differently. My goal is to bring, not only some peace of mind, but a strategy and solutions to improve health. I like to find out everything about the patient’s environment, health history, stress, diet, etc. to start looking for actionable steps that will alleviate some symptoms. The patient’s relief over feeling listened to and realizing that “I’m not crazy, there is a reason I feel so horrible” is usually the first step toward getting better!

Environmental Medicine’s View of Chronic Illness

As a board-certified physician in Environmental Medicine, there were truths that were presented to me in my studies that I found to hold true in most of the patients that I treated over the years. Understanding these truths can help you understand why your body reacts the way that it does and can become ill over time when subject to certain environments, stressors, or toxins.

Truths Important to Remember for Health:

1.        Your genetics load the gun. Your environment pulls the trigger.   Every patient has a genetically-predetermined threshold of tolerance for illnesses and environmental exposures.  When this threshold is surpassed, and the body is “full”, it is unable to “fight” back effectively and illness occurs.

2.       Environmental medical doctors refer to the body’s threshold as the “body load”. Anything can contribute to body load, including but not limited to past infections, viruses, medications, chemicals, molds, chronic stress, surgeries, lack of exercise, and poor diet.  Almost every illness occurs when this body-load threshold has been exceeded.  Everything we do as far as treatment is geared toward decreasing the load, so that the body can get back on track.

3.       You reduce your body load by addressing the components that caused it.  That may take the form of reducing the toxins, such as mold or chemicals, in your environment, changing your diet, addressing underlying infections, improving your nutrition, reducing outside stressor, just to name a few.

4.       The body has a remarkable ability to “adapt and switch”.  Your symptoms may change from headaches, to rash, to gastrointestinal symptoms, to muscles aches and pains, to something entirely different, whenever the body load is increased for any reason. Additionally, certain foods, chemicals and even fragrances may seem fine, but then suddenly they are not. Symptoms can be triggered by a seemingly safe substance.  For example, exposure to mold may cause sudden headaches or breathing problems with one exposure, then completely change and manifest as numbness, tingling or dizziness the next time. Often, this makes patients think their symptoms are totally unrelated, when, in fact, all of their symptoms are being triggered by the same thing, like mold.

The 3 Universal Requirements for Long-Term Health

Overall, however, regardless of who the patient is or what their specific symptoms are, the three things that are absolutely required in order to start the healing process are the same:

Clean Air

Clean Water

Clean Food

Each of these necessities is a huge topic in and of itself, but the purpose of this article is to get you thinking about how you might start looking at your own body load and start addressing the things filling your toxic bucket, so that you can heal and live your best life. For that purpose, let’s go down our list of the 3 health requirements one-by-one and address each with simple modifications or solutions that you can implement almost immediately.

Clean Air

1.    Avoiding the outdoor air pollution that is virtually everywhere is impossible, but what we can control is our indoor air quality, especially the air quality in our homes.  If you make your home your “oasis,” then you tend to do better overall.

For Good Indoor Air Quality, You MUST:

Clean Water

2.       Chlorine, pesticide run-off, and more are in our water supply. At the very least drink charcoal- filtered water. Zero-Filter is best for the pitcher-type of filters.  There are also several types of whole house or point-of-use filtration water systems that may be used.   If you live in an older home, then having water checked for lead from old pipes or solder is a good idea.  If on well-water, have it evaluated for parasites and pesticides.  Try to avoid drinking from plastic bottles.  They are bad for the environment in general and the chemicals that make the plastic soft are chemicals, which you then ingest and these add to your load. Even BPA-free bottles contain chemicals that end up stored in your body.

Clean Food

3.      This can mean different things to different people, but a highly processed, high sugar, high food coloring diet is truly not good for anyone.   For people with mold-related illness, the elimination of sugar is necessary.   There are some foods that are quite inflammatory to all individuals with chronic illness and need to be avoided.  Navigating this area can be one of the hardest and most frustrating, because, if your body load is high, you can “adapt and switch” with foods that are seemingly healthy and harmless.  Working with a physician or nutritionist who is familiar with these issues is extremely helpful and can decrease the anxiety over what foods are best for you.

“Unloading” Your Body

Yes, it is complicated, and it will require diligence on the part of each patient.  The more you know, the more you are empowered to take control of your health. This is not a process that has a beginning and end, but is one that should be continuous and that you are making a conscious effort at all of the time. Unfortunately, in the world that we currently live in, our bodies are bombarded with more toxins than ever before, so just getting the 3 universal health requirements squared away can be a lot of work. Don’t be overwhelmed, though. It is just a matter of taking positive steps towards better health each day.

What Can You Do to Decrease Your Body’s Load Today?

1.       Address the air in your home.

  • Order Mold plates from Microbalance and assess if there is a problem.
  • Have dust removed from your home with thorough cleanings and consider a HEPA air filter for your bedroom at the very least; a central air filtration system such as the Aprilaire 5000 is excellent.
  • Keep indoor humidity below 44%. This is imperative to prevent mold growth, and may require a central dehumidification system
  • Avoid the use of fragrances and scented products.
  • Don’t keep old and dusty books and magazines, especially not in the bedroom.
  • Store things in plastic bins, not cardboard boxes.
  • Have bedding that can be washed weekly in hot water, scent-free detergent, and EC3 Laundry Additive.

2.       Make small steps for clean water.

  • Use filtered water.  For now, start with a filtered pitcher ( Zero is the best) at least for all water you drink.  Refill glass or stainless steel water bottles for travel and sports

3.       Avoid the most common inflammatory foods. 

  • There may be many other triggers for you but for now avoid milk, products with wheat flour (white or brown), sugar in all forms, soy protein (soy lecithin is ok), and anything that is colored with artificial colorings and flavors.
  • Buy organic vegetables, meats and fruits to the extent possible.
  • Consider health and nutrition consultation as the support will be very helpful to you.  (Tammy Jett-Parmer on website does this remotely by phone or Skype.)

4.       Consider consulting with a physician affiliated with the American Academy of Environmental Medicine.

  • A doctor who understands the total body load concept is trained to identify the underlying causes of illness and disease.

If you take these steps above you will get better, but always live mindfully with the intention of keeping that load as low as possible.

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Susan Tanner has practiced medicine for over 33 years, concentrating primarily on chronic illness and the impacts on the individual, the family and the community. Her formal education was completed at Emory University in Atlanta, the Dominican Republic, Brooklyn, NY, and Atlantic City, NJ. After starting her family practice, a driving curiosity into why people are made ill caused her to pursue education in Environmental Medicine, completing coursework, exams, and necessary practice years to earn board certification in this area in 2009.   Her own struggles with mold-related illness drove her desire to teach those similarly affected. While in clinical practice, Dr. Tanner wrote and contributed to a number of publications on environmental health, prepared narratives for understanding in legal matters, and researched new techniques for modulating the body’s ability to clear toxins and infections. Now, Dr. Tanner continues to research and learn.   She now has a fitness and health website, where she writes articles and shares education on utilizing the various body systems into improve overall health.