How Pesticides, Mold and Other Environmental Toxins Impact Our Mental Health, with Naturopath Chelsea.

Firstly, what does your morning routine consist of?

I’m not a natural “morning person” but on workdays, I like to give myself some time to prepare for the day. I start with something that is good for my health like at an at-home detox therapy or a walk with my dog. On days I do not work, I let myself indulge in a little extra sleep.

You’re a huge advocate of mental health. What do you practice daily to maintain a happy and healthy brain?

Yes! I have worked quite a bit with mental health conditions and have also struggled with things like anxiety and depression myself, so it comes from a very personal place for me.

The biggest centring force for me is a spiritual practice. I consider myself a follower of Jesus but I want to connect with God is a way that is spiritual rather than religious. Sometimes that looks like prayer, sometimes reading about God, and other times just silence and stillness.

This connection helps me feel loved, grounded, and empowered. I have also struggled with insomnia for years, which we know creates inflammation in our brain and increases risk mental health and cognitive conditions. So right now, I am also focusing on cleaning up my sleep routine to help me feel happier in general. 

You’re a doctor of naturopathic medicine, influenced out of lifelong chronic illnesses. Can you tell us a little about the diagnosis of your issues, and your journey of overcoming them?

I have struggled with health problems pretty much since I was born. Nobody ever knew what exactly was wrong and I had periods of getting worse and better, growing up.

I took a turn for the worse in high school after a year of trying to balance my hormones through oral contraceptives. I actually had to drop out of school and finish through independent study and this is where my love of alternative health was born. I had never been interested in medicine before this but I spent most of my time in bed and began reading medicine and wellness books to try and help myself- I quickly discovered I had a “knack” for it.

I spent the next 10 years bouncing between conventional and natural medicine. I started with natural practitioners and was then treated at UCLA Hospital and the Mayo Clinic. Everyone kept getting weird lab results and not knowing what to do with them so they would refer me to a new team of doctors.

This ended when I met my Rheumatologist, while I was in my Pre-Med program. He practised both alternative and conventional medicine and knew what to test for and how to treat it. He became my biggest mentor and sparked in me a love for combining both types of medicine and for taking it upon yourself to learn from medical literature. He helped me immensely and while I am still unravelling my health, he helped me become functional! The biggest things I have done to help me get better are to balance my genetic biochemistry and treat hidden toxins and infections.

Hidden toxins and infections can creep into our lives in various different ways. Can you explore this with us, please?  

One “toxin” I see people underestimating, that was significant in my own case, was trauma. Certain traumatic experiences triggered symptom flares for me over the years and I now know that trauma has real biological actions.

Childhood trauma can influence the developing nervous system and shape how your body perceives pain. Trauma stuck in the emotional centre of your brain can activate your sympathetic nervous system to disrupt your hormones and keep you in a state of imbalance and stress.

Toxic thoughts can cause your brain to produce inflammatory chemicals and traumatic experiences can negatively change your gene expression.

You’ve now launched an IG platform where you share amazing insights about gut health. What inspired you to start this venture? And in what ways has it supported your community?

Recognizing that people have a hunger to learn more about their own bodies truly inspired me.

When I was in naturopathic medical school, my sister sent me a podcast interviewing a famous doctor about the connection between gut health and skin and most of the things she was talking about were things I was practising every day, on my clinical shifts as a student. I thought these were simple things that everyone knew about but this woke me to the fact that not everyone had access to the knowledge I did and I wanted to help them learn.

This has been an amazing adventure for me, especially since social media requires me to learn a lot of new skills outside of my wheelhouse. It has been so rewarding to make connections with other people interested in wellness, to hear their stories, and to grow in the context of a supportive community.

Although you practice as a doctor in gut health, you have specific interests in mental health and environmental toxicity. How much can environmental toxicity play havoc on mental health?

Environmental toxicity is a huge culprit for mental health problems.

Often, I see environmental toxicity in people with genetic variants impairing their natural detoxification pathways or in people with chronic infections whose bodies have become too overloaded with inflammation to detoxify properly.

Many toxins in our everyday life (think about things like food, cosmetics, clothing) are toxic to our nervous systems and increase risk of conditions like cognitive diseases, nerve problems, ADHD, problems with learning and memory, and more.

Metals are a great example because they are common toxins and can cause problems in your motor and sensory nervous system; in your cognition and your memory; in your mood (promoting anxiety and depression), and can interfere with neurotransmitters, hormones, and nutrients that affect mental health, as well as disrupt your sleep. All of this can happen with just one type of toxin but when you have one, you are more susceptible to having others!

From working with clients on mental health issues, what’s the most common type of environmental toxicity that you see and how do you help these clients cleanse themselves from it?

Lack of sleep! We do not usually think of this as a toxin but when you do not get adequate sleep, waste builds up in your brain and creates inflammation.

If we are talking about more classic toxins, metals like mercury and lead are very common as are hidden infections. Mould can interfere with mental health as well and it is something I am constantly learning more about.

Also, do not forget that chronic illnesses, like autoimmune disease, and infections, like that caused by Lyme Disease, can create toxins that interfere with mental health.

For those who aren’t sure whether environmental toxicity is one of the causes of their digestive health issues, what can you advise for them to do, or look out for?

Toxins can interfere with gut health. They can deplete nutrients necessary for a healthy gut, they can impair stomach acid and intestinal enzyme production which impacts digestion, and damage the lining of your gut leading to immune activation and inflammation. If you have done a thorough conventional and functional gut healing protocol and are still not improving, it is time to start thinking about toxins.

I also recommend evaluating whether you have regular exposure to toxins:

Do you live in an old house? Do you eat large amounts of cruciferous vegetables or fish? Do you eat non-organic? Have you ever had metal fillings in your mouth? Do you feel worse when you are around mold? Worse around synthetic fragrances or chemicals? These questions will help you become more aware of your toxin exposure and response.

Can you please give us some examples of types of household toxicity that we need to be wary of, and what can we use instead?

Studies have shown that indoor air has a lot more toxins than outdoor air. Things like air filters and even certain plants can help clean it, although they are no replacement for getting outdoors.

Water is also one way many of us can be exposed to toxins inside our own homes. Drinking (and even shower) water can be a source of things like chlorine, heavy metals, and industrial chemicals.

You also find toxins with both old and new houses. Old houses can be a source of metals- from copper pipes to lead paint- and mold. New houses, or new furniture you put in them, tend to have toxic chemicals that off-gas.  Also, if you see or smell mold in your home, common in apartments and humid climates, this could be a source of exposure for you.

Things like drinking water tests, home mold tests, and the Environmental Working Group Healthy Living Home Guide can help guide your awareness regarding what is in your home.

Many people use pesticides on their lawns, especially during Springtime. Can these pesticides harm our mental and physical health, and if so, how?

Absolutely, they can! There is a wide range of different chemicals used in pesticides and herbicides.

Some of the more notable ones are glyphosate, organophosphates, organochlorines, and something called 2,4-D which is one of the active ingredients in Agent Orange and has been linked to certain cancers. Many of these can be absorbed through the skin so if you are laying or running around in the grass, you may be soaking up toxins. While each of these has their own symptom profile, they tend to overlap in areas like cancer, metabolism, endocrine and mental health. 

Anyone with fatigue, hormone problems, diabetes, obesity, or problems with the nervous system ranging from mood to numbness and tingling to cognition, should consider the impact of pesticides. Glyphosate, more commonly known as Round-Up, has the added bonus of interfering with gut health.

For people who live in an urban environment, what steps can they take to avoid as much environmental toxicity as possible?

I think that air and water purification are especially important for people living in urban environments, as we know there are often a greater amount of pollutants from these sources, in such areas.

It is also important to think about “electronic toxicity” in urban settings as there are often businesses, dwellings, and large amounts of people using electronics close together.

Doing things like turning off your Wi-Fi at night, putting your phone in airplane mode while you sleep, and avoiding electronics plugged in near your head can help protect you from the inflammation created by the electromagnetic fields emitted by electronics.

And, don’t underestimate the power of getting away for a walk or a hike somewhere with nature. You are breathing cleaner air and being exposed to colors that calm your nervous system, which is a “detox” of its own.

The ongoing debate continues as to whether pesticides on produce are bad for our health. What’s your perspective of this?

I believe that they undoubtedly are. Many of the same families of pesticides I mentioned being used on lawns are also used on produce, except you eat them on produce.

So, we know the pesticides on produce have been linked to cancers, disruption of the GI microflora, metabolic imbalance, problems with the nervous system and more. In our practise, we are seeing more and more elevated levels of thallium, a heavy metal which people can get through eating even healthy things like broccoli, kale, and Brussel sprouts.

While an organic diet will not eliminate pesticide exposure, it will reduce it. One study looked at the amount of organophosphate in children’s urine. After only 5 days of eating organic, the urine organophosphate was eliminated.

Now for some light-hearted stuff! What is your favourite toxic cleansing drink/smoothie?

I love Kombucha! I have had men try to win their way to my heart with kombucha. But, I actually feel a lot better when I drink it.

What is one thing that you want to tick off your bucket list, and why?

I would like to live and practice in Canada one day. It is hard to explain why but whenever I visit, I feel like there is something there for me.  I have already checked travel to Europe, swimming with sharks, and sky-diving off my bucket list so I think I am making good progress.

Do you have any unique or fascinating hobbies that not many people know about?

I am working on a book that will be published this year. It is called “Losing You, Finding Me” and is about life after grief and coming into your own as a woman. Look for it on Amazon! I am also training a service dog to help me with flares of my health issues. It is a lot of work but very rewarding.

The above content is provided for informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice or diagnosis and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. moxie shall not be liable for any claim, loss, or damage arising out of the use of, or reliance upon any content or information in this article.

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