Have you heard of the barrel effect?
It’s a well known analogy in the holistic health community, as it helps us describe how illness can happen to our clients. Illness isn’t just a result of a few simple factors, like genetics. It is often a result of several or even hundreds of compounding factors that all work together to support disease.
What is the barrel effect?
The barrel effect is a very simplistic way of generalizing how our bodies respond to toxins and can lead to disease.
Consider your body as a barrel. When you are first conceived, your barrel is just about empty. You start off with a clean slate and have not yet been exposed to the toxins of the world. This “clean slate” could be argued as we know that toxins do pass through the umbilical cord and into the placenta, but the idea is you have been exposed to fewer chemicals and toxins than you would living out in the world.
Now, we are all born with a barrel. Some of us have larger barrels than others. Unfortunately, we don’t know how big our barrel is until it begins to overflow and disease presents itself.
Environmental toxins, poor diet, pollution, electromagnetic fields, medication and drugs, viruses and pathogens, mental and emotional stress – all of these fill up our barrel.
When our barrel is full, we exhibit symptoms of disease or illness. The goal is to avoid filling up our barrel by reducing our exposure to these toxins.
The low-down on today’s toxins
There are so many different sources of toxins in the world today. Man-made chemicals appear just about everywhere – in the products we put on our body, in the air that we breathe, in the food that we eat, and more.
Our bodies are strong detoxifiers. We have a number of different detoxification systems to support our ability to detoxify chemicals and toxins in our lives. However, it is well recognized that our lives are far more toxic than they’ve ever been. Our detoxification system are stressed and overworked. In some cases, toxins aren’t being detoxified, they’re simply being stored in our body’s fat cells or recirculated in the blood until our liver has the opportunity to detoxify them.
Simply put, we are exposed to more toxins than our bodies know what to do with, and it’s making us sick.
What toxins fill up our barrel?
These are some examples of toxins that can fill up our “barrel” and contribute to illness. As I mentioned, oftentimes it’s an accumulation of many toxins that leads to an overflowing barrel. In holistic health, the goal is to reduce exposure to as many of these toxins as possible.
A poor diet can have major implications on our health, as we already know. But are we doing everything we can to reduce toxin exposure in our foods? Here are ways that our nutrition can contribute to ill health:
- Exposure to allergens, sensitivities and intolerances
- Processed foods, junk foods, high in sugar, high in poor quality fats
- Food additives, preservatives, colours and flavours
- High carbohydrate foods with low nutritional value (refined flours, sugar, refined grains, etc.)
- Pesticides, herbicides
- Poor quality meat raised with antibiotics and hormones, in poor living conditions
Indoor environmental toxins
Indoor air quality is especially important, since we spend most of our time inside buildings or at home. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that indoor pollution levels may be up to 100 times worse than outdoor pollution, and is considered among the top 5 environmental risks to the public. Think about the quality of air in your workspace, in your home, and wherever you might spend a great deal of time. These are some of the contributing factors:
- Mold, dust, pet dander and fur
- Artificially scented air fresheners, cleaners
- Laundry soap, dryer sheets and fabric softener
- Furniture and carpet off-gassing
- Fresh paint (VOCs)
Health and beauty products
When was the last time you thought about the products you put on your body? In this post I talk about the importance of double-checking what’s in your health and beauty products, especially cosmetics, lotions, hair-care products and perfumes. Here are some of the main contributing products.
- Perfumes and scents
- Shampoo, conditioner, soap, body wash
- Makeup and cosmetics
- Face wash, moisturizer
- Hair styling products, shaving gel
Outdoor environmental toxins
Depending on where you are in the world, the environmental toxins that you’re exposed to outdoors may be significantly different from one person to the next. These are some factors to be aware of:
- Smog, heavy metals
- Vehicle exhaust fumes
- Mold, pollen, grass, other allergens
- Pesticides and herbicides
Medications and drugs
Prescription medications can be essential for survival and I’m not saying they don’t have an important place in healthcare. But know that medication goes through the liver’s detoxification process to be broken down, and prescription medications can be especially hard on the liver.
Other “drugs” include cigarettes and tobacco, alcohol, caffeine and even recreational drugs which also put additional stress on the body and often require some form of detoxification.
Here’s a list of some of the big ones:
- Prescription medications
- Over the counter medications
- Cigarettes and tobacco
- Recreational drugs
Viruses, pathogens and infections
When was the last time you considered how bacteria, viruses, mold and yeast can affect your health? These are often considered the silent stressors because we usually don’t know how they’re affecting us until we’re quite sick. Mold can be incredibly toxic, some viruses and parasites can contribute to low-grade inflammation and unexplained symptoms, candida can contribute to a whole host of system-wide symptoms and be difficult to treat – especially in the standard medical system.
Here are some of the big contributors in this category:
- Candida and yeast
- Heavy metals, including silver or amalgam dental fillings
- Root canals
Emotional or Mental Stress
We can’t forget about our emotional and mental layer. We carry our emotions in our body, and if we don’t address them or deal with them properly, they can appear as physical pains. Our emotional state can dictate our physical health, so it’s important to be self-aware and take care of our mind and soul just as much as our physical body.
Here are some emotional or mental stressors that can contribute to the barrel:
- Illness, pain
- Loss (loved one, job, possessions, freedom, self)
- Emotions like hate, guilt, fear, envy, jealousy, worry, suspicion, heartache
- Constant busy-ness, high expectations, pressure, perfectionism
- Always trying to be more, do more, feeling like you’re not enough, lacking gratitude
- Negative or poor attitude, thoughts, beliefs
Electromagnetic fields & radiation
This is a much newer stressor than some of the others, as we see the rise in wireless technologies and radiation around the world. Here are just some of the common sources that you may be exposed to on a regular basis:
- Cell phones and towers
- Wireless internet (routers, computers, phones, etc)
- Bluetooth and bluetooth gadgets (headphones, monitors, fitbit, etc)
- High tension wires, power lines
- Electrical appliances, television
- X-rays and CAT scans
So tell me – how full is your barrel? Do you work to consciously reduce your exposure to toxins? Were any of these listed toxins new to you?
If you have any questions about how to reduce exposure to these kinds of toxins, give me a shout and let’s work together. I am passionate about creating a lifestyle that encourages health and reduces the risk of illness.
If you’d like some tips on how to detoxify elements of your life, I’ve written previous articles on:
- Detoxing your makeup bag
- Detox your life: Say goodbye to plastic
- Detoxing negative relationships
- Taking a quick smartphone (technology) detox