Hazards of Chemical Exposure

The following article comes from the British Allergy Foundation and addresses the increasing number of people impacted by chemical exposure. While mold is mentioned briefly, it's important to remember that toxic mold emits VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds).

Chemical Sensitivity – When the Body's Detoxing Processes Can't Keep Up
by Allergy UK, December 30, 2009

“In chemical sensitivity multi-organ complaints should be expected and their presence is not evidence of psychological origin, even though brain functions are often involved.”

It may not be surprising that chemical exposure seems to make some people ill, as we are now exposed to many more man-made chemicals than ever before.
  • Most have not been fully tested even for individual toxicity.

  • Even fewer have been checked for the possibility that combinations could give problems not seen with exposure to a single substance.
Chemicals enter the body by being ingested (in food, as additives, in water, from the hands, or as drugs), inhaled, injected, or by being absorbed through the skin. Any chemical that enters the body has to be 'detoxified' (broken down) and eliminated. This process is carried out by a range of enzymes and pathways in the body, notably in the liver, kidneys and blood.

How May Chemical Sensitivity Develop?

One theory is that chemical sensitivity develops when these pathways don't work effectively enough to keep up with demand.

Chemical sensitivity often (but not always) develops in people who are prone to other types of allergy. They may have a history of asthma, eczema or hay fever [pollen allergy] in the past, or in close family members. Some will have been prone to headaches from perfumes, or nausea from paint smells, for many years and this gradually develops into more serious chemical sensitivity.

In other patients illness follows an acute exposure to a high level of a particular chemical such as a pesticide, or fumes from an office photocopier. In this latter group a higher than normal chemical exposure triggers illness and after this the patient reacts to the much lower levels found in everyday life, which previously were not a problem.
  • Initially they react to the same chemical that set off their sensitivity (although at much lower doses);

  • Then they begin to react to related chemicals;

  • Then (often) the sensitivity spreads to almost any chemical.
Patients with these problems can also be triggered into reactions to foods (food intolerance) and/or classic inhalant allergens like house dust mites, moulds, pets or pollens. They tend easily to acquire new allergies. This pattern has been termed Toxicant Induced Loss of Tolerance (TILT) and is an important feature of the condition.

What Sort of Illness Does It Cause?

Even 'classic' allergy is usually a multi-organ disease; for example, hay fever can affect the eyes, nose, chest and skin. Thus in chemical sensitivity multi-organ complaints should be expected and their presence is not evidence of psychological origin, even though brain functions are often involved.

Most chemically sensitive people are grossly fatigued and have trouble with coordinating (brain fog) and lengthy concentration (brain fag).

Headaches are common. Many tend to have skin rashes (urticaria and/or eczema), irritable bowel, musculoskeletal pains, asthma and rhinitis. Burning sensations are common.

Whilst many become depressed, in some this may be a consequence of having the cause of their problems rejected by unsympathetic doctors, although primary depression also occurs.

Some patients manage to create a safe island within their own homes where they can keep fairly well and find leaving this environment makes them worse and they become frightened about doing so.

How Does It Make You Ill?

The mechanism of chemical sensitivity is not known. As mentioned, it appears to be due to an alteration in the ability of the body to detoxify and get rid of chemicals, combined with some sort of increased sensitivity to the effects of these chemicals on the body.

Detoxification pathways rely heavily on vitamins, minerals and some amino acids to work effectively, and in some people there may be a link with low levels or inadequate absorption and use of these substances.

The body has a limited number of detoxification pathways, down which all chemicals and other substances must pass to be detoxified.

There seems, therefore, to be a 'total load' effect - if a pathway is busy detoxifying one chemical, there is less availability for other chemicals to be 'cleared.'

What Can Be Done About It?

It is important that patients be given a correct diagnosis. Currently so few people are trained to recognize and treat multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) that there is a real danger that patients are misdiagnosed, usually as suffering from a psychiatric condition.

General practitioners should be enabled to identify the possibility that individual patients may be affected and to ensure that they receive appropriate management.

A doctor or specialist skilled in the management of chemical sensitivity should be able to take a full medical and environmental exposure history (usually a lengthy procedure) and would be familiar with the various methods which might be used to aid diagnosis using specialist laboratory testing.

Biochemical tests of nutritional status may be required. There are four main strands to the self-management of chemical sensitivity.

1. Reduction of exposure to chemicals. As chemical sensitivity tends to spread from one substance to others over time, it is important to reduce exposure to all chemicals, not just those to which you are reacting at the moment. This also frees up the detoxification pathways to work more effectively. See below for 'Chemical Avoidance' information. Note that some of the enzymes that detoxify chemicals are 'inducible' - that is to say, they are only produced in response to the chemical being present. Therefore over-zealous avoidance of chemicals may lead to a reduction in the ability to detoxify that chemical (and perhaps related chemicals). While it is important to create a 'safe-haven' at home, it is also important to maintain contact with the outside world for this reason, and for psychological benefit.

2. Reduction of exposure to other allergens. Chemically-sensitive people seem to have an increased tendency to become affected by other allergens such as housedust mites, moulds and animals. It is therefore important to follow general allergen reduction advice (see the 'Avoiding Indoor Allergens' fact sheet).

3. Diet. Good nutrition is vitally important in managing chemical sensitivity. A wide range of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and proteins are needed for detoxification pathways to work. Chemically sensitive people seem to have an increased tendency to develop food intolerances. The risk of this is increased if the diet is limited, as repeated eating of the same few foods makes it much more likely that sensitivity to those foods will follow. The key to dietary management is to eat a wide-ranging, varied diet.

4. Specialist help. Increasing the level of certain vitamins, minerals and amino acids will benefit many chemically-sensitive people. However there are risks in using high-dose supplements of some substances if they are not 'balanced' correctly. This should therefore not be done without specialist advice. For some people other special supplements, or high-dose intravenous vitamins and minerals may be beneficial, both in boosting detoxification pathways and in 'chelating' (getting rid of) harmful chemicals. Some other supplements such as digestive enzymes or prescription drugs may also be helpful in some people.

Further information on Chemical Sensitivity with avoidance information and general hints and tips on cleaning without chemicals can be found in our fact sheets. The Allergy UK helpline can also offer support and advice on chemical sensitivity, and can help you locate the nearest appropriately qualified NHS allergy specialist. Call us on 01322 619898 if you would like to discuss (9-5, M-F).

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Locating Environmental Medicine Physicians

According to the Chemical Sensitivity Foundation, the physicians in these two associations are interested in evaluating or treating patients who are chemically sensitive. The Chemical Sensitivity Foundation is providing this list only for your information and does not endorse any individual physician on either list.

American Academy of Environmental Medicine
6505 E. Central Avenue #296
Wichita, KS 67206
Listing covers US, Canada, UK, Mexico, Australia, Brazil, Japan, Israel, and six EU countries

Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics
1010 Vermont Ave. NW Suite 513
Washington, DC 20005
Listing covers US, Canada, and Germany

The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine also offers a Doctor Finder Service for those seeking an occupational medicine physician.

One Family's Story

I share this story with permission from a mom on a quest to recover from a severe mold exposure in their home.

My husband had a heart attack at the age of 46. My then 11-year-old suffered from gallbladder disease and at the age of 12 had it removed. My 16-year-old son had "fatty liver" and was told his liver was like a 60-year-old alcoholic when he hadn't ever touched alcohol. He had severe nosebleeds and learning problems even though he was very intelligent and advanced as a child and young teen. He suffered from anxiety and occasional anger and he continually gained weight. One of our daughters had severe stomach pain, migraine headaches every day, eyesight problems, memory problems, and at its worst, at age 17, woke up and couldn't read, write or talk. She was in more or less a zombie state. I had asthma so severely at night that I would wake up from a sound sleep gasping for breath.

The trail of doctors didn't have any answers as to why all this was happening. They ordered more and more tests and insisted they were all separate incidences. One doctor even accused me of causing the mental trauma in our youngest daughter.

My husband and I had always prayed together, but on the verge of a complete breakdown, we sat together one night and pleaded with God to reveal what was going on. In answer to our prayer, God said that it was "chemical in nature." We went to bed that night wondering what on earth that meant.

The next morning, my husband decided to go down to the crawl space to hook up a furnace and found black mold growing on the underside of the floor sheathing, and there was moisture on the plastic on the ground. I immediately looked up symptoms of mold on the internet, and we all had multiple symptoms. Our youngest had the most. Out of 100 symptoms, she had all but 8 of them. We knew this was the problem and we knew that God had revealed it to us! We checked our most severely affected children's rooms and found mold growing in the carpet padding. They lived in the basement of our house and the concrete wicked moisture into the pads. It was growing in an outside wall of our bedroom. None of it was visible from a normal living view. It was all hidden from our sight, but just as deadly!

Not knowing what to do, and because of the lack of medical insurance and the mounting doctor bills, we researched the internet on how to eradicate the mold ourselves. As anyone knows that researches the internet regarding mold, there are conflicting reports of what to do. I checked at the environmental protection agency in our town and was told that they do not have anything to do with mold anymore. We put a fan in the crawl space to dry it out and with that spread the mold spores throughout the entire house.

Several people offered our family homes to live in, either free or at reduced rent, but all of the homes had issues that prevented us from moving in. We all ended up living in one room of a motel. Through trial and error, and many, many hours of research, we found that we couldn't keep anything that was in our house. Everything had to go! My husband, who is a builder, found a mold remediation company that was willing to walk him through the process of "safely" completely gutting our house and making it "livable" again.

Insurance would not cover any of this. We used all of the money we had and could make, trying to "fix" the problem so we would all be healthy again and return to a "normal" life. We had to take our kids out of the school because it too had mold issues. The school knew we had mold issues at home, so blamed the mold on us and refused to offer teaching assistance for our children. I was too sick to fight the system. I couldn't work because I was too sick by this time, and also too tied up with trying to keep the family from falling apart physically and mentally. (We also have multiple chemical sensitivities.)

Our good friends are still our friends and basically understood, but so many people couldn't figure out why we just didn't get on with life. Our lives were and are turned upside down, with no end in sight. Our children, while much better, especially with memory and intelligence/brain function, still suffer from digestion problems and body aches and pains, and still can't go in certain places without being affected.

Some days are really hard, especially when it pertains to our children's health, but most days aren't as hard as they once were. Not because our struggle isn't still there, but because we are used to the struggle.

Out of the Ashes

This song by Steven Curtis Chapman has brought such comfort to my aching heart. If he can sing these words after suffering the loss of his precious daughter Maria, then I too can believe that "beauty will rise" out of our ashes.

I share this video in honor of those who survived the tragedy in Haiti.

FDA Reversal

The following article recently appeared in the Washington Post. If the government can reverse itself on something like this, it might not be long before they're reversing their policy on mold.

The Food and Drug Administration has reversed its position on the safety of Bisphenol A, a chemical found in plastic bottles, soda cans, food containers and thousands of consumer goods, saying it now has concerns about health risks.

Growing scientific evidence has linked the chemical to a host of problems, including cancer, sexual dysfunction and heart disease. Federal officials said they are particularly concerned about BPA's effect on the development of fetuses, infants and young children.

"We have some concern, which leads us to recommend reasonable steps the public can take to reduce exposure to BPA," said Joshua Sharfstein, FDA's deputy commissioner, in a conference call to reporters Friday.

Regulators stopped short of banning the compound or even requiring manufacturers to label products containing BPA, saying that current data are not clear enough to support a legal crackdown. FDA officials also said they were hamstrung from dealing quickly with BPA by an outdated regulatory framework.

Sharfstein said the agency is conducting "targeted" studies of BPA, part of a two-year, $30 million effort by the administration to answer key questions about the chemical that will help determine what action, if any, is necessary to protect public health. The Obama administration pledged to take a "fresh look" at the chemical.

BPA, used to harden plastics, is so prevalent that more than 90 percent of the U.S. population has traces of it in its urine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers have found that BPA leaches from containers into food and beverages, even at cold temperatures.

The FDA's announcement came after extensive talks between federal agencies and the White House about the best approach to an issue that has become a significant concern for consumers and the chemical industry.

One administration official privy to the talks said the FDA is in a quandary. "They have new evidence that makes them worried, but they don't have enough proof to justify pulling the stuff, so what do you do?" said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "You want to warn people, but you don't want to create panic."

The FDA had long maintained that BPA is safe, relying largely on two studies funded by the chemical industry. The agency was faulted by its own panel of independent science advisers in 2008, which said its position on BPA was scientifically flawed because it ignored more than 100 published studies by government scientists and university laboratories that raised health concerns about BPA. Recent data found health effects even at low doses of BPA -- lower than the levels considered safe by the FDA.

The chemical industry, which produces more than 6 billion tons of BPA annually and has been fighting restrictions on its use, said Friday's announcement was good news because the agency did not tell people to stop using products containing the chemical.

"The science continues to support the safety of BPA," said Steven Hentges of the American Chemistry Council.

In a statement, the industry group said: "Plastics made with BPA contribute safety and convenience to our daily lives because of their durability, clarity and shatter-resistance. Can liners and food-storage containers made with BPA are essential components to helping protect the safety of packaged foods. . . . ACC remains committed to consumer safety, and will continue to review new scientific studies concerning the safety of BPA."

Bisphenol A was discovered to be a synthetic estrogen in the 1930s. By the 1950s, chemists found BPA could be used to make polycarbonate plastics, giving them a "shatterproof" quality, and the uses for the chemical exploded.

But recently, consumers have placed increasing pressure on manufacturers and retailers to migrate away from BPA. In 2008, Babies R Us and other major retailers told suppliers they would no longer stock baby bottles made with BPA. Last year, the six largest manufacturers of baby bottles announced they would voluntarily stop selling bottles made with Bisphenol A to consumers in the United States.

But BPA remains in the epoxy linings of most canned goods, including baby formula. Research has shown that it leaches from the linings into liquid formula, but not powdered formula.

Environmental groups, public health advocates and consumer organizations applauded the FDA for recognizing concern about BPA, but some said the agency didn't go far enough.

"It's really a shame after all of the studies out there that they didn't do anything to protect the public health," said Urvashi Rangan, director of technical policy at Consumers Union. "How many pieces of evidence do we need before we have enough to act?"

Canada declared BPA a toxin and banned it from baby bottles in 2008. Similar restrictions have taken root in Chicago, Minnesota, Connecticut and Suffolk County in New York. In Congress, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) have filed a bill that would block BPA from all food and drink packaging.

As it awaits additional research results, the FDA plans to change the way it classifies BPA so that it can exercise tighter controls over the chemical, Sharfstein said. Currently, BPA is approved as a "food additive," which means manufacturers are not required to tell the government which products contain BPA and in what amounts. The agency wants to reclassify it as a "food contact material," which would require greater disclosure from manufacturers and would allow the FDA to take fast action if it determined that the material posed a health risk.

The Department of Health and Human Services has released recommended ways for the public to reduce exposure to BPA. It can be found at

Sick Building Syndrome Discussion

The following video discusses far more than chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia. It is a fascinating look at the implications of water damage in buildings. This comes from the Holtorf Medical Group, based in California. Their website makes this statement:

"There is increasing evidence that a chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia can be caused or exacerbated by exposure to toxins produced by living organisms (biotoxins). Research has shown that the exposure can be from both internal (chronic infections) and external sources such as mold infested buildings."

The entire lecture is worth viewing. I have chosen this excerpt for its discussion of cholestyramine and the dynamics involved in neurotoxic illness.

Neurotoxins and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia #2 (Part 4/7)

The Arizona Blues

Despite the Arizona sunshine, we've been experiencing the January blues lately. All the vitamin D in the world can't eradicate the discouragement that comes over us at times like these. This journey is just so painfully long. Full of setbacks. And uncertainty.

As one of my older daughters wrote this week,

"Reality is, we’re all just coming off of a near-death experience, and a year and a half of rehab is only the beginning. Reagan’s dizziness is ever-apparent. My mother is still constantly forgetting where she put her keys. Colin’s blood sugars are sky high for no apparent reason. Tempers flare at alarming rates, and spirits are overall very low."

Earlier this week we talked about moving back to Colorado. Excitement and relief coursed through our veins as we pictured ourselves with friends and familiarity by the fall.

But it's January. And we're not moving anytime soon.

Reagan woke me up the other night. Not with dizziness. But with depression. We strategized about solutions. (I easily resort to the "I must fix it" mentality.) He sighed,

"I think I need to find something inside myself and just get through."

His thought reminds me of the words of songwriter Jackson Browne,

"The only way through it, is through it."

No airlift. No underground tunnel. Just plodding and plowing. One desert day at a time.

"Sometimes when we plead for our adverse circumstances to change, God simply makes us content where we are. Many saints have found riches in poverty, ease in labor, rest in pain, and delight in affliction. Our Lord can so adapt our minds our circumstances, that the bitter is sweet, and the burden is light." --Charles Spurgeon

A Dangling Headphone

Reagan went exploring in the desert yesterday on his bike. As readers of this blog know, we've had many ups and downs with that bike.

The same is true with his health. Reagan continues to struggle with a vestibular disorder. He also has severe hearing loss in his left ear. I get a kick out of him. Every time he does the dishes he listens to music with the left headphone dangling.

Because we were clueless about the mold in our home, we took extreme measures when he first grew ill. I've chronicled his journey in this entry.

While we have much to learn about the chronic nature of his condition, we continue to see the importance of diet.

This fall we put Reagan on the same strict anti-fungal diet that had proven so helpful to our older kids and myself. No bread, no pizza, no grains of any kind, no sugar either. Not an easy transition for a growing 13-year-old boy. Reagan fought the plan. We would not relent. Starving the fungus made sense.

By the third day, as predicted, he grew very very sick. The fungus was dying off. By the fifth day something was different. By the second week he looked better than he had in two years.

October 4th we went out to dinner. Reagan begged to go off the diet. He wanted a bun with his hamburger and the Luna bar he had been saving for the day he was done with the diet. We hesitated. We decided to allow him to make his own choice. (I'm glad we did. He makes his own dietary choices now. With great caution.)

He savored every moment of the meal. Even had some organic ice cream later in the night. Sometime after midnight, Reagan woke me up. It had been a while since I'd felt that tug on my foot. He was spinning. Close to vomiting. We walked into the kitchen. He struggled to keep his balance, and said, "It's my fault. It's all my fault."

"Honey," I said. "Most 13-year-old boys can eat hamburgers and Luna bars and ice cream. None of this is your fault. None of it."

And so we sat up together. Just like old times. "I can't believe I used to feel this way all the time," he sighed. "I just got so used to it." He shook his head in disbelief.

Then he started to talk about the past. For the first time in two years he talked about that first night he vomited. He asked if he ever vomited after that first night. I was astounded and grateful beyond words. He had forgotten! He talked about the doctors, the nurses, the rehab nurses, his teachers, the video games. He talked about missing school, his friends. And then he grew quiet.

"You know, the past is like a rear view mirror. If you look at it too long, you crash."

I found myself silenced by his wisdom. And encouraged by its truth.

It's easy for me to take my eyes off the road. Especially when it comes to our decisions early on.

The first thing Reagan asked for, after we bought his bike, was a rear view mirror.

I don't know where this path is taking Reagan. I know many roadblocks are on the horizon. He’ll get through them. So will we. We’re traveling this road with a listening heart. Even if one headphone is dangling.

Treatment Options

There are a wide variety of treatment options for mold exposure. Genetics, finances, circumstances, and individual physical needs play a role in determining the best option. The following is an overview and is designed to stimulate further research rather than suggest a specific protocol.

Drug Options:

Cholestyramine (CSM) is commonly prescribed for mold exposure. This is a bile acid sequestrant, which binds bile in the gastrointestinal tract to prevent its reabsorption. It works as a mycotoxin binding agent. CSM can be compounded to contain no sugar. (One pharmacy which does this is Hopkington Pharmacy.) When taking cholestyramine it is important to take it 2 hours before or after any nutritional supplements, as it will bind these as well.

Activated charcoal and bentonite clay are two natural binding agents and often taken with CSM.

Anti-fungal drugs. These include the plyenes, the triazoles and imidazoles, allylamines and more. Nystatin is an example of an anti-fungal drug. Anti-fungal drugs can be taken in nasal spray form.

Low-dose Naltrexone. Naltrexone is an opioid receptor antagonist. Low-dose Naltrexone (LDN) has been shown to be effective in treating immunologically-related disorders.

To find a doctor, check the list of physicians on the American Academy of Environmental Medicine website. The level of knowledge regarding toxic mold varies. Two other possibilities include: 1. The American Board of Environmental Medicine, which is currently working on an online list of physicians, and 2. The Institute for Functional Medicine.

Natural Options (often integrated with conventional medical therapies):

Garlic, Oil of Oregano, Pau D'arco, Olive Leaf Extract, Caprylic Acid (found in coconuts), Barberry, and Grapefruit Seed Extract are some of the natural anti-fungals.

Dr. Grace Ziem's chemical injury website contains a nutritional and environmental protocol for chemical injury.

Glutathione therapy is often vital to recovery. For more information, see this previous entry.

Skin Remedies:

Rashes often appear during mold exposure, as well as during the de-tox process.

Ketoconazole cream is a topical anti-fungal cream. Other skin remedies include tea tree oil, coconut oil, grapeseed oil, grapefruit seed extract (diluted).

Charcoal soap can be used as a de-tox agent. It can be combined with ketaconazole shampoo lather.

Epsom salt baths are helpful. For more detox bath alternatives see this list.

Anti-Fungal Diet:

One goal of an anti-fungal diet is to starve the fungus, thereby halting the cycle that often occurs. Sugars and carbs feed the fungus. Chlorophyll does the opposite. Green foods are therefore effective anti-fungals. Alkaline diets incorporate a similar goal. Microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and yeasts thrive in an acidic environment but do not thrive in an alkaline environment.

Some chlorophyll-rich foods include spirulina, chlorella, and wheat grass.

For a list of foods to avoid during the de-tox see this list.

Brain Re-Training:

The entire body is impacted by mold exposure. Digestive tracts are hit hard, as well as endocrine systems. The brain is invariably involved. Brain re-training programs often play a part in recovery. An example is the Gupta Amydala Program.

Alternative Health Options:

A wide variety of alternative health options exist. Practitioners may not be familiar with the specifics of mold exposure but can address the need to de-tox.

These are a few of the numerous options available: orthospinology (chiropractic specialty), ONDAMED, acupuncture, oxygen chamber therapy, IV therapies, chelation therapies, far infrared sauna, and much much more.

It's important to note that a healing crisis can occur as de-tox from mold exposure begins. This is known as a "Herx Reaction"and is an increase in the symptoms caused by toxin circulation and inflammation. It is, therefore, not unusual to get worse before getting better.

On-Line Support:

Sick Buildings Yahoo Group

Planet Thrive

MCS America

Moms Against Mold

Note: If you are overwhelmed as you consider all of these options, remember that the de-toxification process takes time. Trust your instincts. Begin with mold avoidance and diet as you consider your next step.

Benefits of Deep Breathing

It's one of the easiest and best things we can do, especially those recovering from a toxic exposure. It involves the "simple" act of breathing.

The benefits of deep breathing are numerous. DHEA rises, cortisol decreases, problem-solving abilities increase, and much more. One of the best explanations I've read comes from the website Women to Women and is written by OB/GYN doctor Marcelle Pick.

Breathing serves as the pump for the lymphatic system, just as the heart serves the circulatory system. Your cells must have oxygen to survive moment to moment. To thrive, they rely on a complex exchange between the circulatory system and the lymphatic system.

Blood flow carries nutrients and ample amounts of oxygen into the capillaries, while a healthy lymphatic system carries away destructive toxins. Proper breathing is the moderator of this exchange.

We don’t often think about our lymph nodes unless we hear about someone with cancer, which is surprising, because we have twice as much lymphatic fluid as blood in our bodies.

So what is the lymphatic system? It could be likened to the body’s sewer system. Lymph vessels form a drainage system throughout the body. Our cells swim in an ocean of lymphatic fluid that carries away the detritus of our immune system, including dead white blood cells, unused plasma protein and toxins.

It works like this: blood is pumped around the body by the heart, transporting nutrients and oxygen to the cells. Once the cells have absorbed what they need, they excrete debris and toxins, which then get flushed and deactivated by lymphatic fluid.

The lymph fluid then drains into the circulatory system through two ducts at the base of your neck (the thoracic duct), and becomes part of the blood and plasma that pass through the kidneys and liver. But unlike your circulatory system, your lymph system does not have a built-in pump. It relies on the act of breathing and bodily movement to move all that waste fluid around.

The consequence of a sluggish lymphatic system is that you cannot detoxify properly. And if you aren’t breathing deeply or moving regularly, chances are your lymph fluid is not flowing as well as it could. As you can well imagine, this can lead to health concerns over time, including weight gain, muscle loss, high blood pressure, fatigue, and inflammation.

But the great news is that you can improve your lymph system cleansing by learning to practice deep breathing. The expansion and contraction of the diaphragm actually stimulates your lymphatic system and massages your internal organs, helping the body rid itself of toxins, and leaving more room in the cells for an optimal exchange of oxygen.

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One of our doctors suggested we purchase a computer breathing program. (Like most everything we've tried, it took me weeks to open the box. Anything new is intimidating.) Not long ago, our 10-year-old son Colin wrote about the program.

"My family and I always have to do a thing that is good for your lungs, it's called breathing. Breathing is a thing that one of our doctors showed us he said that if you do this every day our breathing and temper will get way better.

What it shows you is how you're doing with your breathing and you can even play games, and green is really good. If you have 100 green it means that you are doing really well, blue is medium and red is really bad. Also, we're doing it every day, but last night I had a bad dream, and I asked my mom if I should do breathing because she was up at that time, and she said that's a great idea."

It's called "heart breathing." The idea is to picture yourself breathing from your heart. A quick lesson in this coherence technique can be seen here.

I attended a telephone coaching session recently. The instructor, who has worked with numerous professional athletes, reminded us repeatedly, "Deep breathing works best when there is a positive thought with it." Immediately I thought of Philippians 4:8.

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."

With such wisdom, maybe I can score 100 green.

Extreme Diet Makeover

Much like Adam and Eve, if you tell me I can't eat something, I immediately desire it.

That's why the anti-fungal diet turned me off initially. I looked at the forbidden foods and dismissed any possibility of getting my family to eliminate all of them.

Besides, we were on a heavy de-tox protocol. We had already taken out refined sugars and gluten. The restrictions of the anti-fungal diet required more energy than I could spare.

However, as 2009 progressed, I sensed we needed a more radical dietary approach. Hippocrates said, "Extreme remedies are very appropriate for extreme diseases."

Weight loss was never our goal. Several in our family had experienced unexplained weight gain while in the Colorado house. I learned much later that toxin excess is a common reason for this. Individuals can gain 25 - 50 pounds in a year during exposure.

The more mycotoxins and other toxins accumulate, the more fat the body will produce to store the toxins. Fungal exposure often leads to strong sugar and carb cravings, which adds to the problem.

At the beginning of the de-tox we were told by our doctor that it can take a year before weight loss occurs, due to disturbed leptin levels.

While some would benefit from losing, others of us needed to gain weight as our leptin levels were abnormally low. This too was put on the back burner. We first needed to find a diet that would attack the mold inside us.

We found Doug Kaufmann's Phase One Diet extremely helpful. Especially his cookbook, "Eating Your Way to Good Health." Kaufmann and Dr. Doug Holland's list of 10 foods commonly contaminated with mycotoxins provided a strong motivation to make difficult changes.

And they were difficult.

The turning point came when I came across the book, "Healing with Whole Foods" by Paul Pitchford. I immediately turned to the chapter titled, "Controlling Candida with Diet." Combining Pitchford's information with Kaufmann's made sense to me. (A summary of Pitchford's dampness explanation is here.)

Now I was excited by the multitude of foods we could eat. As I studied their specific nutritional values I began to see food as medicine--my goal from the beginning.

But how do you get children on board with a radical dietary plan? My older kids' digestive tracts guided their decisions. They greeted each change with enthusiasm as we tried adzuki beans, vegetable juices, and congee. (The vegetable juicing turned into a 10-day juice fast for one of my daughters, and a 3-day juice fast for myself. We both found it extremely helpful.)

We eliminated red meat and dairy, and added wheat grass.

The younger kids fought the changes. Unfortunately for them, I was no longer willing to placate their taste buds. Food was now their medicine and I was the unrelenting sergeant.

The road to a healthy and helpful diet has been a long one. I find myself discouraged and overwhelmed often.

I try to remember how far we've come at those moments.

Chris has lost 55 pounds. Another daughter has lost 25 pounds. (It took her 12 months to lose a pound, just as predicted.) But weight loss isn't what we're celebrating. It's the fact that we've found a measure of stability in our health and enjoyment in the foods we eat.

For New Year's we made "Rizza," our own version of pizza. Jasmine rice topped with organic marinara sauce, chicken sausage, and onions.

As we head into 2010, here are 10 things I've learned this year about food and health:

1.Weight loss is not always about willpower.

2.When food becomes a friend, it often betrays.

3. Sometimes we're hungry for something other than food.

4. Children can adjust to extreme diet changes.

5. Life without coffee is possible after all.

6. Alkaline foods help when there has been a toxic exposure.

7. Our bodies are unique with individual and specific needs.

8. Food begins to taste differently as the diet is altered.

9. Chlorophyll is the fungus fighter's best friend.

10. When our focus is off the "forbidden," we often find a garden of opportunities.