Toxins: Understanding the Risk for Cognitive Decline

Toxins: Understanding the Risk for Cognitive Decline

by Dr. Charny August 21, 2021

We are all exposed to various levels of toxins. They may be present in our food, water or air, and can be found in everyday items such as lotions, cleaning supplies, furnishings, and building materials. Low-level exposure over long periods of time may add up and eventually contribute to disease.

Some of us are more vulnerable to these toxins than others. Our ability to detoxify is determined by our genetic predisposition and epigenetics.

Toxin exposure, including long-term low-level exposure, has been linked to many diseases. There is a growing body of research linking certain toxins to increased risk for cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

The top environmental toxin categories associated with cognitive decline are heavy metals, mold and mycotoxins, pesticides and plastics.

Before discussing how to reduce our exposure to these toxins and remedy their effects, let’s understand the top offenders.


Acute exposures of elemental mercury and methylmercury have toxic effects on the nervous system. Symptoms include memory loss and cognitive dysfunction. Methylmercury can bioaccumulate in living organisms and low-level exposures that accumulate over time will have compounding negative effects.

Common mercury sources include dental fillings, contaminated fish, and air pollution related to the combustion of fossil fuels.


Arsenic is a natural trace metal found in soil. We are frequently exposed to small doses of arsenic in unfiltered drinking water and certain foods, however excessive exposure or accumulation poses a significant risk. Arsenic is thought to block energy production in the brain, as it interferes with routine cell functions.

Common arsenic sources include contaminated unfiltered tap water, inhalation in certain work or construction sites, and from consumption of rice and teas (which accumulate the toxin from soil contamination).


Aluminum is the most abundant metal present on Earth. Because of its accessibility and utility, aluminum is used in a variety of daily-use products. Studies now show that aluminum exposure impairs our central nervous system. More specifically, new evidence links the build-up of aluminum with Alzheimer’s.

Common aluminum sources include fire retardants, cosmetics/personal care products, over-the-counter and prescription medicines, food additives and fillers, cookware, and food packaging. Aluminum has even been found in some municipal water treatment systems.


Lead is highly toxic to the human body. Childhood lead exposure has been shown to lead to impaired cognitive development and lower IQ. Adults with cumulative lead exposure from environmental sources demonstrate a higher risk of cognitive decline.

Common sources of lead exposure include consumer products, food (from contaminated soil), building materials (including paint), gasoline, and industrial sites. Perhaps the most widely known source of exposure is from lead water delivery pipes. As of 2016, more than 6 million lead lines were still in service across the US.

Mold and mycotoxins

Mold and mycotoxins (toxic compounds produced by mold and fungi) are known for their adverse effects on human health. Mold exposure has been connected with declines in respiratory functions (such as asthma and lung disease) and cognitive abilities (such as impaired memory and concentration).

Common sources of mold and mycotoxin exposure include untreated water damage in office and residential buildings, outdoor soil and plants, and improper food storage.


Pesticides are substances used to kill insects, rodents, and weeds that may affect food production yields. Most conventionally grown (non-organic) foods are exposed to some level of pesticides. Pesticide exposure is linked to rising rates of chronic disease, including kidney disease, diabetes, cancer, and cognitive decline. Round Up in particular has been linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma in recent litigation.

Common sources of pesticide exposure include conventionally grown (non-organic) fruits and vegetables. In addition to food consumption, individuals who live near farms, golf courses, or other heavily landscaped areas also seem to demonstrate higher-than-average levels of contamination.


Plastics are endocrine disruptors and contribute to hormonal imbalances. They have also been linked to health risks such as cancer and neurological diseases including Parkinson’s disease and cognitive decline.

Plastics are generally organized into seven categories based on their flex and opacity. For example, type-1 Polyethylene and type-6 Polystyrene are petroleum-based and commonly used for making softer plastic water and milk bottles, and harder plastic food containers like yogurt and ketchup bottles, respectively. Type-7 Polycarbonate was used for harder transparent bottles like baby bottles and reusable 3- and 5-gallon water bottles but has banned in recent years.

Another category of plastic chemicals that have been banned since the early 1980’s is Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), primarily used as plasticizers and in various industrial products.

Although many of the most dangerous plastic categories, like type-7 plastics and PCBs, are now banned, their breakdown is very slow, and plastics produced decades ago are still polluting our environment today and will continue to do so for years to come.

Common sources of plastic exposure include everyday household items that leach plastic into our food and beverages and can cause bioaccumulation (build up in our bodies). While plastic items are abundant, the most prevalent are plastic utensils, food containers, wrappers, water bottles, linings of cans/containers, and coffee pods.

Reducing your risk: Steps you can take today

There are a number of steps one can take to limit the exposure risks to these toxins and protect cognitive functions. They include reducing exposure and enhancing the body’s natural ability to remove toxins.

Clean up what goes in and on your body.

Eat organic foods to avoid pesticide contamination, choose whole (unprocessed) foods free of chemical additives and preservatives, and replace your self-care products with “green” alternatives.

Resource for finding helpful tips

Upgrade your diet

Include more nutrient-dense foods such as dark leafy greens, cruciferous veggies (including broccoli, kale, and cabbage), sulforaphane-rich foods (including garlic and onion), fiber and mineral-dense foods to increase our detoxification capacity.

Incorporate detoxification practices into your daily routine

Epsom-salt baths, Far Infrared saunas, lymphatic massages, sweat-inducing workouts, dry brushing, lymphatic massages and daily bowel movements are some examples of practices that improve detoxification.

Avoid using plastic containers

Switch to reusable glass bottles, paper ware, and eco-friendly plastic-free containers. Avoid heating or transporting warm food in plastic containers, as it leached plastic chemicals into your food.

Check your home

Replace your home cleaning supplies with more natural alternatives, test your water for contaminants, install a water filtration system, and get your home tested for possible air pollutants such as mold and other toxic materials.

Avoid cookware with aluminum or non-stick chemicals and reduce the use of aluminum foil, especially when it could come into contact with acidic foods such as lemons or tomatoes.

Schedule Your Appointment Today

Want to look deeper into your detoxification? Dr. Charny can work with you to devise tailored intervention plans that meet your individual needs to optimize cognitive function and effective detoxification based on your unique metabolism, hormonal patterns, genetics, immune reactivity, gastrointestinal health, microbiome balance, nutrient status, chronic infections and environmental toxins.

Make an appointment today: 310-553-4242 or online here.

Dr. Charny
Dr. Charny

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