Effects of Toxins on Your Body and Best Detox Foods
Do you often feel fatigued or sluggish? Do you suffer from allergies or red, irritated skin? Is your hair thin or dry, your nails cracked, and your skin rough? If you answered yes to any of these questions, your body may be in dire need of a detox. Most dictionaries defines the word “detoxification” or “detox” as the removal “of a harmful substance (such as a poison or harmful poison) as it applies to drug and alcohol addictions; however, it has another more ubiquitous application. In the modern health and fitness world, the word has become synonymous with “cleanse”—the act of following a particular diet or engaging in certain eating habits to rid the body of accumulated toxins. Toxins enter your body through a variety of means. Your body absorbs toxins from the air you breathe, the water you drink, the food you eat, the medications you take, and the environments you inhabit. Each and every day your body is exposed to countless toxins that build up in your body over time, hampering the body’s healthy function and affecting your appearance. This accumulation of toxins has been linked to skin problems, hormonal disturbances, weight gain, and even increased risk for serious diseases, including cancer. By changing the way you eat and by managing the substances you expose your body to, you can cleanse yourself of accumulated toxins. Detox diets are becoming increasingly popular as a means of promoting healthful weight loss, but they provide other significant health benefits as well. By detoxifying, you can boost your metabolism and improve the way you function. Cleansing will also improve the health of your skin, hair, and nails, and it may also decrease your risk of developing reproductive disorders and chronic diseases.
How Does Your Body Become Toxic?
Almost every time we step outside, put something in our mouth, or apply something to our skin, we are exposing our bodies to toxins. Luckily, our bodies are designed to protect us from harm and are capable of withstanding a great deal of abuse. Take your skin, for example: it protects your organs and bones from exposure to harmful substances. Meanwhile, the immune system is designed to attack foreign substances that get past the skin. Your digestive system serves to absorb nutrients and filter out unneeded materials. Some of the ways you may be exposed to toxins include:The human body is capable of standing up under a great deal of pressure, but many modern diets and lifestyles push the human body to the boundary of its limits or beyond. When your body becomes overloaded with toxins, your digestive system may fail to function properly, and you may experience numerous problems, including fatigue, muscle aches, bloating, rashes, eczema, acne, water retention, and more. The only way to restore proper bodily function and to reverse these negative effects is to do a “house” cleaning and detox your body.
What Are the Benefits of Detoxing?
Think back to when you ate a particularly large meal or spent a whole weekend eating nothing but fast food, takeout, and pizza. Did you feel bloated or heavy? Was your skin oily or irritated? Perhaps you had difficulty sleeping afterward or had low energy and concentration. While this example may be taken to the extreme, many people do not realize that their bodies are not operating at their full potential. Regular exposure to toxins through food and environment may impact your body more than you realize—in fact, you may not understand just how much it affects your body until you detox. It is one thing to say that detoxing your body will help your body function more efficiently, but it’s another thing entirely to truly experience it. Chances are, you feel fine right now and are not dealing with any major health problems. If you really think about it, however, you can probably identify several areas where you could stand to see an improvement. Detoxing your body will do more than just improve the way it functions internally—it will also improve your energy, clear up your skin, improve your sleep habits, and reduce your risk for serious disease.
Toxins and the Aging Process
Before you can understand how toxins affect the aging process, you need to understand the aging process itself. Many people don’t consider themselves to be aging until they hit the thirty- or forty-year mark. In reality, however, you start aging from the moment you are born.Your body is made up of around one trillion individual cells, and as many as one billion of those cells die every minute that you are alive. These cells do regenerate, but the rate of regeneration versus cell death slows over time. As you get older, the cells in your body will start dying more quickly than they can be regenerated. Aging is a completely natural process and it cannot be avoided. There are certain factors, however, that speed up the aging process. Nutritional deficiencies and high levels of stress, for example, can accelerate the aging process, making you look and/or feel older than your true age. The buildup of toxins in the body also contributes to accelerated aging by hastening the rate at which cells die without also increasing the rate of regeneration. Keep in mind that, as a whole, your body can handle a significant amount of toxins. The individual cells, on the other hand, can be killed by even the smallest amount, and these cell deaths are in addition to the cell deaths that occur naturally. The human body is designed to efficiently absorb nutrients, filtering out and eliminating waste products and toxins. If you put more toxins in your body than it can handle, however, the excess toxins will be set aside and stored. Extreme toxin buildup can lead to serious diseases, including age-related disorders such as osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, and osteoarthritis. Detoxifying your body will help flush out those excess toxins, restoring your body’s natural rhythm and stopping additional cell death.
Detoxing for Healthy Skin and Hair
Your skin is made up of two primary layers: the epidermis and the dermis (which includes sebaceous glands). The epidermis is the outermost layer of skin from which dead skin cells are shed, taking toxins they contain along with them. The second layer of skin is the dermis, which constantly regenerates, forming new skin cells and pushing old skin cells to the top to be shed. The sebaceous glands secrete sebum, which is an oily matter that lubricates and waterproofs the skin as well as releases toxins from fat cells. Every day, your body sheds between two and three billion dead cells. In addition to eliminating toxins through the shedding of dead skin cells, toxins and impurities can also be released through sweat glands. Thus, exercising to induce sweating is an easy way to boost your body’s natural detoxification. Though your skin does eliminate some of the toxins in your body on a daily basis, many people’s bodies are still “toxic” in that they contain more toxins than the body can handle. It is in cases like this where a detox diet can be especially effective. Before engaging in a detox, it is important to realize that you are likely to experience some side effects. Remember, the goal of detoxifying your body is to eliminate excess toxins, and those toxins have to go somewhere. One of the many ways in which those toxins will be released is through your skin. You shouldn’t be surprised, then, if you experience an increase in blemishes or skin oil during the first few days of your detox. Don’t worry—once you have cleansed your body of excess toxins, you will see the healthy, glowing skin you’ve been wanting. By cleansing your body and skin of toxins, you will be unclogging your pores, which will result in a clearer complexion. You will experience relief from acne, uneven texture, and excess oil. You may also experience a reduction in fine lines, age spots, and dark circles under the eyes as a result of improved capillary circulation. Not only can a detox improve the health of your skin, but it may also improve your hair. After detoxing, you can expect your hair to be smooth, shiny, and soft. Chemical-laced hair products can dry out or damage your hair, making it frizzy and unmanageable. Detoxing can restore your hair to its natural beauty.
Detoxing for Organ Health
One of the main organs involved in eliminating toxins from the body is the liver. It plays an essential role not only in eliminating toxins, but also in breaking down nutrients and producing red blood cells. The liver is largely responsible for detoxifying harmful substances, and it fulfills this role in several ways: by filtering the blood to eliminate toxins; by synthesizing and excreting bile to get rid of fat-soluble vitamins like cholesterol; and by producing enzymes that neutralize harmful chemicals. Your liver acts without regard to where the toxins come from—it treats those produced by your body the same way it treats toxins from food, medications, and environmental factors. Your lungs, kidneys, and intestines also play a role in removing toxins. The lungs, for example, filter out allergens, mold, and other airborne toxins. Your kidneys are responsible for filtering your blood and diverting waste products to the bladder so they can be eliminated. If any of these organs becomes overworked or bogged down with excess fat, inflammation, or toxin accumulation, it could limit your body’s natural detoxification abilities. Detoxifying will help restore proper function to your organs. Below you will find valuable information regarding your organs’ roles in detoxifying the body as well as information on what happens when these organs aren’t functioning to full capacity.
Your kidneys are the primary detoxifying organs of your urinary system. They filter your blood, removing wastes and diverting them to the bladder so they can be eliminated from your body. Your kidneys also help regulate mineral levels and electrolytes to prevent toxic buildup. If the function of your kidneys is impaired, they may not be able to properly filter toxins from your blood. Kidney disease and damage is often caused by high blood pressure, diabetes, poor eating habits, inflammation, and overuse or prolonged exposure to medications and toxic chemicals.
As has already been mentioned, the liver is the most important organ for detoxification. It breaks down nutrients and toxic substances, excreting toxins through bile and urine. Unfortunately, liver disease is a fairly common problem and it can affect your liver’s ability to properly filter out toxins. Some of the most common causes of liver disease and damage include excessive alcohol intake, poor diet, and abuse of drugs or other toxic chemicals.
Your lungs are the first organs to come into contact with airborne toxins, and they serve to filter these toxins and other harmful substances out of the air you breathe. The lungs are also responsible for delivering oxygen to your blood. Shallow breathing can greatly reduce the efficiency of your lungs in detoxifying the body. This can be caused by or exacerbated by a poor diet, air pollution, and smoking.
You may be surprised to hear that your skin is responsible for eliminating about one-third of the toxins, bacteria, and viruses that enter your body. If the other detoxifying organs (liver, kidneys, and lungs) become overworked, your skin steps up to take on the extra load. Your skin eliminates toxins by pushing them through your pores to the surface. If too many toxins accumulate in your skin, however, it could lead to redness, inflammation, or breakouts.
Detoxing for Weight Loss
You probably already know that if you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. You may not know, however, some of the additional factors that play into weight gain and weight loss. Adipose tissue is the type of tissue used by the body to store energy in the form of lipids (fat). This type of tissue is typically found beneath the skin, but in cases where there is too much adipose tissue, it can begin to back up in and around the organs. Your liver, the largest internal organ in your body, is especially prone to storing excess fat. The more fat stored in your liver, the less efficient it will be. The food you eat and the other toxins you put into your body have a direct effect on the condition of your liver and on your ability to lose weight. In addition to the toxins you put into your body, your liver may also begin to produce its own toxins as it works overtime trying to digest all of the excess sugar, fat, and other components of processed foods. The toxins your liver cannot immediately deal with are stored in fat cells, which leads to weight gain. If your liver is healthy and you eat a diet of clean, wholesome foods, your liver will be able to handle all of the toxins that enter your body, and it will metabolize your fat cells for energy rather than storing them. Detoxing will provide a number of benefits, but one of the most important ones is that it will clean up your liver. This is an essential step in achieving healthful weight loss, because unless your liver is able to break down the food you eat (eliminating the toxins rather than storing them), you may have difficulty losing weight no matter how hard you try. Detoxing will help you to eliminate stored toxins, cleaning up your internal organs so they can resume their proper functions. In addition to cleansing your body, the detox diet will also help you reorient your eating habits so you are more likely to lose weight and keep it off for good.
WHAT TO KEEP, WHAT TO DISCARD
You have probably heard the saying “you are what you put inside your body,” but you may not be aware how true that saying is. While consuming a fast-food hamburger may not cause you to turn into a hamburger, the toxins and other unhealthful ingredients contained in the burger will have an effect on your body. The more unhealthful foods you eat, the more toxic your body will become. Over time, the symptoms of toxicity will compound, and you will feel increasingly sick and tired. Rather than hounding your doctor for prescription medications, turn to the only solution that truly works—detoxifying your body by eating whole, nutritious foods.
This detox diet isn’t about following a certain meal plan or eating a certain number of calories. It is about eliminating foods that introduce toxins into your body and replacing them with naturally detoxifying foods. Completely eliminating processed foods can be a challenge for some people, especially for those whose diet is almost entirely composed of these foods. To get the best results from your detox, however, it is important that you stick to the guidelines of the diet as closely as possible.
Not only are fresh fruits an important element in a detox diet, they are also delicious. Fruits are naturally packed with healthful vitamins and minerals to give your body the nutrition it needs. Additionally, fruits help reduce excess toxicity by eliminating acidic chemicals and balancing your body’s pH. Fruits also encourage your body to utilize all of its detoxification methods—your body will become more efficient in eliminating waste. Other benefits include increased energy and improvements in cognitive function, eyesight, skin health, and hair condition.
Green vegetables are an essential ingredient in a detox diet because they provide your body with a wealth of vital nutrients. Many vegetables such as asparagus are high in antioxidants and natural probiotics, which help stimulate the growth of good bacteria in the gut. Other vegetables such as artichokes contain high levels of cynarin, a natural chemical that increases bile production and liver function to help flush toxins out of your system. Vegetables can be consumed raw, cooked, or in juice form. Feel free to add some fresh fruit to your juicing recipes to enhance the flavor.
Fresh Herbs and Spices
Not only are fresh herbs and spices a great way to add flavor to your favorite dishes, they can also boost your detox diet. Turmeric, which can also be found in dried form, is especially beneficial for the liver—it helps boost bile production to flush toxins from the body. Cilantro binds specifically to heavy metals like mercury and lead, making it easier for your body to eliminate them. Garlic performs a similar role in addition to strengthening the immune system. Many herbs and spices, such as ginger, are useful in restoring healthy digestion—this is essential for detoxing because toxins often cause damage to the digestive system.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are an important part of any healthful diet because they contain a variety of important nutrients, including protein, antioxidants, and healthful fats. Brazil nuts, in particular, are great for detoxing because they are high in selenium, a mineral that helps boost your white blood cell count. (White blood cells help to fight off infection.) Another great food to include in your detox diet is flaxseed. A two-tablespoon serving of flaxseed is enough to satisfy your recommended daily allowance of omega-3 fatty acids. These seeds are also loaded with fiber, which helps promote healthful digestion and the natural elimination of toxins.
There are a number of health problems associated with dairy products (as you will find in the next section). As part of your detox diet, you should plan to eliminate all dairy products. This doesn’t necessarily mean giving up milk—you may just need to switch to a non-dairy variety, such as almond, coconut, or rice milk. These milks are available in lots of different flavors, so you can choose the one you prefer. Avoid using soy milk because soy products are unhealthful.
Artificial sweeteners are man-made and full of synthetic substances and chemicals that are harmful for your health. As part of your detox diet, plan to utilize natural sweeteners like those listed below. Avoid refined sugars, including white sugar, brown sugar, and cane sugar as well as artificial sweeteners.
In the next section, you will learn about the dangers of vegetable oils. Many of these oils are derived from genetically altered crops or pressed using chemical processes. As part of your detox diet, plan to incorporate non-vegetable oils such as olive, coconut, and seed oils as an alternative to unhealthful vegetable oils. Olive oil helps boost the immune system and may also reduce your risk for serious diseases like cancer and diabetes. Nut oils are a good source of phytonutrients and also contain high levels of essential vitamins and minerals, like selenium, calcium, and vitamin B complex.
Lean Animal Protein
Protein is an essential part of any healthful diet, but you need to be careful what protein sources you choose. In the next section, you will learn about the hidden toxins in dark and processed meats. Lean animal protein from certain types of fish, chicken, turkey, and wild game, however, can be beneficial for a detox diet. These are low in calories but high in protein and other nutrients.
Aside from lean meats, there are several additional sources of healthful protein you can include in your detox diet. Some of the best sources for vegetable protein include lentils, peas, and beans. Lentils are an excellent source of dietary fiber, iron, and essential amino acids like lysine and isoleucine. Beans such as black beans and kidney beans are slightly lower in protein than lentils, but they still contain a variety of nutrients. The key to eating legumes is to cook them thoroughly to make them more easily digestible.
In the next section, you will learn about the dangers of gluten and how it can be found in a majority of prepared breads, pastas, and baked goods. As part of your detox diet, you will need to eliminate these grains, replacing them with gluten-free grains. Certain gluten-free grains are an excellent source of protein and dietary fiber. Being gluten-free, these grains may also relieve digestive stress, which will help you digest your food more appropriately.
The best beverages for you to drink during your detox include water, decaffeinated herbal tea, seltzer, and mineral water. Water is an essential part of a detox diet because it helps flush toxins from your body. Additionally, water helps keep your brain and body hydrated so they can function properly. Herbal teas are another great option if you prefer a beverage with a little flavor. Ginger, lemon, and herbal teas are especially effective as part of a detox diet. Try making your own combination using loose tea leaves, or buy organic tea bags from your local health food store.
You were probably raised with the knowledge that drinking milk will help your bones grow strong. Recent studies suggest, however, that consumption of dairy products might not impact bone growth—in fact, it could be bad for you. A study conducted by Cornell University reveals that the United States is one of the world’s largest consumers of dairy products. Strangely, the United States also has some of the highest fracture rates and instances of osteoporosis. The conclusion of this study suggests that there is little evidence to support the idea that increased intake of dairy products promotes bone growth (Lanou, Berkow, and Barnard 2005). If you think about it, humans are the only species that continue to drink milk after infancy. We are also the only species to drink the milk of another animal. In order to make milk safe for human consumption, it is often pasteurized. While this process kills bacteria and other harmful pathogens, it actually alters the calcium content in milk. Because your body cannot recognize calcium in this altered form, it may be treated as a toxin. Another toxic property of dairy milk is that it contains galactose, a simple sugar broken down from the milk sugar lactose. Galactose has been linked to ovarian cancer and it can also inhibit healthful immune function.
Dark Meats and Fish
A study conducted by the National Cancer Institute in 2009 and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine explores the effects of meat intake on mortality (Sinha et al. 2009). Fatty cuts of meat from pork, beef, and veal contain several different toxins that can damage your health. HNE, or 4-Hydroxynonenal, is a derivative of omega-6 fats. Small amounts of this substance are good for your body, but excess consumption has been linked to chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer as well as inflammation and cognitive decline. Acrolein is a highly volatile toxin that is produced when the fats in certain types of meat and protein are heated. This toxin is a potent carcinogen, and it has the potential to damage your mitochondrial DNA. Another toxin resulting from cooked fats and protein is glyoxal. Also a carcinogen, glyoxal interrupts cellular signaling in the body. In addition to fresh cuts of meat, processed and canned meats are also likely to contain toxins. Sodium nitrate is a commonly used preservative in meats and meat products. This preservative helps enhance the color of meat and also extends its shelf life. This artificial additive, however, has been linked to the formation of cancer-causing nitrosamines in the body. Some of the foods most likely to have been treated with sodium nitrate include hot dogs, bacon, sausage, and other packaged meats. You have probably been told that fish is good for you because it is high in protein and it contains omega-3 fatty acids. While these things are true, certain types of fish are more likely than others to be exposed to methyl mercury, which is incredibly toxic to the human body. Exposure to this toxin has been linked to neurological damage, hearing defects, memory loss, and death. Some of the fish most likely to contain higher levels of methyl mercury include halibut, mackerel, marlin, swordfish, shark, and bluefin tuna. Types of fish having the lowest levels of mercury include salmon, flounder, haddock, and tilapia. Some other seafood also contains low levels of mercury. These include shrimp, crab, oysters, and scallops.
One of the biggest trends in modern health and fitness cultures is a movement toward eating whole grains. Whole-wheat breads, pastas, and cereals are becoming more and more popular. Claims that whole grains are healthful can be very misleading, especially since many of the foods that are labeled “whole grain” are not made entirely from whole grains. In fact, many so-called whole-grain products are actually worse for you than traditional products. But what makes grains bad for you? Grains have an addictive quality due to certain peptides they contain called opioids. These substances cause the human body to produce exorphins, which serve to increase your appetite and cause food cravings. In addition to these opioids, grains also contain toxic anti-nutrients such as lectins, gluten, and phytates. Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins that can be very toxic to the human body if consumed in excess or not properly cooked. A study published in the Pakistan Journal of Nutrition in 2009 revealed that overconsumption of lectins contributes to allergic reactions, gastrointestinal stress, and nutritional deficiencies as well as increased risk for chronic diseases, including celiac disease, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. The results of the study suggest that lectins also “serve as a vehicle allowing foreign proteins to invade our natural gut defenses and cause damage well beyond the gut” (Hamid and Masood 2009). Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It has been linked to a number of health problems, primarily food allergies and autoimmune disorders like celiac disease. Dr. Murray (1999) of the Mayo Clinic conducted a study regarding the increased frequency in diagnosing celiac cases since the 1950s. After testing blood samples preserved from the 1950s, Murray found that modern rates for celiac disease were more than four times higher than the preserved blood tested. Based on the results of his study, Murray suggested that the increase may be linked to escalated consumption of grains and grain-based food products. Avoiding gluten-containing grains is the key to reducing food allergies and other gastrointestinal issues.
Soybeans and Soy Products
Soy and soy products have become a staple in the diet of vegetarians and vegans around the world. Soybeans are considered by many to be one of the healthiest foods in the world due to their low-fat, high-quality protein. In reality, however, soy can be very toxic for your body. Not only can it increase your cancer risk, but it may also contribute to infertility in women. Soy contains a number of harmful substances, including goitrogens, lectins, phytates, and protease inhibitors. It can also interfere with estrogen levels, which can have very serious effects for both men and women. Goitrogens are a type of compound that suppresses the healthful function of the thyroid gland. These compounds interfere with the uptake of iodine, which may result in the enlargement of the thyroid gland. This contributes to hypothyroidism and other thyroid problems, which can result in a decreased metabolism, low energy, and a weakened immune system. Phytates, which are found in both grains and soy, are also very harmful. They bind to certain minerals, such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc, which makes your body unable to absorb those nutrients. One of the most serious problems caused by soy is its interference with estrogen levels. Men and women both have certain levels of estrogen and testosterone. In men, testosterone levels are higher, and in women, estrogen levels are higher. Soy products contain plant estrogens called isoflavones, which raise the estrogen levels while lowering testosterone. In men, this can lead to decreased libido, loss of energy or stamina, and fat accumulation. In women, high estrogen levels may increase the risk for breast cancer and could impact fertility. Overconsumption of soy can also be very harmful for newborns, because a baby needs to have the proper ratio of hormones in order to develop correctly.
Peanuts and Peanut Butter
Many Americans were raised on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as well as peanut-flavored candies, ice creams, and other treats. Unfortunately, peanuts and peanut butter are actually quite toxic. Peanuts, despite their name, are actually a legume and are one of the top eight food allergens identified by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Additionally, peanuts contain lectins, which you have already learned about. What you may not know, however, is that peanuts are highly susceptible to a type of mold that produces a mycotoxin called aflatoxin, which is one of the most carcinogenic substances known to man. A government office in Kenya (where aflatoxin contamination is extreme) published an extensive report on the dangers of aflatoxin in 2011. According to this report, exposure to this toxin often results in altered digestion, improper metabolism of nutrients, edema, and eventual hepatic failure. In children, aflatoxin exposure can also result in delayed development and stunted growth. Though you are unlikely to ingest a toxic dose of aflatoxin with just a handful of peanuts, prolonged exposure to peanuts, peanut butter, and peanut oil can be harmful.
Processed Oils and Dressings
Processed, refined, and hydrogenated oils are a fairly new addition to the modern Western diet. Before the early 1900s, the technology didn’t exist to extract oils from certain nuts and seeds. Thanks to new technologies, however, you can now have your choice of a variety of vegetable oils such as canola, soybean, and corn, and butter substitutes like margarine. Olive oil has been around for centuries because it can be made simply by pressing olives. Vegetable oils, on the other hand, require chemical processing and alteration. These oils can be found in a majority of processed foods, and they are also used in salad dressings, marinades, and sauces. Canola oil, one of the most popular vegetable oils (marketed as low in saturated fats and cholesterol-free), is derived from hybridized rape seeds. Rape plants produce an oil that contains up to 50 percent erucic acid, an incredibly toxic substance. This acid has been linked to a variety of harmful effects in laboratory animals. Additionally, the rape plants from which the oil is derived are genetically modified and treated heavily with pesticides. All vegetable oils contain high levels of polyunsaturated fats, which are easily oxidized by the body. This results in inflammation and cellular mutation. These effects have been linked to reproductive disorders and problems in babies and children.
Many food manufacturers have begun utilizing artificial sweeteners in their recipes so they can label their products “sugar-free.” Some of the most commonly used artificial sweeteners are aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose. Sugar alcohols such as maltitol and sorbitol are also popular. The benefit of artificial sweeteners is that they are calorie-free. Though many artificial sweeteners have been approved by the FDA, there have been studies linking them to numerous health problems. A study conducted by the American Society of Nephrology in San Diego recently linked artificial sweeteners to reduced kidney function. Adult women participating in the study who consumed at least two diet sodas per day experienced a 30 percent decrease in kidney function over ten years. Some artificial sweeteners, like sucralose, contain ingredients that have been positively identified as toxic. Overconsumption of artificial sweeteners has also been linked to increased risk for diabetes and metabolic disorders (Lin and Curhan 2011).
Alcohol, Soft Drinks, and Caffeine
There is a reason why people under the influence of alcohol are said to be “intoxicated.” Alcohol consumption can be very damaging to the human body. In fact, the word “intoxication” comes from the Latin word for “to poison.” Alcohol attaches to the membranes of your nerve cells, affecting their function. This leads to slurred speech, decreased motor function, and impaired judgment. Alcoholics and heavy drinkers often experience serious and permanent effects, such as weakness in the limbs, nerve damage, organ failure, and cancer. Carbonated beverages and other soft drinks are often sweetened with artificial sweeteners—this is especially common in diet sodas. You have already learned the dangers of artificial sweeteners, but soft drinks contain a number of other toxic ingredients as well. BPA, or bisphenol A, is a type of chemical used to line soda cans. This chemical has been linked to birth defects and improper development in children. Another substance found in soft drinks is phosphoric acid. This chemical interferes with the body’s absorption of calcium, which can lean to osteoporosis. It may also neutralize stomach acid, which can result in digestive problems. Another harmful ingredient found in soft drinks and other popular beverages is caffeine. Caffeine may help keep you awake, but it can also have a devastating effect on your health. This substance has been linked to birth defects, insomnia, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and high cholesterol. Additionally, caffeine is a highly addictive substance, and the effects of withdrawal can be very unpleasant.