Personalized Nutrition Mitigates the Effects of Environmental Compounds on Human Systems
  • November 15, 2021
  • by Victoria Behm, MS, CNS, LDN & Corinne Bush, MS, CNS

A report by the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health regarding the impact of planetary scale pollution on non-communicable disease estimates that global pollution of land, air, and water led to 9 million excess deaths in 2015; 71% of these deaths were from non-communicable diseases. [12, 18] There is evidence linking the impacts of environmental toxins on various diseases and systems. Several are explored here along with nutritional interventions that may mitigate their effects.

Endocrine System

A whole class of chemicals have been categorized as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). EDCs can impact human health via physiological, cellular, molecular, and epigenetic changes. Consequences can be dire, particularly if exposure occurs during early development. Not only is the person exposed at risk, but their descendants may be impacted as well. [19] A particular area of research interest is the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), an environmental chemical sensor regulating drug metabolism as well as carcinogenic and toxicological responses to many EDCs. [20] Various dietary, cellular, and microbe-derived ligands have been identified that may mediate the effects of EDCs on AhR by binding AhR and activating signaling. [20] Personalized nutrition interventions targeting the AhR with such compounds may support enhanced endocrine function. These include 6-Formylindolo[3,2-b]carbazole (FICZ) derived from L-tryptophan; indole-3-carbinol (I3C) from glucobrassicin, an L-tryptophan-derived glucosinolate in cruciferous vegetables; indolo[3,2-b]carbazole (ICZ) and 3,3-diindolylmethane (DIM) derived from the digestion of indole-3-carbinol (I3C); kynurenine (Kyn), a metabolite of tryptophan; and some microbe-derived ligands such as Malassezia, a commensal yeast in human skin, and Lactobacillus, which converts tryptophan into indole-3-aldehyde (IAld). 


Research suggests that a high level of biodiversity is generally linked to good health and prevention of NCDs. [24] Microbes aid in the breakdown and creation of nutrients, and our lifestyles and diets directly impact the composition of the microbiome. Microbial diversity has consistently been shown to be associated with high-fiber and high-plant diets. [24] The human microbiome is involved in the function of nearly every physiological system, including immunity, metabolic and endocrine function, brain and central nervous system function, digestion and detoxification, and epigenetic modulation of the genome. [24] As such, our microbiomes likely play a role in the pathophysiology of many conditions such as allergies, autoimmunity, gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, metabolic conditions, cardiovascular disorders, cancer, CNS dysfunctions, respiratory conditions, anxiety, stress, depression, autism, skin conditions.

Microbes in humans, animals, plants, waters, and soils are challenged by agricultural and industrial activities. For example, vegetables grown using biologically conscious approaches such as biodynamic farming are much more microbially diverse than vegetables grown using conventional agricultural methods. [25] Yet poor land management, over-farming, and the use of pesticides and fertilizers have reduced soil biodiversity globally, impairing the ability of soil microbes to suppress disease-causing organisms in the soil. [26] Management of plants and animals in food systems has significantly impacted the microbiota of the entire ecosystem, including humans. Exposure to environmental chemicals can have significant impacts via the microbiome. [24] Gut microbes in particular are involved in the biotransformation of xenobiotics including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), some pesticides, polychlorobyphenyls (PCBs) and other carcinogenic and mutagenic compounds that have been associated with immune, metabolic, neurodevelopmental, and reproductive consequences. [24] At the same time, some toxic compounds such as benzene derivatives may be bioactivated by the microbiome.  

Personalized nutrition approaches can support microbial diversity in the gastrointestinal tract, which may prevent and mitigate the effects of environmental chemicals. Potential strategies are the inclusion of broad spectrum or targeted probiotic supplements; probiotic-rich foods in the diet such as kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods; pre-biotic fibrous foods such as asparagus, chicory, dandelion greens, garlic, leeks, and onions; soluble-fiber and prebiotic supplements; and herbal therapies that inhibit disease-causing microbes while preserving the balance of healthy microflora.


Both dietary and industrial compounds can alter metabolic processes and contribute to metabolic disruption via the microbiome. Many chemicals have been shown to alter the composition and/or metabolic activity of the internal microbiota in animal and SHIME models (Simulator of the Human Intestinal Microbial Ecosystem). Unfortunately, many of these are prevalent in our food, our personal care products, our home goods, our waters, and our soils such as persisent organic pollutants (POPs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), chlorothalonil (an organochlorine fungicide), organophosphates (insecticides and herbicides, including glyphosate), phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA) in plastics, non-caloric artificial sweeteners, emulsifiers like polysorbate-80 and carobxymethyl cellulose, disinfection products like tricholoracetamide, and heavy metals such as arsenic and lead in synthetic fertilizers. [27]

The metabolic byproducts of these compounds from microbiota have been implicated in inflammatory disorders, endocrine disruption, and interaction with the AhR leading to disturbed energy metabolism as seen in metabolic conditions like diabetes. [27]  Furthermore, sweeteners and emulsifiers in manufactured foods may alter the composition of the gut microbiome, potentially influencing the pathogenesis of obesity and other cardio-metabolic diseases. [24] Although, the most prudent approach to mitigating the effects of these compounds is avoidance whenever possible, personalized nutrition strategies can also support detoxification of these compounds.


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