It’s no secret that we live in an increasingly toxic world. The food we eat, the air we breathe, the products we come into contact with – they’re all harboring potentially harmful toxins. One such harmful toxin is a chemical known as benzene.
Today we’re going to dive into exactly what benzene is, why it poses such a threat to your health, and most importantly – how you can protect yourself from this toxin.
What Exactly Is Benzene?
Benzene, also known as benzol, is a chemical found and used abundantly in the United States. Benzene starts out as a liquid, but when exposed to air, it evaporates very quickly. Once evaporated, its dense vapors can accumulate in low-lying areas. It can also dissolve in water and be spread through waterways and rain run-off.
Even though benzene occurs naturally, and is commonly formed during natural processes such as volcanic activity and forest fires, it is still harmful to health.1 And since humans discovered the many uses of benzene, production levels have skyrocketed.
What Is Benzene Found In?
Benzene is frequently used as a building block or solvent in a variety of products in many industries. And benzene is found abundantly in many products we come in contact with on a daily basis, such as:2
- Synthetic fibers
- Cigarette smoke
One of the most prominent ways you may come into contact with benzene is through the inhalation of vapors from petroleum products like vehicle exhaust, gasoline fumes, or industrial emissions. Because benzene ranks as one of the top 20 most widely used chemicals in the United States, we’re being exposed to unprecedented levels of benzene on a daily basis.3
How Might I Be Exposed To Benzene?
Benzene is everywhere. In the air you breathe, the food you eat, the water you drink, and the products you use.
Exposure through consuming contaminated food or water or through coming into physical contact with products typically only accounts for a small amount of daily benzene intake though.
The real concern is the benzene found floating around in our air. Consistently breathing this toxic air can cause long-term benzene toxicity. Let’s take a look at exactly how benzene exposure affects your body.
What Exactly Does Benzene Do To Your Body?
Benzene is readily and rapidly absorbed through both your lungs and your gastrointestinal tract. At low levels, benzene is quickly metabolized by your liver and excreted – mainly through your urine. But high levels of exposure cause your metabolic detoxification pathways to become saturated. Then toxic metabolites can begin to accumulate in tissues like bone marrow, nervous system tissue, the spleen, and the liver.
While more research is needed to understand exactly how benzene causes damage to your body, we do know that it goes something like this:4,5,6
- Step 1: Once absorbed, benzene is quickly metabolized – resulting in the creation of a number of toxic metabolites and harmful free radicals.
- Step 2: These toxic metabolites including phenol, catechol, and quinol are transported to tissues throughout the body.
- Step 3: Once distributed, these toxic metabolites interact with vital cellular components, disrupting a number of biochemical cellular pathways.
- Step 4: This disruption of biochemical cellular pathways results in a host of damaging effects including:
- Depletion of intracellular glutathione – a critical antioxidant
- Generation of oxygen free radicals
- Induction of apoptosis or cellular death
- DNA damage
- Altered differentiation in progenitor cells
- Depletion of the stem cell pool
These damaging effects to your cells are what causes the short-term and long-term health effects associated with high levels of benzene exposure. Let’s take a look at exactly how these cellular effects can manifest in your body.
Benzene Exposure: What Are the Immediate Signs and Symptoms?
If you’re exposed to dangerously high levels of benzene in the air you’re breathing, you may experience symptoms such as:7
- An irregular or rapid heartbeat
- Loss of consciousness
If you accidentally consume food or beverages that contain high levels of benzene, you could experience symptoms such as:7
- Vomiting and stomach irritation
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
The symptoms of acute benzene toxicity will show up anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours after exposure. But exposure to benzene at levels high enough to cause these symptoms is pretty rare. The bigger concern is the long-term effects of low-level benzene exposure.
Benzene Exposure: What Are the Long-Term Health Effects?
The long-term effects of chronic exposure to benzene can be seriously damaging and cause life-altering health conditions such as:8
- Cancer: Because benzene is known to cause genetic damage, it’s a well-established carcinogen. Benzene exposure has been directly linked to several forms of cancer including leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and multiple myeloma.
- Anemia: Long-term exposure to benzene can cause damage to your bone marrow – reducing the production of both red and white blood cells.
- Decreased immunity: Benzene not only damages your bone marrow’s ability to produce white blood cells but also inhibits the proliferation of both B-cells and T-cells – immune cells crucial for a healthy immune response.
- Reproductive issues: Benzene exposure can be toxic to both mother and baby during pregnancy – resulting in reduced birth weights and even a reduction in the size of the mother’s ovaries. It has also been linked to reduced sperm counts and even testicular atrophy.
If these long-term health effects aren’t scary enough, there’s another consideration that makes things even more complicated and dangerous to your health. Benzene is widely used in conjunction with other toxic compounds in numerous industries. Meaning if you’re encountering high levels of benzene, chances are you’re also being exposed to dangerous levels of these other toxic chemicals.
With benzene being emitted so regularly from gas stations, vehicle exhaust, and industrial emissions, this chemical is ever-present in our outdoor air. So how exactly are you supposed to know whether or not you’re encountering toxic levels? One tool we have is what’s known as the air quality index.
Unhealthy Air Quality for Sensitive Groups (Air Quality Index)
The air quality index is an index used to report and forecast air quality on a daily basis. It tracks the most common air pollutants – including benzene. The index is broken down into 6 categories:9,10
- Unhealthy for sensitive groups
- Very unhealthy
If you’re struggling with a chronic illness, environmental sensitivities, toxic overload, or any other health condition, air quality that dips into “unhealthy for sensitive groups” may exacerbate your symptoms. Being aware of the air quality in your area can go a long way in helping you protect yourself.
Let’s take a look at some other ways you can protect yourself from the potentially harmful effects of benzene and other toxic compounds.
How Can I Protect Myself From Benzene?
While it’s impossible to entirely avoid exposure to some levels of benzene, there are some simple and effective steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones from the effects of long-term exposure to this potentially harmful compound. Here’s what I recommend:
Minimize Indoor Air Pollution
Due to vapors from household products and limited air circulation, indoor air can be chock-full of harmful pollutants. Minimizing air pollution in areas where you spend most of your time – like at home and work – is crucial. Some ways to minimize indoor air pollution include:
- Do not allow smoking inside your house.
- Don’t use artificial air fresheners and plug-ins which almost always contain numerous toxins.
- Avoid chemical-laden cleaning products. Try sticking with vinegar and water-based cleaners.
- Regularly clean your air ducts and replace old and dirty air filters. It also helps to have your air ducts cleaned at the end of each summer.
One of the simplest and most powerful ways to minimize indoor air pollution is to invest in a high-quality air filter for your home. I personally love using Austin Air Filters. If you’re interested in purchasing one of their top-of-the-line air filters for your home, you can get 10% off by ordering through our clinic – just call us at 303-993-7910 to learn how.
Support Your Detoxification
Your body has its own natural mechanisms for processing and eliminating toxins. But in our modern world, we’re exposed to ever-increasing levels of toxic compounds – which can essentially “clog up” your body’s ability to properly detox. Here are some ways you can support and enhance your body’s ability to detox:
- Minimize your toxic burden
- Try detox binders to help you collect toxins along your digestive tract and eliminate them
- Sweat out toxins by using an infrared sauna
- Incorporate pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy to boost cellular energy
Supporting your body’s ability to detox also goes hand in hand with boosting your immune system – which leads me to my next recommendation.
Give Your Immune System a Boost
Your immune system is designed to recognize, target, and eliminate potentially harmful toxins. So it’s crucial to keep your immune system running on all cylinders. Here’s what I recommend:
- Prioritize rest and ensure you’re logging plenty of hours of high-quality sleep
- Focus on keeping your gut happy and healthy – your digestive tract is intricately linked to your immune system
- Take immune-boosting supplements like Vitamin C, probiotics, and glutathione
- Reduce exposure to toxins so you’re immune system doesn’t get bogged down
Your immune system is your most powerful tool when it comes to protecting yourself from unavoidable exposure to toxic compounds like benzene.
Set Yourself up for Success
There’s no denying that exposure to chemicals like benzene is hazardous to our health. And unfortunately, levels of benzene and other toxins are only growing. There’s simply no way we can entirely avoid exposure to these potentially harmful compounds – and the truth is that’s totally okay!
There’s no reason to try to “live in a bubble” and avoid anything and everything that might be harmful – that’s impossible.
You see, you have all the power to set yourself up for success and take charge of your own health. Taking simple steps to prioritize your health and well-being (like the ones outlined in this article) is the most powerful thing you can do to set yourself up for radiant health for years to come.
That’s why I’m so passionate about bringing my patients and readers knowledge and resources to take charge of their overall health. If you enjoyed this article and want to learn more about ways you can optimize your health, my blog is full of resources. Or if you want to go a little deeper, I encourage you to sign up for my newsletter – all you have to do is enter your name and email address in the form below.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Were you surprised to learn about the harmful health effects of benzene? What steps are you taking to minimize your exposure to toxins today? Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments below!
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.