In 2006, ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko was killed in London, when apparently someone slipped polonium-210 – a radioactive substance – into his cup of tea. Then, in February 2017, the estranged older brother of North Korean leader, Kim Jong Nam, was attacked at Kuala Lumpur Airport. Two women wiped a highly toxic nerve agent called VX on his face, and he died within just 30 minutes.

Why mention these two high-profile cases? To highlight, without any uncertainty, that toxins can kill. Do I honestly believe that toxins kill more people than they are held responsible for? Yes, without a doubt. Pretty much the only toxins our primal ancestors were exposed to were the odd poisonous mushroom or venomous bite. But fast- forward to today and we are exposed to a mass of toxins. These can be in the form of:

  1. What we eat and drink
  2. What we inhale
  3. What we apply to the skin
  4. Electromagnetic fields

Toxins in What We Eat and Drink

There is not much to cover here that we haven’t already mentioned. If we are avoiding packaged food and only buying organic produce, then we are doing pretty much everything we possibly can do to be safe. On the odd occasion, when we unknowingly digest something that might be slightly toxic, as long as it’s in a small dose then our clever gut and liver will likely be able to deal with it.

 toxins pepper

As well as being very careful about our food choices, we should be equally careful in how we store and cook our foods. For example, don’t store any food in plastic, unless you are 100% sure that they don’t contain bisphenol A (BPAs). This is especially crucial if you are going to microwave your food. Also, avoid using Teflon-coated pans if they are scratched or chipped as they can potentially leak dangerous chemicals into food. Another metal that should be avoided for cooking is aluminium. There have been several studies where they have found a link between the regular use of cooking in aluminium and Alzheimer’s. Food grade stainless steel is always the best choice for your health, as well as the longevity of your cooking utensils. When food burns it also becomes toxic, but we will cover this subject later when we discuss cancer.

Toxins In What We Inhale

Don’t smoke, period. Hold your breath momentarily as you race past the smokers huddled together outside the airport or office. When it comes to traffic fumes, try to avoid busy roads and instead learn to walk along the quieter back streets. We should be really careful in city centres, especially where there are lots of traffic jams: the densely packed buildings and skyscrapers lock in fumes, creating what some are calling urban canyons. A recent report compiled on behalf of the EU by the University of the West of England listed some very interesting findings. To measure air pollution, they fitted car drivers, cyclists and pedestrians with a carbon monoxide monitors. On studying their research, what I found most interesting was that, on open roads, the level of pollution falls off quite quickly the further we are from traffic. For example, cyclists at 2.5 metres from the middle of the road were on average exposed to 0.5 toxic parts per million, while pedestrians at six metres from the middle of the road were exposed to 0.1 toxic parts per million. So, when we can’t avoid going into highly congested cities or towns, it’s important to try to get as far away from traffic as possible.

smoking kills

Toxins In What We Apply To The Skin

For full disclosure, let me first tell you that a company that I am involved with, Primal Living, do sell a range of natural skincare products. Therefore in this section, I have deliberately not updated it from my first health book Primal Cure, which was written a long time before we decided there was a genuine need to create a complete range of healthcare products.

Have you ever wondered what is in the shampoos and shower gels that we lather all over our body? Have you ever stopped and thought about how that antiperspirant stops us sweating all day? Do you know what’s in the creams and makeup that we apply to our skin?

In Canada, some people decided to find out the answer to these questions. You can read the full report at They trawled through the handbags of six ladies and conducted tests on items including foundations, concealers, powders, blushes, mascaras, eye-liners, eye shadows, lipsticks and glosses. In total, they tested 49 different products, and the results were alarming. All 49 contained nickel, all but two contained lead, half contained cadmium and ten contained the poison arsenic. And, before you start to think that Canadians use inferior cosmetics, nearly all of the products were brand names that you would recognise and most women in the UK use regularly.

One of the people who had their makeup scrutinised was Erin Charter. On hearing the findings, she said, “The product that I spend the most money on, because I believed it was better for me, ended up being the worst out of everything tested! I’d like to have some indication of these ingredients on the label, so I could make informed choices. Or, better still, I’d like there to be rules to protect me from these chemicals, so I don’t need to worry so much”.

While there are numerous white papers and continual scientific debates as to what constitutes ‘safe’ levels of heavy metal exposure, I find it hard to comprehend how anyone could ever tell. How is it possible to truly measure what is the safe level of covering your body in known poisons over a sustained period of many years? Imagine going to one of the many uncontacted tribes in Peru or Indonesia and saying, “Hey, would you like to make yourself look more attractive by putting on modern makeup? But before you do, we have to warn you that they contain at least nine different elements that are known to be poisonous”. What do you think they would say? Would it be, “Hey, that sounds like a good idea, let’s stop using the natural herbs and colourings that we have used for generations and go for your scary cocktail of prettily labelled toxins?”

Is it really that bad to put poisonous things on our skin and to spray them in our hair and under our arms? Think back to chapter 2 (page 44) where we discussed how, when the small intestine has done its job, it sends blood to the liver for a safety check before it is then allowed to be pumped around the body. The problem with what we put on our skin is that, without a safety check, it is free to be absorbed directly into the bloodstream. Am I really implying that we would therefore be safer swallowing our shampoo, deodorant and makeup than we are applying it to the skin? Yes, I am. If we were to swallow them, our inbuilt safety mechanism would kick in and we would normally vomit. If we did somehow manage to swallow them, then our liver would give the thumbs down and send them to our back door for a quick and timely departure.

I have a simple piece of advice on choosing any skincare products, and that is always to read the ingredients. If you would not be happy to eat it, then don’t apply or spray it!

Think about it this way: for 2 million years we have had to build a defence mechanism for poisonous things that we might consume. Every single month, our primal ancestors had a varied diet of hundreds of different plants and bugs. This diversified diet meant that they would occasionally eat a berry, a mushroom or plant that was not healthy for them. Therefore, through evolution, Mother Nature has built in a fairly robust safety mechanism against things that we might accidentally consume.

body cream

But, as we have only been smearing our body in poisonous creams, makeup and cleansing products for just over 100 years, nature hasn’t yet had chance to evolve and create either a natural defence or a warning mechanism. When I told my wife this, her immediate reaction was that I was wrong; to be honest that’s not an unusual response! She reminded me of how our daughter Lili had come out in a huge rash after having her face painted and how our sister-in-law Paula’s eyes had become swollen from a reaction to sun cream. Of course, as always, my wife was right. However, these were reactions to highly concentrated poisons in just one application. The body was smart enough to detect this and react immediately, therefore alerting them not to use those products again. But what I am talking about here isn’t huge concentrations of poisonous things in just one application, but a lifelong drip-feed of them into our systems.

Think about it another way. We know that toxins attack the immune system. We also know that underactive thyroids are related to the immune system, and it is a fact that this condition is much more prevalent in females. Why is this the case? Could it be because females apply far more products on the skin than males? In her insightful book, Hashimoto’s Protocol, Dr Izabella Wentz makes a very similar point, “When we swallow a substance, our gut and liver process it first before it goes into the circulation system. When you apply substances through the skin, the substances skip the gatekeepers of the digestive tract and liver”. In an article in The Huffington Post titled, ‘Why Your Makeup is More Harmful than You Think,’ it says, “When it comes to antiperspirant, you may want to consider going for the less potent, natural options. When you shave your armpits, you’re scraping off a layer of skin – and then you apply the carcinogenic-filled deodorant right onto the vulnerable area right near your lymph nodes. Yikes!”

It’s not just the creams, makeup and sprays that can cause us harm, but the clothes that we wear too. We should try to avoid synthetic material, instead dressing in clothes made from natural fibres such as cotton or bamboo. While we are talking about clothes... There was a recent news clip on the BBC, where the fire brigade conducted an experiment to show the dangers of using skin creams containing paraffin. They set alight six identical ladies tops, one that hadn’t been worn and the rest that had been worn for different periods of time. Amongst the points they were trying to highlight, it was frightening to see how quickly the clothes caught fire if they had been in contact with skin creams containing paraffin (of which sadly there are many on the market), even if the clothes had been washed. The conclusion was that tragically 44 women in Britain have died since 2010 due the paraffin in their clothes catching fire. Now while that is very frightening, what is more concerning to those of us living in Britain, is the toxic effects that same paraffin might be having on the health of our bodies.

makeup products

Toxins in Electromagnetic Fields (EMF)

While not a toxin as described above, I couldn’t leave out the dangers we face from putting our mobile phones to our ears too frequently. As a parent, I am concerned – or should I say frightened – by the fact that current claims that low frequency electromagnetic field exposure are safe is based on very little conclusive research. The World Health Organisation (WHO) currently state on their website, “The electromagnetic fields produced by mobile phones are classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as possibly carcinogenic to humans”. Does that sound frightening? It does to me. Especially when you consider how big and powerful the telecommunication giants are, I doubt we will find out the truth for several more decades.

WHO’s website goes on to say, “The power (and hence the radiofrequency exposure to a user) falls off rapidly with increasing distance from the handset. A person using a mobile phone 30 to 40cm away from their body – for example when text messaging, accessing the internet or using a ‘hands-free’ device – will therefore have a much lower exposure to radio frequency fields than someone holding the handset against their head. In addition to using hands-free devices, which keep mobile phones away from the head and body during phone calls, exposure is also reduced by limiting the number and length of calls. Using the phone in areas of good reception also decreases exposure as it allows the phone to transmit at reduced power”.

My advice is going hands-free or don’t use your mobile phone at all. However, it’s not just your phone that produces a toxic electromagnetic field. The modern kitchen and bedroom are hotspots too. In the kitchen the microwave is the most harmful. While the food is fine once cooked, don’t stand too close to it while it is cooking. Other appliances such as washing machines and blenders also generate an EMF, but they are far weaker. In the bedroom, try not to overuse your hairdryer and let your hair dry naturally where possible, just as our primal ancestors once did.

Dr Robert Lustig

Dr Robert Lustig

My colleague Chris Madsen at UC Berkley did a study, that shows that kids who charge their mobile in the room at night, get 28 minutes less sleep than those who charge them outside of the room. And what we all need to do is to stop using screens one hour before bedtime. No screens. Books fine, but not screens as they are detrimental to the production of serotonin. Technology damages the pre-frontal cortex, and you need it for creativity. The problem is, with digital, we are seeing everything, rather than imagining it, and this is why kids are getting stupid. And it’s been going on since TV, but it has revved up since the digital revolution.


Author Patrick Holford

Author Patrick Holford

About ten years ago, and this is a bit controversial, there was a survey that showed that left-handed people had more left-sided brain tumours and right-handed people had more right-sided brain tumours. We are talking about mobile phone use. And there is this rather aggressive brain cancer that is on the increase; it’s gone up tenfold in the last twenty or so years, called glioblastoma. Two years ago, a very big study in a top journal said that ten years of mobile phone use more than doubles your risk of getting glioblastoma. So, we have an association. Then last year, there was a very good study that took these glioblastoma cells and exposed them to the amount that would be normal in a mobile call and found that the DNA fragmented, and bad things happen. So, we have a mechanism. But we will never have proof because it takes ten years to develop. So, you would have to have two groups for ten years, all doing the same things, but one group using mobiles and one not. But we are in the age of technology, so we are not all going to stop, but it’s better to use it on speaker away from your head and always try and get a good signal.