Lara Adler is an Environmental Toxins Expert & Educator, a Certified Holistic Health Coach. She’s deeply passionate about changing the landscape of disease through addressing toxic exposures.
Since 2012, Lara has been on a mission to teach coaches, nutritionists and other holistic health practitioners how to eliminate the #1 thing holding their clients back from the results they are seeking – the unaddressed link between chemicals and chronic health problems.
We sat down with Lara to learn more about environmental toxins and how to reduce toxic exposures in our everyday lives.
Lara, tell us about yourself, where’d you grow up?
I’m an east-coast girl who grew up in Connecticut, and then made my way to Boston, New York and then out west to Portland, OR for the wild call of mountains, desert, forests and rugged coastlines. Today, I’m currently living in Albuquerque, New Mexico and although I’ve only been here for a few months, I would definitely say the people here are just genuinely friendly here which is nice to see in a big city like this!
What was the inspiration for becoming THE Environmental Toxins expert and starting your business?
Well, there wasn’t really ONE moment, it was sort of a convergence of a lot of different threads that ultimately brought me to this topic. I mean, nobody as a kid dreams of being an environmental toxins expert, like, that’s not a thing that people aspire to be!
I was always interested in health, mostly through the lens of nutrition and food. I was a foodie turned vegetarian then vegan and was very interested in learning about the agricultural industry and animal husbandry industry which was sort of what pulled me into the health space.
For years after my corporate job, I would go take cooking classes at the Natural Gourmet Cooking School in New York. Ultimately, I ended up finding health coaching and thought there could be an opportunity for me to flex this nerdy muscle that I have around health and nutrition, and help pull me out of my dreary corporate cubicle life that was just not jiving with me.
I took a chance on my career and started seeing clients and began coaching them primarily around weight loss, because it was just sort of a basic fundamental thing that a lot of people were looking for health advice on.
I had a number of clients who successfully lost the weight and could keep it off, but I had a couple of clients who followed my recommendations, but the weight didn’t budge for them. As a new health coach, this really intrigued me and I began researching resistant weight loss. This is where I began to learn about environmental chemicals and the role that they can play in altering metabolism in ways that lead to weight gain or resistant weight loss, which absolutely blew my mind!
I had already spent about fifteen years immersing myself in the wellness space and was just learning about toxins for the first time.
At the same time, my sister-in-law was pregnant with my niece and that sparked my research into baby products like crib mattresses. I started learning about all of the known or suspected harmful chemicals that are intentionally used in consumer products, including ones that are developed for babies, and that no disclosure was required so consumers had no idea what was in the products they were buying. This really lit a fire under me to dive into learning more about environmental toxins.
I spent a couple of years reading everything I could find on the topic. Living in New York, I frequented the lectures and conferences at the New York Academy of Sciences and the Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center. I was totally hooked and felt passionate about getting the information out to other colleagues who had shared with me that they knew nothing about environmental toxins.
This is when the lightbulb went off and I thought, wait a second, I think I need to translate what I’m learning in the research and the literature, into practical education and practical tools for other coaches and practitioners to implement with their clients. I started doing that in 2012 and I’ve been doing that ever since.
There’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to lose weight when you are doing all the things. In your research, were you able to find a direct link between environmental toxins and metabolic disorders?
Yes and no.
Yes, there is primary research in animal studies, because we don’t test chemicals on people. That’s not how we do science, because it’s not ethical. There’s absolutely data that shows that certain chemicals, under certain types of exposures, that happened during certain periods of development, like fetal development, can metabolically affect you when you’re older.
It’s also important to note that the tricky thing with some of these environmental chemicals is they don’t just have one endpoint or mechanism of action, they can have many mechanisms of action. For example, the chemical that might be classified as an obesogen, because it can lead to obesity, might also be an endocrine disruptor and might also be a carcinogen based on the different endpoints that are affected.
However, in looking at the epidemiological data we see many of the same toxicants from those animal studies showing up in people at comparable levels and we can find clear associations between these levels and the same types of health outcomes seen in animal studies. So we make can make inferences between the animal data and what we’re actually seeing in the human population.
So as a rule, we don’t test chemicals on humans, but there was a fascinating study published a couple of years ago where researchers decided to test a chemical called Bisphenol A (BPA) on a group of people. The FDA has set a “safe” level of exposure to BPA at 50 micrograms per kilogram of body weight per day – this is the level that these researchers decided to test. Interestingly, the chemical industry pushed back on this study saying it was unethical to test chemicals on people – which was a bit funny because this is the same industry that’s been defending the safety of BPA. So this study did find that exposure at the level that the FDA deem safe altered glucose-stimulated insulin response after just one dose.
That’s a rare instance where we’ve actually directly tested a chemical on people, but the loophole there was that this is the level that the federal government states is “safe.”
Now think of how many metabolic disorders in general there are today, then add on metabolic disorders facing Americans through the lens of COVID where the metabolic disorders are huge comorbidity factors. All of this may be contributing to the vulnerability of our immune systems and the severe effects of COVID.
In looking at animal research, what are the top toxins found in nature that affect humans?
That’s a big question! Like all topics in science, there’s an incredible amount of nuance. The answer to this question depends on the lens you’re looking through.
If we look at the top killers in society: heart disease and cancer, then yes, there’s a lot of links between cancer and environmental chemicals, heart disease, yes, not as many, but it’s still there.
There are also the chemicals that we don’t have constant exposure to, but are extremely toxic. Then there are chemicals we’re being exposed to a little bit every day that can overtime be very toxic – so it really depends on which lens you’re looking through,
I would say the top of that list right now, is the research exploding around PFAS chemicals. These are per and poly fluorinated alkyl substances found in your nonstick cookware, stain resistant fabrics, outdoor gear and firefighting foam.
According to CDC data, PFAS are found in over 99% of the US population. They are deemed “forever chemicals,” meaning that they don’t break down so every molecule that has ever been created, still exists and will exist. It’s a gigantic global issue!
There’s also BPA which the CDC has found in around 93% of the population. This is a non persistent chemical that doesn’t build up in the body; it has a half life of around 12 hours and is metabolized really quickly. However, just because we pee it out quickly doesn’t mean that it’s not doing damage; because bisphenols interfere with our hormones, they still have a negative effect on their way through the body.
Because we know that bisphenols are metabolized quickly, and we know that 93% of people have metabolites in their bodies, this tells us that we’re likely taking in these compounds faster than we excrete them. We’re being exposed to them multiple times a day – through the food we eat, and when we’re handling cash register receipts, for example. Reducing exposures to non-persistent chemicals like bisphenols is the best course of action for individuals.
Then there’s toxins like arsenic, a naturally occurring heavy metal, which is a major groundwater contaminant all over the world. After moving to Albuquerque, one of the first things I did was get my water tested to see if, and how much arsenic is in my drinking water; this is a known problem in New Mexico. Arsenic is a known carcinogen, and research has shown that even low levels of exposure or consumption in drinking water can lead to lung cancer.
There’s also heavy metals, some of which are present in our water due to being present in the earth’s crust, and others, like lead, that can be present due to lead pipes, or lead in our water fixtures. It’s well established that lead is a neurotoxin and there is no safe level of exposure.
So, PFAs, BPA, Arsenic and lead are all very concerning for me and need to be better regulated. These are just a few of the hundreds of chemicals we’re exposed to that can affect our health.
How do you think we got ourselves into this toxic mess?
Sadly, we just don’t have good federal regulations for chemicals in the marketplace. And, in way, and to some degree, this makes sense, because we’re not going to pass laws to address problems that haven’t happened yet. Our policies and regulations always seem to arise after some kind of crisis.
In the early part of the last century, we had problems with things called patent medicines – which were concoctions that claimed to cure all kinds of ailments, that in reality either did nothing, or caused harm and even deaths. At the time we didn’t have any regulations in the marketplace for things like this… the dangerous and wild-west nature of patent medicines was one of the things that inspired the formation of the FDA. Point being, we don’t preemptively regulate, we regulate after the fact.
Today, we’re in a different place, we have so much information and data – more than enough to better regulate chemicals in commerce. When we try to regulate, we get pushback from industry that makes the same claims they’ve been making for decades; regulating chemicals stifles innovation and costs people jobs. But that’s simply not true. Additionally, we know there’s a huge economic cost to these chronic exposures. In 2016 a great paper was published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology that looked at evidence for a handful of exposure-response relationships between known endocrine disrupting chemicals and things like obesity, diabetes, some cancers, heart disease, and loss of IQ points. Shockingly, the study found that in the United States, this small fraction of chemicals, just looking through the lens of endocrine disruption alone, costs the United States $340 billion in health care costs and lost wages, annually!
Wow, $340 billion per year is ridiculous! Is anything being done to help reduce our environmental toxin load?
Not nearly enough here in the US. If we look at the European Union, we see they have much better regulations on chemicals in commerce. It’s not perfect, but it’s far, far better than in the US. So this begs the question, why? In the EU, most, if not all, nation-states have national health care. This means that government bears the burden of the cost of disease and illness, including those caused or exacerbated by toxicant exposures.
In the US, we don’t have national health care – the government is not bearing the burden of that $340 billion per year cost – individual people are. And until we have a national healthcare system here in the US, I honestly don’t believe that government is going to be as motivated to push back against industry lobbyists and properly regulate chemicals.
Individual health should not be political. There should be no partisanship around better regulating chemicals in the marketplace!
In 2016 Congress passed an update to the Toxic Substances Control Act, which is our primary piece of policy that regulates many chemicals in commerce, which was first passed in 1976. It took 40 years for that piece of policy to get updated, 40 YEARS!
My work is about educating health professionals to then educate the clients and patients that they serve. And while people can make changes to reduce their exposure to toxicants in their daily lives, the burden should not be on the individual. It’s really government and industry’s that should be working to reduce the amount of harmful chemicals in commerce that are being pumped into the environment through pollution.
Without meaningful regulation, what can we do today to limit our exposure to toxins?
There’s actually a lot we can do!
First, let’s start with four things that are simple, free and easy:
- Open your windows!
Most homes are built pretty airtight – we do that for energy efficiency. The downside of energy efficient homes is that we’re trapping in a lot of the chemicals that are off-gassing from our furniture, carpets, kitchen cabinets, scented candles and many of the other products we are bringing into our homes.
The EPA has found that indoor air can be five to 10, all the way up to 100 times more polluted than outdoor air. We actually have federal regulations for air pollution outside, but we don’t have any agency that monitors air pollution inside because how can they right? Opening your windows is a great way to just let those chemicals out.
- Take off your shoes when you come inside!
It’s not that we’re just tracking in dog poop, think pesticides, heavy metals, particulate matter from vehicle exhaust, etc. If we have carpeting, we’re bringing those chemicals into our house where they get stuck in the carpet.
- Don’t buy and don’t use scented candles, air fresheners, plugins, reed diffusers!
Products that are intended to add fragrance to your home can contain chemicals that are hugely problematic. Save your money and just don’t buy these scented products.
- Avoid Cash Register Receipts
Thermal paper is coated in Bisphenol A (BPA) which acts as a form of ink. If you don’t need the receipt, don’t take it. This is also a very simple, but very meaningful thing people can do to reduce exposure to bisphenols. If you work at a cash register in a retail environment and if you’re handling receipts all day, wear gloves.
There have been some very small studies looking at the levels of BPA in the urine of cashiers pre, during, and post-shift. As you would expect, there is a spike of BPA during and after their shift, because of all the receipts they’re handling.
Shifting beyond free and easy:
- Organic Food
When it’s possible and I know it’s not always possible, eat organic fruits and vegetables.
- Clean Up Your Personal Care Products
Here are some of my recommendations, but there are tons of options online.
- Choose Clean Household Cleaners
You can make simple and effective homemade solutions, or choose these.
- Choose Clean Cookware
- Get Rid of Kitchen Plastic
Overall, I like to remind people that we don’t have to do it all overnight. Lowering our exposure to environmental toxins is a journey, it took me seven years before I could afford to replace my bed, because it was an expensive item. Have some grace with yourself and know that any small action step is meaningful. And don’t stress about it or be overwhelmed, just do your best!
For those of us who are trying to get our families and friends onboard, how would you explain environmental toxins to a fifth grader?
I would say that environmental toxins are invisible substances that we encounter. Some of them we can see and smell and taste, but most of them we cannot. Toxins are things that can make us sick over the course of our lives.
For example, one grain of sand does not make a beach, you obviously need tons of sand to make a beach. This is what is happening with our exposure to toxins, over our lifetime we are exposed to tons of grains of sand (toxins) aka an entire beach of toxins and this level of exposure can lead to diseases that cause us to be really sick for a long time or prevent us from playing sports and enjoying life.
Why should someone care?
In terms of why a fifth grader should care, I think it’s about living life without the potential of getting sick. All of these things like asthma we see children suffer from, to family members getting sick whether it’s insulin resistance (diabetes), obesity, allergies, inability to get pregnant, asthma or learning disabilities, all can be linked to environmental toxins.
What’s your favorite place in nature, either for fun or a place where you go to heal?
The forest. Any forest.
Also, I love the beach, but at dusk because I am very pale and burn easily. Haha!
Both are just really grounding and calming. And based on the nature of the work that I do – it’s very heavy and overwhelming sometimes so I have to escape to the quiet places in nature.
What’s next for you and your business?
I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing and pushing for more transparency! I want to provide as many health-based businesses as possible with science and research about the harmful effects of toxins in our environment. It’s my mission to make the research accessible and actionable.
The topic of environmental toxins is rooted in science and shouldn’t be dismissed as a pseudoscience, which it often is. There are tens of thousands of peer reviewed studies spanning decades linking toxic chemicals to negative health outcomes. I think there’s an art about talking about the science in this space in a non-sensational, accessible, and actionable way, and so what’s next for me is to just keep doing that!
For readers who want to learn more, where can they connect with you?
And of course, the best place to learn more about Environmental Toxins is in my courses! My flagship course, Talking Toxins is where I give health professionals like nutritionists, health coaches, ND’s, RN’s and chiropractors, as well as healthy-minded consumers a deep education on where these toxic exposures are happening, along with actionable steps to take.
There are also a ton of free resources on my website as well.