New Moves Coaching Program

Stay Away From That - It's Toxic

Jun 30, 2024

The term "toxic" has become ubiquitous in everyday language, often used to describe anything from chemicals in household products to foods to certain types of relationships. The level to which “toxic” is being used by social media is truly frightening. I’m sure you’ve seen the grocery store trolls that video themselves showing you just how toxic one loaf of bread is while also quickly telling you that there is a “safe” loaf of bread you can buy if you click on their link (cha-ching, money made).

Toxicity is a word that naturally elicits fear and concern because toxicity is generally associated with harm, and that’s what they count on. However, this widespread use is frequently misleading and lacks the nuanced understanding that toxicity entails. 

Misunderstanding Toxicity

Many people misuse the term "toxic" without truly understanding its scientific basis. The concept of toxicity is not a straightforward, binary one. It encompasses various factors such as the amount of exposure, the method of exposure, the timing, and the type of substance involved. Toxicity is also species-specific, meaning what might be toxic to one species might not be to another. This complexity is often ignored in popular discussions, leading to oversimplified and sometimes erroneous claims.

The Fear Factor

The word "toxic" is often used as a tool to instill fear. Fear is a powerful motivator and can drive people to change their behaviors, sometimes irrationally. This fear-mongering is evident in marketing and media, where the term "toxic" is used to alarm and persuade you to avoid certain products or behaviors, more often than not without providing the necessary context.

Marketing and Media: Purveyors of Fear

In the realm of marketing, products are frequently labeled as "non-toxic" to imply that alternatives are harmful, even when there is no substantial evidence to support this. This tactic preys on consumer fears and pushes them towards supposedly safer options, often at a higher cost. Media outlets similarly exploit the fear associated with the word "toxic" by using sensational headlines to attract attention. This not only misrepresents the science but also perpetuates unnecessary anxiety among the public.

The Science of Toxicity

To grasp the true meaning of toxicity, it's essential to understand the science behind it. Toxicity is a measure of how harmful a substance can be, but several factors influence this harm:

Dose: The quantity of a substance to which one is exposed. Even water can be toxic if consumed in excessively large amounts.

Exposure Route: The way a substance enters the body—be it inhalation, ingestion, or skin contact—affects its toxicity.

Exposure Timing: The duration and frequency of exposure are critical. Long-term, low-dose exposure can differ significantly in effect from short-term, high-dose exposure.

Chemical Properties: The inherent characteristics of a chemical compound, including how it is metabolized and eliminated by the body, play a significant role in its toxicity.

Individual Differences: Factors such as age, sex, genetics, and overall health can influence how a substance affects an individual.

These variables illustrate why it is overly simplistic to label something as merely "toxic" or "non-toxic."

The Real Risk: Exaggeration and Misrepresentation

Exaggerated claims about toxicity, such as declaring certain foods or household items as dangerous without solid evidence, often aim to scare people. This can lead to undue stress and poor health choices, such as eliminating nutritious foods or spending unnecessarily on "safer" alternatives. It is crucial to approach such claims with a critical eye and seek out reliable information.

Here are some ridiculous examples

Detoxifying Foods: Claims that certain foods or diets can detoxify your body by removing unspecified toxins. This often lacks scientific basis, as our bodies naturally detoxify through organs like the liver and kidneys.

Alkaline Diet: Promoting the idea that acidic foods cause diseases like cancer and that eating alkaline foods can prevent or cure them. This oversimplifies complex health issues and ignores the body's natural pH regulation.

Chemical-Free Foods: Labeling foods as "chemical-free" when all foods are composed of chemicals, including water and essential nutrients.

Superfood Hype: Promoting certain foods as "superfoods" with exaggerated health benefits that go beyond what scientific evidence supports.


A Nuanced Perspective

Understanding the complexities of toxicity allows for more informed decisions. Most substances we encounter daily are present in amounts that pose minimal health risks. Regulatory agencies establish safety limits based on comprehensive research to protect even the most vulnerable populations. Therefore, the mere presence of a chemical in a product does not necessarily mean it is harmful.


Practical Tips for Navigating Toxicity Claims

Evaluate the Source: Check the credibility of the source making the claim. Is it a reputable scientific body or a sensationalist outlet? Two of my favorite people on social media debunking ridiculous claims are chemical engineer and food scientist  @foodsciencebabe and registered dietitian Andy Miller @andydoeshealthy. Make sure to follow them!

Check the Evidence: Look for scientific studies and evidence that support the claim. Be cautious of anecdotal evidence or isolated studies lacking broader scientific consensus.

Understand the Context: Consider the dose, route, and timing of exposure. Remember, the presence of a chemical does not automatically equate to harm.

Consult Experts: Seek advice from health professionals or toxicologists for a more nuanced understanding of potential risks.

Unfollow fearmongers: The number of people and companies fearmongering to sell their products to you is growing by the second. Unfollow, unfollow, unfollow!


The term "toxic" has become a buzzword often used to induce fear and influence behavior. However, a deeper understanding of toxicology reveals that this term is frequently misused and oversimplified. By recognizing the intricacies of toxicity and critically evaluating the sources and evidence behind such claims, we can avoid falling prey to fear-mongering tactics and make more informed, rational decisions about our health and safety. So next time you hear something labeled as "toxic," take a moment to consider the full context and seek out comprehensive information.