Sandra Justice, P.D., FACA
In recent history, mankind has managed to drastically change the chemistry of the environment in which we live. Toxicity is of much greater concern in the twenty-first century than ever before. There are many new and stronger chemicals, air and water pollution, radiation and nuclear power.
To compound the problem of our toxic environment, we have refined away much of the nutritional value of our food supply and replaced it with artificial colorings, preservatives, flavorings, conditioners, etc. This poor quality diet- combined with extensive use of antibiotics in medicine and agriculture- may have predisposed many of us to experience a kind of “internal” pollution. Internal pollution occurs when the healthful bacteria in the intestinal tract are overcome by unhealthful bacteria. These unhealthful bacteria release toxic by-products into our circulation.
After years of exposure, often the body can no longer keep up with eliminating these substances and they get recirculated into the bloodstream, wreaking havoc throughout the body, or stored in the liver, body fat or many other parts of the body. This internal toxic build-up can lead to toxicity diseases. Cancer and cardiovascular disease are examples. Arthritis, allergies and asthma, obesity, and many skin problems are others. In addition, a wide range of symptoms, such as headaches, fatigue, pains, coughs, gastrointestinal disorders, and problems from immune weakness, can all be related to toxicity.
What Is Detoxification?
Detoxification is the process of clearing toxins from the body or neutralizing or transforming them, and clearing excess mucus and congestion. Detoxification involves dietary and lifestyle changes that reduce intake of toxins and improve elimination. There are many levels of detoxification diets, from simple changes to complete fasting. There are a myriad of components in detoxification programs including fasts, juice cleanses, increased water consumption, regimented exercise programs, colon cleanses, enemas, herb programs, niacin therapy, stress reduction techniques, sauna or steam and combinations of the above.
Where To Start
A good beginning is to avoid toxicity. Do all you can to purify your work and home environments. If you know the source of any toxic materials at work, such as stored or leaking chemicals, dyes, paints, solvents, glues, acids, or household offenders such as insecticides or cleaning agents, remove then if possible. If the offending materials cannot be removed, an effective air purification system may be needed. At least, wear protective clothing and/or breathing apparatus when using toxic materials. Regular replacement of furnace and air conditioning filters may also be helpful.
It is also very important to eat a good diet with plenty of fresh foods. Avoid eating fat, refined sugar and food high in additives and preservatives. Eat moderate levels of protein (approximately 15% to 20% of your calories) and fat (approximately 20% of your calories), while increasing levels of complex carbohydrates (approximately 60% of your calories). Substitute organically-raised animals and organically -grown fruits and vegetables whenever possible. Increase your fiber intake. Drink plenty of purified water (ideally, eight 8-ounce glasses a day). Home water purification is highly desirable to provide pure water for drinking and cooking. With a regular, balanced diet, devoid of excesses, you will need less intensive detoxification.
To Detox or Not
Who needs to detoxify is based in part on individual lifestyle and needs. More common toxicity symptoms include headache, fatigue, mucus problems, aches and pains, digestive problems, “allergy” symptoms, and sensitivity to environmental agents such as chemicals, perfumes, and synthetics. Those with common acute and chronic illnesses may be greatly improved by a program of detoxification/cleansing. Many of the poisons (toxins) that we ingest or make are stored in fatty tissues. Obesity is almost always associated with toxicity. Of course, not all of these problems are solely due to toxicity or completely cured by detoxification.
The key to proper treatment at the proper time is to work with detoxification individually. It does take a sensitive person working with a sensitive holistic healing practitioner to find the right path. Detoxification experiences can range form subtle to intense. Evaluation of your health history, physical exam, biochemistry tests, dietary analysis, mineral levels, and any other specific tests that are indicated help to determine if you are a candidate for detoxification. Your practitioner will take a look at your general health, physiological balance, energy level, and current life activities in order to set up the right program for you.
There are a number of contraindications for using certain detoxification techniques. It may not be appropriate for those with deficiency problems such as extreme fatigue, underweight people, or those with cardiovascular disease. People with cancer need to be very careful about how they detoxify. Prior to or just after surgery is not a good time to detoxify. Pregnant or lactating women should not do any heavy detoxification. Prolonged fasting may weaken muscles and various organs because of protein losses and a gradual slowing of metabolic activity as the body endeavors to conserve its depleted energy sources.
Many find regular yoga and breathing exercises beneficial to combat negative spiritual influences, thought patterns and emotions which can be toxins. Moderate aerobic exercise is an important component of many detoxification programs as well.
Nourish the body thoroughly and you will fuel its natural detoxification mechanism with the nutrients needed to achieve optimal detoxification activity. By providing high-quality protein, complex carbohydrates and essential fats, your body gets what it needs to prevent muscle and organ breakdown and depleted energy resources. Nutrients are needed to support the function of the organs directly involved in detoxification: the liver, the intestinal tract and the kidneys. Application of nutritional supplementation may help in the following ways:
Intestine: The nutrients zinc and pantothenic acid, the amino acid L-glutamine, carbohydrates known as fructooligosaccharides, and microorganisms known as acidophilus and bifidus, are a few of the substances that provide support for health and integrity of intestinal function. In the proper state of health, the intestine promotes the elimination of toxins through (1) regular bowel movements, (2) eliminating the build-up of unhealthful microorganisms and internal toxins, and (3) providing a strong and intact barrier to prevent the leaking of toxic materials from the intestines into circulation.
Digestive enzymes are important since people tend to not eat their food thoroughly nor eat the right kinds of food. The three main digestive enzymes are amylase, lipase, and protease. Of the three, protease tend may be the most indispensable in terms of detoxification.
Liver: The vitamins A, B3, B6, C, E, beta-carotene, calcium, selenium, the amino acids L-cysteine and L-glutamine, and components known as glutathione and phospholipids are some of the substances that support liver function. In a proper state of function, the liver filters out and transforms toxic substances that have entered the blood into harmless substances that can be excreted in the urine. Interestingly, it appears that the ratio of dietary protein to carbohydrate may be a very important factor in determining the ability of the liver to detoxify certain substances.
Kidney: The vitamins A, C, B6, and the minerals magnesium and potassium, are just some of the substances that support kidney activity. The kidney provides a major route of toxin excretion via the urine.
Fat: Excess fat provides a ready storage site for fat-loving toxins entering the body. Once deposited there, it is very difficult to remove them. Unless the excess fat is removed, toxins will remain there with the possibility of being a continual source of toxicity. During weight loss you release these toxins, and thus need protection through greater intake of water, fiber, and the antioxidant nutrients, such as vitamin C, E, and beta-carotene, selenium, and zinc.
Herbs: Many herbs can support or even create detoxification. There are hundreds of possible herbs to be used for blood and tissue cleansing or strengthening the function of specific organs. Some of the more important ones are garlic, dandelion root, ginger root, licorice root, sarsaparilla root, milk thistle, chlorophyll (a “green food”), cayenne pepper, chaparral, and goldenseal root.
A good diet, the right supplementation, hydration, exercise, and avoiding toxicity give the body a better chance at staying healthy. Under the direction of a physician, pharmacist, and other healthcare professionals involved in alternative therapies, detoxification may aid you in reaching that goal.