Much of the American populace is currently immersed in a sea of chemicals that were never meant to be inside the human body. Over four million of these chemicals have been created synthetically since 1915 (1). In fact, the average person living in the developed world is contaminated with up to 500 industrial toxins (2). These toxins are present in almost every aspect of our lives—from the air we breathe, to the water we drink and to the food we consume daily. While most people are aware that these chemicals are present in our food supply in the form of pesticides, growth hormones, leaching and the like, Paula Baille-Hamilton, M.D., Ph.D., author of The Body Restoration Plan, argues that these unwanted chemicals are partly responsible for the weight epidemic currently sweeping the nation (3). While poor food choices contribute to weight gain, toxins in our bodies are also culprits responsible for disrupting our natural hormonal and metabolic processes.
What To Do About It
Your body has one main strategy for dealing with toxins, or xenobiotics, and that is to purge them. The liver is the body’s principal organ of detoxification (4), responsible for “straining” the blood and removing all impurities. It also helps with fecal excretion via the bile duct (5). Kidneys remove excess water and filter out toxins for urinary excretion (5). Your lungs contribute by exhaling toxins that exist in gaseous phases within the blood. Lastly, the colon is the organ whose duty it is to isolate and eliminate xenobiotics and other unwanted wastes through the feces. Intestinal excretion is a slow process and is essential for dealing with toxins that have slow biotransformation, which means they are not easily filtered out by any of the other processes (5).
Unfortunately, due to our over-exposure to xenobiotic chemicals and toxins, our natural detoxification processes become overwhelmed and start to falter. This is when detoxification through supplementation is helpful.
Detox, Supplements and Beyond
For those who are healthy and have gotten their healthcare provider’s approval, fasting can help detoxify the body. Some experts feel fasting gives the body the chance to rest and enables it to heal. By not introducing additional toxins into your body, your organs “reset” and fully eliminate all the xenobiotics present, experts say. Fasting is typically done over the course of two to three days, and is generally supplemented with lots of water, herbal treatments or juices. However, the practice of fasting isn’t appropriate for everyone, so it’s important to encourage clients to see a doctor before considering any fasting regimen.
Eating organic food is another incredible way to detoxify the body. Many consumers are not aware of the acute disparity of chemical contents between organic and inorganic foods. While DDT and other pesticides have long been illegal in America, other countries still use them and then export their produce back to the United States (2).
There is still a chance for contamination of domestically grown fruits and vegetables as well; runoff from streams is a big source of chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCPs), dioxins, furans and other byproducts of various industrial applications (2). Another big selling point is organic foods have been proven to contain higher levels of nutrients than their conventionally grown counterparts. Modern commercial farming methods use large amounts of “agrochemicals and artificial fertilizers” that deplete the soil of essential minerals. On the other hand, organic farms use natural fertilizers with all the necessary ingredients for healthy, tasty and nutritious crops (3).
Many detoxification programs also call for a specialized supplementation regimen, which often includes fiber. Common to many treatments is the inclusion of fiber. Fiber aids the intestines in the digestion and elimination of toxins. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber “bulks and grinds” through the digestive tract and is essential for proper bowel movements (6). Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a type of gel matrix in which it traps xenobiotics (6). Psyllium is an excellent source of soluble fiber, as well as flaxseed (which also contains alpha-linoleic acid, an omega-3). The American Dietetic Association recommends a dietary fiber level of 20 to 35 grams per day (7), which is almost twice the daily amount the average American gets.
Milk thistle is another highly touted herbal detoxification agent. It contains a potent antioxidant called silymarin and has been used for 2,000 years in treating liver diseases (9). Not only does it aid the liver in cleansing itself of toxins and xenobiotics, it also helps rebuild new liver cells and boost the liver’s long-term ability to filter the blood (8). Milk thistle works by disrupting the constant cyclic flow of toxins between the gastrointestinal tract and the liver (7), blocking their primary absorption paths and preventing further absorption into new liver cells. It also stimulates proper digestive fluid production, which boosts the entire metabolic process and further helps to rid the body of harmful toxins (1). So, be sure to look for supplements high in pure silymarin.
N-acetylcysteine, or NAC, is extremely effective for heavy metal detoxification (1), and it is well known to protect the liver from damage caused by acetaminophen overuse and toxins (1). Once in the body, NAC metabolizes into glutathione, an enzyme that has been called “the master antioxidant” (9). Every cell in our bodies contains glutathione, but as we get older our glutathione levels start to drop (2), paving the way for toxins and free radicals to take over. As an antioxidant existing within our very cells, glutathione not only helps detoxify, but is said to prevent cancer right at the front lines of cellular damage (9). One study found that blood glutathione levels could be raised by almost 50% by taking 500 mg of vitamin C each day for two weeks (9).
There are also many herbal-based teas and supplements available on the market. Detoxification in the Ayurvedic tradition includes herbs like Picrorhiza kurroa, Phyllanthus amarus and Triphala, which have been used for centuries to protect the liver, aid metabolism and eliminate toxins. (1). Other highly touted herbs include burdock root, dandelion, fennel and ginger (1). Consider kombucha. This fermented fungus-based tea is an excellent detoxifier that contains glucuronic acid, a potent liver aid (4).
Other key ingredients in the detoxification market include artichoke leaf, burdock, beet, red clover and lemon/orange.
Who Should Detoxify?
Be sure to let customers interested in detoxification know that internal cleansing shouldn’t be done over long periods of time without breaks. Check with the product’s manufacturer for information about how long and when to detox. Also, be sure to emphasize the importance of keeping properly hydrated while detoxifying.
No detoxification program should ever be used to achieve quick weight loss in lieu of a healthy lifestyle.
Xenobiotics may contribute to weight gain, but it takes a lot more than a few days on a detoxification program to permanently drop pounds. A prime candidate for detoxification is anyone who is routinely exposed to toxins and xenobiotics, either through the environment or through poor food choices, and who can safely undergo a drastic diet change for a few days. This rules out expecting mothers, growing children and those who are severely underweight or otherwise malnourished or ill for any reason. WF
1. N. Anderson and A. Benoist, Your Health and Your House: A Resource Guide (Keats Publishing, New Canaan, CT, 1995).
2. S. Lieberman and J. Gormley, User’s Guide to Detoxification (Basic Health Publications, Laguna Beach, CA, 2005).
3. P. Baille-Hamilton, The Body Restoration Plan (Avery, New York, NY, 2003).
4. C. L’Esperance, The Seasonal Detox Diet (Healing Arts Press, Rochester, VT, 2002).
5. The Encyclopedia of Earth, “Excretion of Toxicants,” accessed May 2009, www.eoearth.org/article/Excretion_of_toxicants.
6. M. Zimmerman and J. Kroner, 7 Syndrome Healing (Nutrition Solution Publications, Chico, CA, 2006).
8. The American Dietetic Association, “Fibre Facts: Soluble Fiber and Heart Disease,” accessed May 2009. www.eatright.com/nfs/nfs88.html.
9. R. Klatz and R. Goldman, The Official Anti-Aging Revolution (Basic Health Publications, Laguna Beach, CA, 2007).
10. A. Palkhivala, “Glutathione: New Supplement on the Block,” MedicineNet, accessed May 2009, www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=50746
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, July 2009