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A Life of Toxic Exposure. Why Detoxification is Real and How It Can Affect You.(Part 2 of 2)

In the first post covering detoxification, I identified the myriad ways in which our bodies are exposed to harmful substances both in and around our environment. I also pointed out the importance of distinguishing the difference between conventional and integrated medical interpretations of the word detoxification. This was crucial in order to emphasize how detoxification can be articulated and understood in drastically different ways depending on the context and perspective of those involved in the conversation. 

Moving forward, let’s review the three intended objectives I wish to cover regarding this subject: 1) to provide an alternate perspective countering the notion that detoxification is a myth; 2) to provide a relatively simplified and thorough understanding of the mechanisms by which detoxification can be effective; and 3) to address several common misconceptions related to detoxification. Hopefully, the first and third objectives were adequately answered in the first post, but if not, please feel free to post a question below. As for the remaining objective, well, that is the reason for the season so-to-speak. So sit back, grab a beverage of choice, and let us begin. 

Despite our best efforts to minimize exposure, it is increasingly challenging to avoid environmental toxins. From aluminum in deodorant to mercury in dental fillings, metal toxicity appears to be coming at us from every angle. As these and other substances such as arsenic, lead, and cadmium increase in the extent to which they are used in many products, so too do their waste products. Both scientific evidence and a growing number of patient concerns highlight the troubling fact that even small amounts of heavy metals in the body can contribute to systemic problems such as fatigue, headaches, digestive problems, and skin conditions. 

What is detoxification?

Before digging in to this section, I think it will be beneficial to briefly reiterate what was covered in the first post, regarding the appropriate conceptualization of the word “detoxification”. To be clear, when I talk about detoxification, I am not referencing the traditional notion of the word that is commonly associated with chemical dependency recovery. Rather, I am talking about the mechanisms by which our bodies cleanse our internal systems of the toxins with which they are regularly burdened, as well as various modalities by which those mechanisms are enhanced. For the purposes of this context, it may be helpful to think about detoxification as synonymous with cleansing, or elimination, or “rebooting”—to provide a technological analogy. Now that we have the term appropriately framed, let us dig in.

What are toxins?

Toxins that are water-soluble are able to pass through the body and be eliminated in our stool, sweat, or urine. Toxins that are fat-soluble, are not as easily processed and must be metabolized in our liver, so they can become water soluble, and thus eliminated. The liver processes all drugs, chemicals, pesticides, and hormones through 2 phases, known as “Phase 1” and “Phase 2”. The first phase utilizes cytochrome P450 enzymes produced in the liver. During phase 2, the toxic molecule is made more water soluble and less toxic. Thereby promoting excretion in the urine. 

What are some ways in which we can use natural methods to help cleanse our bodies of these toxins? Please note, this list is far from exhaustive. 

Massage

One of the many positive benefits of massage is the pressure that is applied through various strokes and techniques, which can facilitate the flow of white blood cells, proteins and fats through the digestive system[1]. When the lymph system becomes congested due to a blockage of the one the ducts, the oxygen-deprived environment becomes ideal for toxins to thrive. Promoting the flow of lymph is a critical component of our immune system’s ability to ward off harmful substances. Massage can be an effective method of enhancing the body’s natural ability to cleanse itself. 

Chlorophyll

This green pigment derived from algae and plants hosts many detoxifying properties.  Chlorophyll is incredibly effective at binding to harmful substances and carrying them out of the body. To delve into the mechanisms by which chlorophyll is able to perform in this capacity, it is primarily through reduced uptake of the toxins through the gastrointestinal tract, that chlorophyll is able to exhibit this protective mechanism, the precise mechanism through which this occurs is has yet to be fully established. From reducing the absorption of toxic metals from the environment, to protecting our DNA from the harmful effects of fried food, to providing a protective effect on cells from oxidative damage, this substance provides a variety of benefits that can aid in the detoxification process. The last of these has been shown to be especially helpful in preventing diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, atherosclerosis, heart failure, heart attacks, autism, infections, and even certain forms of cancer. [2,3,4]. 

Genetics

This exciting field of study has provided an opportunity to evaluate an individual’s genetic make up to assess for genetic variations that may be contributing to their inability to properly metabolize environmental toxins. The advantage of understanding your genetic make-up can equip you with an opportunity to take proactive measures in ensuring you manage your health to the best of your ability. For more information, check out Health Coach 7.

Spirulina

This algae is rich in proteins, vitamins, essential amino acids, minerals, and essential fatty acids. Spirulina has been reported to be beneficial in reducing cholesterol and risk of cancer, to enhancing the immune system, and promoting kidney detoxification from heavy metals and radiation [5,6,7,8]. 

Depuration (‘Sweat Therapy’)

Used for over hundreds of years, sauna therapy has been effective in treating hypertension, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, and environmentally-induced illness. For toxins that are stored in our body fat, sweating for extended periods of time has shown to be effective in decreasing the toxic burden on our bodies [9].

Brassica Family Vegetables

This family of vegetables includes cabbages, broccoli, bok choy, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, collard greens and kale. These leafy greens have been shown to improve detoxification and reduce tissue toxicity of xenobiotics (foreign chemical substance) and drugs, likely through providing increased sulfation and solfonation cofactors [10,11,12]. Sulfation and solfonation are chemical processes that involve altering a potentially harmful substance to a less harmful one.

Fiber

This dietary material is incredibly effective in assisting in detoxification as it binds to fats, hormones, chemicals, and metals in the intestines. When fiber enters the gastrointestinal tract is forms a gel that coats the intestinal walls, trapping cholesterol, before it’s absorbed and enters the bloodstream, thereby lowering blood cholesterol and helping to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Fiber can also help to prevent constipation and hemorrhoids. It also binds to estrogen and toxins promoting their elimination from the body, while preventing these substances from being reabsorbed into the blood and helping to reduce certain cancers. Fiber can be found in beans, apples, peaches, pears, berries, crunchy vegetables, and whole grains. A healthy recommended intake of fiber is 25-30 grams, daily. While most individuals are not currently consuming the recommended amount, it is encouraged to increase your daily intake slowly and over the course of weeks and/or months work up to the recommended daily intake 

Exercise

During vigorous bouts of exercise such as running, swimming, tennis, jumping rope, or hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack, the body mobilizes toxins through increased usage of fat stores to provide adequate energy as fuel. Through sweating and usage of body fat stores, exercise can also be an effective method for ridding the body of unwanted toxins. 

 The Bottom Line

The unfortunate truth of the matter is, our environments are permeated with substances that have potential health consequences that are pesky at best, and devastating at worst. As our knowledge continues to grow on just what chemicals are most concerning, how to test for them, and how treat them accordingly, I encourage everyone to be mindful of all that is known and unknown about these substances. In so doing, I encourage us to think critically about the various sources of information that find their way into your lives, while not abandoning the virtue of keeping an open mind. Knowledge is the key through which our awareness is opened. It is a key that is constantly changing, and sometimes elusive. The trick is to keep plenty of space on your proverbial key ring, and actively keep an eye out for when an old key needs to be replaced with a new one 

It is my hope after taking the time to become an informed citizen, you can begin to make educated choices that will help you in living the best life possible. 

In Health and Wellness,
Dr. Jeff Thomas


Bibliography

1.     Xujian, Shao. "Effect of Massage and Temperature on the Permeability of Initial Lymphatics." Lymphology 23 (1990): 48-50. Web. 16 Dec. 2014.

2.     Jubert C, Mata J, Bench G, Dashwood R, Pereira C, Tracewell W, Turteltaub K, Williams D, Bailey G. Effects of chlorophyll and chlorophyllin on low-dose aflatoxin B(1) pharmacokinetics in human volunteers. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2009

3.     Shaughnessy DT, Gangarosa LM, Schliebe B, Umbach DM, Xu Z, MacIntosh B, Knize MG, Matthews PP, Swank AE, Sandler RS, DeMarini DM, Taylor JA.Inhibition of fried meat-induced colorectal DNA damage and altered systemic genotoxicity in humans by crucifera, chlorophyllin, and yogurt. PLoS One. 2011 Apr 25;6(4):e18707. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0018707.

4.     El-Sayed WM, Hussin WA, Mahmoud AA, AlFredan MA. The Conyza triloba extracts with high chlorophyll content and free radical scavenging activity had anticancer activity in cell lines. Biomed Res Int. 2013;2013:945638. doi: 10.1155/2013/945638. Epub 2013 May 23.

5.     Belay, Amha, Yoshimichi Ota, Kazuyuki Miyakawa, and Hidenori Shimamatsu. "Current Knowledge on Potential Health Benefits of Spirulina." Journal of Applied Phycology 5.2 (n.d.): 235-41. Web.

6.     Fukino, Hideki, Yukari Takagi, and Yasuhiro Yamane. "Effect of Spirulina (S. Platensis) on the Renal Toxicity Induced by Inorganic Mercury and Cisplatin (Regular Presentations) (Proceedings of the 15 Th Symposium on Environmental Pollutants and Toxicology)." Eisei Kagaku 36.1 (1990): P5. Web.

7.     The effect of spirulina on nephrotoxicity in rats. by Y. Yamane, et al. 1988. Chiba Univ. Presented at Annual Symposium of the Pharmaceutical Society of Japan, April 15, 1988. Japan

8.     Sharma, MK, A. Sharma, A. Kumar, and M. Kumar. National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2014.

9.     Crinnion, Walter J. "Sauna as a Valuable Clinical Tool for Cardiovascular, Autoimmune, Toxicant-induced and Other Chronic Health Problems." Alternative Medicine Review 16.3 (2011): 215-25.

10. Munday, C. (n.d.). Selective Induction of Phase II Enzymes in the Urinary Bladder of Rats by Allyl Isothiocyanate, a Compound Derived From Brassica Vegetables. Nutrition and Cancer, 52-59.

11. Wark, P. (2004). Habitual consumption of fruits and vegetables: Associations with human rectal glutathione S-transferase. Carcinogenesis, 2135-2142.

12. Clapper, M., Szarka, C., Pfeiffer, G., Graham, T., Balshem, A., Litwin, S., ... Engstrom, P. (1997). Preclinical and clinical evaluation of broccoli supplements as inducers of glutathione S-transferase activity. Clin Cancer Res, 3(1), 25-30. Retrieved January 1, 2014, from PubMed.