Misguided wisdom and signs of toxicity
The conventional wisdom surrounding toxins (and the need to detox) has been misguided for decades. Instead of focusing on long-term effects, only short-term symptoms have been considered damaging. For example: with amalgam dental fillings, mercury was used for decades. Because most people didn’t roll over and die when the amalgams were implanted, most assumed mercury to be harmless. Now, we know that mercury is a known neuro-toxin, and can directly harm the nervous system. One recent study showed that those with over 8 amalgam fillings had blood mercury levels over double than those without fillings. According to the World Health Organization,
“Exposure to mercury – even small amounts – may cause serious health problems” and “Mercury may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes.” A new theory about toxins has emerged, one about total body burden.
Think of your body as a cup. Everyone has a different sized cup and the things you do everyday either add to that cup or drain it. If someone is constantly exposed to toxins, their cup will fill very quickly and eventually ‘spill over’. When the body is overloaded with toxins, many symptoms can arise, such as fatigue, brain fog, anxiety, depression, weight loss or gain, GI symptoms like constipation or diarrhea, thyroid problems, reproductive issues, memory loss, and many more. When the body is overloaded, it is called “Toxicant Induced Loss of Tolerance” or (TILT). In order to prevent the body from being overburdened with toxins, it is important to consistently detoxify while decreasing exposure to toxins. Let’s talk more about this.
Our Toxic World
Since World War 2, over 100,000 chemicals have been introduced into our environment. These chemicals are found in our water, food, air, soil, and most products. It is the EPA’s job to determine if these chemicals are harmful or acceptable, even though they have only banned or limited 5 chemicals thus far. Yes, 5. This is a ridiculous notion that all chemicals are safe…until they’re not. Although some of the chemicals released have been tested, none have been tested in conjunction with other chemicals to see how they affect human physiology. Better yet, no long-term studies have been conducted showing the safety of all of these chemicals on our reproductive health, immune function, brain, and gut.
Toxic from birth?
In a study conducted by the Environmental Working Group, 287 chemicals were found in the umbilical cord of newborns. Of those 287 chemicals, 180 have been known to cause cancer!
This goes to show that humans today are toxic even before they are born! If we don’t excrete or get rid of toxins, they can build up in our bodies and keep accumulating. This illustrates just how important it is to actively detoxify in our lives.
How we detoxify
Our bodies eliminate toxins in a variety of ways:
- through our lungs (breath)
- through our sweat (skin)
- through our urine (kidneys and liver)
- through our stool (gut and liver)
The Liver: Your main organ for the detoxification process
Your liver has hundreds of jobs in the body and is one of, if not the busiest, organ in the body. The liver’s main job is to break down toxic products into forms that can be eliminated from the body. In the liver, there are 2 main phases of detoxification: phase1 and phase 2. There are different nutrients needed for the different stages, and many people don’t get enough to efficiently run the detoxification process, leading to buildup of toxins. Below is the body’s natural detoxification process.
- Phase 1- Break down toxin into intermediary (make them less toxic). This is done by the Cytochrome P450 enzymes. Nutrients needed to complete this phase include B Vitamins, Vitamin C, and Glutathione.
- Phase 2-Breaks down water soluble substance again so it can be excreted through the bile or urine. Some people can run phase 1 detoxification well, but cannot perform stage 2. This is like washing your clothes in the washing machine, but never transferring them into the dryer. The clothes would sit and start to smell. The same happens in the body, if phase 2 cannot be performed correctly, toxins can re-absorb into the body. Phase 2 is dependent on mitochondria and nutrients such as sulfer-based amino acids, like taurine, glycine, glutamine and cysteine.
Gut: The first line of defense
Your gut is your first line of defense for everything that enters your body through your mouth. The majority (up to 80%) of your immune system is in your gut to protect from invaders. While the first line is the gut, the liver helps to clean up whatever the gut could not. The gut bacteria have a large role to play in how well the body detoxifies. The gut has about 100 trillion bacteria in it, and a good balance is essential for health. Good bacteria helps break down food and make vitamins, all while destroying toxins. On the other hand, when there is an imbalance of gut bacteria due to antibiotics, NSAIDs, infections like H. pylori, parasites, or candida, bad bacteria can proliferate. Bad bacteria destroy vitamins and make toxins; leading to toxic overload in the body. Cleaning up the gut is paramount in correcting detoxification issues.
If one eats an inflammatory diet, takes multiple medications, and is stressed- the gut cannot effectively make the first pass at toxins- leaving the liver to do most of the work. The liver already does hundreds of jobs in the body, so when the overworked organ has to pick up the slack from the gut, someone’s toxic cup can overflow.
Sources of toxins:
Toxins in food can include pesticides and herbicides from conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. In fact, the average American consumes over a gallon of pesticides and herbicides every year from eating conventionally grow fruits and vegetables. Also, food colorings and dyes, aspartame, and artificial sweeteners in food can stress the body’s detoxification processes.
The average American uses over 10 personal care products every single day. This can include shampoo, deodorant, perfume, shaving cream, lotions, toothpaste, and many more. Toxins like phthalates, triclosan, fragrance, Bisphenol A (BPA), lead, and fluoride are pervasive in household products today. This can possibly lead to neurologic complications, reproductive and endocrine disorders, detoxification problems, and immune imbalances just to name a few.
The average household has over 10 gallons of synthetic chemical products. You can reduce these by avoiding toxic products. Visiting EWG.org to find the best non-toxic products; from toothpaste to deodorant, to sunscreen and many more.
The WHO states that over 3 million people died in 2012 from ambient outdoor air pollution. Outdoor pollutants like particulate matter and nitric dioxide can lead to cardiovascular and pulmonary disease, as well as cancers. According to the EPA, indoor air is up to 5 times more toxic than outdoor air. This is due to gases like radon and carbon monoxide, mold and pollen,
building and furniture materials( like formaldehyde, lead, and asbestos), and household chemicals and products. In order to combat indoor air toxins- I would recommend a good quality HEPA air filter for your home or workplace. Also make sure to open windows whenever possible.
The Environmental Working Group collected data from agencies and the EPA about drinking water in all 50 states. Out of 500 contaminants tested, 267 were found. In fact, some alarming results came about from the study: 93 contaminants showed an increased risk for cancer, 78 were associated with brain damage, and 63 were considered detrimental to children or fetuses. Some of those include: fluoride, a known neuro-toxin, chlorine-which can drastically alter the gut flora and lead to neurologic problems, lead-which is extremely toxic and is classic for cardiovascular problems, and even medications like Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, antidepressants, birth control pills, and statin drugs.
All of the data also showed increased level of lead in 19,000 public water systems in America. Tap water is inundated today with toxic chemicals that can have long-lasting effects on health.
What are the symptoms of a toxic body?
Most people think that if they are still breathing, then toxins aren’t harming them. That could not be further from the truth. In fact, the cumulative effect of toxins on the human body is far-reaching and can have an impact on every system and cell in the body.
Weight gain – When the body accumulates toxins, they store them in fat. The more toxins accumulated, the more fat needed to store toxins. This can be a direct correlation to weight gain, and many have shed pounds when they are able to detoxify properly. 70% of Americans are overweight. How many have a detoxification problem?
Headaches – Different substances are toxic to brain cells and can even destroy post-synaptic neurons. Toxins can also impede and back up liver detoxification pathways. Both of these can be expressed as headaches.
Brain fog – Have you ever felt like you live in a fog? Like you can’t form the sentences you wanted, or remember what you walked into a room for? Brain fog is something very real and something that can be driven by toxic overload. The brain is one the most fragile organs and affected significantly when toxins are present.
Depression – When toxins are present in the brain, the reuptake ports on the neurons can shut down; ultimately leading to degradation of serotonin and dopamine—your feel-good brain neurotransmitters.
Other common symptoms include insomnia, fatigue, constipation, diarrhea, and bloating.
What To Do About Toxicity
The foods we eat either build us up or break us down. The foods we eat literally make our entire body: from our blood vessels, to our brains, to our muscles. Food is not just calories for our body: it is information for our genes. Eating the correct foods can help the body detoxify. Incorporating many vegetables into your diet gives the liver the antioxidants needed to run detoxification. Top notch detox vegetables include the cruciferous family: broccoli, cauliflower, garlic, onions, and brussels sprouts. Herbs and spices can pack a punch also: add rosemary, ginger, turmeric, cayenne for amazing detoxification. Be sure to get enough quality protein, as protein is broken down into amino acids; which are used up by the liver in detoxification. Organic or grass-fed meats are the best when looking for quality and safety.
Clean up your house – no I don’t mean vacuum and mop
Instead, be on the lookout for any potential harmful products in your home. If you are not sure of what to look for, be sure to visit EWG.org. Some easy switches are: deodorant, toothpaste, shampoo and body wash, shower filters, eliminating toxic candles or air fresheners, and swapping toxic cleaners for natural ones.
The solution to pollution is dilution
Perhaps the simplest but most impactful way to help your body detoxify is to ensure you are consistently hydrated. Think of it like this: what happens to water in a pond when it is stagnant? You can see growth of bad bacteria and it can look nasty, right? What about a fast-flowing river? Much cleaner. The same concept is what happens in your body when not properly hydrated; there is not enough water to flush out toxins. A good rule of thumb is to shoot for over ½ ounce per pound of body weight (A 200 lb person needs well over 100 ounces of water/day in most instances).In order to combat contaminants from tap water, be sure to filter your water. Reverse Osmosis is a great choice—which filters out almost all contaminants. You can also consult the EWG’s Water Filter Guide.
Binders like activated charcoal and diatomaceous earth help detoxify through adsorption: the toxins stick to the them and are escorted out of the body. These can be likened to a sponge, and activated charcoal has also been used in ERs for drug overdoses. Activated charcoal and DE can be used to help eliminate almost any toxin in the body.
The good or bad bacteria in our gut dictate sickness or disease. Adding in probiotics can help trap and break down xenobiotics and heavy metals, helping to eliminate them from the body.
Cilantro and chlorella
These can help purify the body by helping to bind to toxins.
NAC- N Acetyl Cysteine
NAC- N Acetyl Cysteine is a precursor to glutathione (the master antioxidant of the body). NAC can boost glutathione in the brain, liver, and other organs while squashing free radical damage.
Vitamin C not only helps detoxify, but it boosts your White Blood Cell’s ability to fight off invaders, stimulates bowel movements, aids the liver and adrenal glands.
Incorporate fiber into your diet daily. Foods like chia, hemp, flax, and berries are full of fiber, and can help stimulate gut motility— aiding in bowel elimination of toxins.
Epsom salt baths as detox bath
Epsom salts have been used for centuries, and for good reason. Epsom salt baths help reduce inflammation, promote gut motility, help flush out toxins, and can even be a great de-stressor. Add lavender or your favorite essential oil for even greater benefits.
IR saunas use infrared light to stimulate healing of the body. IR saunas are different in that the light penetrates the skin without heating the air around you. The light can also penetrate much deeper, mobilizing toxins more efficiently. Also, sweating is one of the methods that the body detoxifies. IR saunas can also increase heart rate and metabolism.
Functional Medicine Testing
Certain tests can be performed to show amounts of heavy metals stored in the body, but a more functional test would be the Organic Acid test. The OAT is a valuable, non-invasive test to show how different body systems are working. For example, the OAT shows how well the body’s methylation and detoxification pathways are running; which are extremely important for health and can be altered if found. The OAT can also show neurotransmitter production and breakdown (serotonin, dopamine, etc), gut bacteria, nutrient markers, and can warn of potential problems in the body due to nutrient deficiencies.
Your body is always attempting to detoxify. Instead of adding to your cup, be sure to actively do things that empty your cup on a daily basis. Implement the tips included in this article.