by Viktoriya Zabigaylo and Orest Szczurko
With the growing amount of toxins in our environment, food and water, there has been an accompanying rise in the rates of cancer and asthma prevalence. 90% of all cancers are attributed to the causes of environmental carcinogens as well as the lack of nutrients that the body needs for proper functioning of the detoxification systems. Environmental toxins can also be the culprit of adrenal gland damage, can interfere with thyroid hormone secretion, cause autoimmunity, or can interfere with reproduction. The nervous system is particularly vulnerable. Increased toxin exposure or buildup can further lead to dermatological, gastrointestinal, respiratory or muskuloskeletal problems.
Three of the major types of toxins include:
1. Heavy metals: include lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, nickel and aluminum. Metal toxins accumulate in the brain, kidneys and immune system.
2. Chemical toxins: include alcohol, drugs, herbicides and pesticides, and most commonly produce neurological symptoms (for instance, pesticides function in killing off pests by attacking their nervous systems – they are designed to be neurotoxins).
3. Microbial compounds: waste products from bacteria and yeast in the gut are absorbed into the bloodstream and are filtered out as toxins.
MAJOR DETOXIFICATION ORGANS/MECHANISMS
Liver: As the largest and most important detoxification organ, the liver cleanses and filters the blood through two phases. The activity of this system varies between individuals based on genetics, nutritional status and exposure to toxins, and plays a role in determining the level of risk of developing certain diseases.
Intestines: The intestines are home to a large amount of bacterial waste and by-products which must be filtered out by passing through the liver. Bile also carries toxic metabolic waste products and a diet high in fiber helps to control its presence in the intestines.
Kidneys: The kidneys excrete water-soluble toxins through the urine, including the breakdown products of protein metabolism (i.e. urea and ammonia). Drinking plenty of water facilitates this excretion in diluting the urine.
Skin: Fat-soluble toxins such as certain heavy metals tend to become mobilized within the fat tissue of the body. Sweating and exercise allow for the removal of toxins from these fat cells, escaping either into the bloodstream or through the skin (in the form of sweat).
Supporting the body’s detoxification mechanisms focuses on improving blood circulation, sweating, exercising, reducing inflammation, adjusting the diet and providing the digestive and metabolic waste processing organs with the necessary nutrients that are needed for optimal functioning.
Sweating is emphasized during a detoxification period because it allows for the release of fat-soluble toxins. Saunas, exercise and hydrotherapy are all efficient methods. Such treatments also improve blood flow and circulation and aid in the detoxification process by increasing toxin removal in the urine.
To support the liver, intestines, and kidneys, certain foods should be emphasized or eliminated in the diet. A high fiber intake is encouraged for binding bile in the intestines and decreasing its toxic load, as well as bacterial by-products. Drinking plenty of water helps the kidneys remove water-soluble toxins. The liver must also be supported with foods that feed the detox pathways. This includes beets and vegetables from the brassica family (i.e. cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts) which activate enzymes in phase I detoxification, and curcumin (from turmeric) which increases the elimination of activated carcinogens, further protecting against cancer. Effective herbs include dandelion root, nettle, and milk thistle. The diet should also include a good quality protein which is crucial for both phases of liver detoxification. Food sensitivities should further be worked on and eliminated, in order to improve GI function and lower toxin absorption.
Supplementation may be necessary in order to boost the detoxification process. This includes supporting glutathione synthesis (to ensure adequate antioxidant function during the elimination of heavy metals), vitamins A, C, E, and the B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and B6. Many of these vitamins also act as antioxidants during detoxification. Certain minerals including magnesium and selenium are also helpful, however determining an optimal dose and duration should be discussed with a naturopathic doctor. For the greatest and fastest benefit, glutathione can also be injected intravenously.
During the first several days of a detoxification program or cleanse, toxins begin leave the fat cells and the elimination organs increase their rate of function. This period may be accompanied by unusual symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, gas or gastrointestinal irritability. However with the change in diet, increase in exercise and adherence to the detoxification program, numerous benefits can be expected such as increased energy, less fatigue, better digestion, improvement in mental function, and weight loss.
1. Pizzorno, J. E., Murray, M.T. (1999). Textbook of Natural Medicine. 287-300, 437-451,