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June 10, 2005 04:08 PM
Basic Detox by Harriet Epstein , February 4, 2002
Basic Detox By Harriet Epstein Trying to stay healthy and clean in a dirty world can prove a difficult task. The rise of modern industry and agriculture has meant the widespread accumulation of toxins in our environment that can cause health problems.
As Kenneth Bock, MD, and Nellie Sabin point out in their book The Road to Immunity (Pocket), "Fat soluble chemicals are readily absorbed by the body but are difficult to excrete. To be excreted, they must first be enzymatically converted into water-soluble substances. Some of them can't be converted at all."
Bock and Sabin point out that a 1990 survey by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that looked at people's tissues found that everyone the agency examined had styrene (a chemical used to make plastic) and xylene (a paint and gasoline solvent) stored in their bodyfat.
The toxins that you encounter every day are not only present in air and water, but also may be found in food and medicines. If we eat beef that's been exposed to pesticides, those chemicals may be shunted into our bodyfat. Pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables may end up in a similar place.
To cope with chemicals, the human body has evolved methods for detoxifying. When we breathe out we often release inhaled toxins. Other toxins are purged through urine, feces and sweat.
One of the chief organs responsible for cleansing the body is the liver. This organ utilizes a pair of chemical pathways for breaking down and eliminating toxins. In our hectic, industrialized world, this flow of toxins can overwhelm the liver's ability to detoxify. In addition, the dual processes the liver uses to eliminate noxious substances may become unbalanced, allowing toxins produced by one pathway to build up to dangerous proportions.
Once liver function falters, toxic havoc ensues. Toxins may remain in the body, often stored indefinitely in bodyfat. The body's detoxifying systems may be swamped with toxins.
In protecting the liver and enhancing its detox functions, many naturopathic practitioners recommend the herb milk thistle (silybum marianum). According to Steven Bratman, MD, and David Kroll, PhD, authors of the Natural Health Bible (Prima), milk thistle helps the liver cope with its toxic load. Consequently, milk thistle is frequently used in Europe for liver problems like jaundice.
Bratman and Kroll point out that milk thistle "is one of the few herbs that have no real equivalent in the world of conventional medicine." As Lise Alschuler, ND, medical director at the Bastyr Natural Health Clinic, told Natural Digest, "Milk thistle protects the liver against toxic damage (and) helps prevent damage to the rest of the body."
The compounds in milk thistle that help zap toxins, known as silymarin, protect the liver by binding with substances that would otherwise interact with the liver and slow its function. They also help the liver repair itself and regenerate new liver cells.
As an extra bonus, silymarin acts as an antioxidant, protecting liver cell membranes from oxidative damage.
Dandelion has a place as another traditional treatment for toning the liver and boosting the body's filtration system. The leaves are a cornucopia of antioxidants and nutrients including B vitamins, vitamins A, C and D, plus boron, silicon, potassium, magnesium and zinc. They help detoxify by acting as a mild diuretic: they cause the body to eliminate excess fluid.
But herbalists worldwide have found the compounds in dandelion root most useful for helping alleviate liver and gall bladder malfunction. (If you think you suffer these difficulties, consult your health practitioner.) Two unique and helpful natural substances found in dandelion root are chemicals called germacranolide and eudesmanolide. The root, according to the Natural Health Bible, has traditionally been used to speed up a sluggish or congested liver as well as detoxing the body by eliminating constipation. Research indicates dandelion root may stimulate bile flow (Arzneimittel -forschung 9, 1959: 376-378).
Juniper berries (Juniperus communis), may also be taken with dandelion as a diuretic. This botanical, often used to combat urinary tract problems, is also an anti-inflammatory (Phyto Res 1, 1997: 28-31).
Heavy metals rank as dangerous toxins unleashed by modern industry. As Michael Murray, ND, and Joseph Pizzorno, ND, explain in the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (Prima), metals like lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, nickel and aluminum can "accumulate within the (body) where they can severely disrupt normal function."
Public health experts estimate at least one in five Americans has been a victim of heavy metal poisoning. Lead may be the most common villain. In your everyday life, you may be ingesting metals from your cookware, from pesticides, cigarette smoke, dental fillings, polluted fish, and chipping house paint.
Signs that you may suffer from toxicity linked to heavy metals: Unusual fatigue, Persistent headaches, Unexplained muscle pains, Anemia, Ringing in the ears or dizziness and Tremors.
Of course, if you think you suffer from heavy metal poisoning, you should see a knowledgeable health practitioner as soon as possible. Murray and Pizzorno recommend an array of precautions to protect yourself against heavy metals in the environment:
Take a daily multivitamin and mineral.
Take extra amounts of vitamin C and B-complex.
Take amino acids that contain sulfur (taurine, cysteine and methionine) and high sulfur foods like onions and garlic (or supplements). (Consult your pharmacist of health practitioner before taking individual amino acids.)
Consume water-soluble fibers like guar gum, oat bran, psyllium and pectin.
In addition, Leo Galland, MD, in his book The Four Pillars of Healing (Random House) offers these tips for keeping your digestive tract functioning at top capacity:
Add spices to your foods and consume garlic, onion, turmeric, rosemary and sage to aid digestion.
Take supplements of lactobacil-lus acidophilus and lactobacillus plantarum, friendly bacteria that in-habit the large intestine. These microorganisms can help break down toxins and eliminate them.
Use aspirin and ibuprofen as little as possible. They increase the permeability of the digestive system, allowing allergens and other problematic substances to enter the body.
Do not use antacids. The stomach's acidic environment is designed to kill ingested bacteria and parasites.
To fight digestive problems or heartburn, cut back on saturated fat; eat smaller meals. Chewing on calcium tablets after meals may help. Foods that can exacerbate heartburn include coffee, alcoholic beverages and very spicy foods.
Dr. Galland also recommends not eating for four hours before bed.
Environmental Free Radicals
Detoxing the body may also require taking antioxidant nutrients to fight off what are called free radicals.
Free radicals are caustic molecues thought to be involved in causing many chronic problems such as cancer and heart disease. Free radicals are created within the body and its cells every time a metabolic activity takes place. While the human body has developed its own mechanisms for defending itself against these byproducts of metabolism, exposure to pollution, radiation and other toxins may overburden the body's free radical burden. Scientists believe that taking extra antioxidant nutrients like vitamins C and E and carotenoids (natural substances found in many vegetarian foods) may help prevent damage by free radicals.
Environmental oxidizing agents include ionizing radiation (from industry, sun, cosmic rays, x-rays) ozone and nitrous oxide (from auto exhaust) heavy metals (mercury, cadmium, lead) and cigarette smoke, along with other chemical and compounds from food, water and air. Free radicals are believed to play a role in more than sixty different health conditions, including the aging process, cancer and arteriosclerosis. (Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 1993;90:7915-7922).
The good news? Reducing exposure to free radicals and increasing intake of antioxidant nutrients can shrink the risk of these health problems.
"Antioxidants can't get rid of heavy metals and solvents," says Dr. Glidden, "but they do cut down on the damage they do while they're there. As toxins wander through your body, they generate metabolic reactions, resulting in free radicals. And anti-oxidants mop them up." The liver is the last line of defense in handling toxins; supplements help it regenerate itself.
The body itself does produce enzymes like Superoxide dismutase (SOD) catalase, and glutathione peroxidase which can defend against and defuse many types of free radicals.
Supplements of these compounds are also available to augment the body's supply.
These building block nutrients include the minerals manganese, zinc, and copper for SOD and selenium for glutathione peroxidase. Many vitamins and minerals act as antioxidants. Dr. Crinnion recommends a multivitamin with "a lot of B, especially magnesium."
Since chlorinated pesticides like DDT "rob the body" of B1 and Vitamin A, he says, it's a good idea to supplement these as well.
In addition, acidophilus, a beneficial bacteria that grows in the digestive tract (and found in yogurt) may restore immunity hurt by pollutants. A study on women with recurrent vaginal candidiasis found that acidophilus cut their infections by 300% (Annals Int Med 1992; 116:353-357.)
Another immunity enhancer, colostrum, a natural immune enhancer that promotes cellular repair (Food Res Intl. 1995, 28(1):9-16) can also help the immune system battle pollution.
Vitamin C vs Pollution
A study of vitamin's C's antioxidant properties, conducted by University of Buffalo epidemiologists, and presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Epidemiologic Research, revealed that people with higher levels of vitamin C in their blood serum have lower levels of a marker of oxidative stress.
"It is well known that oxidative stress (cell damage caused by free radicals) plays a role in arteriosclerosis, cancer, pulmonary disease and other chronic conditions," said Holger Schunemann, M.D. a research assistant professor of social and preventive medicine at the University of Buffalo and lead author on the study.
"In this population, vitamin C was negatively associated with oxidative stress, suggesting it may play a role in protecting against these diseases." Vitamin C is the "greatest antioxidant," says Dr. Crinnion. "It has even been shown to clear lead from the blood."
A powerful fat-soluble antioxidant, Vitamin E scavenges free radicals protecting cells from oxidative damage. Vitamin E, "reverses toxicity of various toxic chemicals," says Dr. Walter Crinnion, "it is also a stabilizer of membranes." A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition regarding antioxidant vitamin supplementation and lipid peroxidation in smokers even indicates that an antioxidant-supplemented drink can reduce lipid peroxidation and susceptibility of LDL to oxidation in smokers and may ameliorate the oxidative stress of cigarette smoke.
Dr. Glidden recommends E preferably in the form of mixed tocopherols )If you take blood thinners, check with your health practitioner.)
Unfortunately, completely avoiding toxins in today's world is probably impossible. Civilization and toxic chemicals accompany each other hand in rubber-glove-encased hand. Still, with proper attention to nutrition and supplements to keep our bodies detoxifying, we can probably minimize health difficulties linked to these undesirables.