Our Toxic World. Do I need to detox?
Monday, 7 August 2017 | Editor
We are in constant contact with harmful organisms and pollutants. They are in our water, in our food, and in the air we breathe and it’s very difficult to get away from them. Over the past few decades the toxin levels have gradually increased with the employment of pesticides and insecticides in agriculture, our changing lifestyles that include excessive smoking and drinking and air pollution from power plants, cars and landfills. Fortunately, there are ways to counteract some toxins, through healthy detoxification. Everyone can benefit from detoxification from when you are feeling below par to if you suffer from complex chronic diseases.
What is a toxin?
Toxins are any substances that are capable of causing disease in the body. They need to be made safe and removed from the body to prevent disease from occurring. Toxins can be derived from both our environment and our own metabolism. The sum total of these substances is referred to as our ‘toxic load’.
When do I need to detox?
Detoxification is commonly viewed as a ‘quick-fix’, notoriously after the Christmas indulgence period. But the idea of ‘detox’ is not new, nor one to be regarded so frivolously. Detoxification has been integral to religious practice for millennia, especially through fasting, and is recognised for its profound health benefits. Another common misconception is that detoxification occurs only in the liver. However it is a whole body process which helps our adaptation to environmental challenges. Healthy detoxification depends upon each body system working efficiently.
Common signs of toxic overload include:
- Digestive problems – gas, constipation, bloating
- Skin problems
Common toxins include:
- Alcohol in excess puts pressure on the liver as it can only handle a certain amount. The excess can cause harmful effect in the brain, heart, muscles and other tissues. In the liver, alcohol produces a toxic substance called acetaldehyde, which can damage liver cells and may cause permanent scarring[i].
- Heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic, lead and cadmium can damage or reduce central nervous function and damage vital organs.[x]
- Caffeine increases blood sugar[ii] and adrenaline levels.[iii] This releases insulin which increases inflammation. Constituents in coffee can interfere with the detoxification process in the liver making it difficult to regulate. It has also been associated with ovarian cancer risk[iv].
- Air pollution can induce damage the body’s cells and cause oxidative stress[v]. Cigarette smoke, in particular, can affect liver detoxification process, induce cellular damage[vi] and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease[vii].
- Pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides are commonly used in agriculture and many of which are toxic to humans.[viii] Organic foods contain higher levels of nutrients and may have a greater antioxidant activity[ix], which can support the body in fighting disease.
What can I do?
First and foremost is to get the basics right. Finding solutions by making a 20% change for an 80% difference by focusing on factors that we can control rather than those which we cannot control.
- Eating an organic, wholefood homemade diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices.10,[xi] However, buying organic can become expensive so the Environment Working Group have produced a guide to help determine the worst offenders in terms of pesticides and those fruits and vegetables least likely to contain pesticide residues.[xii]
- Reduce overall toxic load by removing challenging foods including gluten, dairy, sugar. Avoiding excess intake of alcohol and caffeine. Improving the quality of your tap water by using a filter can reduce arsenic[xiv] and fluoride.[xv] Stop smoking. E-cigarettes are a step in the right direction but they remain a source with unknown health consequences.[xvi]
- Improve food storage by avoiding plastic bottles[xvii] and containers switching to stainless steel and glass containers. Avoid cling film, aluminium foil and minimise tinned food.[xviii]
- Optimise digestion by improving hydration to soften the stool and increase the intake of soluble and insoluble fibre to add bulk and lubrication, including psyllium husk[xix], prunes[xx] and inulin.[xxi] Dietary fibres can also bind to pollutants and encourage their elimination via the gut.[xxii]
- Exercise sensibly and consider heart rate variability (HRV) monitoring to avoid training at those times the body is under stress, and step count monitoring can be used as a motivational tool.
- Detoxification via the skin can be improved through adequate hydration and skin brushing. Saunas and physical exercise can promote detoxification of heavy metals in sweat.[xxiii] It is important to shower after excessive sweating and rehydrate with electrolyte-rich drinks such as coconut water. Hydrotherapy which can be achieved by alternating temperatures, such as in the shower, can stimulate detoxification via the skin.
- It may be wise to consider safe removal of mercury amalgams, as they can be a small but constant source of mercury in the bloodstream. See www.mercuryfreedentistry.org.uk for a comprehensive register of UK dental clinics which specialise in this.
Some examples include:
|DIRTY ||CLEAN |
|Strawberries ||Sweetcorn |
|Spinach ||Avocados |
|Nectarines ||Pineapples |
|Apples ||Cabbage |
|Peaches ||Onions |
|Pears ||Papaya |
Research shows that an organic diet consumption provides a dramatic and immediate protective effect against exposures to pesticides used in agricultural production.12 Adequate protein from various sources is important to provide a steady supply of amino acids needed to make detoxification enzymes. With animal sources ensure good quality grass-fed meat, which is higher in omega-3 and antioxidant content[xiii]
Key Detox Nutrients:
- Antioxidants are useful to counteract the free radicals created by detoxification of toxins in the body. Selenium, Copper and Zinc and Manganese are all useful for antioxidant enzymes.
- Glutathione is essential for the production of the antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase, which helps to protect cells from oxidative damage.[xxiv] It promotes the elimination of various substances including heavy metals[xxv],[xxvi], paracetamol[xxvii] and pesticides[xxviii].
- N-acetyl cysteine is a form of the amino acid cysteine that can support heavy metal detoxification (such as mercury)[xxix] and the production of glutathione. It also protects the liver from chemical exposure and paracetamol toxicity.[xxx]
- Indole-3-carbinol is found in brassica vegetables such as broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower. This can support detoxification[xxxi] of hormones such as oestrogen, by supporting the enzymes in the liver.
- Turmeric contains the active ingredient curcumin. This stimulates the gallbladder to produce bile (used to eliminate toxins) and it also rejuvenates liver cells that breakdown harmful compounds.[xxxii]
- B vitamins have been shown to reduce the effects of ambient fine particles (air pollution) – specifically folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12.[xxxiii]
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[xxxiii] Zhong J et al. B vitamins attenuate the epigenetic effects of ambient fine particles in a pilot human intervention trial. PNAS. 2017; 114 (13): 3503-3508