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DETOXIFICATION

All of us are toxic, it is this “body burden” that is often the cause of chronic diseases like cancer, autoimmune disease, heart disease, neurological disease, diabetes and obesity.

The 3rd body system is based on both anti-oxidant protection and liver detoxification. When this system beaks down you are at risk of damage from free radicals and chemical toxicity. It is estimated that each of us is carrying at least 700 different types of toxins, most of which have never been studied. One large scale US based scientific study identified 287 industrial chemicals in newborn babies.

EXPOSOME

The CDC states that “the exposome can be defined as the measure of all the exposures of an individual in a lifetime and how those exposures relate to health. An individual’s exposure begins before birth and includes insults from environmental and occupational sources”. Due to the fact that most toxins are predominately invisible to the human eye, people discount the massive impact that they can have on their health.

WHAT ARE TOXINS?

The definition of toxic is “containing or being a poisonous material especially when capable of causing death or serious debilitation”

WHERE DO THEY COME FROM?

When most of us think of toxins we probably envisage huge factory chimney stacks spewing out poisonous gases or clogged motorways with cars as far as the eye can see belching noxious car fumes. You would be correct in thinking this as they are part of what’s called exogenous toxins, chemicals which are present in the outside environment.

Exogenous toxins are:

  • Tap water
  • Smog and petrochemicals
  • Industrial chemicals and solvents
  • Coffee, tobacco, alcohol, and sugar
  • Food preservatives
  • Biotoxins such as mycotoxins (mould)
  • Pesticides used in farming and gardens
  • Heavy metals: lead, mercury, arsenic, aluminium, cadmium
  • Viruses: Epstein-Barr, influenza, cytomegalovirus, herpes
  • Bacteria: streptococcus, salmonella from food poisoning, staphylococcus
  • Parasites
  • Prescription drugs
  • Over the counter drugs
 

Many people do not realize that we are all making internal toxins as well which are called endogenous toxins.

Endogenous toxins are :

  • Produced naturally by the body as a by-product of the biochemical process known as free radicals or Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS)
  • Toxic metabolites due to gut dysbiosis
  • Candida can cause acetaldehyde poisoning, an often overlooked cause of brain fog
  • Elevated homocysteine levels
  • Elevated blood levels of uric acid
 

Our digestive tract is one major source of toxic exposure. High fat diets, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, processed foods and the use of medications contribute to the burden placed on the liver. Heavy metal toxicity from dental fillings in the form of amalgam is something I commonly see in practice. These fillings are 50% mercury, 50% silver and can add to your toxic body burden. Many of my patients with these fillings have enjoyed much better health after having them removed. If you have such fillings it would be worthwhile investigating having them removed.

Although it is impossible to completely avoid exposure to environmental pollutants it is possible to ensure our bodies are resilient and able to process unwanted chemicals and toxins. The Organic acid test can assess just how well certain detoxification pathways are working.

ANTI-OXIDANTS AND FREE RADICALS

Free radicals are formed from normal processes like digestion, breathing and exercising.

Unstable molecules which attack and destroy healthy tissue. Stable molecules have electrons that exist in pairs, when a molecule loses a paired electron it will become unstable and reactive: a free radical. The unstable molecule will steal an electron from another molecule, causing it to also become a free radical. This destructive cycle is extremely difficult for your body to stop. The resulting destruction of healthy tissue is called oxidative stress and has been linked to DNA damage, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

While a certain amount of free radicals will be formed in a healthy body, their levels will increase greatly due to poor internal organ function or illnesses. Compromised digestive function or liver detoxification generates huge numbers of free radicals, if they are not controlled they will overwhelm our natural defences.

When our cell’s DNA is oxidated it leads to structural damage of the DNA, a process that can cause cells to mutate and turn cancerous. Oxidized lipids and fats will cause damage to blood vessels, compromised blood flow, heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure. Antioxidants such as Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, beta-carotene, zinc, lipoic acid and selenium are crucial in preventing damage from oxidative stress.

DETOXIFYING ROLE OF THE LIVER

Why is your liver so crucial? One major role of your liver is to function much like a filter. If your body has to handle too many toxins or waste products then your liver will become overwhelmed and ineffective.

If toxins are not expelled from your body, they recirculate through your blood and affect many organ functions. Toxins will affect your nervous system and mental function, leading to fatigue, depression or anxiety. Chemicals are often stored in fatty tissues, the largest collection of fatty tissue in the body is the brain leading to neurological damage. The build-up of toxins and chemicals will cause allergies and skin reactions. Inadequate detoxification causes accelerated aging and promotes the onset of many degenerative diseases.

POSIONOUS HOMES

People rarely think of their own home as being toxic. Findings by the Environmental Protection Agency found that toxic chemicals in common household cleaners, often in the form of fumes, are three times more likely to cause cancer than other air pollutants. The quality of indoor air is being constantly degraded by products we are using to clean our homes. The obsession with cleanliness is sometimes to our detriment.

Additionally to toxic household chemicals, mould in the form of mycotoxins is another potentially dangerous toxin. By inhaling mould spores, mycotoxins are capable of producing gastro intestinal problems including vomiting, diarrhoea and bleeding. Chronic mould exposure can lead to candida infections and also increased estrogen levels.

HORMONE DISRUPTING CHEMICALS

These chemicals can interfere with your endocrine (hormonal) system and cause adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological and immune effects. Pharmaceuticals, pesticides and plasticizers such as bisphenol A are common endocrine disruptors.

They are commonly found in;

  • Plastic bottles
  • Metal food cans
  • Detergents
  • Flame retardants
  • Phytoestrogens such as soy-derived products
  • Toys
  • Cosmetics
  • Pesticides
 

Endocrine disrupting chemicals with estrogenic activity can cause a large range of health effects. They have even been implicated in diabetes and obesity.

Other effects of these chemicals include;

  • Reductions in male fertility and a decrease in the number of male babies
  • Abnormalities in male reproductive organs
  • Female reproductive health issues, including fertility problems and early puberty
  • Increases in breast, ovarian and prostate cancers
  • Autoimmune and neurodegenerative diseases.
 

THE SCIENCE OF DETOXIFICATION

Unfortunately the term “detox” has been unfairly varnished due to dubious programs that can be purchased over the counter or downloaded from the internet. Supporting your detoxification pathways is crucial for people overloaded with chemicals and heavy metal toxicity. Increased toxicant exposure is a modern fact of life, the damaging impact these toxins can have depends on your ability to process and remove them. Certain vitamins and nutrients are required at different stages throughout the detoxification process to safely remove them.

The gastrointestinal, hepaticobiliary, cardiovascular, renal, lung, skin and immune systems all work in concert to prevent toxin entry, identify toxins that do penetrate the barriers and to modify the toxins to allow safe removal. The immune system is included in the detoxification system and its secretory IgA that is important in the immune response against foreign bodies. If you recall from the adrenal section, it’s one of the many roles of cortisol to help regulate ideal levels of secretory IgA. Adrenal health is therefore very important in the supporting the immune and detoxification pathways.

PHASE I DETOXIFICATION

There are two distinct pathways of detoxification within liver cells. During phase I a toxic chemical is converted into a less harmful chemical via multiple chemical reactions. These reactions are known as oxidation, reduction, hydrolysis, hydration and dehalogenation. Phase I is initiated through the Cytochrome P450 enzyme system which essentially reduces toxins to smaller fragments.

Drugs such as alcohol, nicotine, steroids, paint fumes, car fumes and pesticides can dangerously speed up phase I, overwhelming phase II leading to compromised detoxification and a highly toxic state.

The aim in detoxification is to slow down phase I.

Nutrients required for phase I detoxification include:

  • Methylfolate (B9)
  • Glutathione
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin B2
  • Vitamin B3
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin C
  • Flavonoids
  • Zinc
 

Certain foods including grapefruit, chilli, berries, turmeric and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and kale all help to slow down phase I.

PHASE II DETOXIFICATION

After the toxin has been broken down to smaller yet still dangerous fragments, phase II known as the Addition or Conjugation phase consists of the addition of another substance to render the toxin less harmful. This results in the toxin or drug becoming water-soluble so it can then be excreted from the body in the bile or urine.If your gut health is compromised and you have increased intestinal permeability, commonly called leaky gut then you will reabsorb the toxins as they are excreted in the bile through the digestive system.

The detoxification system is generally the last of the three body systems that we correct as you must strengthen the digestive system and the hormonal/adrenal system before you start trying to expel any stored toxins that are damaging your health. If you get the sequence wrong in your functional medicine programs then it is quite common that your symptoms can worsen due to the overload of toxins which cannot be processed and safely excreted.

Nutrients required for Phase II detoxification;

  • Glutathione
  • Calcium d-glucarate
  • Vitamin B6
  • Cysteine
  • Glycine
  • N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)
  • Essential Fatty Acids like EPA/DHA fish oil
  • Vitamin B9 (methylfolate)
  • Vitamin B2
  • Magnesium
  • S-adenosyl-methionine (SAMe)
  • Molybdenum
  • MSM
 

Supporting detoxification pathways is a crucial part of healing in our functional medicine programs. These programs are carried out after extensive lab testing and after the hormonal and digestive systems have been addressed. Exercise, sweating and saunas are also important components that are often used in our programs

The initial assessment for the detoxification system is the Organic Acids test. Further testing may also be required to determine heavy metal burden from lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium and other toxic metals together with chemical sensitivities.

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