We live in an age of abundance. Supermarkets filled with food. Malls with seemingly infinite varieties of merchandise. Digital communications ever expanding our social networks, knowledge base and entertainment.
These advancements in the modern way of life bring rewards, but they also exact a price. Much of the produce we eat has been exposed to pesticides. Household products contain problematic chemicals like flame retardants. Body care items are filled with hormone-disrupting and cancer-causing compounds. Our digital lifestyle requires vast amounts of energy accompanied by toxic waste, including mercury from coal-fired power plants.
In other words, as we gain convenience, we also gain increased exposure to poisons with health effects that are only now being understood. There are hundreds of toxins that we’re exposed to on a daily basis. In its National Report onHuman Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionfoundmore than 200 toxins in the bodies of test subjects. These included barium, beryllium, cadmium, ortho-phenylphenol, ethylene thiourea and pentachlorophenol.In other words, they found heavy metals, pesticides, industrial chemicals and radioactive isotopes.
These and other toxins have been linked to many conditions: cancer, autoimmune disorders, neurodegenerative and endocrine diseases. For people suffering from an illness, whether chronic or acute, or for those trying to stay healthy for the long haul, it’s important to treat the body to a periodic detox program emphasizing unprocessed, organic foods and targeted detoxification supplements.
Getting To The Source
The relationship between toxins and numerous chronic diseases is well-established and new research comes out regularly. For example, one study by researchers at the National Institute on Aging found that air pollution accelerated cognitive decline in seniors. The connection between toxins and autism is becoming well established. Diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer… It seems that nearly every class of chronic illness can be linked to ongoing toxin exposure.
Compounds found in your furniture may be some of the worst offenders. Fire retardants have been found to alter brain chemistry in animals. One in particular, BDE-49, causes damage inside the cells of the nervous system, by harming the mitochondria, the miniature power plants that make energy for cells to function.
Plastic is a significant contamination source. Compounds found in plastics, such as BPA and DEHP, have been linked to endocrine conditions in animal studies. These compounds are called xenoestrogens or estrogen mimics since they stimulate estrogen receptors in sensitive tissues such as breast, uterus and prostate, disrupting delicate hormonal signaling. Since plastic is ubiquitous in food packaging, these chemicals can be quite difficult to avoid.
Even more sobering, many toxins enter the body in your food. Due to extensive marine pollution, mercury is common in large fish. Research published in the journalEnvironmental Health found that many people in California are exposed to the DDT metabolite DDE, arsenic and dioxin. Toxic acrylamides, which form when foods like potato chips are cooked at high temperatures, are common in processed foods. The presence of DDE in our bodies is particularly troubling, since its origin, DDT, has been banned in this country for decades. It underlines the fact that man-made chemicals persist in the environment for a long time.
Helping The Body Cope
I recommend most adults engage in periodic, gentle detoxification. There are simply too many toxins accumulating in our bodies to ignore them. However, the need for detox is even more urgent for people trying to overcome disease or gain an edge in prevention if they’re at risk. For those facing cancer, a neurodegenerative disease or other condition, gently removing toxic substances over a period of time can be a critical step toward regaining health. Fortunately, we have some amazing allies to aid these efforts.
While complex chemicals may be more prevalent than they were even 50 years ago, our bodies aren’t novices at dealing with toxins. In fact, we have evolved numerous mechanisms to remove them. Many organs and systems in the body have intricate detoxification pathways, including the immune system, liver, kidneys, lungs and gastrointestinal tract. The skin is also a major pathway for toxin elimination. This is one reason why saunas and sweat lodges have been used to cleanse the body by traditional cultures for thousands of years.
In our modern world, however, the body needs a little help. Toxins can nest in cells, making them difficult to remove. Many toxins, such as pesticides, are fat soluble; so body fat becomes a convenient storage depot. Other toxins, like lead, store in bone and brain tissue. So we need to take an approach that minimizes toxin exposure, while also incorporating natural compounds that can bind with potential toxins before they get absorbed.
That’s where a gentle detox regimen comes in. By making some minor lifestyle adjustments, we improve our ability to avoid toxins and eliminate the ones that do find their way in.
Start With Food
My first recommendation is to buy organic produce. This can greatly reduce pesticide exposure. Organic milk products and meat are mostly be free of antibiotics, hormones and other potentially harmful additives used in conventional farming. Importantly, stay away from processed foods, trans fats, alcohol, grain-fed red meat (grass-fed is a better choice) and sugar, which are all pro-inflammatory and increase toxic body burden.
Replace these foods with lean organic proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lots of purified water. I cannot overstress the importance of water. Many of us are chronically dehydrated, and most biological processes rely on water. For example, immune cells signal each other through liquid. Ultimately, the body needs abundant hydration to flush toxins.
Antioxidants are also important. Many toxins, particularly heavy metals, generate oxidative stress, which can damage cells right down to their DNA. Antioxidants help counteract this process. Again, look to fruits and vegetables for antioxidant support, particularly brightly colored varieties. Antioxidant compounds generate vivid pigments in berries, carrots, beets and many other foods. Many vegetables, particularly the green leafy varieties, are rich in other protective phytonutrients as well.
Toxicity and acidity go hand in hand, so it’s important to emphasize alkaline vegetables, such as spinach, kale, celery, avocado and cucumber. Cruciferous vegetables are also important: Broccoli, cabbage and kale are in this family and support the body’s natural detox mechanisms. They also balance hormone metabolism and help fight cancer.
Be sure to increase dietary fiber, which supports an efficient gastrointestinal system and binds to toxins as well as providing a healthy environment for beneficial bacteria. High-fiber foods include flax, chia seed, rice bran, oats, quinoa and low-starch vegetables.
Another way to boost gastrointestinal health and to help promote detoxification is with probiotics. The body naturally harbors many species of these friendly bacteria. They enhance immunity, improve digestion and produce critical nutrients for gastrointestinal and overall health. Research continues to discover new ways that specific strains of beneficial bacteria promote health. A wide range of fermented foods provide probiotic bacteria, such as yogurt, kefir, miso, sauerkraut and kimchi.
Botanical And Nutritional Support
Immune-boosting botanicals such as turmeric and astragalus root, as well as adaptogenic herbs such as holy basil, amla, ashwagandha and rhodiola can support the body’s natural ability to address toxins and other harmful agents, such as pathogens and cancer cells.
The liver is critically important to detoxification. The herb fenugreek has long been used to support liver detoxification and overall function, and dandelion boosts both liver and gallbladder functions. N-acetyl cysteine, R-LIPOIC ACID, MSM and other sulfur-containing nutrients support essential liver detoxification pathways. Nutrients such as zinc, selenium and magnesium; vitamins B6 and B12; and folic acid are all essential cofactors in the smooth functioning of these pathways.
Exercise And Meditation
Exercise supports detoxification in a number of ways. First, it burns fat, which can help us get rid of fat-soluble compounds. In addition, the metabolic acceleration and boost in circulation we receive from a good workout helps the body naturally detoxify. Exercise also boosts the immune system.
Another excellent way to support detoxification is to control stress. My top recommendation for this is regular meditation. By simply taking five or 10 minutes each day to calm the mind, you can reduce stress hormones, lower inflammation and improve overall well-being. I also recommend moving meditations, such as Tai Chi, Qi Gong and yoga. These combine the benefits of exercise and meditation to improve muscle strength, endurance and balance, with intent toward approaching life from a calm, centered perspective.
Food, botanicals and exercise can go a long way toward cleansing the body; but we also need to take a more active role. One common method is the use of specific compounds that bind heavy metals and radioactive isotopes and take them out of the body. There are a variety of chemical agents, such as EDTA, DMSA and DMPS, that can achieve this; but they often come with side effects and can also leach out important minerals.
I recommend a gentler approach, using modified citrus pectin (MCP) and alginates. MCP is made from the pith of citrus peels, a source of regular pectin. Modifying normal pectin molecules to make them smaller allows the body to absorb them into the circulation. MCP has been shown in clinical studies to effectively bind to and remove lead, mercury, arsenic and other heavy metals, as well as radioactive isotopes. Alginates are not absorbed into the circulation but remain in the intestinal tract, where they grab incoming toxins and eliminate them through the stool. Alginates also promote a healthy intestinal environment for probiotics and can remove radioactive iodine and cesium.
MCP binds to an inflammatory protein in the body called galectin-3. This is especially important for people who are dealing with cancer or heart disease: Galectin-3 has been implicated in both. In cancer, galectin-3 is associated with invasion and metastasis. It’s also an important new blood biomarker used to assess risks and progression of heart failure. For more information and for research on this important ingredient, I recommend a new book by health author Karolyn Gazella, New Twist on Health: Modified Citrus Pectin for Cancer, Heart Disease and More.
Foundation For Long-Term Vitality
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, a focused cleanse is recommended each year in the spring and fall seasons. By engaging in regular detoxification, we create the foundation for an important health and longevity program that can continue to bring benefits over time. In addition, many of these suggestions, such as the dietary refinements and mind-body stress relief, can be incorporated into daily life for greater wellness and long-term vitality.