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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Dr. Glidden recommends E preferably in the form of mixed
tocopherols )If you take blood thinners, check with your
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.