Detoxification is the process by which we rid our bodies of harmful substances we create and encounter as a part of living: Our internal processes produce toxins constantly, and our bodies are well equipped to process and eliminate these internal toxins. A concern in the industrial world is that the majority of our toxic exposure is environmental, from industrial byproducts. In 2003, the Center for Disease Control published the Second National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, showing that essentially 100% of the American population has objective laboratory evidence of ongoing exposure to and bodily accumulation of toxic chemicals known to cause adverse effects such as neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, and cancer.
How our bodies detoxify:
The liver has a major role in eliminating toxins from the body. Detoxification occurs in two sequential phases. Each of these phases involves reactions mediated by a number of different enzymes. Although an essential first step, phase 1 reactions generate many reactive intermediate products that are potentially damaging. Phase 2 reactions convert these reactive intermediates into water-soluble, non-harmful substances that can be eliminated from the body. We then eliminate toxins in our sweat, in our urine, through the action of bacteria in our colons, and to a lesser extent through breathing. It is essential that phase 1 and phase 2 activities function in balance with one another to minimize the presence of intermediate metabolites and promote effective detoxification.
While toxicologists study and treat acute toxic exposure, scientists have not yet fully examined the chronic sub-lethal toxicological influences that can impair physiological, emotional and physical function. We are only beginning to understand the potential role accumulating toxins can have on health. Another concern is that toxins are generally investigated individually, or one at a time. This is not at all similar to the situation in our bodies, where toxins and chemicals accumulate together and are quite likely to interact, possibly with increased toxic effect.
Due to tremendous genetic variation in detoxification enzymes, we cannot assume that any two people will respond the same way to a given substance at a given exposure level. Each of us has a unique tolerance for toxic substances, based on our genetics, our nutritional status and our general health. When this tolerance is exceeded, the body’s waste processing system becomes overburdened and no longer functions adequately. Geneticists report that it is one of the areas where there is the most genetic difference between individuals. This is why it cannot be assumed that everyone will react similarly to a known toxin or drug.
While detoxification is a new idea to Western medicine, it is integral to many ancient medical traditions around the world. But there is no sound scientific data for or against the practice. A handful of reports support the benefits of detoxification, but they are not rigorous. One small study found that dietary changes and saunas helped to reverse memory and nerve problems in firemen who had inhaled toxic chemicals in an electrical fire (Archives of Environmental Health, 1989). Another that lab rats fed low protein diet have higher rates of death when exposed to pesticides. (Yu, M., environmental toxicology. 2001, Boca Raton: Lewis. 255). An NIH-sponsored trial of detoxification for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer is currently under way at Columbia University in New York, and preliminary results look quite promising.
Although a handful of reports support the benefits of detoxification, rigorous studies are lacking. One commonly cited report from the eighties found that fasting hastened recovery in people who had accidentally ingested cooking oil laced with industrial poisons (American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 1984). Another found that dietary changes and saunas helped to reverse memory and nerve problems in firemen who had inhaled toxic chemicals in an electrical fire (Archives of Environmental Health, 1989). An NIH-sponsored trial of detoxification for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer is currently under way at Columbia University in New York. LINK!!!
Maintaining healthy detoxification pathways is crucial to optimal health. (See A Safe Simple Detox) and given the inevitability of toxin exposure in the modern world, we can minimize damage and seek to improve toxin clearance by some simple measures:
First and most important, recognize and avoid known toxins. Some more common ones are: fast food, sugar, rancid and reused oils, chemical additives, preservatives, dyes, including food coloring, perfume, insect repellant, bleaches, solvents, car exhaust, new carpets, copier fumes, fertilizers, and pesticides.
The concept that toxins accumulate in the body and can cause health problems is fundamental to many traditional health care systems around the world.
Because the biochemical processes of the body are not isolated to a single system, changes in one affect other aspects of health. Some simple examples:
How to assess your detoxification capacity
A Simple Safe detox program
Further information links
Can nutrition affect chemical toxicity?