Detoxification is a term used to describe our body's natural system for processing and eliminating "toxins" or simply getting rid of what is not needed. These toxins come from environmental exposure or are byproducts of activities occurring internally within our bodies. A common practice in naturopathic medicine is to prescribe a plan that enhances this natural process in order to maximize the elimination of these substances, which can become stored in the body, contributing to adverse health effects. Alcohol, pharmaceuticals, pesticides and herbicides are all examples of substances which must be detoxified properly once ingested.
Specialists in this area believe that North Americans would benefit from an annual "detox" at minimum, because a certain level of exposure is unavoidable in today's environment. A study conducted by The Environmental Working Group, analyzed cord blood collected from infants born in 2007 and 2008 and identified up to 232 industrial compounds and pollutants in these babies . Given the presence of these toxins at birth, it is prudent to assume a significant increase in these levels over time as many of these compounds are fat-soluble, meaning they become stored in our fat cells.
Organs of Elimination
The main organs of elimination include:
- Skin - sweat
- Bowels - stool
- Lungs - breath
- Bladder - urine
- Voice - voice
Sources of Exposure
- Certain occupations (ex. chemical, paint, dye, agriculture, hair dresser, nail technician)
- Cigarette smoking
- Alcohol and recreational drug use
- Oral contraceptives and pharmaceuticals
- Consumption of fast foods, processed foods
- High fish consumption
- Dental amalgams
- Chemicals from food packaging <J. Muncke, J. Peterson Myers, M. Scheringer, M. Porta. Food packaging and migration of food contact materials: will epidemiologists rise to the neotoxic challenge? Epidemiology and Community Health, 2014 (in press) DOI: 10.1136/jech-2013-202593>
Common Environmental Toxins
- Aromatic hydrocarbons (ie. benzo(a)pyrene, naphthalenes). These compounds are byproducts of combustion. Sources: cigarettes, smokestacks, tailpipes
- Organophosphate pesticides
- Heavy metals
- Arsenic. A heavy metal found in cigarette smoke and groundwater. Elevated levels of arsenic have been found in rice and rice products ((http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2012/11/arsenic-in-your-food/index.htm) (http://www.consumerreports.org/content/dam/cro/magazine-articles/2012/November/Consumer%20Reports%20Arsenic%20in%20Food%20November%202012_1.pdf) and juice (http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2012/01/arsenic-in-your-juice/index.htm).
- Cadmium. A heavy metal found in cigarette smoke and food.
Certain symptoms suggest that a patient will specifically benefit from a detoxification protocol. However these symptoms are nonspecific and can be associated with other conditions, so it is important to be assessed by a naturopathic doctor before initiating a detoxification program.
- Sensitivity to chemicals, fragrances, smoke or specific foods
- Low energy or excessive fatigue
- Sluggish bowels
- "Brain fog"
- Autoimmune conditions
- Overweight/Obesity or an inability to lose weight
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain
- Type II Diabetes or Metabolic Syndrome
Types of Detoxes
Prescribed detox protocols vary immensely even amongst trained and licensed naturopathic physicians. Beyond that detox diets and products are ubiquitous on the internet. Members of the public need to be critical about the information being disseminated and who is advocating it. Detoxes range from fasting to juice cleanses to whole foods approaches. Nutraceutical supplements and herbal products may be added as an adjunct to support the various elimination organs.
- Burdock or (Arctium lappa)
- Cleavers or (Galium aparine)
- Dandelion or (Taraxacum officinale)
- Green Tea or (Camellia sinensis)
- Schisandra (berry) or (Schisandra chinensis)
- Milk thistle or (Silybum marianum):
- Rosemary or (Rosmarinus officinalis). Rosemary can shift estrogen metabolism into a more favourable metabolite ration (meaning increased 2-OH production and decreased 16-OH production).
- Turmeric or (Curcuma longa)
Some of these herbs are considered unsafe in pregnancy or in combination with other medications. It is therefore important to consult with a naturopathic doctor before initiating a detoxification protocol.
- Alpha Lipoic Acid
- B vitamins
- Broccoli seed extract and it's components
- Modified Citrus Pectin
- Coenzyme Q10
- Vitamin C
- Environmental Working Group (2009) "Pollution in Minority Newborns: BPA and other Cord Blood Pollutants", http://www.ewg.org/research/minority-cord-blood-report/bpa-and-other-cord-blood-pollutants
- Hoffman D (2003) Medical Herbalism: The Science Principles and Practices Of Herbal Medicine. Healing Arts Press.