We are exposed to thousands of chemicals on a daily basis through our air, food and water. Sources of these chemical exposures in our environment include pesticides, insect repellents, flame retardants, plasticizers, solvents, household cleaners and various industrial preservatives. As many as 80,000 commercial and industrial chemicals are used in the United States, with approximately 6.5 billion pounds of chemicals released into the air each year.*
Environmental toxins can damage cell membranes resulting in direct or indirect disruption of our body’s cellular function and signaling. Continuous exposure to environmental toxins means we increase our body’s burden to eliminate these toxins—this constant burden results in a decreased efficiency in eliminating toxins out of our body which creates toxic overload. Toxic overload increases systemic inflammation, reactive oxygen species, immune dysregulation and breakdown of membrane function and communication. Symptoms manifest as inflammation, fatigue, weight gain, digestive issues, skin problems, insomnia, cognitive decline, depression, anxiety, sinus congestion, headaches or migraines, joint pain and muscle aches or weakness. Clinically we see this as gastrointestinal issues, autoimmune disease, allergies, fatigue, multiple chemical sensitivities, arthritis, cancers, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative diseases.
THERE IS GOOD NEWS…
Our bodies our incredibly resilient and have an innate ability to heal themselves. However, due to continuous exposure to multiple chemicals and pollutants, it is important we help eliminate toxins out of the body. This is why periodic detoxification is essential for treatment and prevention of all chronic disease as well as reaching optimal wellness.
First and foremost, it is important to minimize exposure to environmental toxins. More information about minimizing environmental exposure to toxins can be found in my blog Avoiding Toxins and Stopping Exposure http://balancedmedicineclinic.com/blog/
Once our exposure to environmental toxins has been minimized, it is important to enhance the body’s natural reduction of toxic load by increasing the biotransformation, excretion and elimination of toxins. This process starts with the liver. The liver functions in processing and neutralizing toxins to get them ready to be eliminated. The body then eliminates toxins from the body via the skin through sweating, the gastrointestinal tract through bowel movements, the kidneys through urination, the lungs through breathing, and also the brain through emotions. Appropriate detoxification makes sure all of these drainage pathways are open and functioning to ensure proper and efficient elimination. To achieve this, it is important to focus on the following:
The liver filters toxins out of the blood, enzymatically neutralizes chemicals and synthesizes bile. The liver’s enzymatic reactions involve a two-part process, so it is important to not only support them but also create balance between the two phases so you do not increase the toxic burden on the body. These enzyme systems need nutrients and metabolic energy to function properly. Liver cleansing foods include broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, beets, garlic, leafy greens, artichokes, grapefruit and green tea. Nutrients that help aid the liver in detoxification include B and C vitamins, magnesium, curcumin, NAC, glutathione, NADH, glycine and taurine. Lastly, botanical medicine including milk thistle and dandelion root have incredible cleansing properties and are known for their role aiding liver metabolism.
When you inhale and fill your lungs with oxygen, it gets transported in your blood throughout your body including other detox organs such as the lymphatic system, the kidneys, the colon, and the liver. In exchange, a deep exhale is one of the best ways to get more of the blood’s waste, including carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds, out of the body. Diaphragmatic, slow, deep breathing at a rate of 4-7 breaths/minute can result in more oxygen for our tissues which shifts our body’s pH to a more alkaline level and regulates our autonomic nervous system to a calmer state. Increasing oxygen in our tissues also helps the body absorb vitamins and nutrients more efficiently.
Hydration is incredibly important for the removal of toxins through the kidneys. Kidneys filter toxins out of the blood. As contaminants unbind from the tissue into the bloodstream, it is important to support the kidney’s ability to eliminate these toxins through the urine. Adequate hydration is a great place to start aiding the kidneys in detoxification. To determine your normal hydration needs, calculate your body weight in pounds, divide it by 2 and drink that many ounces of water each day. For example, a 120 pound woman should drink 60 ounces of filtered water each day. If you are in a hot climate or exercising, you should increase this amount.
Poor digestion leaves the gastrointestinal tract vulnerable to exposure to environmental toxins. Restoring healthy flora and decreasing inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract promotes elimination of toxins through the colon. Being on a good probiotic is essential to creating a balanced and healthy gut. Increasing fiber is also important to help bind toxins and move waste through the colon for elimination. Addressing inflammation with turmeric, fish oil, and glucosamine repairs mucosal lining and improves intestinal integrity. It may be appropriate to heal the gut before starting a detox depending on symptoms and history.
Exercise, Movement and Sweating
Being active and emphasizing movement has so many health benefits from decreasing cardiovascular disease to cancer prevention. Increased movement promotes circulation, lymphatic flow and can also be a great way to induce sweating which eliminates environmental toxins through the skin. Briskly walk, do calisthenics, bike, jog etc. for 20-60 minutes once or twice each day. It is preferable to get to the point of sweating every day or every other day. Saunas are not only a great way to induce sweating, but can also increase tissue metabolic rates leading to more efficient removal of toxins. Sauna/steam or induce a sweat in a hot bath. Sweat for at least 20 minutes to several hours. Make sure to include frequent breaks for hydration, eating and cold rinses.
Diet and Nutrition
A major component of detoxification is through nutrition. Nutrients from foods and supplements can increase the body’s ability to detoxify, tolerate, mobilize and excrete toxicants. Different minerals, vitamins, amino acids and antioxidants all play a role in different phases of elimination as well as mobilize different metals and xenobiotics. It is important to speak with a healthcare provider to make sure you are taking safe dosages.
Rest, Meditation, and Gratitude
Emotional stress is often forgotten in the conversation of detoxification, but can be one of the most crucial to our health. During your cleansing regimen, spend 2-5 minutes several times every day doing slow, deep breaths of appreciation – for the nourishment of air, for your beautiful body and self, and for the opportunity to cleanse and be well. Taking time for your spiritual or personal practice may include prayer, meditation, yoga, happy relaxation, stretching, dancing, singing. The choice is completely up to you. Do not forget that rest is a critical component of fasting and cleansing as well. Make it a priority to go to sleep by 9:30 or 10:00 PM and sleep at least 8 hours.
I recommended going through a detox a couple times a year. Some people may find it beneficial to do a detoxification with the change of season. It is important to consult a health care provider before starting any form of detox.
*More detailed information of human exposure to environmental toxins can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/index.html.
Pizzorno, Joseph E., and Joseph Katzinger. Clinical Pathophysiology: a Functional Perspective: a Systems Approach to Understanding and Reversing Disease Processes. Mind Pub., 2012.
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