This page is designed to help you understand why you might be experiencing symptoms relating to impaired detoxification or overall toxic burden. In this section we look at why we need to consider toxicity as a potential health issue, as well as foundational changes that you can make to reduce your toxic burden and improve your body’s ability to manage the toxins it is exposed to.
Why is toxicity a potential health issue?
Detoxification is a word that is thrown around very loosely. We have thousands of so-called detoxification products, programs and treatments. However, what does the research say. Are these things all mumbo jumbo or is there a place for supporting detoxification?
If there is a place for supporting detoxification beyond the body’s natural capacity to detoxify, what does that look like? Does it mean doing a juice cleanse, performing enemas, taking herbs, fasting, sweating, skin brushing etc?
Our toxic burden, the result of three main factors:
- Exposure from external and internally produced toxins
- Our effectiveness to deal with those toxins based upon genetics and the health and function of certain organs/systems in the body
- Our general nutrition and lifestyle habits, that may help to reduce the presence of toxins in the body through less exposure and assistance with clearance
Researchers are now finding that many conditions or health issues such as infertility, allergies, mood and behaviour issues, cardiometabolic conditions, cancer, fatigue, thyroid issues and cognitive decline are linked with toxic burden.
Why might we be toxic?
One concept that is gaining acceptance in the research community is that of the exposome. This refers to the total exposures or toxins received during our lifetime and its relationship to chronic disease.
It is suggested that around 7-10% of all human diseases can be attributed to environmental pollutants.
Unfortunately, over a 70-year period between 1930 to 2000, commercial production of toxins has increased by 400 times. As of 2012, the number of industrial chemicals on the global market is estimated to be just below 150,000, and this is increasing exponentially year on year!!
In 2011, the World Health Organisation estimated that 4.9million deaths and 86million disability created life years, are attributed to environmental chemicals.
Studies have already demonstrated, that through the assessment of umbilical cords and first bowel movements of newly born children, we are already exposed to chemicals from even before we are born.
Therefore, the question is not whether we are exposed to toxins, but do we need to worry about toxin exposure at varying levels and if so, what can we do to reduce our toxin burden and prevent health complications from this.
Why high and very low dose toxin exposure can be harmful
The challenge that we have is that acute exposure is typically all that is recognised conventionally. This is usually tested in the blood and usually an assessment of recent exposure at high levels. However, once that exposure is taken away, the body does a good job of storing away those toxins, in the event that they have not been cleared effectively through the bowel, sweat, urine etc.
This does not mean the toxins are now gone, for example, when one goes on a diet to lose fat, this can increase the levels of toxins within the blood as they are released from the breakdown of fat cells. There is even evidence now pointing towards this toxic burden impacting one’s ability to lose fat effectively, or even significant weight loss at older ages being linked with an increased risk of certain conditions due to the toxic burden!! This begs another question, should we be supporting detoxification when losing weight, particularly the older we get and the more history we have of toxin exposure?
The other issue, which I think effects all of us, is what is the impact of low dose multiple chemical exposure?
The thing we are often told, is that the dosages of these chemicals are so low and well below the General Recognised Safe levels, that they will not have a negative impact on our body and pose no risk to human health.
If we were to take one chemical at a time in isolation, the above may well be true for many toxins. However, research looking at dose response curves has clearly demonstrated that both a high and a very low dose can impact the human body negatively. This is particularly true with endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals which can wreak havoc, contributing to many hormonal related conditions.
The thought process is that high dosages overburden the body and causes health issues. Whereas, for very low dose exposure, the levels can be too low that the body does not recognise the exposure as a problem, and over time this very low dose chronic exposure starts to cause health issues.
Testing considerations for detoxification
Testing for overall toxic burden is very challenging. Testing can be used to assess acute exposure to toxins, typically by looking at blood samples. However, most testing will not pick up on overall toxin load, particularly if stored away in fat cells.
One consideration when testing for toxic compounds, might be to go on a calorie restricted diet prior to the test to see if there is an increased toxin burden, and if so, you may want to consider supporting someone from a detox perspective while lowering their body fat levels.
You can look at areas such as liver function, specific genes to determine the risk of impaired detoxification, urine assessments to look at metabolites that indirectly give an idea on toxic load, hair samples and more. I have to say though, testing in this area is controversial and because of the variables that impact test results, I am not sure how reliable many of the detoxification-based assessments are, particularly in the functional/alternative medicine space.
For this reason, symptoms, health and environment history, response to a detox protocol might be a better indicator than many tests and a whole lot cheaper, unless you are looking for recent exposure to a specific toxin.
How to support detoxification naturally
In complete honesty, there is very little evidence on the effectiveness of specific detoxification programs enhancing the removal of toxins.
We do very little in the way of detoxification specific support with our clients. Our preference is to work on more basic approaches that support the body’s natural detox capabilities without forcing the issue, which can in many cases, cause more issues than it resolves.
If we were to be more focused on detoxification, here are some steps we would take:
- Reduce exposure to toxins (probably the most important of all) – Look at cleaning products, plastic exposure, body lotions, make up, hair treatments, alcohol, smoking etc. Lower your exposure to these things as a priority. The less exposure, the easier it is for your body not to become overwhelmed.
- Drink appropriate levels of water – A basic calculation might be your optimal bodyweight multiplied by 0.033. You may need more on exercise days or when its warmer and you are sweating more. Water helps to support elimination through urine, sweat and faeces.
- Calorie restriction – This helps to mobilise toxins that are stored in body fat. This may cause an initial increase in toxic burden but over time this will diminish, particularly if you are supporting the clearance of toxins with these recommendations and lowering exposure.
- Sweating – Sweating is a good way of removing certain toxins, so sauna use is a good idea as part of a detox program.
- Low intensity exercise – Movement can help mobilise toxins from fat again and also support the lymphatic drainage.
- Increased fibre – Fibres can help to bind toxins in the gut and support beneficial bacteria. In some cases, binders like chlorella and probiotics can be used to support the clearance of toxins in the gut further.
- Maintain a minimum of one bowel movement per day – Faeces are the main exit route for so many toxins. If you are constipated, this can impact your ability to excrete toxins.
- Time restricted eating – As part of the detoxification program, reducing the window in which you eat to potentially around 6-8hours a day with a 16-18hour fast daily.
- Phytonutrient rich diet – Colourful intake of vegetables and some fruits.
- Appropriate protein intake – not too much and not too little. A lack of protein can inhibit detoxification and excess levels can burden organs and systems used to support detoxification.
- High intake of sulphur containing foods – onions, leeks, garlic, chives etc.
- High intake of cruciferous vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, sprouts etc.
Medication considerations in relation to detoxification
One thing to always consider is that support for detoxification may enhance the rate at which medications are cleared from the body. This in effect, could make medications less effective and lead to complications.
If you have a more complex history and you are taking medications or supplements to manage particular conditions or symptoms, you must get the support of a professional to guide you with any detoxification approach. Otherwise, be very careful with anything that is said to increase liver clearance, or binding agents in the gut that may block absorption in the first place.
We hope this provides some general insight into detoxification. For those looking to get a more bespoke approach, you can also work 1-2-1 with members of our team who will be able to facilitate nutrition and lifestyle changes, as well as run a number of the advanced tests to help determine risk and guide your approach.
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