We Live In a Toxic World – Part V: Detoxifying the Body
Michael Garko, Ph.D.
Host – Let’s Talk Nutrition
It is axiomatic that we live in toxic world. The air, water and land of the planet, the natural food supply (i.e., plants & animals) and manufactured food supply are contaminated with synthetic chemicals to the extent that “all people, not just those working in or living near major pollution sources, carry a ‘body burden’ of synthetic chemicals in their blood, fat, mother’s milk, semen, urine, and breath” (Thornton, et al., 2002). This body burden of toxic chemicals accumulates throughout the lifecycle and puts the health of people in serious jeopardy.
Although it is effective in eliminating by-products from natural metabolic processes, the human detoxification system is often rendered ineffective in coping with the synthetic chemical pollution in people. Contributing to that ineffectiveness is the body burden created from the regular and too frequently excessive consumption of processed carbohydrates, saturated and trans-fats, stimulants (e.g., caffeine & tobacco), suppressants (e.g., alcohol) and pharmaceuticals.
This November, 2008, issue of Healthful Hints informs readers on the process of detoxification. Before beginning any program of detoxification, it is important to have a grasp of certain concepts and related principles of health and nutrition so as to have a more informed understanding of the theory and practice of detoxification. Therefore, this month’s Healthful Hints pays particular attention to outlining the detoxification systems of the human body, explaining what toxins and toxicity are, identifying the signs and symptoms of toxicity, presenting the health issues related to toxicity, defining detoxification and providing readers with two comprehensive approaches to the process of detoxification.
Detoxification Systems of the Human Body
Humans evolved as a species with an elegant and effective detoxification system. One of the more popular ways to conceptualize the structure and function of the human detoxification system is to classify it into seven sub-systems or channels of elimination. They are in alphabetical order the 1. blood, 2. colon, 3. kidneys, 4. liver, 5. lungs, 6. lymph and 7. skin.
There are other experts who conceptualize the human detoxification system into broader categories. Hass (1992) for example offers a detoxification typology consisting of five categories. They are:
Respiratory – lungs, bronchial tubes, throat , sinuses, and nose
Gastrointestinal – liver, gallbladder, colon, and whole GI tract
Urinary – kidneys, bladder, and urethra
Skin and dermal – sweat and sebaceous glands and tears
Lymphatic – lymph channels and lymph nodes (Hass, 1992, p. 906).
No matter how one chooses to conceptualize the human detoxification system, these channels or systems of elimination individually and collectively are designed to neutralize, transform and eliminate toxins in the body. It is beyond the scope of this newsletter to provide an in-depth discussion of these detoxification systems. It is recommended that readers refer to an anatomy and physiology textbook for a complete understanding of the structure and function of these bodily systems.
Toxins and Toxicity Defined
In strict medical terms, a toxin is anything considered to be a “poisonous substance,” which is of course assumed to be harmful to the body and wellbeing of a person. In broader terms, “a toxin is basically any substance that creates irritating and/or harmful effects in the body, undermining our health or stressing our biochemical or organ functions” (Haas, 1992, p. 906). Toxins come to exist in the body from external/environmental sources and from internal, metabolic processes involved in the breakdown and utilization of and waste/by-products produced from macronutrients (i.e., proteins, fats & carbohydrates) and micronutrients (i.e., vitamins & minerals).
Toxicity results when the body is unable to utilize and eliminate either nutritional or non-nutritional related elements because of excess consumption of those elements, resulting in an upsetting of the homeostasis/balance in the cells, tissues, organs and systems of the body. According to Hass (1992), toxicity is related to the dosage, frequency, or potency of the toxin. The greater the amount, occurrence and power of the toxin(s) is, the greater the level of toxicity. In a real sense, toxicity represents congestion/blocking and stagnation/weakening of the body’s natural systems of detoxification caused by the inventory of toxins built-up overtime.
Signs and Symptoms of Toxicity
There are a host of classic and common signs and symptoms of toxicity including but not limited to headaches, joint pain, fatigue, allergies, environmental sensitivity, mucous buildup, fever, constipation, indigestion, anxiety, depression, mood swings, nervousness, sleepiness, insomnia, sinus congestion, runny nose, coughing, wheezing, sore throat, poor circulation, cognitive deficits, immune weakness and being prone to disease and sickness, among various other signs and symptoms (see Haas, 1992).
Health Issues Related to Toxicity
According to Hass (1992), among the health issues stemming directly from or contributed to chronic toxicity are obesity, arthritis, gout, allergies, asthma, acne, abscesses, boils, eczema, constipation, hemorrhoids, diverticulitis, atherosclerosis, heart disease, hypertension, stroke, cirrhosis, kidney disease, kidney stones, gall stones, infections caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi parasites and worms, colds, bronchitis, pneumonia, sinusitis, emphysema, vaginitis, pancreatitus, gastritis, cataracts and even cancer, among others.
One useful definition of detoxification is “detoxification is the process of clearing toxins from the body or neutralizing or transforming them, and clearing excess mucus and congestion” (Haas, 1992, p. 910).
One of the key principles emerging from this particular definition is that of clearing the body of mucus and congestion. Nutritionally speaking, some foods are more congesting and contribute to a person’s body burden, while others are less congesting and support the structure and function of the body’s channels of elimination.
For example, allergenic foods, organ meats, hydrogenated fats, fats, fried foods, refined flour and sugar, meats, sweets, milk, eggs and baked goods tend to congest/block the channels of elimination, while nuts, seeds, beans, oats, wheat, rice, millet, buckwheat, pasta, potatoes, roots, squashes, other vegetables, fruits, greens, herbs and water tend to be less congesting and mucous building (see Haas, 1992).
Two Programs of Detoxification
Laying out a program of detoxification goes beyond the scope of this newsletter. Nevertheless, there are two comprehensive programs of detoxification which readers might want to consider in their effort to cleanse and detoxify their bodies, while enhancing the structure and function of their systems of elimination. One is by Haas (1992) and outlined in comprehensive detail in his book, Staying Healthy with Nutrition. The other is by Watson and Smith (2008) and presented in equally comprehensive detail in their book, The Detox Strategy: Vibrant Health in 5 Easy Steps.
Both books provide an easy to understand discussion on the theory and practice of detoxification. No matter what overall approach or specific strategy and tactics adopted, it is important to keep in mind detoxification is better undertaken from a healthy lifestyle perspective when proper nutrition, regular exercise, reduced stress levels and sufficient rest and sleep are part of a person’s day-to-day life and not an after thought or something to do just when becoming afflicted with ill health.
The human detoxification system evolved over hundreds of thousands of years so as to keep the body healthy by protecting it from the internal, naturally derived metabolic waste products and from environmental/external threats such as viruses, bacteria, fungi and other infectious germs.
However, the proliferation of synthetic chemicals proliferating the land, water, air and natural food supply (i.e., plants & animals), the over consumption of processed, de-natured foods, a sedentary lifestyle, chronic stress and inadequate rest and sleep have caused the various systems of elimination in humans to become congested/blocked and stagnated/weakened preventing the clearing neutralizing or transforming of toxins and removing of excess mucus and congestion.
In a very real sense, the natural detoxification system of humans is not designed to handle the level of toxicity experienced in modern life. Toxins are not benign. By definition, they are poisonous and deleterious to the human body. On the one hand, medical science has yet to determine all of the ways in which a body burden of toxic elements (both internal and external in nature) contributes to ill health. On the other hand, it is clear that there has been a concomitant rise in disease and overall ill health with the rise of chronic toxicity reflected in measurable body burden levels.
Anyone interested in reducing their body burden and establishing health, energy and rejuvenation would be well served to read and put into practice many of the principles presented in Haas’ book and Watson and Smith’s book, mentioned above and referenced below.
Although we live in a toxic world, this does not mean the world of your body has to be toxic. Take charge of your health and detoxify.
Haas, E.M. (1992). Staying healthy with nutrition: The complete guide to diet and nutritional medicine. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts.
Thornton, J.W., McCally, M. & Houlihan, J. (2002). Biomonitoring of industrial pollutants: Health and policy implications of the chemical body burden. Public Health Reports, 117, July-August, pp. 315-323.
Watson, B. & Smith, L. (2008). The Detox strategy: Vibrant Health in 5 easy steps. New York: Free Press.