Detoxification in the Prevention of Chronic Degenerative Diseases
Renata Trister DO
Exposure to toxins like heavy metals (lead, mercury, arsenic), pesticides, industrial compounds, and pollutants is associated with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia (FM), Parkinson’s disease, atherosclerosis, and cancer. Acne, rashes, headaches, aches and pains, fatigue, muscle weakness, tinnitus (ringing in ear), memory loss, and infertility are just some of the symptoms of chronic, low level exposure to toxins.
Since toxins can remain and accumulate in the body, we are exposed to much higher toxin doses than are present in the environment. This accumulated, lifetime exposure has been difficult to research and quantify, but the health consequences are becoming more and more apparent.
How Does the Body Remove Toxic Substances?
The ability to detoxify or remove toxins of a person is a determining factor in likelihood of developing toxin-related conditions. The body has a complex multi-organ system that converts toxins into non-toxic molecules for removal. This complex system occurs in two phases- Phase 1 and Phase 2- that together convert (biotransform) a toxic molecule into a nor-toxic molecule that can be easily excreted. The liver, kidneys, intestines, skin, and lungs all participate in this process.
In Phase 1, a functional group is added to the toxic molecule producing an intermediate that needs to be further transformed. Phase 2 called enzymes in the liver attach protective compounds to the intermediate. This process is called conjugation. The products of phase 1 can be more harmful than the original compound, achieving and maintaining a balance between the Phase 1 and Phase 2 process is critical. The products of phase 1 are also very reactive; a significant side effect of all this metabolic activity is the production of free radicals as the toxins are transformed, resulting in oxidative stress. Nutrients that can help protect from oxidative stress include Vitamin C and E, zinc, selenium, and copper.
Optimal detoxification requires that both Phase 1 and Phase 2 are in balance. Bifunctional modulators are phytonutrients that support balanced detoxification by modulating Phase 1 and promoting Phase 2. This minimizes damage by reactive intermediates and free radicals. Fruits and vegetables contain many bifunctional modulators, which is one reason these foods are associated with reduced susceptibilities to cancer and degenerative diseases.
Detoxification is an energy-requiring process that puts a burden on the body. Good nutrition is essential to supporting this process, especially with increasing toxin exposure, obesity and inactivity. High quality protein provides methionine and cysteine, which are beneficial to Phase 2 and may help with toxic metal burdens. Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) support energy production, and olive oil may protect against liver damage. Fiber supports fecal excretion of fecal toxins and the integrity of the intestinal barrier. Rice bran can directly bind with some toxins, thereby removing them before they can enter the body and cause damage.
Nutrients that support energy production include vitamin B1 (thiamin), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), niacin, vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), and magnesium. In addition, the following nutrients and phytonutrients provide targeted support for optimal detoxification:
N-Acetylcysteine and Sodium Sulfate promote generation of glutathione, which is used in Phase 2 and is a major route for detoxification of heavy metals, and supports Phase 2 sulfation. Vitamin B12, Folate, Methionine, and Choline promote balanced detoxification by supporting Phase 2 methylation and healthy homocysteine recycling. Catechins from green tea are bifunctional modulators that are strong antioxidants possessing anti-carcinogenic properties. The National Cancer Institute is currently investigating the potential of green tea catechins in chemotherapy. Catechins also promote healthy gastrointestinal function.
Watercress (Naturitum) can inhibit some cancers in animals, and promote excretions of carcinogens in humans. Milk thistle has been used as liver protectant for many years that may improve liver function in patients with liver disease and toxicity. Silymarin, found in milk thisle increases glutathione and is a strong antioxidant. Artichoke (Cynara scolymus) is also a liver-protectant with a long history of traditional use that provides strong antioxidant protection and may decrease the loss of glutathione after toxic exposure.
Minimizing exposure to toxins is only one part of the detoxification program. As the level of environmental toxins present in our day to day lives, may not be easy to control, assisting your body with detoxification through nutrition and diet is essential. Focusing on adding green vegetables into your diet is a great start. It is also easier to add healthy greens to your diet, rather than to focus on restricting the “foods you can not have”.