by Gene Bruno, MS, MHS

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WHY DO WE NEED TO DETOXIFY

Do you often suffer from headaches, fatigue, digestive problems (e.g., bloating, gas), skin problems (e.g., acne, etc)? Would you like to feel better and look better? Then you may need to detoxify. Don’t be offended-it’s not just you.

Virtually everyone living the modern lifestyle has stored up a veritable toxic waste dump of chemicals and various toxins in their fatty tissues. Unfortunately, these nasty toxins can interfere with a variety of metabolic processes, and result in the previously mentioned problems, as well as many others. The very good news is that by detoxifying, you can rid your body of these toxins and begin feeling better and looking better in short order. Still not convinced that you need to detoxify? Then consider the issue of multiple chemical sensitivities.

Multiple chemical sensitivities

Exposure to certain types of chemicals (primarily petroleum and coal-tar derived), can result in a condition known as MCS, or multiple chemical sensitivities. In MCS, the individual is may experience symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, depression and an overall feeling of malaise and being sick. MCS seems to develop after consistent, long-term exposure to these chemicals. Eventually, these individuals develop intolerance to these chemicals, and starts suffering from MCS. For many MCS sufferers, a sensitivity reaction will occur when exposed to even minute amounts of the offending chemicals which, in turn, can lead to severe symptoms characteristic of the MCS condition. Does this sound like you?

You’re exposed indoors too

Now, you may be thinking, “Petroleum and coal-tar causes the problems-so that’s like breathing exhaust fumes, right? No problem, I’m indoors most of the time. I probably have very little exposure to petroleum and coal-tar derived chemicals.” If so, then you should know that these chemicals are actually found primarily at home or in the workplace. For example, common household items like aspirin, perfume, shaving cream, toothpaste, nail polish, and deodorant, contain coal-tar derivatives. You should also be aware of The Total Exposure Assessment Methodology (TEAM) study. TEAM was a five-year study of twenty common toxic or cancer- causing chemicals, comparing them in indoor air and outdoor air. The investigation found that indoor air was three to seventy times more polluted than outdoor air, even in heavily populated areas like Los Angeles and Bayonne, New Jersey. Specifically, personal exposure to eleven of the chemicals that were present more than 75 percent of the time was much greater indoors. More than 99 percent of the exposures came from the air, with the exception of two chemicals which were found mostly in the drinking water, also tested in the homes.

Pesticides are also a problem

Of course it’s not just the air you breathe and the water you drink, it’s also the food that you eat-or more specifically, the pesticides in the food that you eat. Certain pesticides affect the nervous system by inhibiting an important enzyme. The resulting interference with nerve function can cause twitching, paralysis, tremors, convulsions, and death from respiratory failure. Moreover, according to other experts they can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea; heart irregularities; excessive sweating, salivation, and watering of the eyes; chest discomfort; headaches; and abnormal brain function and behavior. The can mimic brain hemorrhage, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, gastroenteritis, asthma, and pneumonia. Pesticides pose a danger to the immune system. In her book Staying Well in a Toxic World, author Lynn Lawson states that immunologist Alan Levine “sees patients whose immune systems have been wrecked by pesticides.” She also states that such patients often have “lower counts of infection-fighting white blood cells.” The moderate to severe immune reactions that can occur include runny eyes, itchy skin, dripping nose, hives, muscle and joint pain, shock and death.

How to Detoxify

Convinced that you need to detoxify? Even if you don’t have the types of problems discussed above, why wait until you do? After all, toxins will continue to build up in your system, so you might as well help your body get rid of them. And when you do detoxify, you’ll be surprised how much better you feel, and how much better you look.

So, right about now you may be wondering how best to go about the process of detoxification. According to the Textbook of Natural Medicine, the mnemonic “A NERD” can be used to identify the important elements of the detoxification lifestyle:

Avoid exposure to all known sources of toxicity.This includes any of the following:

  • Chemical dependencies (recreational drugs, tobacco, excessive alcohol, unnecessary prescription drugs)
  • Toxic work and home environments (see prior paragraph “You’re exposed indoors, too”)
  • Lead paint
  • Significant air pollution
  • Polluted drinking water
  • Typical American diets (sugary drinks, junk foods, processed meats, fast foods, and deep-fried foods)
  • Dental amalgam fillings

Body Detox / Age Defying

Nutrition

The core of nutrition should be a whole food diet focusing on vegetables, fruits, and fibrous foods such as whole grains and legumes. These foods have an alkalinizing impact. Likewise, lower amounts of acid-forming foods, such as dairy products and animal proteins, should be consumed. Generous portions of cruciferous vegetables should be eaten daily with modest amounts of olive oil, as well as onions, garlic, and modest amounts of lean, unprocessed protein. More on this later.

Exercise

A simple exercise program (e.g., brisk walking) increase blood flow, accelerates lymphatic flow, induces sweating, and increases the efficiency of metabolism and detoxification efficiency. Exercise should be a daily part of the detoxification lifestyle. More on this later.

Rest

Certainly getting enough sleep is vital for proper detoxification. Also, relaxation and stress management can help support the process.

Detoxification

In this case, the use of the term “detoxification” denotes the use of specific therapeutic activities that should be used periodically to support your body’s own natural detoxification mechanisms including, but not limited to, the liver, bowel and kidneys. Key herbs can be used to achieve such support. More on this later.

THE DETOXIFICATION DIET PLAN

Before discussing the actual detoxification diet plan, I’d like to make recommendation that all foods consumed on the plan be organic whenever possible. To understand why, read the following section on organic foods.

Organic Foods

The USDA currently has a program for certifying organic foods. On their website, they answer the question, “What is organic food?” in this way:

Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.

It is my position that organically grown foods offer Americans a healthier alternative to conventionally grown foods. So let’s examine the evidence for organic food.

On August 22, 2002, Dr. Erik Steen Kristensen of the Danish Research Centre for Organic Farming presented data on food safety from an organic perspective at the 14th International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements Congress in Victoria, Canada. Dr. Kristensen offered the following reason’s to consider organic foods:

  • Discovery of animals with BSE
  • Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, aka, mad cow disease
  • Increased occurrence of Salmonella in meat and eggs
  • Increased occurrence of campylobacter in meat
  • Listeria in dairy products
  • Increased occurrence of dioxin in food and fodder
  • Too high amounts of pesticides, antibiotics, additives etc. in food
  • Toxic fungi in food from stocks

Indeed, various data indicates that compared to conventionally grown produce, organically grown produce has:

  • Higher vitamin C levels
  • Lower nitrate levels (less carcinogenic potential)
  • Higher phenol levels (protection against cancer and cardiovascular disease)
  • Lower levels of heavy metals
  • Lower or zero levels of food additives (less food intolerance and carcinogenic potential)

Likewise, Dr. Kristensen presented data indicating that compared to conventional animal foods (e.g. meat), organic animal foods have:

  • Higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid or CLA (preventive against cancer and arteriosclerosis)
  • Higher levels of vitamin C
  • Higher levels of fat-soluble vitamins
  • Higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids
  • Zero myotoxins (less potential problems for liver, kidney, nervous system)
  • Lower residues of medicines (less transfer of resistance genes to human pathogens)

In addition, animal studies28 29 show higher fertility and less morbidity in animals fed organically. Furthermore, when given a choice, animals prefer organic to conventionally produced fodder. At this point, however, similar studies have not been conducted on humans.

Collectively, all of this data makes a pretty good case for recommending that the public make organic foods choices whenever possible, especially when trying to detoxify and avoid additional sources of toxins.

The Actual Diet Plan

The actual diet plan for a detoxification diet is really a healthy diet plan for use all of the time. The real question is how much to eat of the different food groups to create the necessary nutritional balance conducive to good health and detoxification. Following is a guide to help you

  • Calculate the number of calories you should consume each day,
  • How to make your diet plan, and
  • Planning your daily menu.

How many calories am I allowed each day?

The answer to this question is: It differs for each person. If you’re detoxifying to help you lose weight, then consider that 3,500 calories equals one pound. Therefore, to lose a pound of weight in a week, you would eat 500 less calories per day than you currently eat. For moderate weight reduction, a diet for women should include between 1000 and 1500 calories, and for men between 1500 and 2000 calories. These levels supply the approximate amount of energy needed for basal metabolism each day. You can calculate your specific caloric needs by doing the following:

    • 1. Find your desired weight according to the following table:

table 1

    • 2. Multiply this weight by 15 calories per pound if you are sedentary and 20 calories per pound if you are moderately active.
    • 3. From this amount, subtract 500 calories per day to lose an estimated 1 pound per week. If you wish, you can subtract 750 calories daily if you want to lose an estimated 1_ pounds per week. In any case, don’t let your calories drop below 1200 daily. For example, let’s say that you’re a woman with a medium frame, who is 5 feet, 8 inches tall. The weight chart indicates that your weight range should be 128-143. Consequently, you choose the mid-range of 135 as your target weight. Since you’re sedentary, you multiply 135 by 15, which equal 2025. You subtract 750 from 1965, which equals 1275. This is the number of calories you should limit yourself to daily in order to lose weight at a healthy, measured pace.

If you’re not trying to lose weight, then skip step #3.

How do I make a diet plan?

Now that you know how many calories you should consume daily, how do you translate that into practical information you can use in creating an eating plan? The answer is to look at the following table, and identify the daily calorie level that is closest to what you calculated. Under that column will find the number of servings listed for each food group. Your total servings from these groups should not exceed the calories you are allowed each day.

table 2

These servings supply less than 30 percent of calories as fat. If you wish to alter your servings to provide less fat or carbohydrates, and/or more protein, use the following table as a guide.

table 3

Of course now that you know how many servings you should eat from each food group, you also need to know which foods fall into the food groups, and what constitutes a serving. The following table will provide you with that information:

table 4

Body Detox / Age Defying

Planning your daily menu

Now you need to take all of this information, and plan out a daily menu for yourself using an appropriate number of servings from the different food groups. When doing so, be creative. Try new recipes. If you wait until the last minute to decide what you’re going to eat, you may end up with poor foods choices which are not part of your program, and are not consistent with your detoxification goals.

There are times when you may not feel like preparing foods. Plan for these times and have alternatives. For example, keep a good quality meal replacement product on hand. Look for a powder that you can mix with water, low- or non-fat milk or milk alternatives (e.g., soy or rice milk). The qualities of a good meal replacement drink include low or no fat, and one or more grams of fiber. Having a balance of vitamins and minerals is also essential, and any additional natural ingredients which may help you achieve your weight loss goals would be a plus.

Another consideration is to spend one day weekly when you have more time, preparing foods for the rest of the week when you have less time. Your homemade pre-packaged meals can be frozen or refrigerated.

Using the previous example of a woman with a daily calorie limit of 1275, the following sample daily menu was prepared for you to consider:

table 5

EXERCISE FOR DETOXIFICATION

Any successful detoxification, weight loss or general health program should include an exercise regimen. In choosing an exercise there are two factors to consider. First, the exercise should be of an endurance/aerobic nature. Examples include jogging, brisk walking, bicycling, etc. Aerobic exercise which lasts for at least 30 minutes causes body fat to be burned as a source of energy after the blood sugar supply has been exhausted. This is important since many toxins are stored in body fat. When you burn body fat you release those toxins. Since aerobic exercise is most effective at burning body fat that means that it is most effective for purposes of detoxification as well. Of course aerobic exercise also increases blood circulation, assisting the “pickup” of freed toxins and enhancing their distribution to the channels of elimination.

Anaerobic exercise (e.g., weightlifting), on the other hand, is effective at muscle building but tends to use blood sugar and glycogen stores as a source of energy rather than body fat.

Secondly, it is important that the form of exercise chosen should appeal to you. This will help encourage you to make the time to exercise. For example, if you hate to jog, but love to take walks in nature, you should not make jogging your regular form of exercise. You will always find excuses not to do it. Instead, you should choose nature walks since you will probably try to find the time for this exercise that is enjoyable to him.

Once you’ve chosen your exercise, how do you know if you’re in the “aerobic zone”? That is, how do you know that your pulse rate and metabolism are such that you are burning fat and not sugar? Although there are complicated formulas for determining this, the simplest way is just to sing God Bless America. If you can sing the first line (“God bless America”) without taking a breath, but have to take a breath to finish the second half (“Land that I love!”), you’re in the zone. If you get all the way through to the end of both lines without taking a breath, you haven’t hit your aerobic level yet. You should go faster. If you can’t get out the first part without needing more air, you’ve left the aerobic zone and are into the anaerobic zone.

DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS FOR DETOXIFICATION

As mentioned earlier, key herbs can be used to support the detoxification process through the liver, bowel and kidneys. Following is a discussion of those herbs and how they help.

Milk Thistle to support liver detoxification Water soluble toxins can pass through our bodies unchanged and be eliminated in the stool, sweat or urine. Fat soluble toxins, however, cannot be excreted without undergoing metabolic transformation (detoxification) in the liver so that they can become water soluble. Liver cells have sophisticated mechanisms to break down toxic substances. These include both endogenous (produced by the body) and exogenous (obtained from the environment) substances. Every drug, chemical, pesticide and hormone, is broken down or metabolized via detoxification pathways in the liver called “phase 1” and “phase 2.”

Phase 1

Phase 1 utilizes cytochrome P450 enzymes produced in the liver. These enzymes initiate reactions that generally involve exposing or adding a “functional group” to the toxic molecule. This process of making the molecule more reactive is required as the first step in increasing its water solubility for excretion. Some chemicals are already highly reactive and they have functional groups, so they can bypass phase 1 and go right to phase 2. The majority, however, first need phase 1 activation. Unfortunately, phase 1 does generate free radicals which mean that there is greater potential for oxidative damage at this time.15 16 Clearly, it is important to get toxins to phase 2 as quickly as possible.

Phase 2

Phase 2 involves the coupling (attaching) or conjugation of a water soluble substance which is endogenously produced or sourced by the body, to the toxin. This makes the toxic molecule more water soluble and therefore less toxic. If the molecule is large, it is then excreted via the bile. Otherwise, it is excreted in the urine.

Milk Thistle

In herbal medicine, Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) is arguably the premium liver herb. The active component in Milk Thistle is its flavonoids collectively called silimarin; and the majority of Milk Thistle-related research has been conducted on this component. Silimarin has long been recognized for its ability to benefit people with liver disorders, including hepatitis19 20 21 22 and cirrhosis.

Some toxic molecules pass through the glutathione conjugation pathway. A deficiency of this conjugating amino peptide can reduce the clearance of solvents from the bloodstream. Research shows that silimarin protects against glutathione depletion24, and increases liver glutathione status.25 Since glutathione is one of the primary conjugating agents in phase 2, this is a significant contribution by Milk Thistle in supporting detoxification by the liver.

In addition, Milk Thistle also provides liver protection by stabilizing liver cell membranes. It alters the structure of the outer cell membrane in such a way as to prevent the penetration of the liver by toxins into interior of the cell. Milk Thistle also increases the regenerative ability of the liver and the formation of new liver cells. Further studies concluded that other actions of silimarin include preventing the recirculation of toxins and regeneration of damaged liver cells. Other studies indicate that Milk Thistle may prevent liver damage from liver poisoning prescription medications.

Other liver herbs

Although Milk Thistle may be the primary liver herb, other herbs that have benefit for the liver include Wild Carrot and Dog Rose. Wild Cart has been shown to liver-protective properties29, and Dog Rose has been shown to increase a type of RNA in liver associated with a reduction in fat levels.

Dandelion as a diuretic for the kidneys

Various herbs have a history of successful use for promoting a healthy balance of fluids in body tissues. One such herb is Dandelion Root Extract. Although commonly dismissed as an annoying garden weed, Dandelion has enjoyed a very favorable reputation with herbalists for centuries as a trusted liver tonic and diuretic. Dandelion is also a natural source of potassium and its use as a natural diuretic is highly encouraged since it maintains critical potassium levels. Dandelion was approved in a monograph by the European Scientific Cooperative On Phytotherapy “where enhanced urinary ouput is desirable.” 31 This internationally respected set of monographs provides guidelines for the appropriate use of herbs in humans.

Couch Grass as a diuretic for the kidneys

The Eclectic Materia Medica identifies Couch Grass as “A mild diuretic with slightly aperients properties, and a demulcent of value in irritated conditions of the genito-urinary organs.”32 Petersen also describes Couch grass as having demulcent and mildly diuretic properties. 33 Ellingwood indicates, “The action of this agent is solely upon the urinary apparatus. It exercises a soothing, diuretic influence…” King’s American Dispensatory echos the previous descriptions: “Couch-grass is diuretic and slightly aperient. It is an excellent agent in cases of excessive irritability of the bladder from any cause, lessening the frequency and pain of urination.”

Burdock

In traditional herbal texts, burdock root is described as a “blood purifier” or “alterative” and was believed to clear the bloodstream of toxins.35 Burdock also works as a diuretic and gentle laxative36, thereby supporting both kidney and bowel detoxification pathways. In addition, burdock has been shown to reduce liver damage in animal studies.

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