There is much speculation and many questions surrounding the idea of detoxification: What products work best? How long should I be doing a detox program for? Do detox products really work? (see "Detoxification: Myth vs Fact") and so on. But before we can even address the idea of “going on a detox”, we first need to better understand exactly what we are detoxifying our bodies from (perhaps you’re thinking, “well toxins of course!”). Well, what are “toxins”, how often do we come in contact with them, and how do they affect our health?
In short, toxins are chemicals, heavy metals, pollution, pesticides and plastics; in a broader sense, toxins are anything and everything that interferes with our normal physiological function. They have names like dicyclohexayl pthalate, hexachlorobenzene, polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxin and isobutylparaben (a tiny sample of hundreds of different toxins) and they are found EVERYWHERE! If you haven’t read the ingredient list of your anti-perspirant or daily face cream, I suggest you do. You’ll be surprised at how many ingredients look more like they belong in a chemistry experiment than in your medicine cabinet. If not, maybe you’ll be most surprised at the possible health effects of these chemicals.
Let’s take a look at some of the literature to gain a better appreciation of their prevalence (within our bodies – not just in the environment):
2002 Survey: 49 Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP’s = bad) were measured in participants and it was found that at least 20 of the 49 were found in greater than 60% of the U.S. population. Some of these were found in greater than 80%!
2005 Study: 287 chemicals were detected in the umbilical cords of newborns (pesticides, burning coal waste byproducts, etc), 180 of these 287 are known to cause cancers in humans or animals, 217 of the 287 are toxic to the brain and nervous system.
2009 Report: 212 chemicals were tested and ALL were found to be in the blood and urine of most individuals – 6 in particular, found in virtually every person, were identified by the Centre for Disease Control as probable health hazards.
2010 Study: 100% of the Canadian population that was studied had detectable levels of lead in their blood – lead being a heavy metal that our body has no physiological use for.
The importance of having these toxins in our systems, of course, comes back to the implications for our health. Conditions and diseases associated with excessive toxic burden include the following:
- Allergies and Asthma
- Diabetes and Obesity
- Chemical sensitivity (any adverse physical, mental or emotional reaction to the presence of a chemical smell)
- Fertility problems and birth defects
- Parkinson’s disease
- Bone marrow cancers (Lymphoma, Leukemia, Multiple Myeloma)
- Chronic infections
- Autoimmune diseases (Lupus, Rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, etc.)
Then again, you don’t need to have one of these conditions to be considered “toxic”. Many people have chronic headaches, pains, low energy, general inability to focus and so on (while not actually having a diagnosed disease) – in my opinion, these symptoms should be enough to warrant a significant change in your lifestyle and toxic exposure!
While the complete answer to safe and efficient detoxification is quite lengthy and intertwined, there are many simple options to consider. First, from a lifestyle stance, reduce toxin exposure. This can be done in a number of ways:
- Avoid canned, pre-packaged and processed foods
- Avoid cosmetics (makeup, hairspray, dyes, polishes) when possible
- Avoid strong chemicals, paints, glues, pesticides, etc
- Don’t stay in places that smell of chemicals
- Purchase fresh, organic produce, meats and dairy
For natural detoxification, you essentially want to encourage the function of your organs (i.e. liver, lungs, bowels, kidneys and skin). Think exercise, water intake, fruits and vegetables, lemon juice and medically supervised saunas. If you are looking at supplementation, AOR’s Cellular Detox contains ingredients to encourage liver and bowel function while protecting cells from toxins. Above all, be sure to consult a qualified healthcare practitioner to advise you as to what the safest and best steps are for your personal circumstances.
Do you have any favorite detox tips, tricks or supplements? Leave your comments below, we'd love to hear from you!
A benchmark investigation of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides in umbilical cord blood. Environmental Working Group, July 14, 2005
Ha MH, et al. Association between serum concentrations of persistent organic pollutants and self-reported cardiovascular disease prevalence: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999-2002. Environ Health Perspect. 2007. Aug;;115(8):1204-9
CDC’s Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. 2009
Bushnik T, et al. Lead and bisphenol A concentrations in the Canadian population. Health Rep. 2010 Sep;21(3):7-18