Detoxification

by Jacob Aguiar, ND

As more patients with serious chronic illnesses work with us towards re-establishing and maintaining health, we are repeatedly reminded that our health is challenged by pollution, pesticides, toxic chemicals, psycho-emotional traumas, and harmful lifestyle choices. One of the most important aspects of naturopathic treatment is detoxification.
 
Toxins are foods or substances that promote inflammation and disease in your body. We assess toxic burden with blood and urine tests and prescribe a gentle and effective program to clear toxins from your system.  
 
Detoxification of cells and various tissues can be obstructed by influences such as genetic predispositions (challenges in methylation pathways for example) and a chronic vicious cycle of toxin exposure.  Thus, it is vitally important to assess detoxification pathway function and to clear any obstructions to the process. 
 

Environmental toxins 

Environmental chemical toxins are found in our food, air and water. These include pesticides, herbicides, industrial solvents, heavy metals, household chemicals, drugs, food additives and many others.
 
Many of these toxins travel worldwide through the atmosphere, freshwater aquifers and ocean currents. Mercury is now found in the arctic where it accumulates in the food chain. The solvents xylene and styrene, and the carcinogen dioxin, are found in every man, woman and child in the united States (US EPA National Adipose Tissue Survey 1982).
 
The question is not if we are carrying a toxic burden of chemicals, but what is their effect upon us.
 

Cancers & pesticides

Elevated levels of DDE and PCB’s in the blood can result in a four-fold increased risk of breast cancer.
 
The 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides used each year in the U.S. translates to 5 lbs for each man, woman and child. These pesticides are associated with brain cancer, lung cancer, stomach cancer, leukemia, lymphoma (5 X risk), sarcomas (5-7 times risk) (Crinnion, Alt Med Review 2000).
 
An article appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1997 by Davis revealed men born in the 1940’s had twice the cancer incidence as those born from 1888-1897. Women born in the 1940’s had 50% more cancer.  
 
We now know that women with breast cancer have more pesticides in their fat tissue, and malignant breast tumors have a higher concentration of these pesticides in the tumor compared to adjacent tissue (Wasserman Bull Environ Contam Toxicology 1976. Mussalo-Rauhamaa Cancer 1990:66:2124-2128. Falck Arch Environ Health 1992;143-146.) Elevated levels of DDE and PCB’s in the blood can result in a four-fold increased risk of breast cancer (Wolff, J Natl Cancer Inst 1993).
 

What about heavy metals?

The relatively slow accumulation of toxic metals in the body is often associated with diverse and nonspecific symptoms. Then later in life it can be a cause of chronic disease.
 
The most commonly encountered toxic metals are aluminum, lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium. These heavy metals are toxic to the brain, kidneys, central nervous system, associated with cardiovascular disease, immune problems and bone disease. Chronic heavy metal exposure depletes the liver of its natural defenses that further reduce its ability to detoxify a wide range of other toxins.
 
It is a legal and common practice to disperse industrial toxic wastes (a.k.a.fertilizer) that contain heavy metals onto crop and grazing lands. The EPA estimates that approximately 58 tons of mercury is released into the atmosphere annually. Much of this mercury will become incorporated into the aquatic food chain and eventually will be stored in our bodies.
 

How do I find out if I have heavy metals in my body?

We use a provoked heavy metal urine test (link to test) to identify toxic heavy metal burdens accumulated in the tissues of our patients over time.  Lead and mercury blood tests are a means of showing relatively recent exposures.
 

Spotlight on Mercury

Human exposure to mercury comes from a variety of sources— consumption of fish, occupational and household uses, dental fillings and some vaccines.
 
Mercury, a highly toxic heavy metal, is particularly dangerous for infants and children, and it can be passed from pregnant women to their fetuses. Children born with elevated mercury levels will have learning impairment. Mercury exposure can cause developmental problems and can affect the brain, kidneys and liver.
 
Data from the Centers for Disease Control indicates that one in 12 women of childbearing age in the United States have unsafe mercury levels, translating into more than 300,000 children born each year at risk of exposure to mercury.
 

Can heavy metals be removed from my body?

Yes. Oral and intravenous chelating agents, minerals, plant medicines, vitamins and other substances can remove heavy metals when appropriately prescribed.
 

Are symptoms a reliable indicator of toxic burden?

Not always. It is important to know that each of us will absorb and excrete toxins at different rates. Similarly exposed persons can have widely different levels of toxins in the body and some of these individuals will exhibit symptoms.