Are you tired from toxins? Learn how to detoxify
Could your fatigue be from an ongoing environmental exposure? Could you be coming into contact with a chemical that changes your body’s biology in a negative way? Is it possible that this exposure is something that you don’t even recognize? Are you toxic? Do you need to detoxify?
In our crazy, modern world there is a strong chance that your fatigue and illness is from something in the environment. It could be the the air you breathe, the water you drink, or the pesticides on your neighbor’s grass. Type “I’m so tired” into your browser, and you will get a million offers to detoxify. But what does this all really mean?
You do have the ability to beat fatigue. You can return to a state of optimal health as you mobilize and release toxins, as you detoxify.
There is a process to successfully detoxify. This blog will tell you the changes you will need to adopt to do it. Don’t send your billing information to the latest detox fad….yet. A few practical steps will get you well along the way to feeling better.
We know that many of our toxins in our world are self-imposed. Some of us smoke cigarettes, and we all (yes, I’m including myself) probably drink too much alcohol. You might choose the easy processed meal over the time consuming home cooked one. Some of us drink pink sodas. We fertilize our lawns. We lather ourselves with soaps, lotions and creams.
We are all under a continual exposure to toxins.
Many toxic exposures result from personal decisions that we make regarding what we put in and on our body.
Other exposures are from toxins we don’t choose. Sometimes we don’t realize the toxin is happening to us.
To demonstrate this, I want to share a true story about an actual patient I have known recently.
The story of B. When “sick and tired of work” takes on a different meaning.
Mr. B is a 54 year-old man who came to see me with his wife to address months, (or was it years?) of progressive fatigue. He was tired all the time. He had low energy, a bulging belly, and was burning the candle at two jobs.
I initially suspected that he was suffering from excessive stress, with the usual metabolic and emotional fallout. We would do some testing. I expected to see disordered cortisol, high insulin, high inflammation, and low testosterone.
But my line of questioning took an about face as we reviewed his work history.
He was a foreman in an industrial shop. I asked if they used respirators, hoods, and had ventilation systems for the work. He assured me that they did. “Top notch” he said.
His wife then chimed in. “I wonder if the doctor would be interested about the headboard.”
I turned to listen, and she continued the story.
“We recently bought a new headboard for the bed.” She said. “It’s really nice, with a soft white paint. But I was noticing that the paint by B’s head has been disappearing recently. It is as if someone had gone at the headboard with some paint thinner. I mean, in some places, the paint is just gone.”
Sir William Osler said, “Listen to the patient. He (or she) will tell you the diagnosis.”
B was an involuntary victim of his environment. He had an ongoing exposure to strong toxins at his work. Toxins with the strength to dissolve paint followed him around on his hair, hands and skin daily. I was certain that a large part of his fatigue was related to his toxic exposures, and we set out to repair his detoxification systems.
Detoxification doesn’t happen in a day.
The body is surprisingly good at detoxifying. Our bodies were designed to exist in nature, with exposures to “nature-based” toxins. Surprisingly we came pre-equipped with the biochemistry to get rid of millions of synthetic chemicals.
This is pretty amazing. How could the human body have foreseen the industrial revolution, with the advent of chemicals, solvents, paints, pesticides, and metals?
Environmental toxins are not only the product of a chemist’s lab. Our physiology is bombarded with noise, lights, sounds, and stressors. We are exposed to radiation, electromagnetic forces, microwaves and more. In spite of it all, we still manage to fare pretty well. We generally live well and long, considering the odds.
Want to learn how to detoxify? Just begin at the beginning
You might be reading this because you are scouring the internet in the hopes of answering some questions. Am I toxic? How can I improve my health? Why am I tired all of the time? Is there a toxic component? Is there someone on Google who knows the answers, who can teach me what questions to ask, how to manage things?
To this I say caveat emptor. This is Latin for “buyer beware.” There is no shortage of websites that will sell you something guaranteed to help you to detoxify. It is important to remember these three things:
- Internet health is big business
- Companies want to profit because of your fears.A good amount of this information is probably mis-information
The Internet is driven by commerce. Health and wellness, and your concerns about your health, are a big part of the consumer side of the model. LIke so many things in medicine, we need to dive into many different components of our biology to make something work.
There is no single essential oil, cleanse, mushroom, broth, pill or supplement that will by itself allow you to fully detoxify. True detoxification occurs across multiple body systems.
Here you will receive the straight dope, the real science, and and a sound foundation about how to achieve a less toxic state. I want you to really learn what it means to detoxify.
In future blogs we can get into the down and dirty of the cellular mechanisms that conduct these processes. These are important to know. For starters let’s develop a panoramic view of the concept of toxins and detoxification.
So what is a toxin, and why is it making me so tired?
Let’s take a look at what is meant by the word “toxin.” This word is used liberally in society, but we will use it a scientific context.
A toxin is a substance in our body that interrupts normal cellular functioning.
It’s that simple. If something is inside of us that makes our body’s machinery work less well, it is a toxin. When our cells don’t work well, we get tired and worn down.
We need to “detoxify” from some of our own internal cellular processes. We need to be able to take out the biochemical trash.
But for the purpose of this post, we will consider the toxins that come from our environment. We will focus on what comes from outside our body.
The human body is made up of a collection of cells. These cells have different jobs, depending on where they are in the body and what they are expected to do. Each tissue is characterized by a cell that needs to conduct different activities.
A muscle cell contracts. Pancreas cells make insulin and digestive enzymes. A blood cell needs to carry oxygen. You get the picture, all our cells have their respective jobs.
Many of these cells share similar needs, like the need to make energy, or to use oxygen. It should be no surprise that biochemical processes are shared among all cell lines.
A toxin that affects a common pathway might be expected to involve several different cell types, organs, and tissues.
Heavy metals, like cadmium, arsenic and mercury, can occupy binding sites on cells that utilize essential metals, like magnesium, chromium or zinc. The higher the concentration of the toxic metals, the more difficult it may be for the metal to get its business done. Tissues that had a high need for these ions might be especially affected by a high toxic load.
Other cells are more task-specific. They share the common needs, but have evolved to conduct specialized business. Often these specialized cells need a special something; a special molecule, higher amounts of a certain mineral, or a certain vitamin. Some toxins target specialized cells.
Endocrine modulators are chemicals found in plastics and pesticides. Many of these chemicals can act like our hormones. In this manner, they relay signals to the nucleus of the cell. Unlike our body’s hormones, they often carry the wrong message.
The purpose of this blog is not to review all of the possible toxic exposures in our environment. That would require a thousand-page book, not a thousand-word blog.
Detoxify practically. Take these three steps to feel better today
In the following paragraphs, I am going to outline three steps that you can begin to take to begin to improve how you feel.
Step 1: Decrease your exposure to toxins
I know that this sounds pretty simple, but the first step to getting better is to realize that you probably have an ongoing exposure to one or more toxins. As we mentioned before, some of these toxins are self-imposed. Others aren’t. Let’s start with the ones that we can control.
The easiest toxin to avoid is the one that you voluntarily put in your mouth. The cleanest source of energy that our body can use is the food that is found in nature.
I know that this sounds so basic. But this is the most important, first step to health.
Are you voluntarily exposing yourself to chemicals that could alter your cells’ functions? If your diet includes:
- Non-organic foods, contaminated with pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers
- HIgh fructose corn syrup
- High saturated fats, fried foods
- Processed foods: foods with preservatives, binders, dyes, gums and stabilizers
- Fast food, and
- Water that has been sitting in a plastic water bottle
Change things up.
You can easily modify each of these categories. I can almost guarantee that with little more than a dietary makeover, your life will begin to change.
So take a minute to assess the simple interventions you can take. Examine your food choices, read some labels, think about your nutrition, and consider the sources of your foods. We consume close to a ton of food each year. So why put additional toxins into your body, especially at this dose?
I realize that change takes time. Why not start today? Every little step helps. I realize that most readers are not going to become organic cooks that drink only purified water from homemade ceramic cups, eat from their home garden, and drive a Prius. At least not overnight.
Maybe never. That’s OK.
But start taking some baby steps now! Make some simple, definable changes that will last you a lifetime as we battle our ongoing environmental toxins. Buy a Brita water filter and drink clean water. Stop drinking sodas. Don’t eat fast food. Give your body whole foods, and buy organic when it is available and affordable. Buy a glass or steel water bottle, and put some flowers in your old plastic nalgene. Be proactive.
And please, begin to make yourself aware of the unending chemicals that we put into our bodies in the form of food additives. So let’s make it easy. Challenge yourself to eat nothing but whole food for a month. No snack bars, crackers, cereals, and nothing that comes in a package or can.
Let’s see how you feel after a month. You might try the popular whole 30 diet. This single step will put your detox into high gear.
There’s no reason not to energize your body with pure food.
Step #2: Support detoxification pathways
There are defined, biochemical pathways that grab molecules that are not supposed to be in our bodies, and usher them out. Things are either meant to be in our bodies, or they aren’t. Somehow our bodies know which is which.
When our detox pathways aren’t working, the toxins build up. Add this to an extended toxic exposure, and the cellular damage begins to increase. The fatigue gets worse. Other symptoms falter, too. We accelerate our aging.
We’ll dive deeper into the science in a later post. For the purpose of this discussion, we need to focus on some basic biology. Our detox systems are divided into two categories, conveniently named Phase 1 and Phase 2 detox.
Not only do phase 1 and phase 2 detox need to be active in the body, they need to be balanced.
Phase 1 is a step governed by a set of enzymes in the liver. It’s known as the Cytochrome P450 system, and it is genetically pre-programmed… to a point. We can direct this system with foods, supplements, herbs and nutrition.
This is one of the places that the right nutrition can begin to improve fatigue. We start to detoxify better.
Phase 1 detox modifies the toxins, and makes them more water soluble. Since many of the environmental toxins are fat soluble, this makes sense. This allows us to then get rid of the toxins in our watery compartments: our sweat, stool and urine.
But there’s a catch.
The intermediate molecule produced by phase 1 detox is often a more reactive molecule than the starting toxin. It is almost as if our body has chosen to temporarily make things worse so that we can ultimately get better. This creates a kind of “super-toxin.” Now what?
Phase 2 detox swoops in to save the day. Here the toxin gets conjugated to yet another molecule for excretion. Phase 2 is highly dependent on nutrition. When we are nutritionally sound, we make molecules to quickly bind and neutralize the “super-toxins.” These deactivated toxins can then be removed from the body.
Many of the Phase 2 chaperone molecules are made with amino acids. Phase 2 function is strengthened by ensuring adequate intake of all of the essential amino acids. It needs B vitamins, and adequate amounts of the antioxidants Vitamins C, E and D. Low oxidative stress, and processes known as methylation, sulfation, and acetylation all support this second step of whole body detoxification.
We also need a molecule known as glutathione to detox successfully. This is a pretty important molecule for our health, important enough to merit its own blog post, so stay tuned. For now, know that one of its many hats is to support Phase 2 detox.
The bottom line is that your illness, fatigue, or disability could be a function of impaired detoxification. With altered pathways, the toxins build up, and exert a greater effect on our health. Supporting Phase I and Phase 2 detoxification is essential.
Step 3: Get the toxins out of your body! Detoxify for good!
So you have reduced your exposures, and have considered the ways that diet and supplementation could augment you body’s detoxification processes. Now it’s time to take the final step. It is time to fully detoxify your body. Send the toxins back into the environment.
The final exit pathways of all toxins are: the breath, sweat, urine and stool.
These steps are easily actionable, and will help complete the whole body detox. How about four get-it-done and start tomorrow steps to support a natural body detox?
- Sweat. You can exercise (best option), use an infrared sauna, or take steam baths. Sweating from stress doesn’t count. The bottom line is to allow the pores in the skin to open, and to allow some of these toxins to leave. Arsenic, cadmium, and mercury have been shown to be concentrated in the sweat.1 Similarly the “endocrine disrupting” BPA molecule been shown to concentrate in the sweat.2
- Pee. There, I said it. If your urine is a dark yellow, you are probably not drinking enough water. Common beverages, notably caffeine and alcohol, dehydrate the body. The simple step of increasing water intake will actively promote the detoxification process. Some people recommend that we take in so many ounces per body weight daily. I just say to look at the urine. If it is dark, you need to drink more water.
- Stool. I have reserved an entire section of this site to gut function. Water, magnesium, psyllium husk, high fiber diets, senna root, and lowered meat intake intake have all been shown to speed up the the excretion side of detoxification. I recommend that my patients shoot for 1-2 bowel movements daily. If you have fewer than one poop daily, it is likely that this is contributing to your toxic load. Colon health is critical. It can all start with a few simple steps.
- Breathe. The concept of the breath is so important to health. Breathing delivers oxygen to our cells, and removes carbon dioxide. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which lowers cortisol. It allows our body to get rid of gaseous toxins.
So what happened to patient B?
We first looked at his overall health through a functional perspective. This required that we evaluate his body’s systems of nutrition, energy production and storage, his gut health and his hormones. Working through these systems produced a healthy foundation for his primary task: detoxification.
We then turned to the three systems we have developed in this text.
Step 1: Decrease exposures. We carefully reviewed the best ways to detox his body, and how he could decrease his exposure to toxins. He would routinely use of a respirator or hood at his work, and be more careful with the use of gloves and protective clothing. We discussed ways he could relieve his stress. He needed to make this practice a greater priority. He needed to focus on getting well, so he could continue to provide for his family.
Step 2: Support detoxification pathways. Dietary changes were recommended, starting with the use of whole, unprocessed food. The addition of a few directed supplements was used to support his detoxification pathways. With an improved diet, nutrients, and a few supplements to support his Phase 1 and 2 detoxification, he became more able to mobilize his toxins.
Step 3: Get the toxins out! Lastly, we got him to move. He needed to move his body, his urine, his breath and his bowels. He needed to sweat, pee, poop and breathe to detoxify.
Could your fatigue be from toxins, and do you need to want to detoxify your body naturally? Start with these three steps, and make great strides to a life of whole body health.
- J Environ Public Health. 2012; 2012: 184745.
- J Environ Public Health: 2012, Article ID 185731