Imagine having to spend eight, nine, or even 10 hours a day working in an environment filled with toxic chemicals. Sounds terrible, right? Especially when you don’t have the luxury of being able to quit and find different employment. That’s the situation that a patient I’ll call Ron faced. Ron is a builder, and a good one. But after 20-plus years working to establish his business, he was too sick to enjoy his success. “My arms and hands are either numb or tingling,” he told me. “All my joints ache, I’m tired all the time, and there are times when the pain in my lower back just makes me want to curl up in a ball and hide from everything.”
Ron had been to see several doctors, but they couldn’t agree on a diagnosis. One thought he might have multiple sclerosis. Another told Ron he had strained his back and should take muscle relaxants. A third said degenerative disc disease was the problem. Unfortunately, nothing they recommended was working.
Not surprisingly, when the results of Ron’s blood panel came back, we discovered that his liver enzymes were slightly elevated. That situation may not sound severe, but it was a clear signal that years of exposure to solvents and other substances common in carpentry and building were the source of his problem. In fact, these toxic substances are the reason many people become ill when they move into a new or remodeled house or office space.
Many patients I see have a great deal in common with Ron. Their symptoms may range from what looks like a neurodegenerative or auto-immune disease to something more ordinary, such as a pulled muscle or over-exertion. But when traditional treatments fail to solve these issues, too often doctors blame the patient, claiming that stress or “nerves” is the real problem. Who wouldn’t be stressed or unnerved about poor health that can’t be improved?
As a builder, Ron’s exposure to toxins was especially high, since he spent most of his waking hours around products that are loaded with chemicals — things like lumber, paint, sealants, and insulation material. But these days, no matter what line of work you’re in or where you live, toxic exposure is a constant.
In the past few decades, environmental chemical usage has exploded; there are now more than 75,000 different synthetic substances registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and 4 billion pounds of toxins are released into the environment each year in the United States alone. Some of these toxins turn up in everyday items like household cleaning products, home furnishings, some nonstick cookware, and clothing. Others are in our food, water, and air. Certain substances — mercury and lead, for example — are difficult to remove once they’ve gotten into the body. The bottom line: there’s no escaping toxic exposure. Meanwhile, the number of people suffering from chronic degenerative diseases is skyrocketing.
Too Many Toxins
A few years ago, researchers tested a group of individuals to see how they had been affected by environmental pollutants. Some of the participants lived in areas that you might think would be pollution-free, like coastal areas far from big cities. Other participants had eaten primarily organic foods for decades before the testing. Despite that, researchers found an average of 91 different pollutants in blood samples. More than half of those substances are recognized as cancer-causing agents, like heavy metals, insecticides, pesticides, pthalates, dioxins, and PCBs.
Nonetheless, I want to make it very clear that we are not doomed. As I explained to Ron, our bodies are designed to eliminate toxins in various ways. One of the liver’s many jobs, for example, is assisting the body in toxin removal. Additionally, we eliminate toxins through sweating, urination, and bowel movements. Considering the current overload, though, we should be doing everything in our power to support the process.
In Ron’s case, I recommended several sessions of Far Infrared sauna treatments, since he lived near enough to my practice to take advantage of the equipment in my clinic. In addition, I encouraged him to take liver-supportive supplements; make some changes to his diet; replace his beverages of choice (coffee and sodas) with plenty of fresh, pure water; and stop shortchanging himself on sleep, since that’s when our bodies turn their built-in detox mechanisms on high.
Six weeks later, when I saw Ron for a follow-up visit, he was like a new man. “I have to admit, I wasn’t too thrilled about giving up sodas and some of my favorite foods,” he told me. “But after the first week or so, I started noticing how much better I felt. Just about every day, there was some sort of improvement. Sometimes it was less painful joints, other times I’d notice that I didn’t feel like I needed a nap at four in the afternoon. In fact, I haven’t had this much energy since I was a teenager. It really made me think about the importance of stopping to consider what we put in our bodies.”
Lucky for Ron, he was able to access a Far Infrared Sauna and sweat away a fair amount of the compounds that were causing his health problems. A regular sauna works, too, although it may be too hot for some individuals. Fortunately, you can get similar results with exercise. Pace your favorite activity so that you break a sweat and maintain that level for several minutes (if your physician approves, of course!). There’s no need to exhaust yourself. If you’re out of shape, don’t worry — just gradually work your way up to a sweat-producing level.
Another often overlooked portion of detoxification is engaging the lymph system. The lymphatic system consists of small channels that are designed specifically to remove waste products. There’s no “pump” to push lymph through the body the way the heart pushes blood, but you can stimulate the system by using your muscles. Bouncing on a mini-trampoline, like a Rebounder, for just five minutes a day is a great way to get lymph flowing — in fact, this happens to be my personal favorite exercise. If a mini-trampoline is out of the question, try briskly walking while swinging your arms.
Detoxing with Diet
One of the most effective methods of detoxing is building meals around “clean” foods (i.e. organic and whole foods, especially vegetables). Hundreds of clinical trials have shown the benefits of eating from Mother Nature’s pantry. Vegetables and fruits contain substances known as phytochemicals, which are recognized for their ability to protect us from cancer – one of the most commonly occurring diseases linked to environmental toxins — and heart disease.
One excellent way to start a dietary makeover is by adding more cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, bok choy, and cabbage) to meals. Research has shown that substances in these vegetables reduce the risk of developing cancer by stimulating production of detoxification enzymes. And that benefit occurs whether the veggies are raw or cooked.
Here’s another reason to eat your veggies — fiber! More fiber in your diet means better elimination, a real “must have” for healthy detox.
Mushrooms are another excellent detox tool. Once again, hundreds of studies have shown that mushrooms jump start the immune system, enabling it to attack cancerous cells.
Finally, my personal favorite is green foods. I start every day with a hearty portion of juiced greens — including kale, spinach, cucumber, celery, cilantro, and parsley — with a little organic coconut cream and raw honey. Wheat grass juice is another excellent choice. In fact, research has shown that wheat grass juice helps reduce the toxic load caused by the common chemical, bisphenol A (BPA), found in plastics and the linings of most canned foods. BPA is a recognized endocrine-disrupting chemical, linked to such serious conditions as endometriosis, cancer, and much more.
Additionally, you may want to consider supplements for days when you are strapped for time. There are some excellent products that include assorted “greens.” Beta-glucan, which contains extracts of medicinal mushrooms and other substances, is another supplement to consider. Remember, more is not necessarily better, so follow the dosage instructions on the product that you choose.
Give It Time
Please forgive me if I sound like a broken record, but there’s no place for processed or fast foods in a detox diet. In an ideal world, we would all eat clean foods all the time. However, I know that’s not possible for many people, for various reasons. So, when the question, “How long do I have to do this?” inevitably arises, my answer is, “As often as possible.” Just remember: the more often you eat well, the better you’ll feel.
Ron, for example, decided to eat whole foods for one week, thinking that even a week without a “fast food fix” would be a challenge. But at the end of one week, he felt so much better that he decided to continue. Now, he swears he’ll never go back to his “drive-through diet,” just because of the difference eating whole foods made in his life.
Love Your Liver
The liver works 24/7 to keep our bodies free of contaminants. These days, though, even this highly efficient organ can be overwhelmed by toxic assaults. That’s why I recommend a supplement called milk thistle.
Milk thistle has been used to enhance liver functions for more than 2,000 years. Today, it’s often recommended for individuals with cirrhosis of the liver and Hepatitis C, two diseases that can damage the liver quite seriously. It’s also used to treat toxin-induced liver disease and prevent damage by toxins; so, it can be very helpful as an addition to the daily regimen for Ron and others who can’t really avoid exposure to harmful substances. I suggest looking for a product that contains 70 to 80 percent silymarin (active ingredient) content. Take 280 to 420 mg per day, preferably in divided doses.
Detoxification is becoming more and more popular, as people discover the benefits of cleansing their bodies of unavoidable toxic build-up. I’ve only touched on some of the most effective methods, though, so stay tuned. This is a huge topic, and one that will be revisited in the future.