It is that time of year when it seems like every health magazine and website is promoting detoxification. As a health care provider, I think a lot about how to guide patients through the process. And let’s face it, we could all stand to shed some toxins. But some of what I see recommended on popular media is just too intense for the average person and may be counterproductive or even dangerous.
What few articles explain is that though we can all reap the benefits of a detox—without going overboard—our bodies are already participating in a robust detox process every day. It is good for the patient to understand how to help that process so that there is no unwanted harm from drastic detox therapies.
Our Ever-increasing Chemical Load
There is no shortage of work for our livers. As you know, they are largely responsible for the detoxification process—and the need to detoxify and manage the increasing quantity of chemicals and additives in modern foods and our environment just continues to grow.
Our exposure is significant: Since 1979, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reviewed submissions for more than 39,000 new chemicals.1 There are pesticides in our foods, preservatives in our beauty products and even the chemicals in the clothes we wear—and the list gets longer and longer every year.
It is no surprise these chemicals are showing up in our bodies. An Environmental Working Group (EWG) study found that almost 500 chemicals—including lead, BPA and fire retardants—could be detected in human blood and urine.2
What Is True Detoxification?
All too often in pop culture, the detoxification message is aligned with weight loss or New Year’s resolutions, especially during this time of year. However, detoxification is really about overexposure to environmental toxins, which can upset the body’s delicate balance by throwing metabolism off, messing with our sleep rhythms, and even making us more predisposed to diabetes.3 For example, a study published in The Lancet found a correlation between insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes) and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the blood.4 This is the message that needs to come from our profession.
Imagine if the public better understood that whether the body absorbs too many environmental toxins, produces an excess of toxins in-house, or simply can’t keep up with the elimination process, it can all create a buildup of toxins. This can result in many chronic health complaints, including excess weight, but also more serious metabolic, autoimmune and cardiac issues.
All too often patients experience the symptoms of fatigue, constipation, bloating, allergies, skin issues and brain fog but are not able to identify the root cause. This is why it is important for medical professionals to speak up about the true meaning of detoxification.
Three Simple Strategies to Share With Patients, Friends & Family
Since very few patients can completely avoid toxins, they could benefit from a detox that supplements the body’s ability to eliminate them. And, you may get a call from an eager journalist for an article on detoxification. The following are suggestions that our profession can make to patients and the public about the importance of detoxification and how to go about it.
1. Sweat it out. Exercise stimulates the lymphatic system, the body’s drainage mechanism for toxins. Plus, perspiration is one of the body’s preferred modes of elimination for certain toxins, such as phthalates and BPA, chemicals found in plastics.5,6 All it takes is mild exercise for 20 minutes a day to sustain this two-pronged toxin purge.
2. Make smart food choices. To avoid pesticides altogether, the best way is to opt for organic produce. Guide patients and the public toward the EWG’s Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen lists as guidelines. They rank the fruits and vegetables with the least and most pesticides.
3. Clean it up. Conventional household cleaners are packed with environmental chemicals that cumulatively become a serious health hazard. From phthalates in laundry detergent to chlorine in toilet bowl cleaners, be on high alert for what’s lurking in cleaning products. Instead, opt for environmentally safe brands or make your own out of vinegar and baking soda. Check out the EWG website for a guide to healthy cleaning.
Low-toxin Living Webinar
To help educate the public, the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM) is sponsoring a Low-Toxin Living webinar series in January 2021 hosted by Christian Gonzales, ND. Dr. Gonzales provides easy-to-use tips on how to detox one’s home and he interviews Joe Pizzorno, ND and Amy Rothenberg, ND. For more information visit www.betternutrition.com/low-toxin-living. This is an excellent webinar to promote to your patient network and even attend yourself.
1 Statistics for the New Chemicals Review Program under TSCA. EPA website. www.epa.gov/reviewing-new-chemicals-under-toxic-substances-control-act-tsca/statistics-new-chemicals-review Updated August 4, 2016. Accessed November 15, 2016.
2 Pollution in Minority Newborns: BPA And Other Cord Blood Pollutants. EWG website. www.ewg.org/research/minority-cord-blood-report/bpa-and-other-cord-blood-pollutants Published November 23, 2009. Accessed November 16, 2016.
3 Hyman M. Systems biology, toxins, obesity, and functional medicine. Altern Ther Health Med. 2007;13(2):S134-S139. Spiegel K, Leproult R, Van Cauter E. Impact of sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine function. Lancet. 1999;354:1435-1439.
4 Jones OA, Maguire ML, Griffin n JL. Environmental pollution and diabetes: a neglected association. Lancet. 2008;371(9609):287-288.
5 Genuis SJ, Beesoon S, Lobo RA, Birkholz D. Human elimination of phthalate compounds: blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study. ScientificWorldJournal. 2012;2012:615068.
6 Genuis SJ, Beesoon S, Birkholz D, Lobo RA. Human excretion of bisphenol A: blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study. J Environ Public Health. 2012;2012:185731.
Michelle Simon, PhD, ND President & CEO, Institute for Natural Medicine
In 1992, the leadership core of naturopathic doctors established the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM) as a not for profit organization dedicated to advancing natural medicine. The purpose of the INM is to increase awareness of, broaden public access to, and encourage research about natural medicine and therapies.
Among its milestones the INM counts the launch of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC) as an independent organization, leading California’s efforts to obtain licensure, developing an interactive childhood education program focused on healthy eating and lifestyles called Naturally Well in 2017, and expanding residency access by establishing and funding a residency program in 2018. INM has joined forces with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), serving as the charitable arm, to deepen access to naturopathic care, public education and research.
Dr. Michelle Simon serves as president and CEO of INM, is a licensed naturopathic physician, clinician, educator, and leader in many organizations dedicated to improving the quality and delivery of health care. In addition to holding a naturopathic doctorate from Bastyr University, she also holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Dr. Simon has served on the boards for the Integrative Healthcare Policy Consortium (IHPC), the AANP and the Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI). Dr. Simon also served nine years on the Washington State Health Technology Clinical Committee which is part of the Health Technology Assessment program that examines the scientific evidentiary basis for efficacy, safety and cost effectiveness of health care technologies. She was also an invited participant for health care economics at “Summit on Integrative Medicine and the Health of the Public” at the Institute for Medicine (IOM) in 2009.
Dr. Simon was recognized as the 2018 Physician of the Year by the AANP.