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Our Toxic World

Our Toxic World
By Clinical Nutrition 22 days ago 8833 Views

We are in constant contact with harmful organisms and pollutants. They are in our water, in our food, and in the air we breathe and it’s very difficult to get away from them. Over the past few decades the toxin levels have gradually increased with the employment of pesticides and insecticides in agriculture, our changing lifestyles that include excessive smoking and drinking and air pollution from power plants, cars and landfills. Fortunately, there are ways to counteract some toxins, through healthy detoxification. Everyone can benefit from detoxification from when you are feeling below par to if you suffer from complex chronic diseases.

What is a toxin?

Toxins are any substances that are capable of causing disease in the body. They need to be made safe and removed from the body to prevent disease from occurring. Toxins can be derived from both our environment and our own metabolism. The sum total of these substances is referred to as our ‘toxic load’.

When do I need to detox?

Detoxification is commonly viewed as a ‘quick-fix’, notoriously after the Christmas indulgence period. But the idea of ‘detox’ is not new, nor one to be regarded so frivolously. Detoxification has been integral to religious practice for millennia, especially through fasting, and is recognised for its profound health benefits. Another common misconception is that detoxification occurs only in the liver. However it is a whole body process which helps our adaptation to environmental challenges. Healthy detoxification depends upon each body system working efficiently.

Common signs of toxic overload include:

  • Digestive problems – gas, constipation, bloating
  • Halitosis
  • Headaches
  • Skin problems

Common toxins include:

  • Alcohol in excess puts pressure on the liver as it can only handle a certain amount. The excess can cause harmful effect in the brain, heart, muscles and other tissues. In the liver, alcohol produces a toxic substance called acetaldehyde, which can damage liver cells and may cause permanent scarring[i].
  • Heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic, lead and cadmium can damage or reduce central nervous function and damage vital organs.[x]
  • Caffeine increases blood sugar[ii] and adrenaline levels.[iii] This releases insulin which increases inflammation. Constituents in coffee can interfere with the detoxification process in the liver making it difficult to regulate. It has also been associated with ovarian cancer risk[iv].
  • Air pollution can induce damage the body’s cells and cause oxidative stress[v]. Cigarette smoke, in particular, can affect liver detoxification process, induce cellular damage[vi] and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease[vii].
  • Pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides are commonly used in agriculture and many of which are toxic to humans.[viii] Organic foods contain higher levels of nutrients and may have a greater antioxidant activity[ix], which can support the body in fighting disease.

What can I do?

First and foremost is to get the basics right. Finding solutions by making a 20% change for an 80% difference by focusing on factors that we can control rather than those which we cannot control.

  • Eating an organic, wholefood homemade diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices.10,[xi] However, buying organic can become expensive so the Environment Working Group have produced a guide to help determine the worst offenders in terms of pesticides and those fruits and vegetables least likely to contain pesticide residues.[xii]
  • Reduce overall toxic load by removing challenging foods including gluten, dairy, sugar. Avoiding excess intake of alcohol and caffeine. Improving the quality of your tap water by using a filter can reduce arsenic[xiv] and fluoride.[xv] Stop smoking. E-cigarettes are a step in the right direction but they remain a source with unknown health consequences.[xvi]
  • Improve food storage by avoiding plastic bottles[xvii] and containers switching to stainless steel and glass containers. Avoid cling film, aluminium foil and minimise tinned food.[xviii]
  • Optimise digestion by improving hydration to soften the stool and increase the intake of soluble and insoluble fibre to add bulk and lubrication, including psyllium husk[xix], prunes[xx] and inulin.[xxi] Dietary fibres can also bind to pollutants and encourage their elimination via the gut.[xxii]
  • Exercise sensibly and consider heart rate variability (HRV) monitoring to avoid training at those times the body is under stress, and step count monitoring can be used as a motivational tool.
  • Detoxification via the skin can be improved through adequate hydration and skin brushing. Saunas and physical exercise can promote detoxification of heavy metals in sweat.[xxiii] It is important to shower after excessive sweating and rehydrate with electrolyte-rich drinks such as coconut water. Hydrotherapy which can be achieved by alternating temperatures, such as in the shower, can stimulate detoxification via the skin.
  • It may be wise to consider safe removal of mercury amalgams, as they can be a small but constant source of mercury in the bloodstream. See www.mercuryfreedentistry.org.uk for a comprehensive register of UK dental clinics which specialise in this.

Some examples include:

Research shows that an organic diet consumption provides a dramatic and immediate protective effect against exposures to pesticides used in agricultural production.12 Adequate protein from various sources is important to provide a steady supply of amino acids needed to make detoxification enzymes. With animal sources ensure good quality grass-fed meat, which is higher in omega-3 and antioxidant content[xiii]

Key Nutrients:

Antioxidants are useful to counteract the free radicals created by detoxification of toxins in the body. Selenium, Copper and Zinc and Manganese are all useful for antioxidant enzymes.

Glutathione is essential for the production of the antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase, which helps to protect cells from oxidative damage.[xxiv] It promotes the elimination of various substances including heavy metals[xxv],[xxvi], paracetamol[xxvii] and pesticides[xxviii].

N-acetyl cysteine is a form of the amino acid cysteine that can support heavy metal detoxification (such as mercury)[xxix] and the production of glutathione. It also protects the liver from chemical exposure and paracetamol toxicity.[xxx]

Indole-3-carbinol is found in brassica vegetables such as broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower. This can support detoxification[xxxi] of hormones such as oestrogen, by supporting the enzymes in the liver.

Turmeric contains the active ingredient curcumin. This stimulates the gallbladder to produce bile (used to eliminate toxins) and it also rejuvenates liver cells that breakdown harmful compounds.[xxxii]

B vitamins have been shown to reduce the effects of ambient fine particles (air pollution) – specifically folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12.[xxxiii]



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[ii] Robertson, TM et al. A single serving of caffeinated coffee impairs postprandial glucose metabolism in overweight men. Br J Nutr. 2015; 114: 1218-25

[iii] Zaharieva & Riddell. Caffeine and glucose homeostasis during rest and exercise in diabetes mellitus. Appl Physiology Nutr Metab. 2013; 38(8): 813-822

[iv] Goodman MT et al. Association of caffeine intake and CYP1A2 genotype with ovarian cancer. Nutr Cancer. 2003; 46 (1): 23-9

[v] Zhong J et al. B vitamins attenuate the epigenetic effects of ambient fine particles in a pilot human intervention trial. PNAS. 2017; 114 (13): 3503-3508

[vi] O’Malley M et al. Effects of cigarette smoking on metabolism and effectiveness of systemic therapy for lung cancer. J Thora Oncol. 2014; 9 (7): 917-926

[vii] Csordas & Bernhard. The Biology behind the atherothrombotic effects of cigarette smoke. Nat Rev Cardiol. 2013; 10 (4): 219-230

[viii] Mesnage et al. Major Pesticides Are More Toxic to Human Cells Than Their Declared Active Principles. Biomed Res Int. 2014; 2014

[ix] Crinnion WJ. Organic foods contain higher levels of certain nutrients, lower levels of pesticides and may provide health benefits for the consumer. Altern Med Rev. 2010; 15 (1): 4-12

[x] Wang & Shi. Molecular mechanisms of metal toxicity and carcinogenesis. Mol Cell Biochem. 2001; 222(1-2): 3-9

[xi] Lu et al. Organic Diets Significantly Lower Children’s Dietary Exposure to Organophosphorus Pesticides. Environ Health Perspect. 2006; 114(2): 260-263

[xii] https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty_dozen_list.php

[xiii] Daley et al. A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Nutr J. 2000; 9:10

[xiv] Monrad M et al. Low-level arsenic in drinking water and risk of incident myocardial infarction: a cohort study. Environ Res. 2017; 154: 318-324

[xv] Fluegge K. Community water fluoridation predicts increase in age-adjusted incidence and prevalence of diabetes in 22 states from 2005-2010. J Water Health. 2016; 14 (5): 864-877

[xvi] Rowell TR, Tarran R. Will chronic e-cigarette use cause lung disease? Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2015; 309 (12): L1398-409

[xvii] Rubin BS. Bisphenol A: an endocrine disruptor with widespread exposure and multiple effects. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2011; 127 (1-2): 27-34

[xviii] Kawahara M and Kato-Negishi M. Link between aluminium and the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease: the integration of the aluminium and amyloid cascade hypothesis. Int J Alzheimers Dis. 2011; 2011: 276393

[xix] Quitadamo P et al. A randomized, prospective, comparison study of a mixture of acacia fiber, psyllium fiber, and fructose vs polyethylene glycol 3350 with electrolytes for the treatment of chronic functional constipation in childhood. J Pediatr. 2012 Oct;161(4):710-5.e1

[xx] Attaluri A et al. Randomised clinical trial: dried plums (prunes) vs. psyllium for constipation. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2011; 33 (7): 822-8

[xxi] Bae SH. Diets for constipation. Pediatr Gastroenterol Hepatol Nutr. 2014; 17 (4): 203-208

[xxii] Iida T et al. Clinical trial of a combination of rice bran fiber and cholestyramine for promotion of fecal excretion of retained polychlorinated dibenzofuran and polychlorinated biphenyl in Yu-Cheng patients. Fukuoka Igaku Zasshi. 1995; 86 (5): 226-33

[xxiii] Sears ME, Kerr, KJ, and Bray RI. Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead and Mercury in Sweat: A Systematic Review. J Environ Public Health. 2012;

[xxiv] Kerksick C and Willoughby D. The antioxidance role of glutathione and N-acetyl-cysteine supplements and exercise-induced oxidative stress. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2005; 2(2): 38-44

[xxv] Sears ME. Chelation: harnessing and enhancing heavy metal detoxification – a review. The Scientific World Journal. 2013; 2013: 219840.

[xxvi] Robitaille S, Mailloux RJ, Chan HM. Methylmercury alters glutathione homeostasis by inhibiting glutaredoxin 1 and enhancing glutathione biosynthesis in cultured human astrocytoma cells. Toxicol Lett. 2016; 256: 1-10

[xxvii] Saito C, Zwingmann, C, Jaeschke, H. Novel mechanisms of protection against acetaminophen hepatotoxicity in mice by glutathione and N-acetylcysteine. Hepatology. 2010; 51 (1): 246-254

[xxviii] Fujioka K and Casida JE. Glutathione S-transferase conjugation of organophosphorus pesticides yields S-phospho-, S-aryl- and S-alkylglutathione derivatives. Chem Res Toxicol. 2007; 20 (8): 1211-7

[xxix] Ballatori N, Lieberman MW and Wang W. N-acetyl cysteine as an antidote in methylmercury poisoning. Environ Health Perspect. 1998; 106 (5): 267-271

[xxx] Ben-Ari Z, Vaknin H and Tur-Kaspa R. N-acetyl cysteine in acute hepatic failure (non-paracetemol-induced). Hepatogastroenterology. 2000; 47: 786-9

[xxxi] Wang et al. Indole-3-Carbinol (I3C0 and its Major Derivatives: Their Pharmacokinetics and Important Roles in Hepatic Protection. Curr Drug Metab. 2016; 17(4): 401-9

[xxxii] Biswas SK et al. Curcumin induces glutathione biosynthesis and inhibits NF-kappaB activation and interleukin-8 release in alveolar epithelial cells: mechanism of free radical scavenging activity. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2005; 7 (1-2): 32-41.

[xxxiii] Zhong J et al. B vitamins attenuate the epigenetic effects of ambient fine particles in a pilot human intervention trial. PNAS. 2017; 114 (13): 3503-3508

Health Notes