Our Lives Are Toxic: The Importance of Detoxing Your Body

We are used to cleaning the outside house, but the most important house to clean is yourself – your own house – which we never do. – Marina Abramovic

As you ring in the New Year, hopes of positive change abound.  Whether you set an actual resolution or not, one positive change this time of year should be recovering your body from the last 6 weeks of holiday indulgences!  Many of us start out craving a healthy change in January because of this.  However, November and December aren’t the only months you need to recover from.  Your body is actually bombarded every day with what I like to call collective “dust and dirt.”

Collective Dust and Dirt

Just as your house collects dust and dirt, so does your body.  The “dust and dirt” I’m talking about here are the environmental toxins and chemicals you come into contact with every day.  There are the obvious toxins, such as mercury, lead, and arsenic.  But did you know toxins can come from candles, carpeting, furniture, fabric softener, food containers, shower water and your food?  Here are some other shocking facts:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has 80,000 chemicals registered for daily use. Of those, only about 250 currently have testing to assess their safety.
  • Although DDT was banned in 1977, it is a persistent organic pollutant. What does this mean?  It can take several decades to breakdown.  In the meantime, it persists in our soil, and in our bodies.
  • The United States uses 18,000 pesticides and sprays 5 billion (yes, Billion) pounds of pesticides per year. Only 1% of these pesticides make it to the targeted pest which means 99% of pesticides sprayed end up somewhere else.
  • The amount of pesticides used on crops in the United States doubles every 10 years. All for naught, however, because insects become immune over time and the pesticides become ineffective.

There is a long list of toxic compounds found in everyday life – from arsenic to xenoestrogens.  They are found in:

  • Soil and dirt we track through our home.
  • “Microwavable safe” plastic containers, cling wrapped foods, and any plastic storage containers, whether they are heated or not. They do not need to melt to release toxins and contaminate food.
  • Watercooler jugs and canned foods not listed as BPA free.
  • Teflon and non-stick pans.
  • Carpeting, particle board furniture and cabinetry, cushions, upholstery fabric and paint. These all off-gas toxins for years.
  • Cleaning supplies and dry-cleaned clothes.
  • Flame-retardant products.
  • Air fresheners, scented candles, detergents and fabric softeners, soaps and deodorants.
  • Shower water treated with chlorine.
  • Non-organic produce.
  • Non-organic meat and dairy products.
  • Farm raised fish.
  • Large fish such as tuna, swordfish, and shark.
  • Cigarette smoke and tailpipe exhaust.

As you can see, we are easily surrounded by chemicals every day!  The problem is that most of these chemicals are known neurotoxins, carcinogens, hormone disruptors and respiratory irritants.  This is not meant to scare you and send you running for the hills to live in a straw house!  This is to help you realize where toxins hide in your life and what you can do to reduce your exposure.  The good news is that a healthy body can work hard at cleansing the body of these toxins.

Love Your Liver

A healthy body depends on healthy detoxification pathways.  Your body detoxifies itself through four major organs – intestines, liver, kidneys, and skin.  Of these, the main detoxifier is the liver – one of the most interesting organs of the human body.  The amazing liver weighs about 3 pounds and is the second largest organ in the body, second only to skin (yes, your skin is actually an organ!).  The liver is also the only organ in the body that can actually regenerate itself.  This is good news because the liver takes a beating every single day, working hard to protect us from the many toxins we are exposed to on a daily basis.  A healthy life undoubtedly depends on a healthy liver!

The liver is also interesting because of its many important functions in the body.  Here are just a few remarkable functions of the liver:

  • Regulates most chemical levels in the blood
  • Produces cholesterol and special proteins to help carry fats throughout the body
  • Stores iron and processes hemoglobin to use its iron
  • Converts harmful ammonia – a byproduct of protein metabolism – to a safer form, urea
  • Regulates blood clotting
  • Helps the body fight infections by producing immune cells and removing pathogens
  • Stores and releases glucose to regulate blood sugar levels
  • Produces bile – a product that helps break down fats for absorption as well as carry waste to be eliminated
  • Processes all of the blood leaving the digestive tract
  • Metabolizes carbohydrates, fats, and proteins into usable forms
  • Stores many nutrients – glycogen; fatty acids; vitamins A, D, E, K and B12; iron and copper – to provide a constant supply of these essential substances to the body
  • Metabolizes alcohol and drugs into their inactive metabolites
  • Metabolizes hormones produced by the body’s own glands
  • Protects the body from toxins

So how does the liver protect the body from toxins?  It protects in one of two ways.  First, the liver works to eliminate toxins from the body.  Second, if the elimination pathways cannot keep up with the toxins coming in, the liver then stores toxins in fat cells to protect the rest of the body.

Let’s first talk about liver detoxification.  There are two phases of liver detoxification, aptly named Phase 1 and Phase 2.  In Phase 1, the liver filters blood and works to either neutralize the chemical or toxin, or convert it to an intermediate form for Phase 2.  Phase 2 works to further break down chemicals and toxins that can then be safely excreted from the body.

Phase 1 detoxifies such things as caffeine, acetaminophen and aspirin.  Phase 2 detoxifies some of the other major toxins we come into contact with daily:

  • Industrial toxins
  • Carcinogens
  • Medications like penicillin, steroids, salicylates, morphine, benzodiazepines and naproxen
  • Bacterial toxins
  • Heavy metals like mercury, lead and arsenic
  • Phenolics found in plastics
  • Alcohol
  • Excess histamine
  • Excess estrogen

Once the liver has detoxified or neutralized any toxins, they can then be eliminated from the body.  They can be passed to the kidneys for elimination through urine, passed to the gallbladder in bile and to the intestines for elimination through feces, or eliminated through sweat.  All of these elimination pathways need to be functioning optimally to detoxify the body.  However, if the liver cannot keep up with the constant insults, toxins will start to accumulate in the body and health is compromised.

Health Compromised

When the liver cannot keep up with the influx of toxins, or Phase 2 is slower than Phase 1, toxins will start to accumulate in the body.  If this happens, the liver tries to store the toxins so they don’t circulate in the blood and cause illness or disease.  Most toxins are fat soluble, so the liver will shuttle toxins off to fat cells for safe storage.  The body will then hold onto these fat cells so that the toxins won’t release back into the bloodstream.

A body that is toxic is a body holding on to fat cells.  So losing weight will be difficult when the body is toxic.  The double whammy for anyone struggling with weight loss is that toxins also damage mitochondria, the energy powerhouses of the body.  This leads to low energy and a sluggish metabolism, adding to the weight loss struggle.  Even worse, toxins can also accumulate directly in the fatty lining of any cell in the body – muscle, brain, nerve, skin, gut and more – leading to chronic illness and disease.

If toxins are allowed to accumulate, it can lead to many health issues, including:

  • Allergies and Asthma
  • Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and thyroid conditions
  • Bone marrow cancers such as lymphomas and leukemia
  • Chemical sensitivities and extreme sensitivity to odors
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Cognitive problems, poor memory and brain fog
  • Diabetes
  • Digestive issues such as bloating, burping, excessive gas, food allergies, diarrhea and abdominal pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Infertility
  • Muscle pain, weakness and fatigue
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Parkinson’s
  • Persistent infections, colds and flus
  • Skin conditions such as hives, eczema and itching
  • Vertigo
  • Weight gain and inability to lose weight

Luckily, there are certain foods that support the liver, assist in detoxification and set you on a path to your ideal weight!

Power Of Food

Food is powerful.  It can give you energy or send you crashing.  It can lift your mood or fill you with guilt.  It can enhance digestion or rush you to the bathroom.  Something this powerful should not be taken lightly, yet little attention is paid to what foods are best for your health and why.  Many whole foods help reduce inflammation, fight against oxidative stress, decrease risk of cancer, enhance immunity or even help detoxify the body.  Amazingly, one particular family of vegetables does all of these.  It’s time to welcome the Brassica family into your home!

The Brassica vegetables are better known as the cruciferous vegetables.  They include:

  • Arugula, Land cress, Shepard’s purse and Watercress
  • Kale, Collard greens and Mustard greens
  • Bok choy and Kohlrabi
  • Broccoli and Cauliflower
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage and Chinese cabbage
  • Radish and Daikon radish
  • Rutabaga and Turnip
  • Horseradish, Brown mustard seed and Yellow mustard seed

Each member of this family is high in vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, C, E, K, folic acid, several B vitamins, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc and more.  They are also high in protein, fiber and omega 3 fats.  These nutrients alone help reduce inflammation, fight oxidative damage and enhance immunity.  Additionally, the Brassica family is very high in phytonutrients, specifically isothiocyanates and one of its precursors called glucosinolates.

These two groups of phytonutrients have been found to be powerful health promoters.

  • Glucosinolates and Isothiocyanates:
    • Deactivate potential cancer-causing substances before they can damage DNA.
    • Alter communication between cells to prevent them from becoming cancerous.
    • Neutralize carcinogens and stimulate their removal from the body.
    • Inhibit cancer cells from multiplying and induce apoptosis (cell death).
    • Regulates the inflammatory system by decreasing the inflammatory response.
    • May prevent damage to blood vessels in people with chronic blood sugar problems.
    • May prevent bacterial overgrowth of Helicobacter pylori.
    • Increase detoxification of toxins that may increase cancer risk.
    • Increase Phase II detoxification while regulating Phase I detoxification.

By adding cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli into your daily meals you can optimize health and detoxify the body!

The cruciferous veggies are not the only powerhouse foods to put on your plate.  Here are some other great detoxifying foods:

  • Beets increase phase II detoxification
  • Pomegranate regulates phase I detoxification
  • Artichoke has liver protective effects
  • Flax seeds and psyllium husk powder help bind toxins for elimination
  • Green tea increases both phase I and II detoxification
  • Essential fatty acids from cold water fish (salmon is one of the safest with typically low levels of mercury) and flax seed oil assists with detoxification
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables replenish glutathione, a necessary compound for phase II detoxification
  • Turmeric also increases glutathione levels
  • High-quality protein such as free-range eggs and meat provide amino acids necessary for all detoxification pathways

Steps to Detoxify Your Life

In truth, inside your home, including the food you eat, can be more toxic than the outdoors.  Here are some tips to reduce your toxins at home:

  • Take your shoes off at the door. Not only does it reduce toxins tracked in from outside, it makes cleaning the house much easier.
  • Swap plastic storage containers for glass. This includes purchasing non-heated foods like olive oil and milk.  Glass is a great non-toxic, microwavable storage option.
  • Choose only canned foods listed as BPA free.
  • Replace non-stick pans with cast iron or stainless steel.
  • When upgrading your home, think about wood flooring, real wood for furniture and cabinetry, and organic upholstery fabric.
  • Switch to “green” cleaning products.
  • If you absolutely need to dry-clean clothes, let them air out in your car or outside for 48 hours.
  • Remove any mold from your home.
  • Remove air fresheners from your home and switch to unscented detergents and fabric softeners, soaps and deodorants.
  • Choose organic for your cosmetics.
  • Get a shower filter and water filter.
  • Choose organic produce when possible.
  • Choose organic meat and dairy products and wild-caught smaller fish like trout and salmon.
  • If you smoke, quit, or at the very least smoke outside.

This is a lot, I know!  But making small incremental changes to your environment can drastically reduce your exposure to toxins.

What about the toxins you already have in your body?  As you now know, a healthy functioning liver and elimination pathways are critical.  Here are some tips to optimize your elimination pathways:

  • Drink more water. Water helps flush the kidneys and bowels to enhance elimination.
  • Eat a high fiber diet. Toxins can bind to fiber to be eliminated.
  • Eat your greens, incorporate detoxifying foods and reduce intake of red meat and dairy. This will help alkalize urine so that toxins can be cleared through the kidneys.
  • Avoid reactive foods. Foods you are sensitive to can slow down elimination and impair digestion.
  • Consider cholagogue herbs to stimulate bile production (turmeric is one example).
  • Consume probiotics and probiotic-rich foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, and kombucha.
  • Sauna therapy. This will help clear toxins through sweat.
  • Consider enemas or colon hydrotherapy. This will help clear toxins from the body.

Through small, consistent changes to your environment and diet, you can still begin to remove toxins from your life and lead a path to better health!

If you are considering a more disciplined liver detox, or would like to schedule an appointment to discuss your https://www.coastalpharmacyandwellness.com/resources/events/event-registration/nutritional needs, please contact me to set up an appointment.

Note: Stephanie leads a guided 21-Day Holistic Detox Program which will be held periodically throughout the year. To learn more, click the link below.
Get Details on the 21-Day Holistic Detox


About the Author

Stephanie Walsh, CPT, CNTP, CEPC

Stephanie holds a number of certifications in nutrition and exercise. Her passion for fitness and education allows her to challenge her clients a safely and effectively. Her love of cooking helps her in developing specific recipes for clients who are short on time or limited by food intolerances. She offers nutrition counseling and personal training in the Portland area. Steph's qualifications include: Certified Nutrition Therapy Practitioner Certified Eating Psychology Coach Certified Personal Trainer Corrective Exercise Specialist Performance Enhancement Specialist Weight Loss Specialist SpinningTM Instructor TRX® Instructor Insanity® Instructor Kettlebell Instructor Kickboxing Instructor


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