Detox Series Part I: Toxins

Last week’s newsletter featured the introduction of our new series: Detoxification! “Detox” is a term that has a variety of meanings to different people, from drug and alcohol detoxification, to metabolic and nutritional detoxification, and even cleansing programs that utilize food, smoothies or juices to stimulate the body’s release of toxins.  The scope of this series will be focused on Metabolic and Nutritional Detoxification, as well as programs intended to support and facilitate the mechanisms of each.

Before the matter of detoxification can be appropriately discussed, it is important to first define the term ‘toxin’, as well as recognize anything that either contains, or is itself, a toxin.  Without understanding what constitutes a toxin, it is also impossible to understand the complex mechanisms through which the body converts and eliminates those toxins from itself.

TOXINS are anything that can potentially irritate or harm body tissue, and which negatively influence our body’s detoxification systems. Detoxification, therefore, is any process that decreases the negative impact of chemicals or molecules on the body, involving biotransformation of these toxic substances into forms which it can excrete. We are constantly exposed to toxins, which are better or worse depending on the area in which one lives, and the human body produces toxic metabolic elements, also better or worse depending on the overall health and health of each internal system.

They are in us and all around us in today’s world and can be quite overwhelming if listed individually.

Fortunately the list of toxins can be simplified, each one falling into the category of either internal or external toxins, and sometimes both.

External toxins are those which originally exist outside the body, like air pollution or pesticides, while internal toxins are those which are created from processes inside our own bodies, such as cellular wastes.  Inside the body, toxicity can also occur from the side effects of drugs, or from patterns of physiology that are different from our usual functioning.  Further, ANY substance, if in excess, can create toxic elements in the body: sodium, vitamin C, even water – almost all nutrients can become toxic in certain concentrations and circumstances.

Here is a list of some of the most common toxins (or toxic precursors) to which our bodies are exposed on a daily basis:


External Toxins

•  Environmental pollutants

•  Silver/mercury dental amalgams

•  Mercury contained in fish

•  Lead contained in old paints, blinds and canned goods

•  Aluminum contained in antiperspirant, deodorant, antacids 

•  Constant mold exposure from improperly controlled rooms (basements, bathrooms, etc.),

•  Occupational exposure (Higher risk: miners, pottery artist, mechanics, pesticide exposure)

•  Poor air quality and sick building syndrome

•  Contaminated water, food

•  Inhalant smoke

•  Chemicals found in personal care products, household cleaners

•  Bisphenol A, found in soft plastics

•  Phthalates

•  UV radiation


Internal Toxins:

•  Cellular/Metabolic Wastes

•  Sugar, poor quality fats (trans, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated, canola and cottonseed, deep fried),  processed foods, refined flours

•  Poorly Digested Foods

•  Chronic infections from bacterial, parasitic and fungal overgrowth

•  Allergic reactions (immediate and delayed sensitivities)

•  Most common delayed type sensitivity (gluten, dairy, egg, corn)

•  Medications

•  Long term use of tylenol is one of the leading causes of liver failure and prevents liver detoxification

•  Proton pump inhibitors (acid blockers) lead to subpar digestion and absorption of vitamins

•  Emotional or Physical Stress

•  Lack of Sleep


Do any of the above-listed toxins make an appearance in your daily routine?  Can you think of at least one toxic thing you put in your body or do every day?

While it’s all fine and dandy to be told that something like sugar is toxic to our bodies, that fact alone may have no more behavior-changing momentum behind it than you have will power to avoid the pan of brownies sitting on the counter at home. In a world where almost everything is accused of causing cancer, it is not enough to simply claim that a specific substance or behavior is “toxic”; to truly comprehend the implications of a body that is toxic, one must understand the ways in which it is affected by these accumulating toxins.

Whether internal or external, once inside the body every single toxin must pass through, be processed by, then excreted via one or more detoxification systems found within the body.  This is a natural, ongoing process through which the body cleans, repairs, and heals itself.  When each system is functioning optimally, the body is able to efficiently and effectively eliminate harmful toxins before they have the opportunity to cause any significant damage.  It is when these detox pathways become overwhelmed and undernourished that toxins begin to accumulate in the body, and if left unchecked, disease states ensue.

An example of this process – toxin accumulation, failure of one or more detoxification systems, and the subsequent onset of disease – is cancer.  While some may argue that genetics are the primary determinant as to whether an individual will develop cancer in his or her lifetime, the fact of the matter is that genetics are only a small piece of a very large puzzle.  Someone may have every genetic marker indicating that she will develop some form of cancer in her lifetime, but if the accumulation of various toxins – known as the body’s Toxic Burden – remains low, and the detoxification pathways maintain optimal (or near optimal) functioning so that they remain open, there is absolutely no guarantee that she will succumb to that fate.  Conversely, an individual who is virtually free of cancerous indicators, yet habitually engages in activities which stress, slow and block the pathways of detoxification, has an equal, if not greater, chance of developing cancer than his health-conscious counterpart.  How is this possible?

The human body as a whole is incredibly resilient  . . . as long as its systems are adequately nourished and optimally maintained.  Cells that become cancerous are no more than rapidly dividing cells; unchecked, they undergo mitosis repeatedly until tumors develop or they metastasize into other areas of the body, where the process is continued.  Our bodies are programmed to control the rate of cell division in order to prevent conditions such as cancer, so why are we continuing to see such alarmingly high rates of this and other diseases that are basically normal physiological processes gone rogue, such as cancer and autoimmune conditions?

The answers lie in the toxins in and around us.  There is no doubt that the world today is glaringly different than that of our ancestors:  Automobiles billowing pollutants out into the air; waste products from manufacturing companies making their way into our water supply and marine life; chemicals in the items we use to clean our bodies and homes, and in the foods we use to fuel our bodies.  Even our emotions are far more toxic today than in the past due to increased sources of stress: the up and down economy; pressure from family and loved ones to be successful; worry over being alone; pressure to have a supermodel physique; raising multi-children families while working and often going to school as well.  Individually, each of these toxins may cause no noticeable decrease in the body’s detox systems.  Over time, however, the toxins begin to accumulate and compound with one another until the weakest link in the detoxification pathway becomes overburdened.  Once the downward spiral of one organ or system is initiated, the process is very difficult to stop, and a runaway train scenario is sure to follow.  Once this happens, it becomes crucial that the exposure to toxins is minimized and a proper detoxification program employed.  If not, and the lifestyle continues down the path in which it became toxic in the first place, the result will most certainly be disease.


Next week we will be entering the world of detoxification, learning all about the different pathways utilized by the body to keep us functioning, healthy, and (hopefully!) happy.  Join us!