A Whole9 guest post by Dr Sult, medical doctor, medical educator, inspirational speaker & the author of Just Be Well: A Book For Seekers of Vibrant Health. This article is the third in a series on detox. Read part 1 here and part 2 here.
Have you ever been on a weight loss diet, stuck to it faithfully, exercised like a maniac, and saw the pounds melt away?
Unfortunately, if you’re like most people, once you return to eating and exercising (or not) as usual, you regain the weight, and sometimes even more.
Once we’ve made a positive difference in our health, the next hurdle is maintaining that improvement.
The same is true for people who use detoxification diets to remove unhealthy chemicals from their bodies. Done properly, a carefully constructed detox diet can help your body excrete dangerous substances that have accumulated. But once the detox is completed, what’s the next step in keeping those toxins from building back up? What do you do after detoxification?
The first step is understanding that toxins enter our bodies in three ways:
Walk out onto the street behind a bus spewing exhaust fumes. Go outside on a hazy, ozone-action day. Paint your living room. Clean your bathroom with lemon cleaner. Spray on mosquito repellant before going out at night.
All of these actions can expose us to toxins from pollution, lead, arsenic, paint, mercury, herbicides, insecticides, radiation, and other inhalants. Ironically, many of these toxic products were created to improve life. Think of lead, which was added to gasoline, paint, piping, ceramics, and glass, until it was finally proven that exposure to lead could result in lead poisoning.
Flame retardant materials sound like a great idea—when these additives are incorporated into building material or children’s pajamas, they make it more difficult for the material to catch on fire. However, traces of flame retardants like polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) have been found in food such as sardines, butter, and canned beef chili, and are linked to learning and memory impairment, decreased sperm count, fetal malformations, and possibly cancer.
In addition to toxins we sometimes unavoidably encounter in the world around us, we are also exposed to toxins through the products we choose. Alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine, and chemicals in cosmetics and medicines (prescription and over-the-counter) introduce unwanted toxins into our bodies. Add to that the toxins in food—artificial food additives, colorings and preservatives, meats that contain hormones and antibiotics, refined foods and sugars and other unhealthy food choices (think fast-food fries),—and it’s clear that our own personal choices can stymie our efforts to be healthy.
Sometimes being healthy is even trickier than we imagine. Take fresh fruits and vegetables, for example. We all know that increasing our intake of green, red, purple, orange, and yellow fruits and vegetables provides necessary nutrients. But when pesticides are used on these products to enhance the harvest, those chemicals do more harm to our bodies than the nutrients do good.
The last category of toxins may be one we aren’t even aware exists. Internal toxins may exist within the body as bacterial or fungal overgrowth, undigested food, or by-products from metabolic reactions. They can also come from emotional distress as a result of unresolved trauma, abuse, or unhappy relationships.
Knowing that toxins can enter our bodies through the environment, from what we put into our bodies, and even from what resides within us, we may wonder: how can we keep toxins out?
Do Your Research
It’s not always easy to find out if toxins are in the products you use, but it’s important to check. Before buying furniture, for example, find out whether the product is made of pressboard, which is often used for furniture tops, drawer fronts and cabinets. This material is often treated with formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Parents.com suggests avoiding these materials: quaternium 15, bronopol (also written as 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol), diazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate.
Although lead has been banned from paint and other substances, it can still be found in older homes, water pipes and imported products. Test your water for the presence of lead, and consider installing a water filter on your kitchen faucet.
The adage to keep it simple is true. Since many additives later found to be toxic were initially added to improve a product, sometimes going back to that product’s simplest form is best.
Consider cleaning products, for instance. Whether it’s the fumes from chlorine bleach or fragrance from a pine-scented cleaner, these products emit toxins into the air in our homes. Once these products are flushed down the drain, the damage continues in the water system. Instead of using toxic cleaning products, the Organic Consumers Association suggests using simpler alternatives, such as vinegar, lemon juice or baking soda. Choose products that are fragrance-free and that don’t have warnings on the label such as “corrosive,” “poison” or “may cause burns.”
As you clean your home, reduce toxins in the air even more by using high-quality air filters. Naturopathic.org suggests using pleated air filters and changing them every 4-8 weeks.
Choose Organic Foods
Many contaminants make their way into foods during the farming and harvesting process. Foods that are organically grown often avoid many of the pesticides used to increase the appearance and shelf life of products. The dirty dozen fruits and vegetables, including apples, strawberries, celery, spinach, and sweet bell peppers, often test high for pesticides. Especially for these, buy organic.
Avoid other foods that have high levels of mercury, such as tilefish, swordfish and shark.
Take Action for the Future
Finding out how to keep toxins from infiltrating your home and your world is an excellent step for protecting your health. Consider going further—taking action to encourage manufacturers and retailers to decrease the toxins in their products. Bill Moyers, journalist and political commentator, offers ideas for activism.
Although my suggestions on avoiding toxins are not all-encompassing (that would take a book), I hope they provides focus for helping you eliminate toxins and make your environment cleaner and healthier.
Tom Sult is a medical doctor, medical educator, inspirational speaker & the author of Just Be Well: A Book For Seekers of Vibrant Health. Board-certified in family medicine & integrative holistic medicine, Tom is on faculty with the Institute for Functional Medicine and maintains a private practice in Willmar, MN. Join Tom’s crusade to change the way doctors treat their patients at www.justbewell.info. For more information on Tom’s practice please visit the 3rd Opinion website.
(Photo Credits: Death to Stock, andersofsydney / cc)
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Must say this series has been disappointing.
Sure, avoiding toxins is a no-brainer Good Idea.
But there was zero evidence cited that any detox protocol is safe or effective.
And part 3? Three ways toxins can get in your body are environmental, lifestyle, and internal? Sorry, no. Toxins can be ingested, absorbed through the skin, or synthesized internally.
Dr. Tom Sult says
Thank you for your response. You have two main criticisms. The first is no evidence cited and that is an extremely valid criticism. I would refer you to the textbook of functional medicine, chapter 31, for a list of 345 references. Next functional medicine is really about individuals and for that reason the articles are intentionally somewhat vague. It’s my belief that doing an aggressive detox without experience or the help of an experienced practitioner is a bad idea. Mobilizing toxins aggressively without adequately preparing for excretion of those toxins can lead to redistribution. Toxins are generally sequestered in low metabolic rate tissue such as fat. Mobilizing them and redistributing them to the brain can be quite dangerous. In a generally healthy individual, doing a simple juice fast or protein sparing fast is certainly relatively safe, but in the chronically unwell it can be quite dangerous.
Your next criticism is:
“And part 3? Three ways toxins can get in your body are environmental, lifestyle, and internal? Sorry, no. Toxins can be ingested, absorbed through the skin, or synthesized internally.”
You are really referring to how they might enter the body. I am referring to where they might come from. Environmental toxins may be ingested, absorbed through your skin or inhaled in the air and absorbed through your lungs. Lifestyle toxins such as drug use might be inhaled, might be ingested, or might be injected into your bloodstream. Lifestyle toxins such as food choices are generally ingested. As you pointed out, many toxins can be generated internally through either normal or aberrant metabolism. Perhaps we are using different language but I think we are saying the same thing.
Great article! Its amazing how many different ways we can take toxins into our bodies. I’m going to crack down on my household cleaners after reading this :)
Kind of daunting, but being conscious of how these poisons can enter out body is the first step avoiding getting re-infected with them…
How safe is it to detox while breastfeeding? I’m starting paelo eating habits, but still breastfeed. If I use the vitamins listed etc. Will the detox be safe with my breast milk?
Finding conflicting information. Tia
Dr. Tom Sult says
Eating Paleo is not a problem while breast feeding. Some supplements may be or at least they have not been tested. Also doing an aggressive detox while breast feeding may mobilize toxins into your Breast milk. Not what you are looking for.
I drank a little over one ounce of kombucha (not knowing it was used to detox) and I am currently lactating. I had some very strong reactions to it and after reading it was used as a detoxing agent quickly put my 2 month old on soy formula(he has acid reflux). I have tried to drink as much water as possible and have been pumping and dumping for 43 hours. Will it now be safe to continue breastfeeding as everyone has assured me?
Dr. Tom Sult says
Kampuchea is a food. Most foods help with detox. Almost all vegetables help with detox. I don’t think that your reaction to Kampuchea was a detox crisis. And I certainly wouldn’t worry about your breast milk. it is a normal physiologic response for your body to be detoxifying every day. I would not use concentrated nutrients designed for detox such as pills etc. and I wouldn’t use medications designed for detox such as EDTA or DMSA during breast-feeding or pregnancy but I wouldn’t limit healthy foods including fermented foods such as Kampuchea.