Your Toxin Bank Account
In this series, we have discussed detoxification processes in the body – the effect of toxins on skin and methods for enhancing detoxification. This article focuses on the role of food and herbs in improving detoxification. The goal of improving detoxification pathways is to decrease the body’s total toxin load. Decreasing the total load follows a net effect principle of toxins in vs. toxins out. Similar to a bank account, the total is determined by two parts – input and output. However, unlike money, detoxification has the reverse goal of a savings account; we want the net total to decrease rather than increase. How do we achieve a net “loss” of toxins? By decreasing the input and increasing the output.
Toxins In – Decrease Input
Sources of toxins include pollutants, pesticides, plastics, heavy metals, cigarette smoke, and UV radiation. Below are specific steps for avoiding toxin exposure:
- AVOID PESTICIDES. Pesticides disrupt hormone balance and create free radicals in the body. [1,2] Pesticides are found in foods, drinking water, and on treated grass or plants. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a consumer guide to produce that lists produce highest vs. lowest in pesticides to help inform decision-making when shopping. Visit ewg.org for more information.
- DRINK FILTERED WATER. Tap water may contain a variety of chemicals such as fluoride, heavy metals, and pesticides.
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- AVOID HEAVY METALS in seafood. Seafood consumption is the main route of mercury exposure in humans; mercury can induce oxidative stress.[4,5] The EWG also has a consumer’s guide for mercury levels in seafood. See ewg.org for more information.
- AVOID PLASTICS and BPA. Plastics and BPA are known endocrine disruptors. BPA affects testosterone and progesterone receptors. BPA is also an example of a compound that becomes even more toxic as it is metabolized in the body.
- AVOID FRAGRANCES. “Fragrance” is found as an ingredient in many cosmetic products, as well as perfumes, colognes, candles, and plug-ins. Synthetic fragrances are composed of any variety of chemicals which exert toxic effects in the body, such as endocrine disruption, cancer promotion, impaired brain development, as well as direct allergy reactions, breathing difficulties, or chemical sensitivity symptoms.[7,8]
- PROTECT from UV DAMAGE. Sun exposure is a source of oxidative stress from UV radiation. Prevention includes limiting sun exposure and the use of appropriate SPF and sun protection.
Toxins Out – Increase Output
There are many nutrients and foods that protect the body from toxins, and this list is not exhaustive but provides a starting point for incorporating detox foods into the diet. The following foods and herbs support detoxification pathways:
- BRASSICA family vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, beets, mustard greens, garlic, and onions. Cruciferous vegetables have antioxidant effects and activate phase I and phase II detoxification enzymes.[10,11]
- TURMERIC. Turmeric improves antioxidant function and phase II detoxification. Turmeric is continually being studied for its anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and immune modulating effects. A systematic review of turmeric and skin conditions showed significant improvement in skin disease severity with turmeric supplementation. It can be used as a supplement, applied topically, or consumed as a spice in food.
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- GINGER. Ginger prevents damage from oxidative stress and has a protective effect on the liver and kidneys. Ginger can be consumed as a spice, as tea, juiced, or in supplement form.
- Foods rich in polyphenols including GREEN TEA, BERRIES, COLORFUL VEGETABLES, and RED WINE. Polyphenols are compounds found in foods that have antioxidant effects and are hepatoprotective, or liver protective. Green tea increases liver enzyme activity, specifically glucuronidation. Green tea is also a potent antioxidant.
- DANDELION. Dandelion leaves and flowers were studied in vitro and shown to have antioxidant effects and protect against UVB radiation.[17,18] Dandelion can be taken as a tea, supplement, or food.
- BURDOCK. Burdock is an herb that has antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties and is protective effects against UVB radiation.[19,20]
- MILK THISTLE. Milk thistle is probably the most well known “liver supportive” herb, as it is hepatoprotective. Studies demonstrate that silymarin protects against chemical toxicity by blocking phase I cytochrome pathways and modulating phase II liver enzyme pathways.[21,22]
Herbs can cause allergic reactions or unwanted side effects. Dietary supplements should be prescribed or monitored by a qualified healthcare practitioner.