Assisting With Detoxification

Integrative Clinical Pharmacist Scott Berliner, RPh

It was not until a few years ago that I believed it was necessary to do anything to aid the body’s own detoxification. I have come to understand that the rigors of daily life and what we put ourselves through in the course of our lives, has made this bodily function more important than ever. It has become more difficult for the body to accomplish this task in the way it was intended.

Many factors have come into being since evolution gave us our present detoxification abilities. New environmental stressors such as pesticides, herbicides, and heavy metals have been entering the food chain. We are forever in pursuit of new and more complicated lifestyles that we think will make us happy. People “party” more in an attempt to relieve stress. New technology has brought us carbon monoxide, asbestos, lead poisoning, and still unnamed carcinogens, making detoxification a challenge to every organ in the body. The development of new herbicides, pesticides, and methods of genetically modifying nature’s already over-evolved and manipulated food supply continues. We eat more fast-foods, more trans-fats and less “good fats.” A large part of the population now believes that a diet low in fat will bring them good health and the dream body.

Degenerative disease is on the rise, as are cardiovascular disease, heart disease, and diabetes. New cancers are discovered every day. People pursue low-fat diets, and obesity is commonplace in as much as 62 percent of the population. Children can buy soda and candy from vending machines in many schools and are consuming as much as 150 pounds of sugar a year.

Beside the changes that are necessary in diet and lifestyle, it has become evident that we need to give our organs some help in the detox process to eliminate toxins from our bodies. The liver is the number-one organ for “conjugating“ (neutralizing) toxins and eliminating them, but detoxing the liver is not enough. We need to cleanse our gastrointestinal tracts, our kidneys and even our skin. The incredible burden of detox has spread throughout the body. We need to include more fiber in our diet, more vitamins, more minerals and more antioxidants. The commercialization of farmland, as well as the beef, chicken and fish industries, has led to fewer nutrients and more additives in our food. Eating is contributing to the problem of toxicity and not aiding it, as was originally intended by nature.

It seems to me that there are more cases of liver disease, irritable bowel syndrome, stomach ulcers, and general illness in today’s society than in generations past. Organic foods do not contribute to these problems, but I have found that it has become increasingly difficult to find a full spectrum of organic foods. Even if this was possible, the onslaught of environmental toxins combined with those from household toxins still puts an exceptional toxic burden on the body.

A traditional functional detoxification program may include many different products, but the most commonly used one combines a hypoallergenic diet that is gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy-free with a rice protein-based shake to aid in cleansing toxins from the body. A Functional Medicine doctor can structure this program for the particular issues you are addressing. Sometimes this organic rice- based shake can be combined with other herbs to reduce inflammation both in the cardiovascular system as well as in the musculoskeletal system. Other things that can be combined are plant sterols to improve blood sugar, triglyceride and lipid levels. Minerals can be added to increase the pH (acid/alkaline balance) in the body. There are many different variations on this. A good detoxification program may last two to three weeks. It can be used as a way to segue into a healthier lifestyle and can also be used as a method to increase weight loss. Your physician will take all these factors into account when structuring this program for you.

Often an herbal product is added that can assist the body’s detoxification organs, namely the liver, kidney, lungs and skin, in getting rid of the toxins from the body.

Lipoic acid, also known as alpha lipoic acid or ALA, has grown in popularity and for very good reasons. This “antioxidant” is actually not a true antioxidant, but a cofactor in recycling your body’s own stores of vitamins A, C, E, selenium and glutathione. These are also called ACES. Lipoic acid is both fat-soluble and water-soluble so it works with both fat- and water-soluble vitamins. Lipoic acid exists in all the cells of the body, though sometimes in inadequate amounts. Its actions on glutathione help the body get rid of the toxins that are “pulled” from the system through the process of detoxification. ALA is used for many purposes including peripheral neuropathy, brain function and age-related conditions. Protecting the nerve cells from oxidative damage caused by free radicals is the probable mechanism of action. Another interesting action of ALA is its ability to help stabilize blood sugar. All in all, this is one very powerful supplement and, with proper use guided by your integrative physician, it can aid in detoxification on an ongoing basis for better health.

Some people do a “detox” before spring or after the New Year as a way to start off a healthy year; others detoxify every six months. For serious problems, detoxification should only be done under the care of an integrative practitioner with experience in this kind of approach to health. For people with toxic issues, this process can be extremely helpful and quite energizing. A well planned program keeps a person eating every few hours, yet most people are able to lose weight, gain health benefits, and lead to a healthier way of eating for the future.