‘Clean up your act’ and detox your way to better health.
“The road to health is the one that begins with an understanding and commitment to cleanse and detoxify the body, to restore balance, peace and harmony.”
Dr Bernard Jensen D.C. Ph.D.
Detox (short for detoxification) is a systematic approach to assisting your body to remove toxins stored in its tissues. It is a process that occurs naturally and marvelously within the body.
Unfortunately, in our polluted environment, many bodies simply become overloaded. This can result from cumulative exposure to environmental toxins, beginning even before birth. It can result from short-term high-level exposure. It can be the result of lifestyle habits, such as a poor diet, combined with excesses of drugs and alcohol. It can also be the result of toxins generated within the body itself, as in the case of candidiasis, for example.
Regardless of the cause, for many people, the body’s systems cannot process these toxins as quickly as they are ingested or generated. The result is symptoms of toxicity. Numerous additional factors may impact an individual, such as stress, unresolved emotional issues, or another illness. These other factors all impact the immune system which is our body’s defense against illness.
The good news is that you can improve or protect your health by implementing your own personal detox program. We are coming to a greater understanding of the role of toxins, particularly their role in chronic diseases.
Understanding the relationship between chronic illnesses is easier if we look at them not in isolation, but as part of a whole – being your health.
The way we live is tough on our immune systems. High-fat and high-sugar diets, along with exposures to environmental toxins, can leave our immune systems operating at a low level of chronic stress. This can leave you susceptible to colds or infections. Unfortunately the first response to ‘get better’ is a prescription of antibiotics to clear up infection. The same antibiotics can begin an unanticipated process that leads to maldigestive syndrome.
Antibiotics can deplete the ‘good’ bacteria that reside in your intestinal tract. Other factors may be involved such as stress or trauma. Regardless which factor precipitates it, a condition develops in which helpful bacteria, called aerobic because they thrive in a high-oxygen environment, are threatened. The opposite types of bacteria, anaerobic, those that do best in a low-oxygen environment, begin to dominate the abdominal tract.
The anaerobic bacterial imbalance has two significant implications. First, a low oxygen environment is perfect to stimulate the growth of yeast. Since aerobic bacteria play a role in controlling yeast levels in the intestinal tract, their absence encourages yeast overgrowth, as do the low-oxygen levels. Secondly, aerobic bacteria play a role in the final breakdown of proteins in the digestive tract. When there are not enough aerobic bacteria, mal-digested proteins, in the form of peptides or peptones, the pre-cursors to amino acids, are absorbed into the blood stream and ferried to the liver. The liver can only process amino acids, not peptides and peptones, and so becomes heavy with these indigestible molecules. At this point, the individual is sometimes diagnosed as having Leaky Gut Syndrome. Perhaps most importantly, the body treats these mal-digested proteins as toxins.
As the level of toxins in the liver continues to increase, the individual’s immune system becomes compromised. The liver is a major component in the immune system, and it is literally flooded with toxic material, leaving little energy left for processing standard toxins. Additionally, the body has no choice but to use some of this substandard “building material,” these poorly digested proteins, for ongoing tissue repair. These proteins, however, are marked as inferior, so that the body can replace them when better material becomes available. A great deal of tissue repair takes place in the joints, and this substandard material can become concentrated there. The individual may now begin to experience fibromyalgia or rheumatoid symptoms.
The rheumatoid symptoms can be based on an auto-immune response. Once the body has identified these badly digested proteins as toxic, the immune system begins to make antibodies against those proteins. At this point the individual can begin to develop food allergies, particularly to proteins that are eaten regularly. The proteins are no longer just toxic, but have become immunoreactive, stimulating inflammation and a cascade of cortical hormones as part of a generalised histamine response. Additionally the liver is still under siege from other toxins, released by increased levels of yeast. Often the body will put an autogenic marker on yeast as well, increasing the range of food allergies. By this stage many individuals have been diagnosed with candidiasis, but their food allergies and the initial mal-digestive syndrome often have not have been identified.
Treatment of candiasis often involves use of anti-mycotic agents, those agents that destroy fungus. In the die-off process, when millions of yeast organisms die in the system, toxins are released. Immune triggers, such as chemical exposure, molds, foods or certain pollens, can be damaging to developing immune cells. These cells become misguided, resulting in auto-immune disorders or other complex immune reactions.
Systemic yeast infections, or candidiasis, seem particularly associated with auto-immune reactions. It has been established that Candida albicans posseses a protein which binds steroids such as cortisone and progesterones, meaning that yeast can potentially participate in, and interfere with, human hormone signal systems.
One possibility may be that the immune system begins to ‘mark’ steroids or hormones produced by the endocrine system that have bonded with the yeast protein. Autoimmune dysregulation associated with the Candida Syndrome can influence other conditions such as hypothyroidism, thyroiditis, hypodrenalism, Addison’s disease, hepatitis, premenstrual syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis – your immune system is under siege.
The impact upon the adrenal system also plays a large role in your total health. It has been recognised that there is a connection between adrenal fatigue & stress or trauma.
Other researchers have also noted the relationship between adrenal function and mal-digestive syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, or chronic Epstein-Barr virus. Mal-digestive syndrome forces the adrenal glands to output more coritcal hormones to try to control the inflammation that it produces. Eventually, since this is occurs with every meal that you eat…the cortical hormone levels are diminished die off because the system cannot produce them any more – leaving you feeling exhausted.
Low adrenal levels may even be the cause of the initial mal-digestive process. One of the first functions to weaken in functional hypoadrenalism is the digestion. With poor digestion and nutrient uptake these patients often exhibit multiple allergies due to incompletely digested proteins entering the blood stream.
A circular pattern seems to develop; with adrenal leading to poor digestion, and poor digestion leading to autoimmune disorders, impaired immune function, and suppressed adrenal levels. Dysbiosis (incomplete digestion) and delayed food allergies are almost always present in people with autoimmune disorders. Continued dysbiosis leads to more allergies and serious health disorders such as chronic fatigue syndrome.
So how do you clean up your act? The key to a successful personal detox program is: Reduce the level of toxins coming in and simultaneously, increase the body’s ability to process the toxins stored in tissue.
The first step is to decide how you’re going to reduce your exposure to toxins. Though you can start today and make rapid improvements, this is not simply a weekend project. It should be considered an awareness that you gradually improve upon from now on.
Change your thinking. It is your mind that will prevent you from wavering as you gradually reduce your intake of the liver-stressing foods, drugs and drinks that we call consumable toxins; as you find ways to avoid toxins in products you use for personal care, and toxins found in your personal environment. At the same time, it is your mind that will process the information on how to gradually increase supplements, herbs and other substances that will amplify your body’s ability to process out the excessive level of toxins all of us encounter in the modern world.
Secondly you need to foster your ability to process toxins. There are three areas that you have to address, because all effective detoxification programs include these aspects: improvement in diet, moderate exercise (as little as 15 minutes of walking a day) and balanced supplementation.
Balanced supplementation is important because it helps prevent oxidation. You’ve probably heard the word ‘antioxidant’ many times in reference to vitamins, supplements, foods or teas.
If the body does not have the nutrients to process out the toxins when they enter the liver, they are stored, either in the liver or in fat tissue. People who are overweight have a higher level of stored toxins. During dieting, as the body uses the nutrients stored in the fat cells, these toxins come back into circulation, causing many of the unpleasant effects of dieting, such as jittery nerves, light-headedness and sometimes mild nausea. If inadequate nutrition is being ingested during dieting, the additional free radicals can cause extra oxidative stress while dieting. For this reason, fasting may not be the safest way to detox.
For women, as the detox process intensifies, stored estrogen reentering the bloodstream can cause intense PMS symptoms. Also drugs (prescription, over-the-counter, recreational––all types) that have been consumed long ago and have never been fully metabolised reenter your consciousness as they reenter your bloodstream, doing whatever they didn’t finish the first time around – this is one reason why it is so important to drink water throughout a detox.
The second major detoxification process is the liver. In conjunction with the anti-oxidation process – they both work with the body’s circulatory and elimination systems.
Another critical detoxification process takes place in the liver. This is a two-phase process involving a series of enzymes.
Enzymes remove impurities that can’t be broken down – they break toxins down into intermediate forms. Some toxins are ready for elimination at this stage, but others require more work. These intermediate compounds are routed along one of six chemically driven detoxification pathways, where they are further broken down, and then bound to specific types of protein molecules which act as ‘escorts’ to guide them out of the body, allowing them to exit through the kidneys (in the form of urine) or the bile (in the form of feces). This process is called conjugation.
Many toxins are fat-soluble. The liver’s job is to transform them into water-soluble substances so they can be excreted via the bowel or the kidneys. When hormones, drugs, chemicals or other toxins enter the liver in the blood, the first group of enzymes, go to work to transform them. When they have transformed the toxins liver enzymes combine with them to create nontoxic water-soluble compounds that can then be excreted. If there aren’t enough nutrients to generate these enzymes, a dangerous bottle-neck in the detoxification process is created. The necessary enzymes are derived from various vitamins and minerals, plus amino acids (glycine, glutamine, taurine, methionine, cysteine and glutathione) found in high quality proteins.
These ‘free radicals’ begin to cause oxidative stress within the liver and to other tissues where they’re carried in the bloodstream if they are not removed from your system. The free radicals can be MORE DANGEROUS than they were in their original form as toxins entering the liver.
The enzyme system in the liver is very delicate. Like the antioxidant system, it depends on having the right combination of an assortment of nutrients that is almost impossible to get without nutritional supplementation, even from a very healthy diet.
Remember that gentler detox procedures will work for everyone, they just work more slowly. Taking a slow approach is good, because it’s more likely to result in lasting lifestyle changes, and less likely to cause distressing and possibly damaging cleansing reactions.
In short, the decision to detox, and stick with it, can be one of the most important decisions your mind ever makes.
Narelle Stegehuis, CEO of MassAttack, is a practicing Naturopath specializing in the research and development of natural treatment programs for women with hormonal imbalances. She is both a prolific writer and recipient of the Australian Naturopathic Excellence Award 2006.
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