As a practitioner or Functional Medicine, it’s no surprise that a big piece of the work I do in helping people feel well again is restoring ‘function’ throughout the body. Working with the forces of nature, whilst supporting & influencing the perfectly designed in-built health software that the physical body came pre-programmed with.
One key function or system that the body was coded with to keep it in a state of good health is the detoxification system.
Many people seem to think detoxification is a some kind of special event or ritual you do to your body that only happens by taking certain supplements, or following a certain programme. Almost like they have to to buckle-up, strap themselves in, and batten down the hatches, as it’s going to be a rough ride!
Despite detoxification being what I class as a luxury in a sense that when someone’s body is in a state of dysfunction where the process is down-regulated, impaired or hindered – detoxification is a process that the body does all the time without you even knowing it, as if on autopilot.
Detoxification is very much part of the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) like digestion, hormone production, and repair & regeneration. Many of the individuals I work with are very much stuck in a sympathetic state of the ANS, or beyond it stuck down a very deep metabolic hole where none of the above, and more is working particularly well, if at all.
While there are measures that can be taken to aid or support our bodies in the processes of detoxification when & where necessary, the body has built-in systems designs to remove toxins from the bloodstream, cells & tissues. That being said; unfortunately there are many toxins that are stored in fatty tissues for which the body has no removal mechanisms – and these are toxins that many “detoxification programmes” are specifically designed to target. Most fat soluble toxins are lipophilic, meaning ‘fat-loving’ so have an affinity for fatty tissues such as lipid cells, the liver & the brain.
Although highly effective, the bodies detoxification capacities are not endless. Before long, like with the majority of my new patients there soon comes a time when the immune system just can’t handle anymore insults and can become completely overwhelmed, and metabolic reserves become drained. At some point, a specific toxin may be the proverbial straw that breaks the camels back, as when the toxic threshold is reached, defences begin to crumble. By this stage, various poisons & unfavourable microbes have nothing to stop them, or be kept in check which results in many metabolic pathways being negatively effected.
These toxins are predominately either ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through our skin. Their effects on our bodies are no different from that caused by pollution that destroys ecology such as lakes, killing the fish, and negatively influencing the microbiology of the water.
Toxins can originate from either external sources or generated from within the body. Examples of external toxins include things like chemical pollutants, heavy metals, electricity, radiation, EMF, and infectious agents. Pesticides, food additives & substances in tobacco, drugs and alcohol are also examples of toxins that from outside the body.
Typically bacteria & fungi that produce poisonous waste products in the intestinal tract are two main examples of endotoxins that are produced internally. Candida is one very common one I deal with all the time in practice that spits out a lot of toxic metabolic waste. Just as the liver & the kidneys have a primary role in detoxifying external toxins, the intestines play a primary role in preventing the production of internal toxins, and preventing illness from bacteria & other microorganisms. I refer to this as Phase 3 detoxification, and have written about this in another article previously.
Some toxins are more damaging than others. As an example – the heavy metal Mercury can cause extensive damage to the central nervous system (CNS) whereas a healthy intestinal tract can typically defend the body from numerous bacterial invasions. While it is impossible to abolish all toxins, there are steps that can be taken to to reduce unnecessary exposure and improve the efficiency of the bodies capacity to eliminate them. Having awareness of where these toxins reside in our environment, and their impact on health provides important information to minimise the effect of toxic overload.
A toxin is anything that cause irritation, harm, destruction or dysfunction in the body, and can come from either an internal or external source. Detoxification is the process of metabolising & removing unwanted chemical compounds that can disrupt normal bodily functions. It’s goal or net result is to neutralise or disarm, and eliminate these toxins so than normal function may begin to return to the organs or body systems being affected.
Our ability to dismantle and excrete toxic matter is a critical process, as without it, toxins capable of destroying cells, tissue, and organs would surely overcome us. A number of my patients body-systems were so dysfunctional when they first came to me that any toxins that left the liver because the liver couldn’t carry out the job, were then dumped back into digestive tract & reabsorbed as their body didn’t have the metabolic capacity to process & eliminate the stored poisons which made them feel terrible. Basically recycling, recirculated & reabsorbing 2nd hand toxic material.
Hopefully by me sharing some of my knowledge with you on this topic, it will give you a greater understanding of how toxins impact our bodies, and how important it is to strengthen our efforts towards achieving better health, and live longer, better lives as a result.
To understand the process of overcoming toxins on the body chemistry, it helps to look at the body as a terrain… an unproductive garden of sorts that you are trying to restore or cultivate.
Detoxification is like taking the soil that has laid barren, and then working it to produce a healthy harvest. In order to do this you have to create as close to the ideal environment as possible. You also have to add nutrients to the soil to aerate it, get healthful microorganisms growing in the soil, and constantly weed out the pests – the natural enemies that are always trying to destroy the harvest. Just like farming, it takes specialist knowledge, commitment & hard work to produce a great harvest, and to maintain a healthy crop all year round.
Toxins have the ability to alter genetic expression which is a fancy term of how our genes behave and interact with the environment, both internally & externally. This means they can influence whether we express towards health or disease as the ‘signals’ – which I’ve talked about since I started in Functional Medicine many years ago – that we allow our body to receive can influence this. They also damage the endocrine (hormonal) system, disrupt enzymes, negatively alter cellular metabolism, energy production, potentially cause neurological damage, and permanently impair the immune system – all of which I see & deal with every year working with hundreds or patients. All of the above accelerate the ageing process, causing biological age to exceed chronological age – in other words – your food has gone off, well before its sell-by date!
Many of the common symptoms or expressions listed below can & have been scientifically linked to the environment and the potential for toxic overload.
- Insulin Resistance (A pre-diabetic condition)
- Hypothyroidism (Underproduction of thyroid hormone)
- Poor digestion (Malabsorption of food or nutrients)
- Reduced cognitive function (Decline in both short & long term memory recall)
- Impaired immune function
- Atherosclerosis & cardiovascular disease
- Accelerated ageing
- Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases
In terms of source – toxins themselves can be split into two main categories…
Toxins that enter the body from without, products or out external environment, are called ‘exotoxins’ – the prefix ‘exo’ meaning ‘outside.’ You can choose the food you eat, whether or not to exercise, and your strategies in coping & managing stress, but one thing you are stuck with (for now) is the external environment. There is no getting around it we live in an increasingly industrialised world, and that ‘world’ has had a significant impact on the environment in which we live, as well as the environment inside us. We are inextricably bound to the environment. We are constantly exposed to a wide array of compounds, which are then stored in the body in toxic amounts.
Toxins pervade our environment. We are assaulted daily from all angles such from radiation due to global warming, to exposure to dangerous sun rays due to ozone layer depletion – both of which lead to oxidative damage. Then we have toxic metals such as lead, aluminium, cadmium and mercury found in anything from pesticides, herbicides insecticides, fungicides, fumigants and fertilisers that leak into our soil & food, to vaccines and pharmaceuticals. As if that wasn’t enough we have food additives, preservatives, sweeteners and artificial colourings that pervade the products on the supermarket shelves, and even most of the ‘fresh’ fruit and vegetables that are available to us are protected by sprays, treated with agents to speed-ripen, and then preserved with waxes.
The toxic cherry on the giant proverbial cake of poison are hazardous chemicals & waste fumes that contaminate our air & water, as well as molds & fungi such as Aspergillus that can infiltrate a house and become trapped within the sealer living environment. This exposure slowly wears away at the immune system as the spores are inhaled. Chronic or acute exposure to any of these substances can compromise health.
On the flip side of this dirty coin, are internal toxins called endotoxins – ‘endo’ meaning ‘inside’ or ‘within’ – are poisons that are naturally produced by the body as a result of biochemical processes such as metabolites which are metabolic by-products of hormones, antibodies, or bacterial waste. Just because these are internally produced, they are still very much treated like external toxins and need to be dealt with accordingly by the body before they create havoc.
One of the principle sources of internal toxins is a dysfunctional or physiologically damaged digestive system. Toxins are produced in the bowel from various sources. Initially they are created by fermentation & putrefaction of poorly digested foods in the intestinal tract. Secondly, the beneficial flora that resides in the digestive system has been disturbed, the immune system has been compromised, and unfriendly fungi, parasites or bacteria have taken hold, the by-products or excretions of the parasites metabolisms such as lipopolysaccharides (LPS) can physiologically damage the architecture, as well as poison & impair cell & organ function.
Many toxins from our external environment soon become part of our internal environment, as we eat or ingest them, drink them, and breathe them in.
The intestines role by-design was once primarily an organ that took in nutrients from a natural world, whereas now it’s become more-like an organ of self-defence as our bodies first line mucosal defence is constantly having to protect us from harmful poisons that are now everywhere in the environment, attempting to gain access to the bloodstream.
Based on my own professional experience from years in practice dealing with around 100 patients on a monthly basis – the effects of exposure to toxins vary from individual to individual, as do the levels of sensitivity. Some sensitive individuals quickly develop chronic symptoms from even a minimal exposure that otherwise wouldn’t normally effect a healthy individual. Individuals who don’t react, or are more hardy to exposure to toxins may have more integral immune defence system barriers, or because their organs is detoxification such as the liver, gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, lymph, lungs & skin have higher metabolic reserves and are capable of metabolising, detoxifying & eliminating said substances.
The balance between exposure to toxins & the speed in which they are processed & eliminated determines one’s susceptibility to metabolic dysfunction that frequently leads to chronic symptoms of ill health. A number of individuals I work with don’t have the metabolic capacity to effectively detoxify when they initially come to me, and require an intelligently designed functional wellness restoration programme working on various dysfunctional body-systems in a specific order before even attempting to encourage or up-regulate any form or detoxification intervention.
To conclude I’d like to wrap things up by saying that detoxification is definitely not a one-time event that you do sporadically & aggressively like decide to running a marathon, leaving you feeling wiped out for days after. Detoxification is a process that largely goes on behind the scenes providing the body is healthy & has sufficient metabolic reserve in a number of body systems.
Thank you for your attention.
*By Steve Hawes.
If you’ve been feeling toxic, and unwell for a long time which is negatively effecting your quality of life, and are looking for a professional to help you navigate back to functional wellness; feel free to book a free 30 minute consultation and let’s talk about a brighter, healthier future.