The other day I was going over a detoxification strategy with a client when she asked me if I thought everyone needs to detox. With little hesitation, I answered, “Yes.”
“Even if they’re not showing any symptoms?” she challenged.
I can see why she was a little skeptical. It is generally a concept people have difficulty understanding — that in this modern day and age, we are filled to the brim with toxic garbage that interferes with our body’s normal processes that can result in disease, and that steps are needed to remove this toxicity.
A common criticism I get for this position is that the body has its own detoxification systems that work quite well and, except in the case of heavy metals, they don’t need any help. But this, of course, ignores the sheer amount of foreign and damaging chemicals that currently fill our environment. The human body was simply not designed for such a daily chemical onslaught.
It also ignores the fact that the vast majority of the chemicals we’re exposed to on a daily basis have not been tested for safety, or for how these chemicals interact with each other in the human body and how well our bodies can deal with attacks from multiple directions simultaneously.
Picture the human being like a barrel. Every toxic exposure fills the barrel a little more. The car exhaust on your morning commute fills it some, the additives and chemicals in your processed food lunch fills it a little more and the industrial cleaner used in your office bathroom fills it a little more. Constant small exposures, day after day, begin to add up and your body’s own detoxification system starts to have issues dealing with it all. When your body can’t get rid of it, it stores it in the fat or tissues. This stored toxic stuff can start to interfere with the normal functioning of bodily processes and your metaphorical barrel overflows, as it were. This is when you start to show overt signs of toxicity — however, you may be quite toxic before this point.
We are literally swimming in a toxic soup. We get exposure to contaminants through the polluted air we breath, the water we drink and bathe in, the food we eat, our cosmetics and personal care products, fungicides, pesticides, herbicides and medications, just to name a few. There are also the industrial chemicals used in cleaning products, flame retardants in furniture, glues and epoxies. You know that “new car smell” so many people seem to love? Well, it ain’t made of flowers.
Back in May, the President’s Cancer Panel, initiated by George W. Bush during his presidency, presented a report to President Obama saying many avoidable cancers are being caused by chemical toxicity in our environment. The panel sited pollution, radon gas from the soil and medical imaging scans as well as many chemicals in the air and food chain as being responsible for far-reaching consequences.
“Even before they are born, [infants] are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures… Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety,” stated the report. “Many known or suspected carcinogens are completely unregulated.”
Dr. Linda Giudice, chair of the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, believes chemical exposure is responsible for a growing number of reproductive issues she is seeing in her practice. “I have treated thousands of patients… including young men with very abnormal sperm counts or a history of testicular cancer, women as young as 17 and already in the menopause, little girls with the onset of puberty at six or eight,” she told a news conference. “There is increasing evidence that environmental contaminants may be playing a role in these disorders.”
A study published a few months back in the American Medical Association’s journal the ‘Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine’ pointed to a link between chemicals used in non-stick cookware and raised blood cholesterol levels in children. Other studies have found a link between toxic chemical exposure and illnesses ranging from asthma to cardiovascular disease and cancer. An experts panel at a major science meeting held in February mentioned a suspected a link between the rising incidence of breast cancer and exposure to chemicals.
Chemical exposure has increased twenty-fold since the 1940s, yet legislature to protect citizens from these toxins has not kept up. A case in point is the hubub over BPA, a toxic chemical found in certain hard plastics which is associated with many types of cancer, diabetes and reproductive disorders. Concern over the chemical has been widespread for many years, yet Canada has just now declared it to be toxic. There is still yet to be any move made to remove the industrial toxin from our environment and our food chain. And this is just one chemical. Imagine how long the bureaucracy will take to address the 80,000 others.
This fairly comprehensively argues the need to detox. But how do you do it? Unfortunately, this is not an easy question to answer. Just as we all have different nutritional needs that can’t be covered by a one-size-fits-all diet, we have different detox needs too.
I do not recommend engaging on a self-directed fasting for the purpose of detoxification — they can be dangerous if you’re not aware of what to be looking for should complications arise. Plus, if you’re really toxic, a fast should never be the first step. Nor do I recommend using a detox product found in a health food store or online. Unfortunately, there are some charlatans out there when it comes to these products and without proper guidance, you may not know a good cleanse from a scam.
If you’re interested in detoxifying (and you should be), talk to a health care practitioner about it.
The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale, Holistic Nutritionist and trained chef, living in Toronto.