Detoxification; Why Is It Important To Your Health?

Chiropractic philosophy knows that our life force, the power within us, maintains our bodies and brings about healing when necessary. Chiropractic adjustments are used to remove nerve interference, helping our life force in its work of bringing about natural healing.

If innate intelligence heals us more smoothly after removal of nerve interference, healing will also occur more smoothly if we also remove other forms of interference. For example, chemical toxicity interferes not only with nerve function, but also with all bodily functions.

Our world is becoming increasingly polluted in many ways. The use of drugs and food additives increases. Medicine is coming up with more and more vaccines with very questionable effectiveness. Our water and our air is polluted; more so in some areas than others. Our diets are getting worse and worse with all the deep fried fast food which is lacking in nutrition and high in fat and carbohydrate calories. Therefore, there is the increasing need to remove biochemical interference from our bodies. This is approached in two steps. First, to avoid toxic input we must eat fresh foods free of food additives and grown without chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides. Second, we must remove toxicity that has already accumulated in the body. This is a much more complex issue.

In D.D. Palmers days (the father of chiropractic), many doctors were aware that toxicity could build up in the body. They also believed that toxic accumulation could be removed through dietary means. Dr. Lindlahr, who published Nature Cure Magazine from 1907 to 1909, exemplified proponents of nutritional detoxification. He referred to D.D. Palmer, and his philosophy bore a striking resemblance to Chiropractic philosophy. He stated: "All that the physician can do is to remove obstructions and to establish normal conditions within and around the patient, so that the healer within can do its work to the best advantage."1

Dr. Lindlahr also stated that disease is caused mainly by "accumulation of morbid matter and poisons" in the body, and that the most natural healing methods should "promote the elimination of waste matter and poisons without in any way injuring the human body."2 Dr. Lindlahr and others promoted diets of fresh vegetables and whole grains, and sometimes complete fasting. They claimed that these procedures would allow the body to purify itself of toxicity caused by dietary excesses.

It has been questioned whether research validates the philosophy that we would benefit from nutritional detoxification. Crinnion3 recently reviewed literature showing that chemicals of our modern environment, such as dioxin, chloroform and polychlorinated biphenyl (to name a few) are indeed accumulating in our tissues. These chemicals have been shown to cause immune dysfunction (allergies and autoimmune diseases), neurological problems (Parkinsons disease, migraines, etc.) and cancer. Crinnion stated that commercially grown foods with the largest quantities of pesticides, are soft fruit and vegetables such as strawberries, peaches, bell peppers and celery. These foods, in particular, should be eaten pesticide-free to reduce our toxic load.

In a second article, Crinnion4 quoted a recent Environmental Protection Agency study showing high levels of volatile organic compounds in the adipose tissue of everyone that was tested. These solvents come mainly from paint, furniture and carpets found in almost every home. These solvents not only cause immunological and neurological diseases, but they also impair our bodies ability to remove other toxic compounds.

So, how is it that the body can remove toxic compounds? In 1947, scientists elucidated the biochemical detoxification pathways of drugs and toxins. They are classified into two phases, recently reviewed by Liska.5 Each toxin undergoes a Phase 1 detoxification process, in most cases involving "mixed function oxidation" utilizing cytochrome P-450. The product of Phase 1 detoxification then undergoes Phase 2 detoxification, which involves conjugation, joining the molecule to any one of a number of different chemical groupings, such as glucuronic acid, or a sulfate group, or an amino acid. These reactions change the configuration of the molecule, rendering it less toxic.

A basic understanding of Phase 1 detoxification suggests that, if it should go wrong, it can all too easily produce free radical oxygen. Free radical oxygen can damage the liver, as well as being carcinogenic and accelerating the aging process. One way Phase 1 can go wrong is through a shortage of vitamin B3, needed to make a major coenzyme for this reaction. So a patients intake of dietary vitamins must be optimized.

We can also suggest patients eat foods rich in natural antioxidants, to protect the body from potential free radical damage during the detoxification process. For example, fresh fruit is a good source of quercetin bioflavonoid, a potent antioxidant, and green tea contains catechins, known for their antioxidant action. If patients eat these foods, as well as antioxidant vitamins such as A, C and E, they can smooth the detoxification process.

A study of Phase 2 detoxification suggests a need to assess our patients intake of sulfur-containing amino acids. For vegetarians, these amino acids can be deficient, so they may need to be supplemented, for example, with methionine. The N-acetyl derivative of cysteine also has special significance in relation to Phase 2 pathways, not only because N-acetyl cysteine conjugation is itself one of the Phase 2 conjugants, but also because cysteine in this form is more easily incorporated into glutathione, in the body.

Glutathione, comprised of glutamate, cysteine and glycine, is an important endogenous antioxidant molecule, protecting against free radical damage due to its action as a cofactor for antioxidant enzymes, as well as facilitating certain Phase 2 detoxification reactions. Maintaining a patients glutathione levels can be critical in allowing liver detoxification to occur.6 The product of Phase 1 detoxification of acetaminophen is further metabolized by glutathione. Acetaminophen is unusual in that its Phase 1 product is highly toxic  far more toxic than the acetaminophen itself. So there is an urgent need for glutathione in those patients who use acetaminophen. A patients blood level of glutathione may be measured in the lab if the doctor is in doubt about their antioxidant status or detoxification ability.

It may also be important to measure patients blood homocysteine levels.7 If most of the sulfur-containing amino acids in the body are sequestered as homocysteine, then cysteine is not available to make glutathione. Also, there is a correlation between blood homocysteine levels and heart disease, so there is every reason to minimize homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is converted to methionine using vitamin B12 and folic acid, and converted to cysteine using vitamin B6. Therefore, just the simple act of checking a patients diet to make sure he or she has sufficient fresh food intake to provide these vitamins (suggesting a supplement if necessary), can be lifesaving for many.

However, addressing individual vitamins may be too analytical to make sense to everyone. You may want to know what foods to eat to promote detoxification. There is no doubt that vegetables are the best detoxification food, partly because they provide vitamins, minerals and detoxification cofactors in easily assimilable form. Also, analysis reveals that different vegetables can stimulate or suppress different parts of the detoxification pathways, so that an individualized diet can be tailor-made to suit a particular patients detoxification needs.8

Apart from vegetables, most other food intake needs to be minimized. Protein and saturated fats must be minimized so that the liver can focus on the detoxification pathways, and refined carbohydrates should be completely avoided. In the modern American diet, what is left to eat?

Since detoxification requires patients to give up their meat-and-potatoes diet, the question arises: why eat anything at all during a detox? The philosophical descendants of Dr. Lindlahr express a belief that we can remove biochemical interference, simply by removing almost all biochemical input of any sort into the body  in other words, by fasting. This approach is simple and low-cost. It appeals to the purist who wants to go back to our philosophical roots, and maintain the integrity of Chiropractic as the most natural, non-invasive form of healthcare.

Fasting, as a therapeutic modality, is not well-accepted in the modern world. Those who see a need to maintain levels of Phase 1 and Phase 2 detoxification molecules state that fasting deprives people of those very substances that are essential for successful detoxification.9 Another criticism of fasting is that it is contraindicated for certain patients, for example those with peptic ulcers or gallstones.

However, doctors who are experienced in the use of fasting obtain good, measurable results with many patients. For example, Alan Goldhamer, DC, owns a residential fasting center. Set in beautiful rolling hills in Sonoma County, California, the center provides a wonderful environment for patients to escape from city life and take a complete rest  giving their bodies a rest from food as well.

Aware of the contraindications, Dr. Goldhamer believes that fasting should be done under medical supervision. His fasting center is staffed by Chiropractors, and a medical doctor and a psychologist are available if needed. Patients are placed on an individualized diet upon arrival, depending on their needs. They gradually begin fasting after a few days of eating only organically grown salads and fresh fruit. During their entire stay at the center, their blood pressure, temperature and pulse are monitored twice each day during consultations with a health professional. Accurate charts are kept, and the patient is immediately treated if there are any warning signs of adverse effects.

At this center patients fast on distilled water only (no juice and no supplements are permitted at all), for a period of anything from three days to a month or more (I recommend filtered water which still has trace minerals in it). Breaking the fast properly is of paramount importance. Fruit juice is taken for a day or two, then gradually the patient starts eating salad, and finally steamed vegetables. For every two days spent on the fast, patients must spend one day breaking the fast, before they are allowed to drive a car or check out of the center.

The bottom line for evaluating any healthcare procedure is its ability to promote health. Of the two approaches I have described thus far, the analytical biochemical approach, versus water fasting, which one creates greater health benefits?

In favor of the biochemical approach, the Institute for Functional Medicine has shown dozens of proven relationships between the incidence of certain toxins in the body and specific diseases10, and their detoxification procedures make extremely good sense, physiologically. However, there is less emphasis on concrete results in relation to the actual health of the patient.

On the other hand, Dr. Goldhamer has many case histories showing alleviation of disease through fasting.11 For example, arthritis is minimized, allergies disappear, uterine fibroid tumors (and other neoplasms) have shrunk, and high blood pressure is reduced more by fasting, than by any other protocol. Not surprisingly, it has also been noted by the Chiropractors at the Center, that patients hold their adjustments better, once the biochemical interference has been removed by fasting.

The only one of Dr. Goldhamers findings that is statistically significant is his work with hypertensives (patients with high blood pressure). He has enough hypertensives showing benefits from fasting to have the results considered for publication by the Journal of Manipulative and Physical Therapy.

There is much interest these days in detoxification. However, there is not enough research available yet, in terms of patient outcomes, to show which detoxification procedure "works" best. As more research becomes available, my hunch is that, because of biochemical individuality and patient compliance, some patients will be seen to respond better than others do to different types of detoxification protocols. So it should probably be left up to the individual to decide whether to visit a center like Dr. Goldhamers for a supervised fast or whether to use a protocol designed by the Institute for Functional Medicine. There is no doubt that both organizations are providing wonderful services that are of greatest importance in the modern toxic environment.

1. Lindlahr, H., Nature Cure Series, 1913, Vol 1, page 26.
2. Ibid.
3. Crinnion, W., Environmental Medicine, Part 1: The Human Burden of Environmental Toxins and Their Common Health Effects. Alt. Med. Rev., 2000, 5 (1), 52-63.
4. Crinnion, W., Environmental Medicine, Part 2: Health Effects of and Protection from Ubiquitous Airborne Solvent Exposure. Alt. Med. Rev., 2000, 5 (2), 133-143.
5. Liska, D.J., The Detoxification Enzyme Systems. Alt. Med. Rev., 1998, 3 (3), 187-198.
6. Kidd, P.M., Glutathione: Systemic Protectant Against Oxidative and Free Radical Damage. Alt. Med. Rev., 1997 2 (3), 155-176.
7. Miller, A.L. and Kelly, G.S., Homocysteine Metabolism: Nutritional Modulation and Impact on Health and Disease. Alt. Med. Rev., 1997, 2 (4), 234-254.
8. Costarella, L. et al, Detoxification: A Clinical Monograph, 1999, pages 27-28.
9. Ibid, page 25.
10. Ibid, page 24.

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