Since the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have discussed several ways to protect and strengthen our immune system. From washing our hands and getting enough sleep, to eating antioxidant-rich foods and taking certain supplements. In functional medicine, we recognize that all body systems are connected. Improving the function of one body system will also improve the function of other body systems (for example, there is ongoing research on the strong connection between our digestive system and brain health; two very different systems but quite integrally connected).
Another such connection exists between our immune system and our detoxification processes (lymphatic system). Strengthening our immune system is accomplished in a number of ways, including bolstering our bodies’ detox pathways.
WHAT DO I NEED TO DETOX FROM?
Detoxing isn’t just meant for substance abuse addicts. If you live in a Westernized country in the 21st century then there are plenty of harmful toxins you’re being exposed to. These substances need to be neutralized and expelled from our body by using our detoxification pathways.
What sort of toxins are you being exposed to?
These are toxins that come from outside our body (they originate externally). It’s impossible to completely avoid all exotoxins, but there are ways to decrease your total exposure to them.
- Heavy metals: found in tap water, cookware, personal care products, and make-up
- Pesticides: sprayed on agricultural crops and found in the produce aisle of grocery stores, as well as in other foods that are made from fruits and vegetables (jams, tofu, corn chips, wheat products, etc)
- Phthalates and parabens: synthetic ingredients used in cleaning supplies, personal care products, and make-up
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s): toxic gasses that are emitted by carpet, furniture, paint, and cleaning products
- PCB’s: highly toxic chemicals that were banned in the 1970’s but are still rampant everywhere because they do not breakdown
- Mold: exposure is very common and comes through mold spores on food or mold growth in homes and offices
External toxins aren’t the only type of toxins to be aware of. Endotoxins are toxins that originate internally, coming from inside our body.
- Yeast Overgrowth: yeast overgrowths, such as a candida infection, produce toxins such as acetaldehyde which add to your toxin burden
- Gut Bacteria: our large intestine holds trillions of bacteria, both helpful and harmful. When this delicate balance is interrupted, the harmful bacteria create a toxic environment for our digestive system
- Hidden Infections: underlying infections can overwhelm and exhaust your immune system when left untreated. These include infections such as Lyme disease and Epstein Barr.
- Medications: whether or not the medication is appropriate treatment for your health condition, all medications contain countless chemicals, binders, and fillers that contribute to your toxin burden
HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE A HIGH TOXIN BURDEN?
Your toxin burden is the accumulation, over time, of all the different toxins you’re exposed to. Our immune systems and detoxification pathways can process and expel a finite amount of toxins at any given time. However, they cannot keep up with our ever-growing toxic burden when it exceeds their ability to handle. When our “toxin bucket” overflows, so-to-speak, our bodies develop all kinds of symptoms in response to an overburdened toxic load:
- Joint/muscle pain
- Memory loss or concentration difficulties
- Digestive symptoms
- Skin problems
- Sinus congestion and allergies
- Chronic infections
- Autoimmune disease
- Neurodegenerative diseases
- Hormonal disruption
- Chemical sensitivities
Having an overflowing toxic bucket slows down our detox pathways and our immune system. They simply cannot keep up with demand and become weakened and less responsive. When this happens, our ongoing exposure to toxins keeps building up in our bodies without being able to get rid of them. Secondly, our bodies become more susceptible to infections and illness.
So what can we do? Fortunately, there are ways to reduce your toxic burden and prevent your bucket from overflowing. This is done in two ways: avoiding toxin exposure in the first place, and bolstering your detoxification process to better handle toxins.
AVOID TOXIN EXPOSURE
Now, we cannot avoid 100% of all toxins out there. To do so would require not breathing, eating, or living with modern appliances. But we can minimize our toxin exposure, thus reducing the number of toxins we contact each day. This will prevent our detox and immune systems from being overloaded and help them to handle toxins effectively. Here are some ways to lower your toxin exposure:
- Switch to clean, plant-based, and/or organic products: This includes personal care products, make-up, fragrances, cleaning products, soaps and detergents, and hair products. Check out the Environmental Working Group (EWG) website for a visual list of clean products: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/contents/users-guide/
- Filter your air and water: Indoor pollution is well known to being 10 times more polluted than air outdoors. Our furniture, paint, and carpets off-gas harmful toxins that we breathe in every hour we spend indoors. High quality HEPA air filters will bind to these microscopic VOC’s and remove them from the air. Likewise, tap water often contains harmful toxins depending on where you live. Click on your state and select your city to discover the types of contaminants found in your water: https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/index.php#results-by-state-map. Another resource is: https://mytapwater.org/. There are several types of water filters you can place in your home or office, whether that’s under the sink or by using a water pitcher filter. Not all filters filter out the contaminant you want, so read about which filter is best for your location.
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet: All food performs one of two actions in your body. It either contributes to inflammation and chronic symptoms or it fights off inflammation and reduces symptoms. Choose to fight off inflammation and improve your symptoms by eating whole foods comprised of organic fruits, vegetables, unprocessed grains, healthy fats, and high-quality protein. Eating this way will help you avoid the toxins that are found in processed foods. Eating organic produce will also decrease your exposure to pesticides.
BOLSTER YOUR DETOX PATHWAYS
In addition to avoiding toxin exposure, it is also imperative to bolster your detox pathways. This allows your detox processes to work more efficiently in handling the smaller amount of toxins you’re now exposed to. This will also increase your immune system’s ability to fight off infections caused by toxins.
- Focus on digestive health: most toxins pass through our digestive system, which then have the burden of processing and excreting them. Therefore, it is healthy to have regular bowel movements in order to excrete toxins. It’s also important to have balanced gut bacteria, as well as keeping your intestinal lining intact and healthy. An unhealthy lining can cause a “leaky gut” where harmful food particles enter our bloodstream.
- Take detox binders: these bind to toxins including heavy metals, mold, and harmful bacteria so that our detox system can carry them away more easily. Talk to our team at Healthy Connections for more information on detox binders and which types are better to take.
- Take detox supplements: niacin (vitamin B3) mobilizes toxins trapped in fatty tissue, while NAC supports liver and kidney detox. Specific amino acids such as glycine, taurine, and methionine support liver health and our ability to neutralize toxins. Our Healthy Connections team can direct you to the right supplements you need to support your detox pathways.
- Additional detox methods: people have had wonderful success with a variety of detox methods including, exercise, meditation, massage, dry brushing, and infrared sauna. These options have shown effective at increasing our detox abilities and excretion of toxins.
With these lifestyle habits firmly in place, your detoxification pathways will be less burdened by the sheer volume of toxins in your body. It will also be stronger and better able to bind to and eliminate the toxins that are unavoidable in today’s world. Implementing these strategies to avoid toxins and bolster your detox systems will also make a huge impact on your immune system to fight off pathogens and infectious agents. In the midst of recovery from a global pandemic, we are not passive bystanders powerless against a virus. We can build stronger and more effective fighting power within our own bodies that will keep us protected during COVID-19.