Environmental Illness -Toxicology & Detoxification
The expression “everything old is new again” from a popular song can be applied to many things, including detoxification. The idea of detoxification, cleansing, and balancing is new to many people today, but it is actually a very old concept. When you consider that most ancient treatments were really detoxification and cleansing procedures, it becomes obvious that detoxification has been practiced for a very long time. In addition, the first theories of pathology (disease) revolved around the imbalance of various components in the body.
Our detoxification needs and the reasons for them are considerably changed from those of ancient people. Medical treatment that was not available to them is common place to us, but we have many more and different exposures to toxins in our lives. At the same time, we have many more detoxification techniques to help us. However, we have lost the realization of the necessity for detoxification and balancing.
In our society today, the majority of disease is blamed on stress, poor diet, genetics, physical and chemical agents, biological organisms, degeneration, inflammation, autoimmunity, lack of exercise, and abnormal growths. While these factors do indeed cause disease, there is an underlying factor that contributes to all health problems. Toxicity is the common component. Exposure to toxins and subsequent toxic accumulation cause untold health problems, both immediate and long term.
Despite our exposures to toxins, however, it is possible to enjoy good health.
We do not have to live in fear, nor do we have to be obsessed by “our poisonous world” or to succumb to “germaphobia.” Most people do not have to create or escape to a remote, sterile environment. By using simple treatments we can improve our current state of health. Detoxification techniques and balancing methods make it possible for us to re build our bodies and immune systems. Common sense protective measures allow us to maintain our health, resulting in longer lives, with a significantly lower risk of degenerative diseases and other illnesses.
What Is a Toxin?
A toxin is often defined as a poisonous substance produced by plants, some animals, and disease-causing bacteria. Another, but rather narrow, definition for a toxin is a xenobiotic, which means a foreign chemical not produced by the human body. The National Treatment Centers for Environmental Disease, defines a toxin more broadly as “any substance that creates irritating and/or harmful effects in the body, undermining our health or stressing our biochemical or organ functions.”
How Are We Exposed to Toxins?
Since the beginning of human history, people have been exposed to toxins that have affected their health. Over many thousands of years, our bodies have evolved to tolerate most naturally occurring substances. However, the “Chemical Revolution” that has occurred since World War II and ever increasing industrialization in all parts of the world have multiplied our exposures to harmful substances to incalculable levels.
Our bodies have been exposed to over two million new synthetic substances with no time to adapt. Chemical exposures for most people do not occur from a toxic wastes pill or from mass pesticide spraying. They come from small scale exposures that occur day after day, contributing to a buildup of chemicals in our bodies. Because our bodies have had no previous experience with these chemicals, they have no efficient mechanism to metabolize or eliminate them.
Today, the health of people is affected adversely on a daily basis. While industry and science have made incredible progress, we have paid a high price for it. Our air is no longer clean; the soil is contaminated; our water supply contains high levels of toxic chemicals and microorganisms; the purity of our food cannot be guaranteed, and its quality is dangerously low.
We are all exposed to toxins as we go through our daily schedules-even by something as simple as taking a shower. Performing our daily toiletries, such as putting on makeup or shaving, exposes us to chemicals unless we have selected these products with care. Going to the beauty salon or barber shop can mean a massive exposure. The grocery store provides a wide variety of exposures, including laundry and cleaning products; pesticides, both from produce and treatment of the store premises; and personal care products. Shopping in malls and large discount stores results in formal dehyde exposures.
Even going to work or school can subject our bodies to toxins. Regardless of their occupation, all people are exposed to toxins. Mechanics who generally work with no skin protection are exposed to gasoline, greases, oils, and sol vents.
Numerous building materials cause toxic exposures for contractors, carpenters, and house painters. Office workers are exposed to chemicals emitted by computers, copy machines, paper, correction fluid, and the personal care products of their co-workers.
Like office workers, teachers are exposed to office supplies and others’ personal care products, but may also be subjected to other toxins. Science teachers use many toxic chemicals in the laboratory, and shop, auto mechanics, and industrial arts teachers work with a variety of toxic materials. Medical supplies, laundry and cleaning products and pesticides can adversely affect the health of people involved in the health care field.
Typical Daily Exposures for a Female Office Worker
Morning shower: chlorine and other contaminants in water; chemicals in soap, shampoo, and hair conditioner.
Clothes: fabric so enerand dry-cleaning chemicals.
Toiletries: deodorant, makeup, hair spray, perfume.
Eating meals: various chemical and biological contaminants.
Traveling to and from work: exhaust fumes from vehicles, air pollution
Workplace: cleaning supplies, office furnishings, out gassing from building mate rials, indoor air pollution.
Work activities: computers, copiers, machines, office supplies, personal care products of coworkers.
Shopping: formaldehyde in stores, pesticides on produce, and chemicals from cleaning supplies used and sold in store.
Drinking and cooking with water: various chemical and biological contaminants.
General exposures: tobacco smoke; animal hair and dangers at home or on the clothes of coworkers; dust and dust mites; mold in bathrooms, kitchens and bedrooms; plant pollens and terpenes.
Homemakers are exposed to cleaning and laundry products, the family’s personal care products, pesticides, dust, and mold. Children are subjected to numerous exposures, at home, at school, and in their recreational activities.
Our exposures to toxins are classified as external and internal. External toxins are those to which we are exposed in our daily lives. Sources of external toxins include foods, water, air, plants, microorganisms, solvents, pesticides, herbicides, agricultural and industrial chemicals, toxic metals, noise, weather, temperature, altitude, and radiation. The exposures may be from serious contamination, such as industrial pollution, or from everyday toxins, such as cleaning supplies, perfume, or cigarette smoke.
Any of these exposures can cause a variety of symptoms in the sensitive person. Symptoms can include headaches, muscle pain, fatigue, mental confusion, emotional upset, poor coordination, skin rashes, neurological problems, and vision disturbances. Toxic chemicals have been associated with decreased immune function, autoimmune disease, enzyme dysfunction, hormonal imbalance, psychological abnormalities, nutritional deficiencies, and cancer.
Internal toxins are those which are stored or produced in our bodies. Our bodies act like sponges, absorbing the chemicals to which we are exposed. Water-soluble chemicals are absorbed and then excreted. However, fat soluble chemicals accumulate in our fat cells and cell membranes, becoming internal toxins. When the body is under stress, it releases these chemicals from the fat to circulate in the blood stream. Later, these chemicals will return to the fat cells and cell membranes, to be released another time.
The release and return cycle of these chemicals continues indefinitely unless we help our bodies rid themselves of toxins.
Internal toxins can include normal metabolic products. The improper formation or metabolism of normal body chemicals, such as hormones and neurotransmitters, can cause a harmful imbalance.
Internal toxins also include substances that our bodies create in response to various conditions, and which become toxic in excess amounts. For example, injury, anesthesia, and pollution cause the body to produce free radicals that are toxic to all tissues. Exercise can cause an excess of lactic acid in the muscles, resulting in stiffness and pain in people who cannot properly process it.
Stress, emotional trauma, and cumulative life experiences can also become internal toxins. People who are experiencing emotional or spiritual challenges will benefit from special detoxification methods.
Symptoms caused by internal toxins include headaches, fatigue, memory loss, mental confusion, “flu like” symptoms, mucous membrane irritation, skin problems, iritis (inflammation of the iris), and muscular-skeletal pains. Internal toxins can also cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
What Is Detoxification?
The term “detoxification” means to diminish or remove the toxic quality of a compound, and the body contains mechanisms that do just that. Toxic compounds are changed through chemical reactions into less toxic compounds that can be excreted from the body.
The term “depuration”-which means to cleanse or purify-may be more accurate for describing the methods we use to cleanse the body. In this book, we use the term detoxification for all cleansing processes dis cussed because it is more commonly used, both by the lay person and in the medical world. The terms cleansing, balancing, and detoxification are often used interchange ably. Balancing, which means to achieve homeostasis or equilibrium in the body, enables detoxification; detoxification cleanses; cleansing leads to balance. This interaction in the body helps to restore and maintain health.
Who Needs to Detoxify?
Our bodies detoxify naturally every day, which allows some people to stay balanced. For many others, a slow detoxification system and a multitude of exposures cause their bodies to gradually become overloaded. The detoxification mechanisms of the body become unable to completely cleanse the tissues and the organs, and the body is unable to maintain balance. In these cases, detoxification procedures will help the body to cleanse and balance itself, removing the cause of disease before illness manifests.
Almost everyone would benefit from some detoxification measures, although some people are affected more seriously by toxic exposures. Biochemical individuality and genetic differences partially determine the effects of toxins. In 1987, medical experts participating in a workshop by the Board on
Environmental Studies and Toxicology of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that approximately 15 percent of the U.S.population is sensitive to chemicals found in common household products.
In 1993, studies by Dr. Iris Bell of the University of Arizona on healthy college students and adults aged 26 to 29 demonstrated that 15 to 17 percent felt ill after exposure to chemicals contained in pesticides, auto exhaust, paint, new carpet, and perfume. Such sensitive people are often called human canaries. Their symptoms signal the presence of toxic chemicals in the environment, just as the death of canaries formerly used in mines signaled the presence of deadly gases.
People who are burdened by a toxic overload will demonstrate numerous symptoms; however, many people are not aware that their symptoms may be a warning sign from their body. Signals that you may need to undergo detoxification include chronic respiratory problems, asthma, or sinus problems; abnormal body odor, bad breath, or coated tongue; frequent unexplained headaches, back or joint pain, or arthritis; environmental sensitivities, food allergies, or multiple allergies; poor memory, mental confusion, insomnia, depression, irritability, or chronic fatigue; brittle nails and hair, psoriasis, or adult acne; and being underweight or over weight.
Even if we lived in a pollution-free environment, ate organic foods from soils that had no pesticide residue, drank pure water, and breathed clean air, many people would still need detoxification from internal toxins, or metabolic products. People who have minor health problems often carry a toxic load in their bodies. Without proper cleansing and balancing, toxins stored in the body will continue to cause health problems and can lead to degenerative diseases later in life.
The Rain-Barrel Effect
People are subjected to a wide range of physical, emotional, and environmental stresses that contribute to their toxic bur den. The body burden can be viewed as “rain,” which gradually fills the “rain barrel” of our bodies. We can adjust to a few stressors, but as the rain barrel level rises, our metabolism loses its adaptability and we begin to experience toxic overload.
Our detoxification mechanisms no Ionger function adequately and the body cannot maintain its balance. We develop symptoms because our toxin levels are too high. Eventually, the body cannot cope with its toxic burden and our rain barrel overflows, resulting in disease.
If we periodically empty our rain barrel with detoxification procedures, we can withstand the stresses of moderate exposures. However, if our rain barrel continues to fill, additional stressors will cause it to overflow, with resulting symptoms. This is why some exposures can cause us distressing symptoms, while others do not. Our reaction depends in part on how full our rain barrel is at the time of the stress.
It’s a Question of Balance
Early civilizations looked on disease as a matter of imbalance or disequilibrium in the body. Today, this philosophical approach is still valid; health can be viewed as a question of balance.
A healthy body is a remarkable instrument, maintaining harmony among many elements in order to maintain health.
To have good health, we must be balanced:
- Allergically: Allergic reactions imbalance the body by causing an increase in antibodies, an activation of immune system cells, and tissue inflammation as the body re leases chemicals in an attempt to heal itself.
- Biochemically: Life is possible because hundreds of biochemical reactions take place in our bodies each second. Acid-alkaline balance in the body must stay within an optimal range for the detoxification pathways to function properly.
- Electrically: An electrical imbalance in the body causes sleep problems, acute sensitivity to weather changes, and symptoms when exposed to electrical equipment or appliances.
- Emotionally: Emotional health depends on balance. Love must be given and received. Anger, grief, and anxiety must be expressed and relieved.
- Energetically: The breakdown of organic molecules releases energy that is used by cells. An imbalance in this energy makes it impossible for the body to perform its work and maintain body temperature.
- Environmentally: A safe home and work place that has minimal environmental stresses and toxins is necessary to maintain health.
- Enzymatically: Enzymes are essential for biochemical reactions. A deficiency or excess of any enzyme affects the efficiency, speed and balance of these reactions. Detoxification reactions in the body are enzyme controlled.
- Hormonally: Hormones play a major role in metabolism, circulation, water and electrolyte balance, reproduction, and stress. An imbalance can greatly reduce or even stop these processes in the body.
- Magnetically: Our brains produce a steady magnetic field, and we project a magnetic field into the space around our bodies. An imbalance affects our biological cycles, such as the sleep cycle.
- Microbiologically: Our bodies contain normal microbiological flora that aid in body functions, such as digestion. A deficiency or an overgrowth of these organisms, or an infection by pathogenic organisms, can cause imbalance and illness.
- Nutritionally: The body must have a certain balanced amount of nutrients for proper functioning, repair, and good health. A continued deficiency of any vitamin, mineral, essential fatty acid, or amino acid can lead to serious health problems.
- Psychologically: Psychological health depends on the proper balance between emotions and the mind. An imbalance of any of the other health factors can affect psycho logical health.
- Spiritually: Spiritual balance is necessary for many people’s health. The sense of our higher self nurtured by prayer, worship, or meditation, depending upon a person’s beliefs. Neglecting this aspect can cause a serious imbalance, resulting in illness.
- Structurally: The skeleton must be aligned properly to keep the body healthy and balanced. In addition, all of the cells of the body must be structurally correct and in balance.
The human body is in a constant process of biological change, subject to both internal and external stimuli. It may help to picture a well-balanced mobile formed from all of the above elements. The slightest touch on one part of the mobile causes all of the remaining elements to move. They re-establish balance by conforming to a different but stable position. Larger changes to one part of the mobile cause more active movement of the other elements and more time is needed to achieve a balance. Some changes to our balance occur rapidly, in seconds or minutes, while others may take days or years to occur.
If the tension created by an imbalance remains, the healing process is impeded. When our functions become rigid, adaptive and unable to change, disease usually results. Unraveling the imbalance and finding the causative factors can be a difficult and slow process.
Benefits of Detoxification
The benefits of detoxification are many, and can improve every aspect of your health. As your body detoxifies, you can expect digestion to improve, sinus congestion to clear, blood pressure to normalize, mental clarity and memory to improve, and emotional and hormonal fluctuations to stabilize. Once your body achieves balance, your energy level will rise with the removal of its toxic burden, the body’s immune system will be strengthened, enabling it to cope more effectively with common illnesses.
Chronic health problems can be expected to improve or disappear entirely.
In addition to helping restore the body and mind to full health, detoxification increases the effectiveness of any subsequent healing treatment. Over the long term, people who maintain the balance of their body can expect to live longer in better health, to experience fewer degenerative diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, and cancer, and to recover from illness and injury more quickly.
The Way to Health
Healing is a comprehensive process of cleansing and re balancing. People with a low toxic burden will need only a few detoxification methods, and their health will be re stored quickly. Those with more serious health problems will have to follow a more complete detoxification program, and their recovery will take longer. If you have serious health problems, consult qualified practitioners to help you detoxify. Choose a team who are proficient in more than one method of detoxification, which can help you cleanse, re balance, and rebuild your body.
Once you have taken steps to cleanse and balance your body, you will want to maintain your new level of wellness; thus, methods of prevention are also important. Preventive techniques help to ensure continued good health. We are the guardians of our own health -it is our most precious gift. Without it, our adaptability declines, our quality of life suffers, and our enjoyment of life is mediocre. Cleansing and balancing the body to restore health becomes a learning experience, even an adventure, when we accept the challenge to pursue the best health possible and