Ever wonder why some people age so much faster than others?
“Genetics aside, toxicity is one of the greater factors influencing the age-related decrease in energy production,” says Frank Shallenberger, MD, HMD, founder/medical director of the Nevada Center of Alternative and Anti-Aging Medicine.
“Toxins decrease cellular energy production,” he explains. “Since the very tissues and organs that are responsible for the treatment and removal of bodily toxins require substantial energy production themselves, a vicious cycle is created, resulting in a persistent decline in energy production as people become older.”
At every age, though, we’re bombarded by harmful chemicals and environmental pollutants.
“Dodging dangers at the dinner table seems to be a full-time job nowadays,” admits nutritionist Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS.
Food and water today can contain traces of flame retardants, heavy metals, herbicides, pesticides, and plasticizers, to mention only a few toxins. You don’t need to live near a refinery or chemical plant. Toxic heavy metals from burning coal have shown up in the Arctic, and scientists suggest that low-level atmospheric pollution can damage human health.
Even people who watch their diet, abstain from alcohol and drugs, exercise regularly, and avoid obvious contaminants can carry a cumulative body burden of over 100 pollutants.
“It’s overwhelming what we’re exposed to,” says Jane Houlihan, vice president for research for the Environmental Working Group (EWG). “Every day we get a fresh flush of chemicals.”
“Mounting evidence suggests that tiny amounts of certain chemicals, both natural and synthetic, can wreak havoc with hormones that shape our bodies and behavior over a lifetime,” writes journalist Nena Baker in The Body Toxic.
Called endocrine disrupters for the tricks they play on the human body from fetal development through adulthood, these chemicals are increasingly hard to avoid. Researchers continue to discover links between chemical exposures and asthma, cancers, and neurodevelopmental disorders.
A review in Lancet suggests that fetal and early childhood exposures to hundreds of chemical contaminants are causing “a silent pandemic” of brain disorders.
Other research points to an association with DNA and organ damage. A British specialist in human metabolism and environmental health, Paula Baillie-Hamilton, MD, has linked these toxins to weight gain.
“The more toxic your body becomes, the more difficulty you’ll have losing weight,” adds Dr. Gittleman. “The use of pesticides alone has doubled every 10 years since 1945. Every day, corporations, cars, and homes release 700,000 tons of pollution into our air.”
Meat eaters consume animals injected with estrogens to fatten them up.
“The more fat you have, the more toxins you retain,” explains Brenda Watson, CNC. “The more toxins you retain, the harder it becomes to lose weight.”
The solution? Minimize your exposure to environmental pollutants and periodically remove toxins with careful detoxification.
Traditional medicine has long respected fasting as a means of cleansing and rejuvenating the body, mind, and spirit.
“I believe that fasting and detoxification are the missing links in the American (and Western) diet,” says Elson M. Haas, MD, founder/director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin. “Much disease, especially degenerative disease, comes from congestion and stagnation in the body (in the organs, tissues, circulation, lymph, and cells), and this congestion/stagnation state can be cleared from the body through cleansing and detoxification.”
Detoxification begins when the cells excrete wastes into lymph fluid, explains Dr. Shallenberger, making physical activity that moves the arms and legs important.
Even resting is useful. “The under-20 age group needs about 10 hours of horizontal time per 24-hour cycle,” he says. People over 20 need at least eight hours because lying down allows lymph fluid to drain.
After lymph fluid reaches the bloodstream, toxins circulate to the kidneys and liver. The kidneys need plenty of pure water to do their job, while dietary fiber binds with toxins to escort them out of the body.
The liver is vital to detox, literally sitting “on the front line where all toxins are directed,” Dr. Shallenberger adds. “From bacteria to viruses and pesticides, every toxin in the body must be cleared by the liver.”
To be healthy, he advises, do everything you can to support and protect your liver. As obesity increases, so does damage to the liver. Approximately 10 to 20 percent of Americans have what’s known as “fatty liver.” Add inflammation and the result is nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which can lead to cirrhosis.
In addition to fresh air, exercise, skin brushing to stimulate lymph circulation, sunshine, and water (drinking, bathing, steams, and saunas), healthy fasting includes digestive cleanses and fresh juices.
The two key times for natural cleansing are the times of transition into spring and autumn.
Dr. Gittleman has created a comprehensive program of internal cleansing, outlined in her book The Fast Track One-Day Detox Diet, that begins with organic foods, features a day of juice fasting, and transitions back to organic food.
“What’s the point of getting all those toxins out of your system only to load yourself up again every time you sit down to dinner? All the detoxing in the world won’t keep up with the load of chemicals you’re consuming if you continue to eat conventionally farmed food,” she says.
Juice fasting, preferably with as much organic produce and pure water as possible, provides fiber and nutrients, while making it easy to transition to and from solid foods.
After fasting, Dr. Haas recommends raw or cooked low-starch (low-glycemic) vegetables, including a little sauerkraut to help stimulate digestive function.
“A laxative-type meal including grapes, cherries, or soaked or stewed prunes can also be used to initiate eating [solid foods once again], as they keep the bowels moving,” he says.
And consume friendly bacteria in fermented foods like yogurt with active and live cultures or take a quality probiotic product, adds Dr. Gittleman.
Dr. Hass recommends that fasting be done only under the care of an experienced physician, usually one who is a naturopathically trained MD, DO, ND, or DC. It’s not recommended for pregnant or lactating women and anyone planning surgery.
In addition, “people with cancer need to be careful about how they detoxify, and often they need regular, quality nourishment,” he adds.
“Some people go to extremes with fasting,” he warns, “and begin to lose essential nutrients. Excessive detoxification can be a concern; finding balance is the key for each of us.”
Try this recipe during a one-day fast.
Master Cleanser "Lemonade"
From Staying Healthy with Nutrition by Elson M. Haas, MD, with Buck Levin, PhD
5 minutes prep time Serves 1
- 2 Tbsp fresh lemon or lime juice
- 1 Tbsp pure maple syrup (up to 2 Tbsp if you want to drop less weight)
- 1/10 tsp cayenne pepper
- 8 oz pure spring water
- Mix and drink 8 to 12 glasses throughout the day. Eat or drink nothing else except water, laxative herb tea, and peppermint or chamomile tea.
- Keep lemonade in glass container (not plastic) or make it fresh each time. Rinse your mouth with water after each glass to prevent lemon juice from hurting enamel of your teeth.
Use the following cleansing recipe before or after any one-day juice fast. It's also excellent for anyone cutting back on fat, salt, and sugar.
Nutty Rice Porridge
From The Detox Strategy by Brenda Watson
10 minutes prep time Serves 1
- ½ c long-grain brown rice
- 1 c almond milk
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- ¼ c chopped walnuts
- 2 Tbsp ground flaxseed
- ½ Fuji apple, chopped (Fuji apples are best for their texture and sweet taste, but you can choose another type of apple)
- Place rice, milk, and nutmeg in medium saucepan.
- Bring to boil, stirring frequently.
- Cover pan and reduce heat to low. Simmer for approximately 45 minutes.
- Top with chopped nuts, ground flaxseed, and apple.