In one sense, it’s a rags-to-riches story. Over the course of the past century, the manufacture of man-made chemicals has grown from a mere blip on the screen to become a multibillion-dollar phenomenon. Synthetic creations have infiltrated our world so successfully that today it’s doubtful if a corner of our planet remains untouched. These synthetics, many of which are toxic, are to be found everywhere—in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat.
Our brilliantly adaptive bodies do an impressive job of dealing with all this junk. The seemingly invincible liver daily confronts a chemical cocktail that would stun a panel of NASA scientists. Add in the colon, skin, and lungs, and you’ve got a powerful line of defense against toxic overload. Even so, the sad fact is these organs are grossly overworked and overloaded—a condition that can lead to allergies, cancer, chronic fatigue, immune deficiencies, heart disease, and liver damage.
Just the Facts
Most of us in the developed world are host to a fair share of industrial toxins. Some estimates say our bodies contain as many as 500, a number of which remain untested for harmful side effects.
“We end up eating these chemicals in our foods, as pesticides, preservatives, additives, pollutants, and contaminants from food containers,” states Paula Baillie-Hamilton, MD, PhD, author of The Body Restoration Plan. “We drink them in tap water, which contains chemicals leached from contaminated soils, environmental pollutants, and even chemicals added deliberately. We absorb them through our skin from cosmetics, toiletries, treated wood, sprayed plants, and treated areas of public parks, golf courses, and swimming pools. We even inhale them in air contaminated with solvents, car fumes, industrial waste, and environmental pollutants.”
Not only are these chemicals making us toxic, some might even be making us fat. Consider the many powerful fattening synthetics used to enhance animal weight gain. According to Dr. Baillie-Hamilton, who analyzed dozens of these substances, “it became clear that the same chemicals that were being used to. . . promote growth in animals were associated with weight gain in humans.” These fattening synthetics are even showing up in our cleansers and other household products.
Time to Detox
Whether we like it or not, the greatest number of chemicals we absorb comes from our food and drink. Although we can’t eliminate our toxic intake completely, we can reduce it significantly by making wise choices, like buying organic whenever possible.
According to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research organization committed to improving public health and the environment, you can lower your exposure to pesticides by 90 percent simply by avoiding the most contaminated fruits and vegetables.
On top of that, a good internal cleansing can help support your own detox system and serve as pick-me-up. Here are some suggestions to get you started.
Herbs and fiber can provide a shortcut to detox, especially if you’re not into making dramatic lifestyle changes, says Linda Berry, DC, author of Internal Cleansing. Dr. Berry recommends a colon cleanse before attempting to detoxify your liver, simply because it makes the detoxification process easier on your body. “If you cleanse your colon first, you cut down on the waste and toxins that your liver has to deal with; your liver gets a break so it has an opportunity to heal better on its own,” she explains.
Psyllium seed husks are the best fiber choice for colon cleansing, adding bulk that gently removes toxins from the intestinal lining, along with excess cholesterol. Traditional herbal colon cleansers include black walnut hulls (Juglans nigra), cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa), cloves (Syzygium aromaticum), and goldenseal root (Hydrastis canadensis). The latter is also a wonderful overall tonic, performing a host of cleansing actions that support detoxification: Goldenseal helps get rid of mucus, boosts the immune and lymphatic systems, fights infection, and is beneficial for all of the mucous membranes, including those in the lungs and bladder.
In addition, a well-balanced blend of B vitamins (including B6, B12, biotin, pantothenic acid, niacin, and folic acid) offers support to your digestive and immune systems while you’re cleansing your colon.
A good overall detox concoction suggested by naturopath/herbalist Xandria Williams, ND, combines tinctures from her Top Ten Detox Herbs. Each herb addresses a particular system or part of the body:
gentian root (digestive system)
milk thistle (liver)
rhubarb root (bowels/colon)
cat’s claw (immune system)
poke root (lymphatic system)
red clover (skin)
schizandra (bonus antioxidant/general tonic)
ginseng (mental boost)
For best results, Williams recommends combining all ten tinctures, in equal portions, and taking up to three teaspoonfuls in water, three times daily. After the first week, if you’d like to continue your detox regimen, she suggests cutting back to twice a day if you’re feeling particularly toxic, and then once a day for the third and fourth weeks. Otherwise, take the mixture once a day for the second week, with a booster dose in weeks three and four. Keep the remaining tinctures on hand for future use.
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) has long been recognized as a detox wunderkind. A powerful antioxidant, it targets the liver specifically, prevents damage from free radicals, and helps stimulate new liver cells, thanks to a group of flavonoids known as silymarin.
Schizandra (S. chinensis), another well-known liver protector, also stimulates liver regeneration and can be taken for long-term antioxidant protection.
Red clover (Trifolium pratense) combines well with other herbs and helps clear out mucus as you get rid of toxins. As a tea, you can continue to drink it regularly.