Air and water purifiers operate off the concept that invisible contaminants are lurking in the atmosphere around us, in our aquifers and watersheds. Transforming and removing these contaminants is how we purify indoor air and drinking water. Last month we identified several contaminants and realized we live in a country that allows thousands of toxins into the environment. Despite our efforts, the chances of living in pure surroundings is bleak. Even in the pristine lakes of Alaska there are PCPs floating in the water. We may sail across the Pacific Ocean, away from manufacturing plumes, only to realize that we are inhaling polluted currents from China.
Last month we alluded to the reality that toxins can be found even within our bodies. We used the word detoxification in reference to the effort to remove harmful compounds from our persons. The reality is that the average American is a storage depot for potentially hundreds of toxins. Consider the fact that over 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants were found in umbilical cord blood from 10 babies born in August and September of 2004 in US hospitals. The umbilical cord blood of these 10 children, collected by the Red Cross after the cord was cut, harbored pesticides; consumer product ingredients; wastes from burning coal, gasoline, and garbage; and perfluorinated compounds, “including the Teflon chemical PFOA, recently characterized as a likely human carcinogen by the EPA’s Science Advisory Board.”1 These toxins can be stored in the brain, bones, and fat, as well as blood. Bioaccumulation is the storage of toxins in our own tissues. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published the findings of the Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, and found that most Americans, irrespective of age, have bio-accumulated numerous toxins.
the average American is a storage depot for potentially hundreds of toxins.
Typically, we think of the liver as a primary detox organ. Significant amounts of detoxification also occur, however, in the kidneys, lungs, brain, and throughout the body to some degree. A lot of detoxification occurs in the intestines. The health of our digestive tract can be a significant determiner of how impactful toxin exposure will be on our overall health. For example, the community of bacteria that lives within the gut, often referred to as the microbiota, modulates how much a toxin will affect us. The potential exists for toxins to be denatured in the gut and excreted in the stool before being absorbed.
Bacteria can have unique behaviors though. While some bacteria can aid in the detox process, others can turn harmless dietary compounds into potentially toxic metabolites. This is a sample of how toxic compounds can be produced inside of us. Hyperpermeability of the gut increases absorption of toxins such as metals. Conversely, environmental contaminants from various chemical families have been shown to alter the composition and/or the activity of the gastrointestinal community of bacteria.
Detoxification occurs in phases. Phase I takes a dangerous toxin and begins the process of transforming it, which is why this phase is also referred to as biotransformation. The process of converting toxic, fat-soluble substances into inactive water-soluble forms that eventually can be eliminated via the stool, sweat, urine, or breath is initiated in this phase. It’s a vitally important step. Without it toxins remain stored in our tissues untransformed and continue affecting our bodies.
Toxin transformation is performed by a family of enzymes. Enzymes are major players in the detoxification process. These are not enzymes you get by eating raw foods. Rather, these enzymes are made from raw materials like iron, B vitamins, and protein, as well as a selection of phytonutrients, minerals, fats, and carbohydrates. Lack of these nutrients can stall enzyme production. A low protein diet for example can increase pesticide toxicity. In addition, enzymatic activity can be increased or decreased by several factors. A diet high in saturated fat—as found in butter, cream, cheese, and meats—inhibits phase I enzymes. Inhibition of phase I is not desirable, but neither is a revved-up phase I.
Phase I of the detox process cannot stand on its own. It takes the process to an intermediary stage. The toxin at this stage is partially transformed and, at this point, is much more chemically reactive and more toxic than the original toxin you started with. These intermediary products are powerfully destructive reactive free radicals. In some cases, they are actually several times more potent as a neurotoxin, for example, than its parent molecule! An ample supply of antioxidants is needed at this point to deactivate, or neutralize, these reactive oxygen species. Additionally, phase II must be balanced with phase I to carry the metabolites the rest of their journey out. When phase I and II are imbalanced as a result of fasting or excess caffeine ingestion for example, successful detox does not occur.
A low protein diet for example can increase pesticide toxicity.
As an illustration consider a famous and very silly episode of the television series I Love Lucy in which Lucy and Ethel are hired to work at a chocolate factory. Thrilled with their new jobs, they happily fulfill their responsibility of wrapping each individual chocolate as it comes through on the conveyer belt. However, things soon pick up, and in an effort to keep up with the amount of chocolates coming through, they pull chocolates off the belt. This is not good enough and in a desperate attempt to reduce the excess unwrapped chocolates they start popping the extras in their mouths until they both look like hoarding chipmunks. While they were dealing with chocolate, we’re dealing with super toxins.
Perhaps another analogy can help us understand this concept. We often find it very difficult to deal with the skeletons in the closet—buried memories and guilt. When these memories rise to the surface in our conscious brain, the guilt and shame can be unbearable and actually more destructive to us unless it is transferred to the Lamb, the Burden Bearer, who took on Him the iniquity of us all. He is the Deactivator, the Purifier in this analogy of the toxic radical agent. Without Him, our guilt would crush us, which is exactly why we bury, blame, or harden ourselves to the impact of our actions. The only good that can come from facing ramped up guilt is if the individual is led to the Savior.
The Bible says that our Savior “will sit as a refiner and purifier… and he shall purify the sons of Levi” (Malachi 3:3). Do not look to self in doubt of how this can happen. Everything needful for a balanced, successful transformation and removal of what is destroying us is found in Him.
- “Body Burden: The Pollution in Newborns,” Environmental Working Group, 7/14/2005, https://www.ewg.org/research/body-burden-pollution-newborns#.W1-Fd34nZE4.
Risë Rafferty, RDN
Risë is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and has been writing and teaching about health for many years. She loves the health message and takes great pleasure in seeing people thrive by the application of its principles. Her research and down-to-earth manner allow her to offer up the health message in both an intelligent and accessible manner. She and her husband, James Rafferty, have two children.