Nutrients Detoxify And Rebuild An Overwhelmed Immune System
by Gloria Bucco
Most people can't avoid everyday pollutants, but they can take steps to protect their health
Simply put, we're poisoning ourselves. Annual production of synthetic
chemicals increased from approximately
1 billion pounds in 1940 to more than 387 billion pounds in 1990.1 In addition:
* Up to 25 percent of the U.S. population suffers to some extent from heavy-metal poisoning.2
* Although overall cancer death rates are declining steadily, the death rates for victims of particularly deadly cancers are rising.3
* The 600 percent increase in the amount of chlorine in the atmosphere during the last 40 years is not just affecting the countries producing chlorofluorocarbons--it's present in every country and in Antarctica, the North Pole and the Pacific Ocean.4
* In the United States alone, industrial sources and gasoline exhaust release more than 600,000 tons of lead into the atmosphere that are eventually inhaled or ingested after being deposited on food crops, fresh water and soil.5
Toxic chemicals and hazardous waste contaminate our air and water. Our homes and workplaces are saturated with synthetic materials that release chemical vapors into the air we breathe. Toxic metals such as lead, aluminum, cadmium and mercury pervade our environment. Pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, fumigants and fertilizers seep into the soil and are absorbed into our food. Additives, preservatives, and artificial colorings and flavorings are found in almost all supermarket food products.6
The result is a 20th century phenomenon--either a heightened sensitivity to synthetic substances or an environmental illness. Symptoms often mimic those of other illnesses--fatigue, low vitality, depression, poor concentration or headaches. Environmental illness can manifest as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia (muscle and joint pain), Parkinson's disease and childhood asthma.7
We're waging chemical warfare on ourselves, and we're paying the price--in illness and sometimes death.
We may not be able to escape every pollutant in our world, but we can protect ourselves and rid our bodies of these poisons naturally and safely.
Toxicity vs. Allergy
Environmental toxicity and environmental allergies are two different things. Allergies result from the immune system's overreaction to a substance in the environment. Environmental toxicity occurs when tissues and cells are poisoned to a point where they can no longer function properly. Allergic reactions usually diminish when contact with the offending allergen stops. Toxicity-based problems, however, can persist long after exposure, depending on the type and extent of damage the toxins have caused.8
Because its causes are many and varied, and its symptoms often mystifying, environmental illness is frequently dismissed by some physicians. Jeff Anderson, M.D., a medical consultant in Marin County, Calif., isn't one of them.
"Multiple chemical sensitivity is a very valid phenomenon," he says. "There are tremendous amounts of science that outline its mechanisms. A minimum of between 4 percent and 12 percent of the U.S. population has either a chemical intolerance or a chemical sensitivity."
Enough people are suffering from such conditions and other environment-related maladies to keep Anderson busy full time; his practice consists solely of people with environmental illnesses. "It's a huge problem," he explains. "The cost of illness from indoor air quality alone is estimated at $20 billion a year in lost income and disability payments at all levels of industry."
Anderson approaches each patient's condition as a mystery that needs to be solved. He begins by taking an extensive health and environmental history then follows with a thorough physical exam and lab tests to screen for chemical toxins. The test results are matched with tests of a patient's home and work environments to determine the toxin's source. If necessary, further diagnostic work is completed on the patient's immune and neurological systems.
"We get a pretty good picture after all this," Anderson says.
A Nutritional Approach
Once environmental illness is diagnosed, the logical first step is removing the offending toxins from a patient's environment. Only then can getting well begin. Detoxification is the key to this process.
"Toxicity has become a great concern in the 20th century, and I predict that the process of detoxification will be an important tool for 21st century medicine," says Elson Haas, M.D., author of The Detox Diet (Celestial Arts, 1996).
The human body handles toxins either by neutralizing, transforming or eliminating them, according to Haas. Enhancing detoxification involves dietary and lifestyle changes that reduce the intake of toxins while improving elimination. Detoxification therapy, especially fasting, is the oldest known medical treatment. Haas defines fasting as avoiding solid foods and ingesting only liquids.
Steams and saunas are Anderson's preferred methods of detoxification. "Sweating is the most effective way to detoxify," he says. "Most toxic chemicals are stored in fat cells. A sauna set at 120 to 140 degrees for extended periods raises the body temperature. the heat drives toxic materials out of fat molecules so they can be excreted through the sweat glands."
Bob Rountree, M.D., a holistic practitioner in Boulder, Colo., works with many patients experiencing environmental illness symptoms and also focuses on detoxification.
"A complex array of chemical reactions that occurs in the intestines also affects the rest of the body," he says. "It's a two-way street between the intestines and the bloodstream. If the intestinal walls aren't healthy, toxicity goes way up."
Rountree begins treatment with a liquid cleanse that lasts one to three days. He then recommends a special diet that excludes common allergens such as dairy products, gluten, fried foods, sugar, caffeine and alcohol. "I keep the diet really simple, with some grains, plenty of vegetables and baked fish," he says. Patients stay on this diet for two to three weeks.
Rountree also suggests patients eat flaxseed meal. "Lignans are really terrific for detoxification," he explains. "And there are more lignans in flaxseed meal than in flaxseed oil." Lignans are potent plant compounds that have been shown to have powerful therapeutic capabilities in addition to decreasing allergic response.9
Time To Rebuild
Once the detoxification process is complete, it's time to begin rebuilding the immune system and minimizing chemical irritation. Following are recommendations from Haas:
* A quality multiple vitamin with extra antioxidant nutrients to decrease the potential of free-radical toxicity.
* Extra vitamin A for immune support and tissue protection.
* Beta-carotene to re-duce the carcinogenicity of chemicals.
* Vitamin C to protect cells and tissues against the effects of water-soluble chemicals such as carbon monoxide, metals such as cadmium, and metabolic by-products such as carcinogenic nitrosamines made from nitrites.
* Vitamin E and selenium (200 to 300 mcg) work together to protect cells from pollutants including ozone, nitrogen dioxide, nitrites and metals such as lead, mercury, silver and cadmium.
* Minerals, especially zinc, to help protect cells from toxins. Many detoxifying enzymes require zinc to work. When combined with copper and manganese, zinc also functions in the superoxide dismutase system, detoxifying the oxygen-free radicals thought to be generated from ozone and smog. Calcium and magnesium also help neutralize some colon toxins and decrease heavy-metal absorption from the gastrointestinal tract.
* A B vitamin complex formula with sufficient thiamine, pantothenic acid and niacinamide along with lipoic acid to help protect the liver and mitigate the effects of radiation.
* The sulfur-containing amino acid L-cysteine to help neutralize heavy-metal toxins and toxic by-products of smoking, smog, alcohol and fats. L-cysteine helps produce glutathione, a tripeptide essential to several important enzymes, particularly glutathione peroxidase.
* Methionine, another sulfur-containing amino acid that, according to Haas, has mild detoxification and protective functions.
* Insoluble fiber such as wheat bran and soluble fiber such as psyllium to reduce metal absorption.
* Sodium alginate from seaweed to decrease heavy and radioactive metal absorption.
* Chlorophyll-containing algae such as chlorella and spirulina, for a mild chelating effect.
* Apple pectin to bind and clear intestinal metals and chemical toxins.
* Alfalfa, rich in chlorophylls, along with vitamin K, to reduce tissue damage from radiation exposure.
Rountree also advocates a wide variety of immune-strengthening supplements. First on his list is an antioxidant formula consisting of a carotene complex; vitamin C (2 to 10 g/day); vitamin E; zinc; selenium; NAC (N-acetylcysteine) if glutathione levels are low; and bioflavonoids such as rutin, herperidin, quercitrin and naringin.
If warranted, Rountree also uses other nutrients including lipoic acid; Co-Q10, a documented immune enhancer; adaptogens such as reishi, shiitake and maitake mushrooms; green foods such as blue-green algae; and a variety of herbs including Siberian ginseng, to protect the liver; astragalus, a powerful immunotonic; ginkgo, for asthma and other respiratory complaints; and suma, a South American herbal adaptogen.
To defend against free-radical damage to cell walls, Anderson starts his patients on a regime that includes the antioxidant vitamins C, E and beta-carotene, followed by the minerals manganese and copper. He also recommends natural substances with chelating effects such as aduki beans, lentils and cilantro.
Chemicals are part of modern life, so how do we deal them and still stay healthy?
"Learning to live with chemicals and using them appropriately so they don't destroy us involves maintaining a healthy immune system, a positive attitude and a high purpose," Haas says. "Protecting ourselves by reducing chemical use and exposure will greatly reduce our chances of disease, cancer and early death.
"This is important for everyone, but especially for infants and small children, the elderly, and invalids--all of whom are more susceptible to chemical toxicity. Making changes and a commitment to living as chemically free as possible is a strong investment in our personal and collective life-insurance plan." NSN
by Gloria Bucco
Gloria Bucco is an independent journalist and communications consultant in Longmont, Colo. Her last article in Nutrition Science News focused on borrowed science.
|1.Stewart, J.C. Drinking Water Hazards: 10. Hiram, Ohio:
2. Murray, M.T,. & Pizzorno J. The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine: 32. Rocklin, Calif.: Prima Publishing, 1991.
3. Brody, J.E. The New York Times: C-1, November 1996.
4. Gore, A. Earth in the Balance: 29, New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1992.
5. Murray, M.T., Ibid.
6. Balch, J.F., & Balch P.A. Prescription for Nutritional Healing: 252-54. Garden City Park, N.Y.: Avery Publishing Group, 1997.
7. Bland, J.S. "How to guard against toxins," Delicious! Magazine, April 1996.
8. Balch, J.F., Ibid.
9. Kennedy B. "Disease prevention: Flaxseed endorsed by the FDA," Total Health, 54, October 1993.