In recent history, mankind has managed to drastically change the chemistry of the environment in which we live. For example, in 1989 alone, more that 1,000,000,000 pounds of chemicals were released into the ground; threatening a portion of the soil we grow our food in and the natural underground water tables that supply some of our drinking water. Over 188,000,000 pounds of chemicals were discharged into surface waters such as lakes and rivers. More than 2,400,000,000 pounds of chemical emissions were pumped into the air we breathe. A grand total of 5,705,670,380 pounds of chemical pollutants were released into the environment we eat, breathe, and live in, all in just one year.
To compound the problem of our toxic environment, we have refined away much of the nutritional value of our food supply and replaced it with artificial colorings, preservatives, flavorings, conditioners, etc. This poor quality diet-combined with predisposed many of us to experience a kind of “internal pollution”. Internal pollution occurs when unhealthful bacteria overcome the healthful bacteria in the intestinal tract. These unhealthful bacteria release toxic by-products into our circulation, which can negatively impact many aspects of our overall health.
System 2: Detoxification
The detoxification systems are your body’s cleanup crew. Whenever a potentially harmful substance needs to be removed from the body, these systems are called upon to do the job.
Toxins originate both within and outside of the body. Some toxins are created in the natural course of metabolism; hormones and other biochemicals made by the body do not float around in your system indefinitely, but are broken down and eliminated once they have served their purpose. Chemicals with which you come in contact daily-such as cleaning solutions, medicines, car exhaust, and preservatives in foods, among many others-are also processed and eliminated by your body’s detoxification systems. Even nutrients from healthy foods must be processed in the liver, a key part of the detoxification system, before they exit the body.
In an ideal world-with plenty of organic sugar- and additive-free food, a relaxed lifestyle, no need for medicines, and no pollution-your body’s detoxification systems would have a reasonable workload. Unfortunately, we do not live in such a world, and we’re guessing that you don’t either.
Processed foods such as breads, cakes, cookies, chips, luncheon meats, condiments, and sauces tend to be loaded with preservatives, flavorings, stabilizers, and other substances that must be broken down by your body and discharged. Every time you take a medication or are exposed to a chemical, it has to be processed and eliminated from your system. This is why it is important to keep your detoxification systems running smoothly. If they cannot do their job adequately, toxins can build up in your body, effectively gumming up the works at the cellular level. Having poorly operating detoxification systems can lead to fatigue and decreased immunity by affecting the functioning of mitochondria and increasing free-radical production. Over the long term, they may increase your risk of developing cancer, neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease, and other chronic disorders. For example, recent studies have shown a direct link between exposure to pesticides over the years and Parkinson’s disease.
The Liver: Your Best Ally Against Toxins
Most detoxification processes happen in the liver, intestines, and kidneys. Like all of the systems we talk about in this chapter, the detoxifying organs require specific nutrients to do their jobs. The most active detoxification organ, the liver, is the largest solid organ in the body. If it is given the right raw materials, it does an amazing job of filtering toxins out of the blood, altering them to make them less toxic, and, eventually, sending them out of the body as waste.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and other traditional schools of medicine teach the importance of a healthy liver for overall wellness, but conventional medicine has yet to appreciate the ways in which detoxification can set the stage for true healing. In fact, conventional medicine usually treats illness by prescribing drugs, which increase the stress on the liver. This is one of the reasons why most drug therapies for chronic post partum illnesses fall short of effecting a cure.
The subtle but important differences between one person’s body and another’s-in other words, biochemical individuality-really show up when it comes to liver function. While one person’s liver might be able to meet the detoxification demands of a highly polluted environment and a junk-food diet, another person’s may be overwhelmed by ordinary everyday exposure to seemingly normal chemicals such as cleaning products. While one person may take a given medication and do just fine, another person may suffer intense side effects from the same drug. These differences can be traced back to the detoxification ability of each person’s liver. Whether you find yourself at one end or the other of the detox spectrum, or somewhere in the middle, you can improve your liver’s ability to detoxify by ensuring that it has all of the nutrients it needs to do its job.
Blood that has just absorbed nutrients from the intestines is channeled directly to the liver to be filtered for toxins. In the time it took you to read the last two paragraphs, roughly two quarts of blood passed through your liver. If your liver is functioning well, any drugs, foreign chemicals such as pesticides, “used-up” hormones and other biochemicals, and toxins made within the digestive tract were filtered out of that blood. Before many of these toxins can be flushed out of your body, they must undergo two distinct detoxification phases in the liver, designated phase I and phase II. Both phases have to be in good working order for detoxification to proceed smoothly, and in order for this to happen, key nutrients are needed in adequate amounts. Genetics and the lifetime toxic workload placed on your liver also affect how well your liver runs through each phase