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Detoxification: Part 1

What is Detoxification?

Detoxification is a crucial cellular function that, if lacking, can lead to premature reduction in quality of life and death. The process of detoxification requires adequate nutrients and antioxidants to effectively mobilize, biotransform, and eliminate toxicants from the body.1 Our organs of elimination, mainly the liver, kidneys and gastrointestinal tract, require a variety of nutrients to support  key processes involved in detoxification. Enzymatic cofactors, phytochemical antioxidants, water, and fiber are essential to support the biotransformation and elimination of toxicants from our bodies.2

What are Toxicants and How are We Exposed?

Toxicants are a type of poison that is typically made by humans or introduced into the environment by human activity. Residues of industrial chemicals are found in air, soil, and water and these include heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants, and food-related toxins such as hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, and genetically modified organisms.3  In addition, humans are exposed to synthetic pollutants in their personal care products, home cleaning supplies, as well as food packaging, upholster flame-retardants and dry cleaning chemicals.4  Scientists estimate that everyone alive today carries within her or his body at least 700 contaminants, most of which have not been well studied.5 Furthermore, studies performed on umbilical cord blood of newborns born in U.S. hospitals found, on average, over 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants. Of the 287 total chemicals detected, 180 are known to cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 have shown to be toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal fetal development.6

The quantity of external environmental substances or their metabolites that accumulates in an individual is defined as a “chemical body burden.”4 In 2008, healthcare costs in the United States from environmental diseases in children alone amounted to $76.6 billion. These diseases are associated with modifiable environmental toxic exposures such as lead poisoning, prenatal methylmercury, asthma, cancers, autism, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.7

In the adult population, major chronic diseases such as obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and endometriosis are linked to persistent organic pollutant exposure, including polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins, and flame retardants.3,8 Autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus erythematosus, have been found to be associated with personal use of insecticides.9  In addition, vascular disease that manifests as heart, brain, or kidney disorders are linked to toxic metals and oxidative stress and neurocognitive impairment, or cognitive decline, including reduced IQ and aberrant behavior, is associated with early life exposure to heavy metals, pesticides and various persistent organic pollutants.3,10

Bottom line:

We live in a toxin-ridden environment, but implementation of proper nutrition and lifestyle strategies can help reduce your overall chemical body burden, prevent, and reverse chronic disease. Our team of functional medicine specialists create individualized treatment plans to address toxin burden through the identification and reduction in environmental triggers and nutritional therapies to support detoxification pathways and provide protection from toxicant damage.

Interested to see your risk for toxin exposure based on your lifestyle? Take our quiz HERE to determine if you are at high risk. If you could use a reset, join our next discovery class to learn more.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the detoxification blog post in which we’ll discuss lifestyle strategies to reduce toxicant exposure and nutritional approaches to support organs of detoxification. 

Written by Christine Reynolds, PharmD


1. Nutritional aspects of detoxification in clinical practice. (2015). Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine, 21(3), 54–62. 

2. Detoxification and biotransformational imbalances. In: Alexander BJ, Ames BN, Baker SM, et al. Textbook of Functional Medicine. Federal Way, WA: Institute for Functional Medicine; 2010:275-298.

3. Sears, M. E., & Genuis, S. J. (2012). Environmental determinants of chronic disease and medical approaches: recognition, avoidance, supportive therapy, and detoxification. Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 2012, 356798. 

4. Thornton, J. W., McCally, M., & Houlihan, J. (2002). Biomonitoring of industrial pollutants: health and policy implications of the chemical body burden. Public health reports (Washington, D.C. : 1974), 117(4), 315–323. 

5. Onstot J, Ayling R, Stanley J. Characterization of HRGC/MS Unidentified Peaks from the Analysis of Human Adipose Tissue. Volume 1: Technical Approach. Washington, DC: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Toxic Substances (560/6-87-002a), 1987

6. Houlihan, J., Kropp, T., Wiles, R. (2005). Body burden: the pollution in newborns. A benchmark investigation of industrial chemicals, pollutants, and pesticides in human umbilical cord blood. Environmental Working Group.

7. Trasande, L., & Liu, Y. (2011). Reducing the staggering costs of environmental disease in children, estimated at $76.6 billion in 2008. Health Affairs (Project Hope), 30(5), 863–870. 

8. Rönn, M., Lind, L., van Bavel, B., Salihovic, S., Michaëlsson, K., & Lind, P. M. (2011). Circulating levels of persistent organic pollutants associate in divergent ways to fat mass measured by DXA in humans. Chemosphere, 85(3), 335–343.

9. Parks, C. G., Walitt, B. T., Pettinger, M., Chen, J.-C., de Roos, A. J., Hunt, J., Sarto, G., & Howard, B. V. (2011). Insecticide use and risk of rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. Arthritis Care & Research63(2), 184–194. 

10. Miodovnik, A. (2011). Environmental neurotoxicants and developing brain. The Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine, New York, 78(1), 58–77. 

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