Toxic stuff – all you need to know. Part 2

liver

We left the previous post with this question:

How do we effectively dispose of this stuff from our bodies?!

First, the good news.

Our detoxification systems are impressive and fairly flexible.

Your liver does most of the work, with your lungs, kidneys and skin helping out.  A healthy gall bladder and gut are really important for this process to work well, and a high fibre diet helps to remove all the waste products that are disposed of that way.

Water soluble chemicals tend to be mostly excreted through the kidneys and fat soluble ones are disposed of in bile, via the gut.  Just a note – if the gall bladder isn’t working well or it isn’t being stimulated to release bile (for instance in a low fat diet) then the body can’t get rid of these metabolites, and this can cause all kinds of problems.  (Eat healthy fats every day!!)

Your gut bacteria also influence how well you excrete these metabolites.  I won’t go into detail, but healthy gut bacteria (the ones that like eating fresh and unprocessed foods and lots of lovely fibre) help.  The ones that thrive on a highly processed diet don’t help with this process.

The first thing that happens is that your body ‘sorts out’ which chemicals it can get rid of easily and which ones will be trickier.  The ones that can’t easily be disposed of tend to be highly fat soluble, so your body sends them to your fat cells.  This reduces the impact of those chemicals on your organs by reducing the amount that is in the circulating blood and ‘hiding’ it in your fat cells.  These compounds are then slowly released back into the bloodstream over time and hopefully the liver can dispose of these smaller quantities.

If the compounds stored in the fat cells aren’t released appropriately (or they are being accumulated faster than they can be disposed of), then that can cause problems.  Rapid fat loss can also be problematic because large amounts of the toxicants may become mobile rapidly.

There have been cases of LSD flashbacks 30 years after the person’s last trip during rapid fat loss!  It is a very real thing (and not just with LSD!)

Some of the toxicants stored in fat can be pro-inflammatory, carcinogenic (cancer causing) and/or obesogenic (obesity-causing).  In any case we want a liver that is working really well to dispose of these chemicals and to reduce our exposure to them in the first place (more on this in Part 3)

The detoxification organs (mostly the liver) recognise parts of chemical compounds, which can be found on all kinds of different chemicals. That is enough for the enzymes to work on.

We have different families of enzymes that do different things to help us to metabolise and dispose of all kinds of chemicals (compounds found in food, retired hormones, waste products of metabolism, toxins and toxicants).  There are more than 50 enzymes involved in three phases of detoxification.

This process is designed to deactivate, destroy and make these chemicals easier to dispose of (for instance to make fat soluble compounds more water soluble).

This great little graphic shows how the liver works to do this and some of the nutrients required and other things that can help.  It’s simplified, but you get the idea.

(Note: where it says ‘toxins’ on the left, it means ‘toxicants, compounds from foods, retired hormones, waste compounds of metabolism and toxins)

Image result for detoxification

Take home message – look after your liver and kidneys, eat lots of fibre and plenty of healthy fats.

In Part 3, I will talk about how to avoid exposure and some of the things that we can do to support these processes.

 

Credits:

Happy Liver graphic from: https://www.thehealthsite.com/diseases-conditions/liver-disease/faqs-on-liver-transplant-answered-by-an-expert-d0418/

 

Phases of Detoxification graphic from: https://www.fxmedicine.com.au/blog-post/organs-detoxification

Toxic stuff – all you need to know. Part 1

14900-poison-toxic-chemicles-green-glowing-scary-creepy-death-in-text.jpg (630×315)

 

Toxins, toxicants and detoxing

Once upon a time, in a previous life, I studied a masters degree in toxicology.  I feel like it’s time to approach the confusing topic of toxins, toxicants and detoxing.

There is a huge amount of information out there about these things, and how they are making you miserable and sick.  Many of these sources of information then go on to advise you on how to ‘cleanse’ while spending lots of time, money and energy on your new perceived problem.  They usually make you feel rubbish with no actual improvement!

 

It’s best to start from knowing the terms that are in play:

Toxins: A toxin is any poisonous substance produced by bacteria, animals, or plants (1).  These occur naturally, and include things like tetrodotoxin from puffer fish, snake venom, bacterial exo/endotoxins and poisonous substances in plants and mushrooms.  Some are very toxic and some are tolerable to the body in small doses.

Toxicant: a toxic substance; poison (2)

A more specific scientific definition of ‘toxicant’ is:

A poison that is made by humans or that is put into the environment by human activities (3).  This includes pesticides, herbicides, petrochemical products, genetically modified organisms, heavy metals, bisphenols, radioactive compounds, many medications, artificial food additives, phthalates and millions of other man-made chemicals.

Detoxification: the process of removing harmful chemicals from something (4).  This is something that your body is very good at with most toxicants most of the time.

Detoxification can also be a treatment that is intended to remove toxic substances from the body. (5)

 

If we think back to times before we started making millions of different synthetic chemicals, our bodies were only usually exposed to toxins.  While some of those were fatal, we had the advantage of big brains and language to learn and communicate risks and reduce the risk. Some of them are found in foods, and we evolved systems to recognise, neutralise and excrete these.

According to the NRDC, there are more than 80,000 man-made chemicals in use in the USA (6).  Then there are the breakdown products of these, increasing those numbers significantly.

Without wishing to cause alarm, most of these have not been tested in isolation for their impact on human health, let alone as part of the cocktail of chemicals that we are exposed to.  That would be impossible to test!

 

Let’s back one step.

‘Chemicals’ are everywhere – everything that is a thing is made of chemicals.  It isn’t a dirty word.

‘Natural’ vs ‘man-made’ isn’t as easy as ‘good vs bad’.  There are plenty of ‘safe’ man-made chemicals and very toxic natural ones.

The poison is in the dose.  Too much oxygen can kill you, as can too much water.  Every chemical out there probably has a safe dose (though some are extremely low).  In toxicology, we use a term ‘no observable adverse effect level’, or NOAEL.  This level is different for every chemical and can change if there are certain combinations of chemicals present. It’s complicated.  Our bodies are complicated.

Some people are more sensitive to certain things than others.  An individual may be more sensitive at certain points in their life or with certain underlying health conditions.  Babies, children, older people, pregnant ladies and unborn babies are generally more sensitive to toxins and toxicants.

We evolved the most amazing systems to protect our bodies from many of the toxins that we have been exposed to for millions of years.  While our liver does most of the work, the kidneys, skin, lungs and large intestine are all very important.

Nausea and vomiting of pregnancy (morning sickness) may have evolved to protect the early embryo from toxins that the mother might ingest – spoiled food, toxins that wouldn’t affect her in other stages of life, higher risk foods.

In a very short space of time, humanity has created thousands and thousands of new chemicals and released others from the earth that were previously buried or only at the surface in a few places.

This leaves our ancient planet and bodies with a modern problem to solve – toxicants

How do we effectively dispose of this stuff from our bodies?!

I’ll cover that in Part 2!

 

  1. Toxin. Collins English Dictionary.
  2. Toxicant. Collins English Dictionary.
  3. NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms [Internet]. National Cancer Institute. [cited 2018 Nov 7]. Available from: https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms?cdrid=687391
  4. Detoxification. Cambridge Dictionary.
  5. Detoxification. Collins English Dictionary.
  6. NRDC. Toxic chemicals [Internet]. [cited 2018 Nov 7]. Available from: https://www.nrdc.org/issues/toxic-chemicals

Supplements first aid kit: Part 2. The common cold (and friends).

We all get these, unfortunately, and there isn’t a huge amount that you can do about it, right? Well, that’s what I thought. Until my microbiology lecturer provided me with the following tip:

Del-immune V.

This stuff is amazing. It’s a dead and chopped up probiotic.

When you catch a virus, it takes your immune system a little while to work out that there is a problem, and then it needs a bit more time to react. What Del-immune V does is to kick start your immune system so that it reacts more quickly to a virus.

There are two ways to take this supplement:
Acutely: when you get that first tickle of a cold, start taking 2-4 Del-immune V capsules every 4 hours, and you may not ever develop the cold. If you miss that first window, then it isn’t as effective, so keep some on your person.
Ongoing: take 1-2 capsules daily if you are in contact with viruses all the time and tend to catch them all.

Vitamin C.

Increasing vitamin C intake when you have a cold hasn’t been proven to decrease its duration or severity, BUT good vitamin C status when you catch a cold does help. So keep your fruit and vegetable intake high, and supplement if you catch colds often.

Zinc.

Having enough zinc in your body allows your immune system to work well, making you less susceptible to common viruses.

Taking zinc in the first 24 hours of a cold starting also reduces the duration and severity of the cold.

I’m also rather a fan of Harker’s Herbal products for colds and chest symptoms. But I’m not a herbalist, so I can only suggest that you speak to a naturopath about whether these are safe and suitable for you.

All these supplements are generally regarded as safe for most people when taken in appropriate doses. Always check product labels and/or ask a health professional for advice specific to your circumstances.

This post does not constitute personal medical advice.

cold-plushie Common cold plushie from Giant Microbes.

Supplement First Aid Kit 1 – Belly Ache and Travelling

I’ve just come back from an overseas trip, and I thought that a series on my ‘first aid kit’ supplements might be useful.

These ‘first aid kit’ items are those that I have to manage mild and common conditions like stomach upsets, headaches, cramp, period pain, colds etc.

For me this first one is a ‘must have’ item that is always in my house, and definitely in my hand luggage in case of stomach upset.

First up is Saccharomyces boulardii (SB).

This handy bug is a yeast, and has all kinds of uses for looking after your digestive system when it is at risk or under attack from illness-causing bacteria, viruses and parasites.

I won’t go into all the details of how (they are many and clever), but there is more information in the link if you want to get technical.

In case of infection:

SB can be used to reduce the symptoms and severity of stomach upset (vomiting and diarrhoea) from various causes (antibiotic-associated, food poisoning, ‘gastro’, giardia, Clostridium difficile etc).

Protection against infection:

SB can be used preventatively when travelling to prevent traveller’s diarrhoea. It can also be used by healthy people if they come into contact with someone with an infection to reduce their chance of infection.

To enhance recovery and protect against reinfection:

SB helps probiotics from supplements or fermented foods to repopulate the gut faster and strongly after antibiotics or infection. SB also improves the health of the cells of the intestines after an infection.

SB may have other uses, but these are the ‘first aid’ ones.

SB is generally regarded as safe for children and adults. Always check product labels for specific allergy and ingredient information

If vomiting and diarrhoea are dramatic or persistent then there is risk of dehydration, so a medical opinion should be sought if in doubt.

This post does not constitute medical advice.

c-diff-plushieClostridium difficile plushie from Giant Microbes.