Since everything works together in our bodies, it is hard to say which organs are the most important for detoxification. However, the liver is clearly one of the most crucial players in clearing harmful substances from the body, because it has the highest concentration of detoxification enzymes. People like me who tend to have skin issues often have livers that don’t work optimally. I probably inherited some genetic variations that make my liver not quite as effective at neutralizing toxins. I often see this in my patients with multiple chemical sensitivities or just higher toxic burdens that makes sense from their known exposures. Sometimes medications can inhibit liver activity. Other people have increased exposure to harmful chemicals whether through their homes or jobs. I particularly worry about people in occupations like hairdresser, carpenter, and welder, just to name a few. My last blog emphasized the importance of making sure the bowels and kidneys are working optimally, which is a crucial step before you activate the liver’s detox abilities.
Once the kidneys and bowels are efficiently carrying toxins and waste out of the body, stimulate the livers capacity to neutralize toxins using herbs and nutrients. The liver detoxifies harmful compounds in a two-phase process, which is enhanced by supplements such as high quality multivitamins, whey protein, milk thistle, and N-acetyl cysteine. Phosphatidylcholine is another supplement with this effect while additionally helping to dislodge toxins from our cell membranes. Phosphatidylcholine also encourages the flow of bile in the liver to help move toxins from the liver to the bowels for final elimination. Other herbs that stimulate the production and flow of bile in the liver are milk thistle, alfalfa, and Oregon grape root.
As I mentioned in my first blog in this series on diet to aid detoxification, certain foods give the liver an additional boost. Seasonings such as caraway, dill seeds, and lemon and lime peel are some of the most amazing liver activators since they turn on both phases of liver detoxification. Artichokes and turmeric are both liver protectors that also increase bile flow. Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts activate the phase I of liver detox while also helping us neutralize our hormones more effectively. Raspberries, strawberries, cranberries, walnuts and pecans stimulate the second phase of liver detoxification, which is often the most important phase to activate.
As all naturopathic doctors are taught, if normal interventions aren’t working adequately to restore health, treat the liver. When we remove toxins from the body, our natural healing mechanisms can start to work more effectively. So love you liver and live healthier.
I work hard at reducing my exposure to toxic substances. I eat clean organic food, drink filtered water, and use all natural body care products and household cleaners. But I know that despite my efforts, toxins are so prevalent in the modern world that my body still has a toxin burden. This is why we need a plan to get toxins out of the body on a regular basis to keep them from interfering with our health. Many chronic conditions can be caused or made worse by toxic exposures. Even weight gain has been associated with certain toxins that are being categorized as obesogens, chemicals in the environment that are altering our metabolism. This doesn’t mean that detoxification by itself can cause weight loss of more than a few pounds, but it can remove a potential obstacle so that proper diet and exercise are more likely to work.
When beginning a detoxification plan, the most important step is to make sure the kidneys are bowels are working optimally. Adequate fiber is crucial for both bowel health and for binding toxins. Eating high fiber foods and taking additional supplemental fiber can reduce the absorption of both ingested toxins and those recently neutralized by the liver. Additionally, take probiotics because these friendly bacteria out compete bad bacteria, which are known to reactivate already neutralized toxins. Additionally, bowel-cleansing herbs are sometimes added to speed up elimination. These range from mildly laxative herbs like burdock to stronger laxatives like cascara sagrada.
To support kidney function, emphasize water intake and use nourishing diuretic herbs like nettles and/or dandelion leaves. These are known as nourishing diuretics because they provide valuable minerals like potassium while gently stimulating increased urinary flow. In the past, a urinary cleanse was done by gradually eating more juniper berries over the course of the detoxification. Juniper berries are known as a stimulating diuretic because they cause the kidneys to produce more urine by irritating them. Because of this irritation, most people find that they cannot tolerate this type of kidney cleanse. Our kidneys are probably overtaxed by toxins and food additives and might be more easily irritated. So while I do sometimes include a stimulating diuretic like parsley or juniper, I will only eat one or two juniper berries instead of the 30 that were worked up to in the past.
Stayed tuned for next week’s blog where I will discuss liver support for detoxification.
Many popular New Year’s resolutions involve being healthier, and lots of people kick this off by doing a whole body cleanse. Because we live in such a toxic world, I want to encourage these efforts by writing a series of blogs this month about detoxification support. This week I am starting with the basics: dietary changes to assist with detoxification.
While there are many different dietary approaches to detoxification, I am going to emphasize the essentials that apply to nearly everyone. Of course, some people with specific health conditions will need to modify these suggestions for themselves. The following diet promotes detoxification by minimizing toxins in, keeping the pathways of elimination free to deal with toxins leaving the body.
- Eat regularly, three times daily with snacks as desired, so your blood sugar doesn’t drop.
- Eat organic foods, if possible. Do not eat products that are canned, packaged or contain artificial colorings, preservatives, additives, or other chemicals.
- Eat lots of vegetables and some fruits; try for 4-5 packed cups each day. Veggies and fruits are full of antioxidants and fiber that are helpful in detoxification. Eat a variety of different types of veggies to get the full range of antioxidants, but especially emphasize the cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and arugula.
- Eat less meat and dairy and more vegan proteins, such as beans, tofu, tempeh, nuts, nut butters, and seed butters. If you eat fish (small salmon, cod, herring, sardines only) take 1000mg Chlorella with the meal; this will along with fiber reduces mercury absorption. If you eat meat, try to eat low-fat cuts from free range grass-fed, hormone and antibiotic free animals or wild game.
- Eat lots of fiber. It is a great detoxifier as it binds fats, hormones, chemicals, metals and other undesirables in the intestines. Fiber is found in beans/legumes (the best!), apples, peaches, pears, berries, crunchy vegetables, and whole grains. Eat two to three of these fiber sources at every meal.
- Have good quality oils like extra virgin olive oil, flax, fish, walnut, or Omega 3-6-9 blends. Have at least 1 Tablespoon 1-3 times per day.
- Support friendly bowel bacteria by eating cultured foods: miso, kim chi, real sauerkraut, kvass, and kombucha.
- At least once daily, eat foods stimulating to liver function and bile flow such as lemon, lime, beet, carrot, parsnips, chlorophyll, artichoke, fresh rosemary, caraway, dill seeds, burdock and dandelion roots.
- Have no refined or concentrated sugar, sweets, caffeine, alcohol, fried or deep-fried food.
- Drink lots of filtered water – 2-4 quarts per day or more if you are exercising or sweating.
And remember because toxins are such a challenge for us these days, try to apply principles like these to your diet all year round.
In the summer time, hydration is often on people’s mind, but when it is cold, we can forget to drink water. Staying hydrated is one the most important steps you can take for your health any time of the year. Seventy-five percent of the human body is composed of pure water. This means that in order to maintain this level of hydration, one must consume at least half of their body weight in ounces daily.
Water stabilizes the internal temperature of the body and flushes out toxins from cells and ultimately the body. It also hydrates and promotes flexibility of the joints and moisturizes the skin to help it look and feel healthy. Since blood is mostly water, dehydration can increase the risk of coronary heart disease, due to the increased viscosity of the blood. Dehydration can cause electrolyte disturbances, which can interfere with electrical conduction of the heart and nervous system. Dehydration also increases the risk of developing kidney stones.
I pay attention to my lips to help me remember to drink enough water. If my lips are starting to feel chapped, I haven’t been doing a good job of keeping up with my water intake. I still occasionally use lip balm, but if I have been drinking my water I need it less. By the way, my favorite lip balm is the EcoLips Gold. And I prefer to drink water out of glass water bottles such as those made by Lifefactory. Glass bottles provide the best tasting water and you don’t have to worry about toxic materials leaching into your water like with plastic bottles.
P.S. Staying hydrated on New Year’s Eve can help you a happier New Year’s Day, since some of the symptoms of hangover are due to dehydration.
I recently cut fruit juice out of my husband’s diet. I told him I wasn’t going to buy it anymore for him because of a recent study that correlated the consumption of 3 servings of fruit juice per week with a 10% increased risk of diabetes. Even before reading this study, I hadn’t been a fan of juice because it contains the sugar of the fruit without the fiber that slows the absorption of sugar. On the flip side, consuming 3 servings of fruit per week can help reduce the risk of diabetes by 3%. Certain fruits like blueberries, grapes, and apples had an increased protective effect, due to antioxidant compounds located in the skin of these fruits.
So why are antioxidants helpful at preventing diabetes? Excessive consumption of carbohydrates and calories in general causes an overabundance of energy on a cellular level. Unless we are active enough to be burning this excess energy, it actually contributes to the production of free radicals that damage our cells. To protect themselves from this excess energy and subsequent damage, our cells reduce the number of insulin receptors on their surfaces. The result of this is insulin resistance, a prediabetic condition where the body makes extra insulin to try to get cells to remove excessive sugar from the blood stream, but the cells ignore this message. This protective measure of the cells saves the cells from damage and possible destruction, but long term, insulin resistance can contribute to the development of not just diabetes, but also high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and kidney disease.
The solution is not to force the cells to take up the excess sugar from the blood stream, but to reduce the consumption of excess sugar, carbohydrates, and overall calories. Viewing insulin resistance as a defensive mechanism of cells helps us see why these dietary changes are so vital to preventing diabetes. Additionally, exercise increases the energy needs of cells and allows them to metabolize sugar without excessive damage from free radicals.
Finally, looking at insulin resistance in this way helps us understand why a number of antioxidants have been found to be useful in diabetes and insulin resistance. For instance, alpha lipoic acid is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight insulin resistance as well as having the potential to help diabetic neuropathy. Intake of minerals like zinc, copper, and manganese are commonly helpful to diabetics and prediabetics because they help the body make superoxide dismutase enzymes to neutralize free radicals. Understanding these mechanisms can help us make and stick to healthier dietary choices, especially at this time of the year when there are so many sugary temptations.
Posted in Health
Tagged antioxidant, blood sugar, cardiovascular disease, detoxification, diabetes, food, free radicals, health, heart health, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, nutrition, oxidative stress, reactive oxygen species
This ubiquitous spice on nearly every table in America is for more than just flavoring. Black pepper actually increases your ability to absorb nutrient. Black pepper stimulates the activity of the digestive tract by increasing the production of digestive enzymes and supporting normal gut motility. Black pepper also is a circulatory stimulant so it increases blood flow to the gut, which helps the digestive tract to work more efficiently and carries the nutrient to the rest of the body. Black pepper as a medicinal herb was traditionally used for sluggish digest and low stomach acid, but it can help nearly anyone get more out of their food and supplements. Its effects are intensified by heating so adding black pepper to your food as it cooks makes it a better digestive enhancer, but watch out too much black pepper cooked into a dish can get very spicy.
Because of these digestive benefits, black pepper extracts are used in some supplements to enhance their absorption. Piperine, an active component of black pepper sold under the name BioPerine, has been shown to increase the absorption of various vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. This is especially important with harder to absorb supplements like curcumin from turmeric, a popular inflammation-modulating herb. Supplement companies choose many different strategies to help get curcumin into the bloodstream, but BioPerine is one of the most popular approaches. I also mix a little bit of ground black pepper into my jar of turmeric so I know I am getting more out of my turmeric every time I cook with it.
Posted in Herbs
Tagged black pepper, cardiovascular health, circulation, detoxification, digestive health, digestive tract, food, GI Health, health, heart health, inflammation, nutrition
For colds, most people reach for vitamin C to help them get back on their feet sooner. They might chose it because they can tell it helps them feel better, or they might have heard about one of the numerous studies supporting its use. Most studies show that vitamin C reduces the severity of cold symptoms. Even one famous “negative “ study showed that vitamin C reduced the severity of cold symptoms by 20%. This was only considered a negative outcome because these results were not deemed significant. Other studies show that vitamin C accelerates recovery, especially if taken early in the illness. One study using 3000-6000 mg daily showed an 85% reduction in cold and flu symptoms compared to the control. I notice that especially toward the end of a cold, taking vitamin C has a marked effect on my energy levels, helping me get back to work.
Vitamin C can be beneficial for other respiratory issues. In epidemiological studies, increased vitamin C intake is correlated to lower rates of asthma. Supplementation with vitamin C also has been shown to reduce exercise-induced airway reactions such as narrowing of the airways. Additionally, vitamin C may be helpful for asthma that is related to pollution. These benefits are partially due to vitamin C’s anti-histamine effects, which are augmented by the presence of bioflavonoids, compounds that occur in foods alongside vitamin C that potentiate its activity.
Vitamin C’s well-known antioxidant capabilities provide part of its protect of the respiratory tract. When we are exposed to pollutants and toxins, free radicals cause cellular damage, which in turn contributes to inflammation that can exacerbate conditions like allergies and asthma. It is probably these antioxidant actions that help me feel more energetic at the end of a cold. When the immune system is working hard it creates free radicals as part of the process, and these free radicals can contribute to fatigue. By helping remove these free radicals, vitamin C can help you feel normal again. Likewise, vitamin C can protect vital molecules in the body, such as proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, and DNA from damage by free radicals that can be generated during normal metabolism as well as through exposure to toxins. This preserves crucial cellular functions and can help prevent cancer. Finally, vitamin C can regenerate the antioxidant capacity of vitamin E, which is in turn one of the most important fat soluble antioxidant that supports heart health by preventing the oxidation of cholesterol. Again, bioflavonoids also can work as powerful antioxidants supporting the activity of vitamin C so I always look for these when I buy vitamin C.
Posted in Health
Tagged antioxidant, cancer prevention, cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular health, cholesterol, cold symptoms, colds, detoxification, food, free radicals, health, heart health, immune support, inflammation, influenza, nutrition, upper respiratory infections
I often come up with the ideas for my blogs while working in my garden. This one started with a very simple thought: I love purple. I was admiring the purple cayenne we are growing this year. They have that lovely deep purple like eggplant.
We are growing several other purple varieties in our garden this year like carrots, tomatillos, and okra. The presence of this purple color indicates that these vegetables provide a specific type of antioxidant known as anthocyanins. Other sources of anthocyanins are purple cabbage, purple potatoes, blue corn, black beans, plums, dark grapes, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and black berries, as well as herbs like elderberry, hawthorn, and acai. Anthocyanins are considered to be one of the best antioxidants for protecting our brains, hearts, and blood vessels.
Our Purple Crops
Even though purple is so enthralling, we need other colors to round out our intake of antioxidants. Leafy green veggies are a great source of chlorophyll, which can help protect our DNA from damage and aid the detoxification process. Leafy greens also hide a bunch of beta-carotene under that green. So along with carrots and other orange foods, we can eat our greens to help maintain our vision and enhance the ability of white blood cells to neutralize carcinogens. Lycopene is one of the most potent antioxidants for cancer prevention, especially prostate cancer. It is found in the pink foods: tomatoes, watermelon, and pink grapefruit.
Overall the goal is to eat a rainbow of foods so we are getting a diversity of antioxidants to protect our cells from damage and help prevent cancer.
If you want to try some of my purple okra, we are now selling it in the produce department of Ozark Natural Foods.
Posted in Health
Tagged antioxidant, black berries, cancer prevention, cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular health, cognitive support, dementia, detoxification, food, health, heart health, immune support, inflammation, memory, nutrition
As well as being a wonderfully tasty beverage, green tea contains fantastic compounds that can help prevent many common health conditions. Green tea comes from the same plant as black tea, Camellia sinensis. The difference, however, is that green tea is blanched before drying, while black tea is allowed to oxidize, effectively converting many of the beneficial catechins into astringent tannins. In part because of these catechins, like EGCG, green tea is antimicrobial, astringent, antioxidant, cancer fighting, and inflammation modulating. Not only does it contain less caffeine than black tea, green tea also has theanine, a relaxation-inducing compound that can help reduce anxiety.
Just three cups a day may be helpful for the prevention of cancer and atherosclerosis. Numerous studies have shown green tea to be useful for lowering cholesterol, especially LDL cholesterol. Additionally, when combined with sensible diet and exercise, green tea may help with weight loss, especially in people with increased belly fat. Green tea’s ability to help reduce glucose and insulin could explain why it helps induce belly fat loss, as insulin resistance and elevated glucose tend to encourage weight gain in that region of the body. Regular consumption of green tea is also thought to be one of the reasons why Asian women have a consistently lower rate of breast cancer. Furthermore, if you swish it around your mouth before swallowing, green tea can help stop gingivitis.
To prepare, you need only to steep your green tea for one minute to extract these incredible compounds, but feel free to steep it longer if you prefer a stronger, more bitter flavor. During these hot Arkansas summers, green tea also makes a refreshing iced tea that can help beat the heat. To give you another way to enjoy green tea this summer, our bulk herbs department has added a delicious raspberry flavored green tea.
If you wish to read Dr. Michael Greger’s other ideas on why there are lower rates of breast cancer in Asian demographics, check out his recent post.
Posted in Health, Herbs
Tagged antioxidant, blood pressure, camellia sinensis, cancer prevention, cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular health, cholesterol, cholesterol lowering, detoxification, health, heart health, high blood pressure, inflammation, insulin resistance, lowering cholesterol, nutrition, weight loss