Detoxification: Mainstream Medicine's Blind Spot
Slow Response of Conventional Medicine?
Although the toxins in our environment present a well-documented threat to global health, mainstream medicine has been slow to respond to the ways in which these insidious contaminants can lead to disease. And although many natural supplements made with herbs, nutrients and botanicals can be used safely to help the body cope with these poisons, most conventional doctors merely identify their patients’ symptoms and prescribe a host of pharmaceutical drugs formulated to treat just that: symptoms. The problem, however, is that this too-common approach to medicine overlooks the pollutants and poor lifestyle habits that are the root cause of numerous health problems. Recently even the editor of the British Medical Journal has admitted that, “… many doctors' knowledge of nutrition is rudimentary. Most feel much more comfortable with drugs than foods…”
In 1989, Stephen DeFelice, MD, coined the term “nutraceutical” to create a “…category, primarily for foods and dietary supplements, with clear ground rules for making disease and other health claims based on clinical data.” He defined the term as “any substance that is a food or a part of a food and provides medical or health benefits, including the prevention and treatment of disease.” One main use for nutraceuticals is to help the body eliminate toxins that might otherwise result in illness; the body needs assistance in coping with the byproducts of our industrial age.
The fact that many toxic compounds are present in very tiny amounts in our food, water and air is one reason many medical professionals can’t comprehend or believe the impact they have on the health of our bodies. But even at very small concentrations, these substances can have serious consequences as they accumulate in our organs and tissues. When scientists at the University of Florida at Gainesville reviewed how toxins can affect our chances of becoming sick, they found that a wide range of substances we encounter every day can alter the body’s inner chemistry in harmful ways. As they point out, “Pharmaceuticals, pesticides, air pollutants, industrial chemicals, heavy metals, hormones, nutrition, and behavior can change gene expression through a broad array of gene regulatory mechanisms.”
In their view, one of the biggest threats of our industrial age is the creation of toxins that can inhibit the way our genes function. In other words, the genetic material all of us inherit from our parents can make us more susceptible to certain diseases, but it may be the absorption of particular toxins from the environment that finally results in “… serious and complex … diseases, including cancer, diabetes and obesity, infertility, respiratory diseases, allergies, and neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.”
The researchers at UF strongly recommend that society come to terms with pollution and eliminate it in order to create “…dramatic improvements in human health.” In the interim, your best hope is to avoid these toxins whenever possible and support your body’s natural detoxification processes to reduce your chances of being an environmental victim.
Even Bats Do It
Even if most doctors don’t yet grasp the importance of detoxification for preventive health, its benefits have been recognized for thousands of years. Just as Hippocrates, the grandfather of modern medicine, advocated 2,500 years ago, “Let food be your medicine,” most alternative health practitioners, including herbalists and traditional naturopaths, understand that the human body devotes a good deal of its resources to the removal of toxins. Further, it has been long known that a wide range of herbs, nutrients and botanicals can help the body eliminate harmful poisons. Certain animals seem to understand intuitively the concept of natural detoxification, and zoologists are finding that some species frequently consume substances to help their bodies purge harmful toxins. For example, researchers in Ecuador discovered that fruit-eating bats visit mineral licks every night to consume a combination of clay and water in order to help them flush out the plant chemicals they consume. The study showed that pregnant and young bats are particularly susceptible to harm from some of the compounds in their mainly fruit diet, but the minerals at the mineral lick help them eliminate these irritants. Incidentally, people living in the same area use the mineral licks for a similar purpose.
If you don’t happen to have a mineral lick nearby, you can still employ minerals (as well as herbs) by using natural detoxification supplements to help your body rid itself of undesirable substances. Magnesium hydroxide, for example, is a mineral included in many herbal-cleansing formulas to help hydrate the bowel. When taken in combination with herbs such as slippery elm and marshmallow, it can help strengthen the intestinal walls and prevent toxins from passing into the bloodstream and entering the cells of the colon. The most effective natural detoxification formulas often combine different botanicals and nutrients designed for both morning and evening use in order to provide a full spectrum of cleansing benefits. Morning herbs may include turmeric (for its natural antioxidant properties), milk thistle (shown to support healthy liver function) and dandelion (to promote kidney health). An evening supplement may include cape aloe and rhubarb root, both of which have been shown to support efficient bowel function. In studies rhubarb has also shown potential for lowering the risk of developing cancer. Used traditionally in China for its remarkable healing benefits, new research shows that it may also help destroy cancer cells. Ginger may also be used to improve digestion, and enzymes such as cellulase help the digestive tract better utilize whole herbs by breaking down their cellular structure.
Working Out Toxins
An optimal detoxification plan should include a consistent exercise program. Exercise stimulates digestion by helping to move food through the intestines. This, in turn, helps to accelerate the elimination of waste and toxins. The sweat that is released during a workout also helps to transport toxins out of the body. Furthermore, researchers believe that exercise lessens your risk of developing cancer by stimulating the liver’s detoxification mechanism and boosting the body’s production of detoxifying enzymes that protect against tumors. Exercise may also encourage the body to create antioxidant-rich enzymes that help repair DNA and proteins in the cells.
Even though today’s world is filled with toxins, a detoxification program gives you the power to fight back. When you embrace the power of nutraceuticals for preventive health, you embrace a healing tradition as ancient and as established as medicine itself.
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