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Detoxification is a broad concept that encompasses many different modalities and substances used in cleansing the body’s systems and organs. It is one of the oldest known practices of health promotion and has roots in some form or another in all ancient cultures.
Detoxification is not commonly used in conventional Western medicine but is a mainstay of naturopathic medicine and other traditional health practices such as Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, and Western herbal medicine.
Detoxification regimes primarily target heavy metals, chemical toxins, microbial compounds, and by-products of protein metabolism.
At this time, laboratory research documents some natural detoxification processes in the body and strategies for stimulating those processes, but there has been little clinical research on clinical outcomes of most detoxification regimes.
Proponents of detoxification believe the various approaches can cleanse the body, clear the skin, enhance the senses, improve weight loss, improve fertility, improve flexibility, increase vitamin and mineral absorption, reduce blood fat levels, rejuvenate, provide rest for organs, and slow the aging process.
Practitioners of natural medicine believe that the accumulation of toxins in the body is a major cause of disease, and that a growing burden of toxins ingested into the body from the air, water and food contributes to the growing prevalence of chronic and degenerative diseases. Conditions or processes attributed to the build-up of toxins include alopecia, anaemia, asthma, ataxia, bone disease, bronchitis, cancer, cognitive impairment, coronary artery disease, cyanosis, dental caries, dermatitis, emphysema, eye irritation, fever, fibrosis of lungs, gastroenteritis, hypertension, headaches, kidney disease, leukaemia, liver disease, melanosis, mesothelioma, myalgia, nasal irritation, premature aging, and visual reduction.
More than 80,000 new chemicals have been developed since World War II, according to the Children’s Environmental Health Centre at Mount Sinai. Even of the major chemicals, fewer than 20 percent have been tested for toxicity to children, the centre says. – The New York Times 6/12/09
Four main types of toxins are addressed by detoxification regimes:
- Heavy metals, including lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, nickel and aluminum.
- Chemical toxins, including toxic chemicals, solvents, cleaning materials, formaldehyde, toluene, benzene, drugs, alcohol, pesticides, herbicides, and food additives.
- Microbial compounds, including endotoxins, exotoxins, toxic amines, toxic derivatives of bile, and various carcinogenic substances.
- Breakdown products of protein metabolism, including ammonia and urea, most of which are eliminated by the kidneys.
Incomplete digestion is considered a major factor in a build-up of toxins in the body. Some traditions of natural medicine (e.g., naturopathy, Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, macrobiotics) recommend foods that are easily digested and less likely to leave behind undigested material that can contribute to the build-up of toxins in the colon.
Natural Standard Monograph (www.naturalstandard.com).
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- Murray, M. Dr. Murray’s Total Body Tune-Up. 2000.
- Pizzorno, J. and Murray, M. Textbook of Natural Medicine Churchill Livingston. 1999;2nd edition
- Jonas, W. and Levin, J. Essentials of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 1999
- Flora, S. J., Singh, S., and Tandon, S. K. Prevention of lead intoxication by vitamin-B complex. Z Gesamte Hyg 1984;30(7):409-411.
- Shakman, R. A. Nutritional influences on the toxicity of environmental pollutants: a review. Arch Env Health 1974;28:105-133.
- Flora, S. J. S., Jain, V. K., Behari, J. R., and Tandon, S. Protective role of trace metals in lead intoxication. Toxicol Lett 1982;13:51-56.
- Wisniewska-Knypl, J. M., Sokal, J. A., Klimczak, J., Dajniak, A., and Bogdanikowa, B. Protective effect of methionine against vinyl chloride-mediated depression of non-protein sulphydryls and cytochrome p-450. Toxicol Lett 1981;8(3):147-152.
- Barak, A. J., Beckenhauer, H. C., Junnila, M., and Tuma, D. J. Dietary betaine promotes generation of hepatic S-adenosylmethionine and protects the liver from ethanol-induced fatty infiltration. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 1993;17(3):552-555.
- Zeisel, S. H., Da Costa, K. A., Franklin, P. D., Alexander, E. A., Lamont, J. T., Sheard, N. F., and Beiser, A. Choline, an essential nutrient for humans. FASEB J 1991;5(7):2093-2098.
- Huseini, H. F., Alavian, S. M., Heshmat, R., Heydari, M. R., and Abolmaali, K. The efficacy of Liv-52 on liver cirrhotic patients: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled first approach. Phytomedicine 2005;12(9):619-624. View Abstract.