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Who looks outward dreams; who looks inward, wakes.

Why Detoxify?

May 10, 2013 by Dr Karen Hack

The concepts of internal cleansing and detoxifying have been integral to naturopathic philosophy since the beginning of our profession over a century ago. The problem of “toxicity” has grown over the years as the number and quantity of exogenous toxins (originating from outside the body) in the air, water, and food have increased. Exogenous toxins are predominantly artificial substances made by humankind, and consist of; prescription drugs, pesticides, food additives, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), cleaning materials, and heavy metals. Though it is beyond the scope of this newsletter to examine the various types of exogenous toxins, I would like to touch upon a few; heavy metals, and food additives.

Heavy Metals

The heavy metals most commonly associated with toxic illness include: lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, nickel, and aluminum. These metals tend to accumulate within the brain, kidneys, and immune system where they can severely disrupt normal function. It is conservatively estimated that up to 25% of the North American population suffer to some extent from heavy metal poisoning.
Most of the heavy metals in the body are a result of environmental contamination due to industry. For example, in the United States alone, industrial sources contribute more than 600, 000 tons/year of lead into the atmosphere to be inhaled or – after being deposited on food crops, in fresh water, and soil – to be ingested. Hair mineral analysis is a good screening test for heavy metal toxicity.

Food Additives

Food additives are not inherent or natural, but instead are substances added to food. In the United States, nearly 4000 additives are allowed in foods (fortunately, not quite as many food additives have been legalized in most other countries) and are commonly divided into the following categories:

  • Preservatives (BHT, BHA, benzoate, sulfite, nitrogen oxide, etc.)
  • Food colorings (FD & C yellow #5, 6, etc.)
  • Sweeteners (aspartame, sorbitol, etc.)
  • Stimulants (caffeine, theophylline, etc.)
  • Flavor enhancers (monosodium glutamate, more commonly known as MSG)
  • Thickeners (carageenan, etc.)

Though researchers have tried to link certain food additives to various health complaints, much more research is required to fully understand their long term effect on health. It’s unfortunate that more research was not completed before their addition to foods consumed by the general public!

In addition to external toxins, toxins may be produced internally as well, and are then called endogenous toxins. Though it may seem strange, in many ways, toxins generated within the body may be as harmful as toxins from the environment. Endogenous toxins are often the result of an imbalance in metabolism or an imbalance in gastrointestinal flora (ie the population of bacteria that live inside our intestines).

The body eliminates toxins either by directly neutralizing them or by excreting them in the urine, feces, and to a lesser extent from the mucous membranes, lungs, and skin. Toxins that the body is unable to eliminate, build up in the tissues, typically in the fat stores and bone.

Toxins damage the body in an insidious and cumulative way. Once the detoxification system becomes overloaded, toxic metabolites accumulate, and sensitivity to other chemicals, some of which are not normally toxic becomes progressively greater. This accumulation of toxins can cause a lot of problems for normal metabolic processes, eventually leading to “pathologies” as defined by conventional medicine.

How Can Your Naturopath Help?

Over many years of clinical practice, naturopathic practitioners have devised many effective ways to support and stimulate detoxification within the body. Here are just a few things your naturopath considers when putting together your detox protocol:

Vitamins and Minerals

Nutritional factors, such as vitamins B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), B12 (cobalamin), and folic acid, are supplemented in certain cases, as they are necessary to support specific aspects of detoxification within the liver. The amino acid glutathione, as well as leucine, glycine, isoleucine, and valine, are also required by the liver for detoxification, and are recommended for certain people.


Antioxidant support is required to handle the reactive oxygen intermediates (called free radicals) which are produced by the liver during the first phase of its detoxification system. A variety of antioxidants can be used, depending upon the person, such as; carotenoids, including beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A), ascorbic acid (vitamin C), the tocopherols (vitamin E), and coenzyme Q-10 (ubiquinone). The antioxidant minerals selenium, zinc, copper, and manganese may also be required. Thiol compounds found in garlic, onions, and brassica family vegetables (brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, rutabaga, and turnips) provide antioxidant support as well as help to stimulate the first phase of liver detoxification and certain aspects of its second phase.

Lipotrophic Agents

Choline, betaine, methionine, vitamin B6, folic acid, and vitamin B12, are useful as they promote the flow of fat and bile to and from the liver. Lipotrophic formulas also appear to increase the levels of SAM and glutathione. Needless to say, when all of these nutrients are taken into account, one can understand why a particular diet is a very important part of the detoxification process.


Certain herbs are also extremely useful in stimulating and maintaining an effective detoxification. These herbs include; Silybum marianum (milk thistle), Cynara scolymus (globe artichoke), Taraxacum officinale (dandelion), Hydrastis Canadensis (goldenseal) and other berberine-containing botanicals, Curcumin longa (curcumin), the compound that gives tumeric its yellow colour, as well as many others.

Your Detox Protocol

Designing a detoxification protocol is a complicated process, where an individual’s symptoms, health history, and particular goals must be taken into account. If you are interested in going through a detoxification process sometime this summer, please set up an appointment with Dr Karen Hack, via our online booking programme, or by emailing her at karen@headtotoehealth.ca.