We live in a far more toxic world than any generation of human beings that have lived before us. There are nearly 7 billion people on earth with big nations like China, India and the USA being big polluters. There have been 85,000 new toxic chemicals created since WW2 and over a billion pounds of pesticides are sprayed on crops each year in the US alone. Researchers have found traces of numerous chemicals in the umbilical cords of new born children, in breast milk, and in fat cells of adults. We put chemicals on our skin each day in the form of personal care products and make up, we live in cities with air pollution, we eat foods sprayed with chemicals (a field of wheat can be sprayed 8 times from sowing to harvesting), plus we are still exposed to many other chemicals and toxins such as cigarette smoke and excess alcohol. The reports from the Proceedings of the Summit on Environmental Challenges to Reproductive Health and Fertility in 2008 state:
…Humans are exposed to a daily mixture of environmental pollutants including: pesticides and herbicides, volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, air contaminants, persistent organic pollutants, DDT and DDE. Many of these compounds alter oestrogen, androgen and thyroid hormone signalling and activity. This has caused male testosterone levels to fall on average 1% every year for the last 50 years and a decline in the age of breast development and menstruation in girls over the last 30 years…
These chemicals are clearly having an effect on our physiology, but they also have to be detoxified by our liver and kidneys and eliminated in the stool, urine and sweat. In the liver cells there are a subset of enzymatic reactions that detoxify these chemicals (including medical drugs, alcohol, caffeine etc…) known as the phase 1 or the P450 pathway and the phase 2 pathways.
The phase 1 pathway is a set of 100 or so enzymes that reside inside the liver cells, the expression of these enzymes is genetically determined. As blood is filtered through the liver cells these enzymes chemically transform compounds to a less toxic form, making them water-soluble, or converting them into a more toxic form. Making a toxin water-soluble allows it to be directly excreted by the kidneys, whereas the more toxic compounds are ready to be processed by the phase 2 enzymes.
Phase 1 enzymes require B1, B3, vitamin C, copper, magnesium, zinc and selenium as well as indoles from the brassica family of vegetables and D-limonene from citrus fruits to act as co-factors. For each molecule of a toxin metabolised it produces a free radical, thus there is a great demand for antioxidants as a by-product of phase 1 detoxification. The main antioxidant required for phase 1 detoxification is glutathione, which itself requires support from selenium and vitamin E.
The metabolites from phase 1 are then shunted through the 6 different pathways of phase 2 detoxification. Each phase 2 pathway works best at detoxifying certain chemicals, but there is considerable overlap in activity among the enzymes. During phase 2, toxins are attached or conjugated to certain nutrients and amino acids thus enabling the liver to turn drugs, hormones and various toxins into substances that can be excreted.
The phase 2 pathways are:
1. Glutathione conjugation that requires cysteine, glycine and glutamic acid.
2. Amino acid conjugation requires mainly glycine.
3. Sulphation which requires sulphur.
4. Glucuronidation requires glucuronic acid.
5. Methylation that requires B vitamins.
Each pathway needs amino acids and a host of vitamins and minerals to detoxify chemicals, after which the processed toxins are excreted in the bile and through the gut.
Beyond the obvious such as reducing alcohol and stopping smoking, here are 3 things you can do to reduce your exposure to toxins and increase the liver’s ability to detoxify them:
Filter your water
Traces of the pill and Prozac have been found in municipal water supplies, then there are traces of heavy metals and pesticides that you don’t want to be consuming. If you can afford to have a water filtration unit plumbed in to your house – great. If not at least get a Britta water filter for all your cooking and drinking water and perhaps a shower filter for showering.
Eat organic food
You can’t definitely be sure that organic food will provide more nutrients to help your liver detoxify compared to conventionally farmed foods. What you can be sure of though is that you won’t be getting the chemical cocktail of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides from these foods. By eating organic you will be doing your liver a big favour. If you buy organic meat you will also be avoiding foods with traces of antibiotics and hormones that could possibly affect your health. The Environmental Working Group found that the following 12 fruits and vegetables were the most contaminated with pesticide residues:
- Sweet bell peppers
Make sure you buy these foods organic if you are trying to make better food choices and I also recommend you buy organic coffee, milk, poultry and other meats as well. The Environmental Working Group also found that the following 12 foods were the least contaminated with pesticides:
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas
Of these “cleaner foods” onions, avocado and sweet corn had almost no detectable levels of pesticides and would be safe to buy non-organic. These foods will help provide the host of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants your liver needs for phase 1 and 2 pathways of detoxification.
Personal care products
Read the labels on your personal care products, anything with the word or pre-fix paraben is bad news, switch to paraben free products. Also switch to roll on deodorants instead of the aluminium laden spay on types, switch to natural brands of health care products and make up such as creams, moisturisers and shampoo. Seek out toxin free personal care products by visiting skin deep at www.ewg.org where the Environmental Working Group have analysed 1000’s of products for their toxicity level.