In 2010 the President’s Cancer Panel reported to President Obama that the “true burden of environmentally-induced cancers has been grossly underestimated.” Exposure to environmental carcinogens (chemicals that can lead to the development of cancer) can occur in the workplace, in the home, through consumer products, medical treatments and lifestyle choices.
Most of us recognize that exposure to high levels of chemicals in occupational settings can cause cancer; however there’s growing evidence that exposure to lower levels of chemicals that we’re exposed to in our general environment is contributing to higher incidences of cancer.
Sources of contaminants include pesticides, industrial waste by-products, chemicals in consumer products like furniture, food packaging materials and cosmetics, as well as pollution. Unfortunately the cancer-causing potential of these chemicals in our environment is not being exhaustively tested so the cancer burden caused by these exposures may be even greater than we know.
There are hundreds of substances that have been definitively linked to cancer in people including arsenic, benzene, bisphenol A (BPA), dioxins and formaldehyde just to name a few. The Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org) is an excellent resource to find the results of the latest environmental health research, as well as informative consumer guides to help you reduce your exposure and make healthier choices.
But how do you know if you are toxic? Most people have symptoms of chronic toxicity even though they may not perceive themselves as having high toxin levels.
The more toxins, the more stress our liver endures. Every toxin in our body is taken to the liver to be cleaned and transformed so that it can be excreted from our body.
And one of the first signs of a congested or overworked liver is bowel problems. If constipation is an issue, or you’re having a bowel movement less than twice a day, this can keep extra toxins in your system. This happens because the colon reabsorbs toxins if bowel transit time is slowed and waste is sitting in your gut longer than it should be.
Other symptoms of toxicity include headaches, acne and other skin problems, poor tolerance to coffee or alcohol, brain fog, difficulty losing weight even with effort, pain in the lower right rib area, waking in the night between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., water retention, bad breath, PMS and puffy, dark circles under your eyes.
So why aren’t we all sick, given the incredible load of toxins we are exposed to? Well, it’s because each of us is genetically and biochemically unique. Some people have an innate ability to detoxify more effectively than others. The good news is that by learning how to support your detoxification system, everyone can take steps to improve their body’s detoxification ability and, in turn, reduce their risk of cancer.
One other important function of the liver that should be mentioned, in addition to its importance in detoxification, is its role in our immune system. It is the source of many immune cells that make up our innate immune system, which is our first line of defence against invading pathogens and metastatic cells – a key factor in cancer development.
Now, when you hear the word “detox” you may think drug or alcohol detox or wheatgrass enemas. That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about the science of how our bodies get rid of waste and how to take everyday steps to enhance our bodies’ capacity to get rid of waste while minimizing our exposure to toxins.
You can take practical steps to improve your body’s detoxification ability
Reduce toxin exposure by eating organic foods (refer to EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” list for the foods that should be a top priority to buy organic). I recommend patients start every morning with a glass of warm water with a half of lemon squeezed into the water, along with eating some animal fat (especially grass-fed butter or ghee) and greens (such as dandelion greens or other bitter greens) at every meal. Greens stimulate the detoxification in the liver and fats are used by the liver to help make the enzymes that do this detoxification work.
Drink plenty of clean, filtered water. Keep your bowels moving, at least once or twice daily. Consider taking two tablespoons of ground flax seeds and/or four to eight prunes each day if you suffer from constipation.
Sweat at least three times a week through exercise, infrared sauna or Epsom salt baths.
Whenever possible, avoid stimulants, sedatives and drugs such as caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.
Topical use of castor oil can be used therapeutically. Given under a hot water bottle or heating pad applied to the liver area for 40 minutes to two hours, three to seven times per week, the castor oil stimulates detoxification and supports liver function.
Consider consulting a licensed naturopathic doctor or herbalist to help you find the best combination of herbs to support detoxification for your body. The best well-studied herbs for liver detoxification include milk thistle and schisandra.
Supplements such as N-acetyl cysteine, alpha lipoic acid, vitamin B12, folate and glycine can be used to help support the production of glutathione in the body. Glutathione may be the most important antioxidant for prevention of disease. It acts like fly paper in the sense that “bad things” such as free radicals and toxins stick on to it to help these substances be detoxified and excreted from the body.
These recommendations will help you begin to start correcting problems caused by toxicity, maximize your body’s own detoxification capacity, help you safely eliminate stored toxins and, as a result, reduce your risk of cancer and other illnesses.
Depending on your symptoms, genetic predispositions and environmental exposures, you may need different levels of nutrients and types of treatment. Getting rid of toxins and learning how to support your detoxification system is essential for optimal wellness.
Please note that it’s essential to establish a healthy lifestyle and dietary habits first so that you have a reserve that your body can draw on to allow your liver to do its job properly. Otherwise you can easily overwhelm your liver’s ability to process the toxins that are being eliminated, which may worsen symptoms. Therefore, especially if you are already sick, it’s important to consult a qualified health professional to assist you in this process.
Candice Esposito is a licensed naturopathic doctor dedicated to helping people identify and address the root causes of chronic illness. She has a private practice, Algoma Natural Healing Clinic, in Sault Ste. Marie. Find out more about a natural approach to health at www.natural-healing-clinic.com.