Detoxification: Is it Important?


by Filomena Trindade, MD, MPH

We live in a toxic world. Toxins are everywhere and affect every aspect of our health. Thus, the question we should all be asking is not ARE we toxic, but rather HOW toxic are we?  
The increasing rates of insulin resistance, diabetes, cancer, hormonal problems and obesity in the United States in large part is due to toxins.  This link has been studied by several researches and several studies explain the mechanisms (1, 2, 3, 4,10,12, 13). Many of these toxins are environmental xenobiotics or “endocrine disruptors” or toxins that act like hormones and which modify intercellular communication and function.  

Chemicals commonly detected in people including DDT, Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB's), Bisphenol A, Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDE's) produce a higher ratio of the 4 and 16 hydroxylated estrogen derivatives.  These are potentially more genotoxic by modifying members of the CYP450 enzyme family and thus contributing to hormonal dysfunction and cancer. Changes in DNA methylation (epigenetic modification) which can ultimately change estrogen receptor activity are thought to also play a role in cancer, obesity, and insulin resistance.  Low level arsenic exposure has also been reported to be associated with insulin resistance and diabetes (5). Exposure to heavy metal toxicants is almost unavoidable in today’s world. We are routinely exposed to heavy metal toxins through food, ground water, industrial waste and exposure to industrial environments. Heavy metals affect all our organ systems but particularly the cardiovascular and nervous systems (6,7).

The increasing rates of allergies, asthma, fibromyalgia, multiple chemical sensitivities, and neurological conditions—particularly movement disorders and tremors have also been linked to toxins (8,11, 13). This is in large part due to the effect of toxins on our mitochondria. The problem becomes even more daunting when you consider the exposure to toxins is happening before we are born. In a study spearheaded by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in collaboration with Commonweal, researchers at two major laboratories found an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in umbilical cord blood from 10 babies born in August and September of 2004 in U.S. hospitals (9). Tests revealed a total of 287 chemicals in the group. The umbilical cord blood of these 10 children, collected by Red Cross after the cord was cut, harbored pesticides, consumer product ingredients, and wastes from burning coal, gasoline, and garbage.  

This study represents the first reported cord blood tests for 261 of the targeted chemicals and the first reported detections in cord blood for 209 compounds. Among them are eight perfluorochemicals used as stain and oil repellents in fast food packaging, clothes and textiles (including the Teflon chemical PFOA, characterized as a likely human carcinogen by the EPA's Science Advisory Board) dozens of widely used brominated flame retardants and their toxic by-products; and numerous pesticides.

Of the 287 chemicals detected in umbilical cord blood, we know that 180 cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests. The dangers of pre- or post-natal exposure to this complex mixture of carcinogens, developmental toxins and neurotoxins have never been studied.

So, how do we know if toxins are responsible for the problems we are seeing? What signs do we look for?  What can we do about it? First, let’s review the signs of potential toxicity. Then we will go over a practical approach.    

Common symptoms indicating excessive toxins:

  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Cognitive problems
  • Brain fog
  • Memory problems
  • Neurological issues
  • Balance problems
  • Tremors
  • Muscle aches/achiness
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Skin conditions
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Chemical sensitivities

We must assume we are all toxic to some degree and tailor a detoxification program that can be incorporated into our daily routine. This means looking at our genetic predispositions if possible, our family history and our exposures throughout our personal history.  If we are not able to do genetic testing then we must implement a detoxification program that encompasses the most common genetic single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). We need to be aware of our exposures and how to minimize them. Starting with our exposure to household cleaners, detergents, fabric softeners, personal care items including make-up, shampoos, creams and lotions.

For every synthetic, toxic cleaning supply there are more green alternatives including essential oils, vinegar and baking soda. Green alternatives can be found at several websites (14, 16, 17).  Look for natural alternatives to chemical weed and bug killers and take preventative measures such as mulching for weeds and using traps, barriers, fabric row covers, or plant-based repellents to get rid of pests. Limiting our exposure to processed and genetically engineered foods, high fructose corn syrup, pesticide laden fruits, vegetables and meats where the animal was treated un-humanely and with antibiotics and/or hormones. Limiting our exposure to plastics, especially the contact with our food and water is essential. We need to increase our consumption of cold water fish, free range meats, organic fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds. Next, include a targeted personalized detoxification based on each individual’s unique gene-environment interaction that begins with the food we eat and the water we drink. Particularly we want to eat organic whenever possible and nutrient dense food with a high antioxidant load (15). Then add known ingredients/supplements/nutrients into our diet that help us eliminate toxins. Lastly, we implement lifestyle changes that help us not only detoxify - like exercise, massage, far infrared sauna - but also decrease our exposure to the stress chemicals our bodies produce.  We include supplements known to affect both phase 1 (oxidation) and phase 2 (conjugation) detoxification in the liver (18,19,20).

In summary, being aware of the effects of toxins on our physiology, identifying our sources and removing them as much as possible is a great way to start reducing our toxin load.  Next, we add clean, wholesome detoxifying foods to our diet that will improve detoxification and biotransformation. This is further augmented with personalized specific nutrients knows to aid in liver detoxification. Lastly, we implement lifestyle modifications that will not only help us detoxify but also help us process our stress hormones in order to further decrease our total body load.


1.  1. Latini et al., Mini-Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry, 2010, 10, 846-855.
2.  Soto, A. M. & Sonnenschein, C. Nat. Rev. Endocrinol. 6, 363–370 (2010).
3.  Alonso-Magdalena et al. Endocrine disruptors in the etiology of type 2      diabetes mellitus Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2011 Jun;7(6):346-53.
4.   Environmental Health Perspectives VOLUME 114 | NUMBER 11 | November 2006
5.  Navas-Acien A, Silbergeld EK, Pastor-Barriuso R, Guallar E. Arsenic exposure and prevalence of type 2 diabetes in US adults. JAMA 2008; 300: 814-22.
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10.  Acquavella J, et al.  A case-control study of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and exposure to pesticides. Cancer. 1999;85:1353-1360.
11.  Wang A, Costello S, Cockburn M, Zhang X, Bronstein J, Ritz B. Parkinson's disease risk from ambient exposure to pesticides.  Eur J Epidemiol. 2011 Apr 20.
12.  Havas, M. Electromagn Biol Med. 2008;27(2):135-46 .
13.  Havas, M.  Electromagnetic hypersensitivity: biological effects of dirty electricity with emphasis on diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Electromagn Biol Med. 2006;25(4):259-68.
18.  Brown MD. Green tea (Camellia sinensis) extract and its possible role in the prevention of cancer. Altern Med Rev. 1999 Oct;4(5):360-70.
19.  Andrews GK. Regulation of metallothionein gene expression by oxidative stress and metal ions. BiochemPharmacol 2000;59(1):95-104.
20.  Lichtlen et al.. Bioessays. 2001;23(11):1010-7.
18.  Brown MD. Green tea (Camellia sinensis) extract and its possible role in the prevention of cancer. Altern Med Rev. 1999 Oct;4(5):360-70.
19.  Andrews GK. Regulation of metallothionein gene expression by oxidative stress and metal ions. BiochemPharmacol 2000;59(1):95-104.
20.  Lichtlen et al.. Bioessays. 2001;23(11):1010-7.

Dr. Trindadeis a teacher, author, and international sought after lecturer in functional medicine. She is a graduate of the fellowship in Anti-Aging, Regenerative and Functional Medicine and teaches in the Fellowship which is also a master’s program. In addition she is faculty at the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM). After obtaining her BA degree in Biology she went on to finish a master’s in Public Health in the area of environmental health and epidemiology before starting medical school. She graduated first in her class in family practice from the University of California Davis School of Medicine and did her residency training in family practice at the U.C. San Francisco/Santa Rosa Program. She has been in clinical practice for over 22 years. Before starting her own private practice in 2004 in functional medicine she was the medical director of a non-profit organization that catered to the underserved. Her work has been published in Townsend Letter, Guide to Anti-Aging & Regenerative Medicine, Saúde Actual, and the Border Health Journal. She is currently very active in developing teaching programs in Functional Medicine in the USA, Latin America and Europe. To learn more about working with Dr. Trindade, please visit her website