By Sarah A LoBisco, ND

The recent incident in Japan is a tragedy that highlighted the powerful impact the environment can have on our health. Although the radiation effects are currently not at critical intervention points, the trauma and potential  for nuclear devastation can serve as a wake-up call to be proactive in protecting our bodies from more prominent, and perhaps more pressing, environmental concerns.  After all, if the body is already starting at a deficient state from the inconspicuous pollution and toxicity, it won’t be able to effectively cope with anything more extreme.

The fact is, we can’t get away from our toxic environment!  Approximately 100,000+ chemicals are used in commercial industry today with about 25,000 (25%) being reported as hazardous to human health. The CDC ‘s Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals of 2010 was a 529 page “summary” of how different aspects of environmental chemicals can harm us. The average volunteer of this study had over 200 chemicals, 75 of which had never been seen in prior studies, in their blood and urine samples!

Nasty chemicals and pollutants are prominent in the gas we pump, the carpet we walk on, the paint in our house, the apple we eat, and the “water” we drink. Therefore, even the most pure and obsessive can’t shelter themselves from exposure! It’s like a (bad) Friday the 13th movie; we never know what else is going to turn the corner and stab at our poor, little, innocent, livers who are just trying to clean out our blood! (A moment of silence to appreciate our livers everyone.  Sigh.J)

Without sufficient support for every day stressors (and a good remote control), how can we even hope to be at a state of optimal health (or optimal movie viewing) if some other huge environmental factor should hit? This isn’t meant to scare you; it’s more to empower you to take action. Preventative medicine and self-care are key concepts and powerful tools to build our bodies up for thriving versing being swept away in hopelessness and anxiety or trying to surround ourselves with a bubble. It makes sense for everyone’s sanity to protect ourselves by supporting our bodies from the inside out rather than panicking about every toxic potential in our environment.

The effects of toxicity can be insidious. As Dr. Lord explains, symptoms of exposure may not necessarily be linked directly to the disease state. This means someone could be treated for years with a drug when the real cause of the disease is a toxic issue manifested. A good example of this connection is blood lead levels and high blood pressure. Therefore, it’s a good idea for everyone to consider the effects of a cleansing protocol on their health regime.

The Institute for Functional Medicine released a webinar with Dr. Hyman discussing toxicity. In his excellent one and a half hour lecture, Dr. Hyman discussed how individual variations exist in detoxification ability. Specifically, the combination of genetics, environmental exposures, and current health status all contribute to one’s ability to rid the body of chemicals, toxins, heavy metals, medications, and more. We already discussed environmental exposures, some of which we have no control over. Now, let’s look at other issues regarding detoxification.

Genetic differences in enzyme detoxification pathways, including methylation and sulfation pathways, can cause some individuals to be more susceptible to environmental exposures than others. For example, someone who has a SNP, or single nucleotide polymorphism, in MTHFR (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase), MS (methionine synthase), COMT (catechol-O-methyltransferase), Methyl-transferases, STM1, GSTP1 (glutathione transferases), Apo E 4 (apolipoprotein E 4), and/or Impaired Metallothionein function can create imbalances in clearance and a retention in toxins. These SNPs are actually quite common in the general population and their lucky owners usually diagnosed with “psychosomatic illnesses.” The good news is that, with the new science of nutrigenomics, various nutrients in therapeutic doses can help to remedy the body’s slow detoxification capacity.

The health status and dietary intake of individuals affect the ability of the liver to clear out damaging environmental poisons. Specifically, deficiencies in certain nutrients can create a sluggish clearance or create excess free radical damage, harming various tissue structures. If the body is deprived of key amino acids and nutrients, toxins will not be able to be bound for removal through the digestive tract. Fasting can cause issues for this reason because amino acids are needed in the second phase of detoxification of the liver. Without adequate protein, the body experiences “detox symptoms” as toxins float happily through your bloodstream.

Other factors which influence detoxification include digestive health, medications, health history, immune status, and stress. This is why it’s important to get individualized attention when one is considering a detoxification protocol.  Consulting with someone who is knowledgeable about detoxification, chelation, and pathology is important in determining which detoxification or cleansing support to use and when.

The best idea would be to find a health care practitioner who can implement all the above detoxification factors with a supportive post detoxification program, in order to sustain the lifestyle modifications needed to keep one healthy. I have also found that neurotransmitter support or mind-body techniques are very helpful in implementing change and dealing with cravings.

The concerns I have over most detoxification protocols is that they typically don’t take into account one’s own unique biochemistry, health status, detoxification capability, and environmental exposure. I have seen when this type of individualized detoxification is implemented there is a better chance of lasting results. It is my passion and mission to empower everyone to not just fix symptoms, but to achieve long-term wellness.



Department of Health and Human Services. CDC’s Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. Accessed March 2010.

Baker, S. Canaries and Miners.

Rountree, R. Toxicity, and Biotransformation. Applying Functional Medicine in Clinical Practice. Portland, OR. September 29, 2010.

DFH Clinical Support Material. Detoxification for Physical and Spiritual Health. 2008.

Barrager, E. (presenter). Comprehensive Approaches to Managing Detoxification. Biogenesis. April 2011 Webinar.

StandardProcess Webinar. 21 Day Purification. December 2010.

Hyamn, M. Toxic Metals: An Underappreciated Cause of Mood Disorders. 16th International Symposium on Functional Medicine™. May 2009. Institute for Functional Medicine webinar.

Clinical Toxicity of Volatile Solvents – featuring Dr. Richard Lord. Metametrix Laboratory. Webinar. April 14, 2011.

Vupputuri, S. et al. Blood Lead Level Is Associated With Elevated Blood Pressure in Blacks (abstract). Hypertension. 2003;41:463. American Heart Association, Inc.