There is a growing awareness in medical science that environmental toxins are a major factor in many chronic diseases of our modern age. This may be particularly true for diseases that affect the nervous system and the immune system of children. We’ve known for many years that our environment is getting more toxic, but more recently we’ve become aware of the fact that certain individuals have a harder time clearing toxins. This may be especially true of children with neurodevelopmental problems.
Although detoxification is not addressed very often by mainstream medicine, there has been a large volume of research on the subject, and we’ve learned a lot about this vital process. We know, for example, that detoxification requires a good deal of energy. Unfortunately, the accumulation of toxins can damage the mitochondria that provide that energy for our cells, and this can initiate a downward cycle, so many individuals need assistance to support detoxification.
We often refer to the different phases of detoxification which can roughly be divided into four categories.
Phase 1 refers to our barrier function. This is the mechanism that protects us from absorption of ingested toxins. Our intestinal lining is designed to be selective – letting in nutrients and keeping out toxins and bacterial byproducts. The ‘leaky gut’ syndrome refers to damage to this barrier from drugs or infections or food sensitivities. Our immune system also plays a role in phase 1 with IgA antibodies that can disable toxins. In addition a sluggish intestine with slow transit will also allow more time for toxins to be absorbed.
Phase 2, the next line of defense, takes place in the liver. Substances absorbed from the intestines get filtered by the liver whose cells have special enzymes that can transform toxins into compounds (often water soluble) that are easier to eliminate. Phase 2 can be supported with nutritional supplements such as B vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and liver protecting agents such as silymarin.
In Detox Phase 3, toxins are bound or conjugated with particular compounds which further prepare them for excretion. These compounds include glycine, taurine, cysteine, sulfate and glutathione among others. These conjugated toxins are eliminated through the kidneys or sometimes the bowels. It is therefore also important that one avoid dehydration and constipation to assure that toxins are removed from the body.
Detox Phase 4 involves pH balance. It has been found that detoxification is enhanced by an alkaline environment, but many individuals are more acidic due to dietary habits and other environmental factors. A diet high in green vegetables and low in sugar, soda and fatty meat will help achieve alkalinity. Many herbal detox formulas are also alkalinizing.
There is one agent involved in detoxification that stands out because of its many essential functions: glutathione. Not only is it one of the main conjugating compounds that combines with toxins, but it is also a central antioxidant that is important in maintaining the effectiveness of nutrients such as vitamins C and E. Glutathione is involved in the healing of the intestinal lining (the ‘leaky gut’ mentioned before), and it’s an integral part of the methylation process which affects neurotransmitters, sensory processing and gene transcription. Research studies have demonstrated that people on the autistic spectrum often have problems with glutathione metabolism, and it’s been our experience that treating with glutathione can lead to significant improvement.
Detoxification is a complex, multifaceted process, but no healing program is complete without addressing this vital function.