Should I Detox?

Should I Detox?

Fertilizer ApplicationAs I mentioned in a previous blog post, I attended the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE) in Houston, Texas hosted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This is my report on a session that I attended called Nutritional Approached to Detoxification: Separating Fact from Fiction

The Presenters were: Gerard Mullin, MD Associate Professor of Medicine; Director, Celiac Disease Clinic; Director, Integrative GI Nutrition, John’s Hopkins Hospital, and

Kathie Swift, MS, RD Center for Mind Body Medicine Kripalu

Dr. Mullin presented 10 families of toxins that accumulate in our bodies (bioaccumulate):

1.   Heavy metals e.g. lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium

2.   Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

3.   Phthalates/Plasticizers

4.   Phenolics e.g. BPA

5.   Organochloride Pesticides

6.   Organophosphate Pesticides

7.   Dioxins

8.   PCB’s

9.   PBDE’s

10.  PFC’s

Shockingly, 1 billion pounds per year of pesticides are used each year and only 0.1% of pesticides actually reach the pest they are intended for. Some of these chemicals make their way into our bodies.

Toxins store in our fat cells and in the fat of animals that we eat.The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did a survey called the National Human Adipose Tissue Survey where they analyzed fat tissue from cadavers and elective surgeries. Five of the most toxic chemicals were found in 100% of the samples. Nine more were found in 91-98 % of the samples.

Animal products provide sources of these toxins in our diets – 100% of beef is contaminated with DDT and 93% of processed cheese, hot dogs, bologna, turkey and ice cream.

It’s not only adults that have toxins. The Environmental Working Group ( found 287 toxins in umbilical cord blood of newborns.

Not everyone who has toxins in their body though will experience disease. This formula shows why.

Disease Risk = Toxic Potency x Cumulative Exposure x Susceptibility

Here are Dr. Mullen’s recommendations to Minimize Toxic Exposures:

  • Test your home for radon
  • Eat organic foods (especially foods on the ‘dirty dozen’)
  • Eat generous amounts of sea vegetables, green algae and/or spirulina
  • Minimize consumption of certain fish and shellfish
  • Mercury in large tuna, swordfish, shark, king mackerel, tilefish
  • PCB’s in farmed salmon and sport fish
  • Oysters “downstream” from wastewater
  • Drink alcohol in moderation
  • Don’t take acetaminophen for a hangover
  • Avoid polypharmacy
  • Avoid synthetic pesticides/herbicides
  • Avoid toxic cleaning agents, building materials and carpets
  • Don’t microwave plastics
  • Use BPA-free water bottles and canned foods

The Good News

Detoxification takes place in our bodies. This is a two-phase process involving enzymes. Our genetics and diet also play important roles by influencing levels of enzymes and therefore the rate at which we can detoxify our bodies.

Some People Retain More Toxins than Others, and Here’s Why

  • Increased exposure
  • Genetic differences in the detoxifying phase 1 and II enzymes
  • Nutrient deficiencies, specifically B6, Magnesium, selenium
  • Heavy metals
  • Intestinal overgrowth

General Recommendations to Optimize Detoxification

  • Macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein and fat)
  • Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals)
  • Antioxidants*
  • Phytonutrients (examples EGCG from green tea, Phenolics from berries,ellagic acid from berries, glucosinolates from the cabbage family, alliums from the onion family)

*In contrast to a session that I attended on Antioxidants which stated that research has not found evidence for benefits of antioxidants, this session was promoting antioxidants as important factors in detoxification and listed the ORAC values. Read my blog on the session entitled “Moving Beyond Antioxidants: Making Phytochemicals a Prescription of Health” – Read it here

In Case you think Dr. Mullen wants you to Get on a Popular Detox Program, he doesn’t and outlined his concerns with many of the popular ones.

Problems with Popular Detox Diets and Cleanses


  • Could lead to overproduction of toxic intermediates
  • Reduced intake of helpful antioxidants
  • Lack of fiber reduces helpful gut flora

Colon Cleanses

  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Nutrient deficiencies

Colon Irrigation

  • Sepsis
  • Intestinal perforation
  • Dehydration
  • Renal Failure
  • Pancreatitis

So What Should I Do Instead?

Instead of the popular and dangerous fads, Dr. Mullen recommends:

  • Increase your intake of nutrients that quench free radicals produced by phase I reactions, examples:
    • Vitamines C and E, Minerals zinc, copper, manganese, selenium
    • N-acetylcysteine, alpha lipoic acid
    • Polyphenols
    • Green tea extract, curcumin, milk thistle
  • Increase your intake of nutrients that support phase II pathway, examples:
    • Garlic and cruciferous vegetables
    • Amino acids
    • Phytonutrients

Kathie Swift, MS, RD Center for Mind Body Medicine Kripalu was the second speaker of the session. She noted the increase in sensitivity-related illnesses which is expressed as allergies, food intolerances and chemical sensitivities. These are the result of both genetic susceptibility and toxic burden. When the amount of toxins your body has accumulated goes beyond your body’s threshold you experience Toxicant Induced Loss of Tolerance (TILT).

The result is a myriad of health conditions involving a variety of organ systems. The good news is that sensitivity related illness will be improved if the underlying toxic burdens are identified and removed.

Detox Nutrition Principles follow the REBOOT strategy

Reduce toxic exposures

Eliminate offending food allergens

Boost fiber and fluids

Optimize dietary antioxidants

Optimize fuel sources

Tailor diet, supplements and supportive healing modalities

Some of the supportive healing modalities that Swift prescribes are exercise, sauna, yoga, QiGong, reiki but admits that detoxification practices are not standardized and not well studied as they lack peer-review, randomization, control groups, large sample size and good methodology.

However, as a registered dietitian Swift seems to be ahead of many of her peers in this field, this likely stems from her personal health struggles which she alluded to at the beginning of her presentation – living in the U.K. and suffering from a variety of healthy problems for which she received a variety of diagnoses, none of which appeared to help her.

She does give advice for nutrition professional who may pursue this field in their practice. It’s not an area I plan to move to, but I would certainly refer patients to Swift who had questions about toxic burden, as she did appear to be a responsible practitioner in this emerging field.

What Will I do With This Information?

When I had a private practice, I certainly saw people who I would say were likely experiencing a high toxic burden, as they were sensitive to multiple things in their diet and environment. While I didn’t have a name for it then, I do now and I know where to refer people. As a result of this session, I am aware of how to change my own habits to reduce my exposure and to make recommendations for others. If someone needed help with the toxic overload though, I would definitely refer them on, as I am not trained in the specific tests, interpretation and recommendations that are required to treat these unique conditions.

I did stay for the Q and A and asked Dr. Mullen about the contradiction between the session on Antioxidants that said there was no evidence of benefit from antioxidants in the diet on human health and his strong recommendations for antioxidants to quench free radicals produced by phase I detoxification reactions. He wasn’t aware of the European Food Safety Authority and their position on antioxidants. That’s leaves me with mixed messages about antioxidants. Something I hope to sort out in time. Read my blog posts called Latest News on Antioxidants here.

Do you have any thoughts on detox diets? Share them below.