Supplements: friend or foe? Take a look at the ones that will actually support your health
Even just a few years ago most people thought of a detox as a simple liver cleanse — but detoxing has got a whole lot more complicated and scientific in recent years. The following guide will help you to determine which detox supplements will be the most effective in helping you achieve vibrant health.
Your body has a three-phase defence against toxins and a breakdown in even one will allow toxins to begin affecting your health. Although you may think of a detox as a once-a-year process, in reality it’s actually occurring 24/7.
Your body has a three-phase defence against toxins and a breakdown in even one will allow toxins to begin affecting your health.
Detoxification requires energy and lots of it but even a slight increase in toxins drains your body’s ability to create sufficient energy, rendering the cells in your body less efficient and capable of detoxification. The end result can be a spiral of increasing toxins and decreasing energy to deal with them.
Sometimes the only way to get off this vicious spiral is by actively supporting all three phases of detoxification with the right supplements for each phase.
Detox Phase 1: Digestion
Keeping toxins from food, water, yeasts, bacteria and waste products from being absorbed into your body from your digestive tract is the very first phase of detoxification. This first phase can fail if there is an overgrowth of “bad” bacteria, yeasts or other parasites in the digestive tract producing toxic chemicals. Constipation due to sluggish digestion, insufficient fibre or an inability of the intestine to contract efficiently in order to push wastes out can also increase the toxins leaking into the body from the digestive tract.
Cleansing and detoxifying the digestive system is one of the most important naturopathic principles. It also features highly in other traditional forms of healing such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Modern science has only recently caught up as scientists begin to understand the pivotal role that gut health plays in detoxification and immune health.
The types of bacteria, parasites and yeasts that inhabit your digestive tract can literally make or break your health.
The types of bacteria, parasites and yeasts that inhabit your digestive tract can literally make or break your health. Good bacteria assist detoxification, function as the right arm of your immune system and even generate essential vitamins. Bad bacteria and yeasts such as candida, on the other hand, create a range of toxic and noxious chemicals that continually bombard your hard-working liver. There is no point detoxing your liver until you clear out these nasty parasites for good.
Many detox products designed to cleanse the gut contain mostly laxative herbs and other purgative ingredients such as magnesium sulphate (also known as Epsom salts). However, if you’re taking the contraceptive pill or medications for reflux, drink chlorinated water, coffee, alcohol or have ever taken antibiotics or steroid medications, chances are you have got an entrenched overgrowth of bad bugs residing in your gut, a condition known as dysbiosis.
Laxatives, while important for clearing out the piping, will do little to correct this. The following supplements can be used to kill off overgrowths of bad bacteria, candida and other intestinal parasites:
Caprylic acid is a fatty acid that occurs naturally in both breast milk and coconut oil. It is a strong antifungal used to eliminate candida and yeast overgrowth. It also has some antibacterial and anti-viral properties. A dose of 300—600mg twice daily is recommended for an effective digestive detox.
Colostrum is the very first breast milk rich in immune factors that nourish beneficial bacteria, enhance the immune and detox systems in the digestive tract and bind with toxins so that they cannot be absorbed. Supplemental colostrum comes from cows. While it’s not a cheap supplement, if your gut is particularly toxic it is recommended to take at the start of your detox as it will prevent toxins from dying yeasts, bacteria and parasites being absorbed and making you sick.
Probiotics or good bacteria are also known as acidophilus and bifidus. There are many different and specific strains but in general they help to ensure a healthy functioning digestive, immune and detox system. Look for a supplement that contains at least six to eight different strains. Probiotics are best taken first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. Saccharomyces boulardii is a therapeutic strain of yeast that helps boost the immune system in the digestive tract as well as eliminating candida and a range of “bad” bacteria. It is often found combined with acidophilus and bifidus bacteria.
Phase 2 Detoxification: Liver
During this phase of detoxification, toxins are moved from your digestive tract or your cells to your liver for processing. Once in the liver, many toxins are made water soluble so that they can be eliminated in your urine via your kidneys. Other toxins are sent back to the digestive tract along with bile from your gall bladder to be eliminated in your faeces. If you are constipated or have sluggish digestion, these toxins can be reabsorbed.
During this conversion process, many chemicals and poisons can become much more toxic and dangerous for a short period of time, making it crucial to support your liver from toxic overload. One of the best ways of supporting your liver is with extra B vitamins, antioxidants and amino acids. The following supplements should be included as part of your liver protection and support:
Taurine, glycine and N-acteyl cysteine (NAC) attach themselves to toxins, making them less dangerous and allowing them to be safely eliminated from your body. Without these essential nutrients, the toxins are stuck in your body and usually stored away in fat cells where they can do less damage. Taurine is particularly useful for vegetarians and vegans, dairy allergy, gall bladder disease and detoxifying the synthetic oestrogens found in the contraceptive pill and HRT. Glycine is helpful for chemical sensitivity, salicylate sensitivity and gout. NAC is indicated for chronic fatigue, heavy metals, chemical sensitivity and for smokers; it also helps to increase glutathione levels in the liver.
While many commercially available liver tonic formulations contain one or more of these amino acids, for best results they should be taken in a small amount of juice away from food. They are available individually as powders from most health-food stores or a compounding pharmacist can combine them as a powder or capsule. The recommended dose of taurine is 100—200mg twice daily; of glycine, 1.5—2.5 grams twice daily; and NAC, 100—250mg twice daily.
Glutathione is essential for detoxification and for good health. It is one of your body’s most potent antioxidants and protects and prolongs the effects of other antioxidants such as vitamins C and E. Without sufficient glutathione, detoxification of heavy metals such as mercury, copper, lead and arsenic grinds to a halt, allowing them to build up in your body.
It is also required for the detoxification of many drugs, chemicals and carcinogens as well as regulating your immune system and the repair of DNA. Your body can make it from three specific amino acids: cysteine, glutamic acid and glycine. If your dietary intake of the amino acid building blocks for glutathione is low or your exposure to chemicals and toxins that require glutathione to be detoxified is high or ongoing, your cells and your liver will not be able to produce sufficient amounts to maintain health and detoxification.
Low glutathione can lead to a buildup of toxins in your body, affecting your nervous system, immune system and energy production and increasing allergies and the risk of auto-immune disease. When glutathione is low, your cells die at a faster rate and the ageing process is accelerated. Increasing glutathione in your body not only helps with detoxification, it can also help put the brakes on ageing — yet it is not as simple as popping a pill.
Glutathione in supplements is poorly absorbed and does little to increase blood levels of glutathione. Instead, an effective way to boost glutathione is to supplement with the amino acids your body uses to build it.
Cysteine is particularly difficult to obtain from diet alone. Cysteine is found in beef, chicken, eggs, liver and sardines. The most effective supplemental form of cysteine for boosting glutathione is N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) taken along with 500mg of vitamin C and vitamin B6. Glutathione can also be given as an injection by a holistic medical doctor.
If you are suffering from a chronic disease or have high levels of heavy metals, it is probably best to work with a holistic doctor who can monitor your glutathione levels. Contact the Australian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine (www.acnem.org) for a list of doctors in Australia and New Zealand who offer glutathione injections. Regular use of paracetamol, cigarette smoke and alcohol can significantly deplete glutathione.
B6, B12 and folic acid
Methyl B12, pyridoxal-5-phosphate and folinic acid are the active forms of vitamins B12 and B6 and folic acid. Regular B12, B6 and folic acid are biologically inactive and must be converted into their active forms before you body can utilise them. All three are needed for a detox pathway known as methylation. Current research links poor methylation to an increased risk of depression, cardiovascular disease, cervical dysplasia, neural tube defects and faulty DNA repair. A simple blood test for elevated homocysteine can help identify if this pathway is not working properly. If you have high homocysteine levels or a strong family history of these conditions, it may be prudent to take a daily supplement of these nutrients to support methylation detox.
Antioxidants help to mop up the free radical damage caused by toxins. They also help protect your liver from being destroyed as it transforms toxins and prepares them for elimination. Some of the most notable detox-friendly antioxidants include selenium and vitamin C, both co-factors for the production of glutathione, zinc and high doses of lipoic acid which assists detox pathways in the liver that renders toxins harmless in preparation for excretion.
Vitamin C: 500mg two to three times daily
Zinc: 5—15mg taken at night before bed
Lipoic acid: 200—600mg per day
Selenium: 50—150mcg per day
Phase 3: Alkalising the body
An alkaline body detoxifies more effectively. An acidic system not only hampers detoxification, it also favours the growth of toxin and disease producing bacteria, viruses, yeasts and other parasites.
According to Dr Theodore Baroody, author of Alkalize or Die, “The countless names attached to illnesses do not really matter. What does matter is that they all come from the same root cause … too much tissue acid waste in the body. It is these tissue residues that determine sickness or health.” Alkalising supplements will also help to improve the excretion of toxins through your kidneys.
Green supplements such as barley and wheat grass, spirulina, chlorella and broccoli sprout powder, taken on a daily basis, are an easy and effective way to alkalise your body. They cleanse your blood by improving the excretion of acidic wastes that can otherwise build up and hamper elimination. Using a good-quality green food supplement on a daily basis is a little bit like having a spring clean every day.
Potassium citrate has recently begun appearing in many over-the-counter detox products as more and more research emphasises the importance of alkaline blood and urine for detoxification. Citrate is converted into bicarbonate in the body, further helping to alkalise body tissues, blood and urine. A therapeutic dose of potassium citrate is two grams per day.
Alkalising your body is also the best way to keep your lymphatic system clean and healthy. There are 600 to 700 lymph glands in your body and your lymphatic system contains roughly three times more fluid volume than in your blood.
Your lymphatic system’s primary job is to collect waste products from your cells and tissues to be dumped into your blood stream and taken to your liver for processing and cleaning. If your lymphatic system is choked up with excess fats and toxins it’s not going to do a good job of removing toxins from your cells. Stagnant lymph fluid can contain dead bacteria, viruses, metabolic wastes and dead cells: imagine washing your dishes in the same dirty water every day for a few weeks or months.
Signs of lymphatic congestion include skin rashes, headaches, cellulite, excess mucous, chronic sinus, allergies, recurring tonsillitis, slow healing of wounds, boils and sore, tender muscles. An iridologist can quickly tell you if your lymphatic system is toxic and congested.
While exercise, skin brushing and deep breathing are the mainstays of a healthy lymphatic system, an alkaline system and regular use of green food supplements will also help to ensure toxins don’t accumulate in your lymph.
Heavy metal detox
Toxic metals such as mercury, cadmium, lead, arsenic and aluminium are collectively known as heavy metals. They are bad news for good health and we are all exposed to them every single day. It is one of the downsides to life in a modern world.
Most people deal with them and eliminate them before too many problems occur, but nutritional deficiencies and excessive exposure can lead to problems. Certain people are born with poor detox pathways and will readily accumulate heavy metals, which have a particular affinity for damaging the brain, liver, kidneys and thyroid gland.
High blood pressure that does not respond to treatment, chronic fatigue, chronic headaches and unexplained infertility can all be due to excessively high levels of one or more heavy metals. A chelation challenge performed by a holistic medical doctor (www.acnem.org has a list of doctors in Australia and New Zealand who can perform this test) or a hair mineral analysis can help identify which toxic metals are affecting your health.
Glutathione will help with detoxifying and eliminating all heavy metals. Glutathione injections are the fastest and most effective way of increasing glutathione levels in the body. If you don’t have access to a doctor who can perform the injections, nutrients that increase the production of glutathione in the body can be taken instead, as listed above. A dosage of three to five grams per day of NAC taken away from food is recommended for heavy metal detox. Vitamin B6 is needed to convert NAC into glutathione, so look for a supplement that contains at least 50mg of B6 (pyridoxine) or 20mg of activated B6 (pyridoxal-5-phosphate).
Mercury is one of the more pervasive and dangerous heavy metals. It’s found in amalgam fillings (silver-coloured fillings), thiomersal (a preservative found in some vaccines), seafood and compact fluorescent light bulbs (energy-saving light bulbs). The fresh water algae chlorella is a gentle yet effective way to detoxify mercury. It contains porphyrins and sporopollenin which bind with mercury and allow it to be safely excreted. The recommended dosage of chlorella is 1 gram three to four times daily for six to 24 months.
When having amalgam fillings removed, take three grams three to four times daily for a few days before and up to one week after. Immediately after having your filling removed, open a chlorella capsule or chew a tablet and leave in your mouth for 10 minutes to absorb any mercury. Other nutrients that assist with mercury detoxification include lipoic acid, zinc, magnesium, selenium and vitamin C.
You can design your own detox program and keep that glow of health for months after your detox is finished by including supplements that support each phase of detoxification.
Digestion: If your digestion is functioning well, include a good probiotic supplement as the minimum. If you suffer from constipation, bloating and wind or a chronic illness such as acne, arthritis, headaches, migraines or thrush, you’ll need to include a formulation to clear out a sluggish digestive tract such as magnesium sulphate and psyllium seeds along with nutrients to take care of any parasites, yeasts or nasty bacteria. Look for supplements that contain caprylic acid.
Liver: Give the hardest-working organ in your body some TLC with a balanced B complex, antioxidants such as zinc, vitamin C and selenium. If you have a history of exposure to drugs, chemicals, pesticides, medications or alcohol, have ever suffered from hepatitis or glandular fever, suffer from hormonal imbalance or have a family history of cancer, you should include a liver-support formula that contains the amino acids taurine, glycine and N-acetyl cysteine (NAC). If you have high levels of homocysteine or a strong family history of early cardiovascular disease, depression, cervical dysplasia and neural tube defects, you should take extra methyl B12, activated B6 (pyridoxal-5-phosphate) and activated folic acid (folinic acid or calcium folinate).
Alkalise: An acidic body is a toxic body. Help to alkalise your system with “green” supplements chlorophyll, barley and wheat grass, spirulina and chlorella. If you suffer from health problems linked to excess acidity such as arthritis, gout, skin problems, decreased immunity, anxiety or accelerated ageing, be sure to take your green supplement with each meal. Look for supplements that contain potassium citrate. You can check your acid-alkaline balance or pH using litmus paper. Wait at least two hours after eating, collect saliva in your mouth then swallow, repeat this again and then press some litmus paper to your tongue onto the fresh saliva. The colour change should indicate a pH of 7.4. If your pH is below 7, this indicates a highly acidic system.
While supplements for detox are not essential, they certainly make a big difference to your health in both the short and long term. If you’re reasonable healthy, a good balanced B complex, mineral complex that contains selenium, zinc and magnesium, 500mg of vitamin C, a good green food supplement and a probiotic will leave you looking and feeling like you’ve just come back from a four-week holiday. If you’re suffering from a chronic health problem or have digestive problems, add some caprylic acid, colostrum and NAC to your daily supplement routine and your body will thank you with renewed health and vitality.
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