A patient was in my office the other day explaining that she’s gotten rid of all her plastic cookware, purchased new pots and pans and wooden cooking utensils. “I am going crazy thinking about all the toxins and what to do!” she said, “It keeps me up at night!” After expressing my admiration for her efforts, I commiserated with her obsessiveness. It’s easy to feel wacky when we get to thinking about toxins. But our efforts to eat right, limit exposure sources and periodically detoxify our bodies really DO make a big difference.
On that note, Sunday I returned home from speaking about toxins and their influence in disease at the AMMG conference in Orlando. I want to share with you a very short case I presented on PCB exposure and bring your attention to the work of Dr. Bernhard Hennig at University of Kentucky. Among other topics, Dr. Hennig’s group has been investigating the favorable influence of nutrients on toxin-mediated disease processes.
A 54-year-old man “Bob” was identified to have elevated blood PCB levels. (Despite being banned in 1979, pretty much everyone has a PCB burden, unfortunately. The EPA lists PCBs in the top 10% of most toxic chemicals). He also revealed that he had developed a daily farm raised salmon- and-bagel habit over the last month or so. Given their high fat content, farmed salmon are potent bioaccumulators of all things toxin, and especially PCBs. Always look for clean farm raised or better, get wild caught salmon.
As an aside: By some estimates, we’re slated to run out of fish by 2048 if we continue current fishing habits. Bad news. The solution? As far as I can see it, we’re going to soon rely, at least in part, on farmed fish that have been raised well. See my blog on the topic of clean, farm raised salmon.
Unfortunately, when you look at the years-long ½ life of certain PCBs, the prognosis for removal of them from the body appears remote. However, Bob was prescribed a standard detox protocol, similar to what you’ve used in your practice a million times: a good, sulfur-rich protein powder, extra minerals and vitamins, and a greens powder. And of course, he stopped consuming farm raised salmon, non-organic butter and other fatty foods that can be loaded with PCBs. During his detox, he ate an organic, anti-inflammatory, high brassica diet. He followed this protocol for just one month. Upon retest, his PCB levels- while still present- were noticeably improved. Remarkable when we think about the fact that PCBs just DON’T GO AWAY. He continues to maintain good eating and lifestyle habits, and periodically re-evaluates for toxins.
While you may be criticizing this report for its limited sample size, n=1, I remind you that the case report is the first step in research, guiding us towards appropriate questions to ask and protocols to follow for larger studies. The case report should be embraced and encouraged for its powerful utility rather than ignored for its inherent limitation. This is particularly true for identifying effective detox protocols, which are so urgently needed.
Offsetting the influence of our toxic burden through good nutrition.
For years, Hennig, et al, out of the University of Kentucky, have been looking modulating the impact of toxins through nutrition. He states: “Nutritional interventions may provide the most sensible means to develop primary prevention strategies for diseases associated with many environmental toxic insults” A good example: PCBs potently induce oxidative stress, which in turn activates the mother of all inflammatory transcription factors, nuclear factor kappa B. This is potentiated by a diet higher in omega 6 fatty acids and down-regulated by omega 3 fatty acids. A simple fix.
We increase the toxicity of toxins through a bad diet. We minimize the toxicity of toxins through a good diet.
Reducing the physiologic footprint of toxins. 3 easy steps.
- Minimize exposures. But don’t get too stressed about it.
- A healthy diet reduces the damage of our toxic burden.
- Detoxification works. Guide your patients in cleanses regularly. And do it yourself.
When we ponder the presence of toxins and their inevitable influence on disease, it’s easy to get discouraged. I see it on the faces of clinicians when I speak on the topic. And the copious, ever-emerging body of research only adds to the overwhelm. But the fact of the matter is that foundational functional medicine works. You’re already doing so much. For yourselves, your families, your patients.