Food

10 Science-Backed Ways to Detox With Cynthia Li, MD

Yes, you can detox. No, you don't have to go on a juice cleanse or buy weird supplements.

"Detoxing" seems to be the buzzword of the moment, but there are often conflicting opinions that go along with it. Is detoxing a legitimate way to boost health or is it just another misguided claim? We asked Cynthia Li, MD, about her experience with detoxing. Dr. Li has a private practice in integrative and functional medicine, and serves as faculty for the Healer's Art program at the University of California San Francisco Medical School. Dr. Li is also the author of a new book, Brave New Medicine, that shares tells the story of her disabling autoimmune illness, the limitations of Western medicine, and her hard-won lessons on healing, which include detoxifying the house and our bodies.

BH: First of all, what does "detoxing" mean exactly?!

CL: When I use the term "detoxification," I'm not referring to high-end spas or extreme juicing fasts, many of which can strain your budget or harm your body. Detoxification is simply the body's innate capacity to filter and eliminate unwanted substances that would otherwise build up, generate "oxidative stress," and contribute to chronic disease. We have several organs, or systems, that assist us with detoxification: the liver (the primary detox organ), the gut (where 70% of the immune system resides), the skin and respiratory system (primary defenses against environmental pollutants and harmful microorganisms), the immune system (lymphatic channels and nodes line the gut and respiratory systems), and the kidneys (urination and defecation are the two primary routes of elimination).

BH: When did you first become interested in the idea of detoxing?

CL: For years I struggled with brain fog, mood imbalances, chronic fatigue, chronic dizziness, insomnia, hypersensitivity to sounds, and other symptoms for which Western medicine didn't have a framework, much less a remedy. When I returned to the basics of pathology and physiology, I learned, or re-learned, how central detoxification is to maintaining good health, as well as to healing.

There are many conflicting opinions about detoxing- from integrative doctors and wellness experts prescribing highly tailored detox diets, to groups like Harvard Women's Health Watch calling detox "a dubious practice". How do we sort through the confusion? My journey as a patient forced me as a doctor to evaluate the science more closely.

BH: Tell us more

CL: The matter of detox, like most things in life, is more complex and variable than what the textbooks say. That's because of two simple facts: each of us is unique, and most of our detox systems aren't optimized. Our individual capacity to detoxify depends on multiple factors: (1) the genes we inherited from our parents , (2) our cumulative exposure to environmental pollutants , (3) the health of our gut, (4) regular elimination via the gut and kidneys (5) the availability of key nutrients necessary for our liver enzymes and immune system to work properly, and (5) our age.

BH: There's so much information out there! How can we detox our body in a safe and effective way?

CL: Beyond treatment for health challenges, detox is also best done regularly, 2-3 times a year, as prevention and health maintenance. Here are 10 simple steps anyone can take to promote detoxification:

1. Sleep more. In the deep stages of sleep, lymphatic channels in the brain open up and flush out unwanted waste products, including beta-amyloid, which has been associated with Alzheimer's Disease. (If you suffer from chronic insomnia, prioritize this with your health care practitioner.)

2. Eat your broccoli. Compounds in the Brassica family—kale, collards, beets, cauliflower, cabbage—boost your liver's detox enzymes, while providing other nutrients and antioxidants. Steam them, boil them, or mix them into a smoothie. Most functional nutritionists recommend no more than 1 serving a day of cooked Brassicas to avoid the suppressive effect higher amounts may have on the thyroid.

3. Don't skimp on protein. Amino acids like glycine boost your liver's detox enzymes, and cysteine is a necessary cofactor for metallothioneins (proteins that detoxify heavy metals). Bone broth, beans, and wild, oily fish are good sources.

4. Increase your fiber. Aim for regular bowel movements, 1-2 times a day. If you're constipated, biliary waste cannot be efficiently eliminated. And with gut flora imbalances, certain waste products may be reabsorbed into the bloodstream despite the liver having previously filtered it out. Good sources of fiber: non-starchy vegetables, nuts, seeds, flaxseed meal, and beans. Fiber supplements like psyllium or rice bran are alternative choices (~30 g per day + plenty of water).

5. Sweat. Exercise and sauna more. Ubiquitous environmental pollutants like phthalates and PCBs (perfluorinated compounds) have been found to be excreted in sweat. Stay well hydrated and shower off with Castille soap, like Dr. Bronner's.

6. Take a walk in a forest. Studies show this simple exercise reduces stress, improves sleep, and boosts the immune system, all of which facilitate detoxification. If there is no forest close by, take a walk in nature. The wellness benefits may be increased by taking your shoes off.

7. Heal toxic relationships. Easier said than done, but consider joining a support circle or a community forum, or starting therapy sessions. The connection between personal relationships and the immune system is one of the most robust findings in psychoneuroimmunology.

8. Have a cup of green tea. A compound in green tea (EGCG) can boost liver enzymes and also provide antioxidants to combat oxidative stress. Drinking green tea with each meal may help combat oxidative stress that comes from our meals. Opt for decaffeinated green tea if you're sensitive to caffeine or have sleep difficulties.

9. Eat food your grandmother or great-grandmother would have recognized. A whole foods, largely plant-based diet is the foundation for good health, including improved detoxification. Nothing manufactured can match the natural foods our bodies have evolved with.

10. Laugh regularly. Imbalances in thyroid hormones can rob you of simple pleasures, so watch a funny video, play with your dog or child, even fake a laugh (studies show the effects on the body are the same as a real laugh). Laugh while you take your daily thyroid prescription! Laugh while doing #s 1-9 above, too! Laughing boosts circulation, eases digestion, and improves sleep, among other benefits.

CL: There are also certain foods that support detox more than others. Incorporate as many as you can into your diet and enjoy their incredible flavors!

1. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids: wild salmon, walnuts & almonds, flax seeds freshly ground, avocado

2. Fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants: berries, kale, cabbage, tomatoes, citrus fruits, parsley, cilantro

3. Foods high in natural fiber: steel-cut oats, legumes, flaxseed meal, fruits & non-starchy vegetables

4. Herbs & spices: turmeric, fresh garlic, cumin, horseradish, ginger


References

Bremner I, Beattie JH. Metallothionein and the Trace Minerals. Annu Rev Nutr, 1990. 10:63-83

Durnas C, Loi DM, Cusack BJ. Hepatic Drug Metabolism and Aging. Clin Pharmacokinet, 19(5): 359-89, Nov 1990.

Genuis S, et al. Biomonitoring and Elimination of Perfluorinated Compounds and Polychlorinated Biphenyls through Perspiration: Blood, Urine, and Sweat Study. ISRN Toxicology, Vol 2013.

Jessen NA, et al. The Glymphatic System: A Beginner's Guide. Neurochem Res, 40(12):2583-99, Dec 2015.

Kiecolt-Glaser JK , et al. Close Relationships, Inflammation, and Health. Neurosci Biobehav Rev, 35(1): 33-38, Sept 2010.

Li Q. Effect of Forest Bathing Trips on Human Immune Function. Environ Health Prev Med, 15(1):9-17, Jan 2010.

Mora-Ripoll R. The Therapeutic Value of Laughter in Medicine, Altern There Health Med, 16(6):56-64, Nov-Dec 2010.

Mwenifumbo JC, Tyndale RF. Genetic Variability in CYP2A6 and the Pharmacokinetics of Nicotine. Pharmacogenomics, Vol 8, No 10, 1385-1402, Oct 2007.

Solomon GS, et al. Cumulative Environmental Impacts: Science and Policy to Protect Communities, Annual Review of Public Health, Vol 37: 83-96, Mar 2016.

Vahter M. Genetic Polymorphism in the Biotransformation of Inorganic Arsenic and its Role in Toxicity. Toxicology Letters. Vol 112-113, 209-217, 15 Mar 2000.

van Poppel G, et al. Brassica Vegetables and Cancer Prevention. Advances in Nutr and Cancer 2, Vol 472, 159-168.

Xie HG, et al. Genetic Variability in CYP3A5 and its Possible Consequences. Pharmacogenomics, Vol 5, No 3, 243-272, Apr 2004.

Yao HT, et al. Protective Effects of EGCG Against Acetaminophen-Induced Liver Injury in Rats, Biomedicine, 5(3):15, Sep 2015.

Life

Don’t let a PVC Yoga Mat Ruin Your Om

Nama-stay away from this material

Yoga is the perfect way to destress while still giving your body a good workout. It's as beneficial for the mind as it is for the body! Plus, it doesn't hurt that you don't have to leave the house to practice it. But while yoga might be good for your health, your yoga mat could have hidden health risks.

The Problem With Yoga Mats

When you think of a yoga mat, you probably picture a soft, sponge-y material that you can easily roll and bend. Turns out, most yoga mats are made from polyvinyl chloride- otherwise known as PVC or vinyl. While this material is good at proving grip and padding, PVC is actually a type of plastic. PVC starts out as a really hard material, but becomes flexible when phthalates are added during production. Your super flexible yoga mat probably has a lot of phthalates added to it, which means you could be exposed to endocrine disrupting chemicals during your downward-facing dog. Yoga mats are also known to peel and flake as they age. These little crumbs could end up all over your house and you could be exposed to harmful chemicals even when you're off the mat!

Plus, the production of PVC is horrible for the environment and can be a big source of pollution. It has also been known to contribute to climate change. That's just not a material we want to purchase!

What You Can Do

Never fear! There are tons of PVC-free yoga mat options out there. Try looking for a yoga mat that's 100% made from natural materials like cotton, cork, or natural rubber. These materials will still provide padding while reducing your exposure to harmful chemicals. Jute is another great option, but be sure to avoid any mats that mix jute with polymer environmental resin (PER), which contains PVC (1).

You can also look for yoga mats that specifically say they're PVC-free, but make sure to carefully check out the materials the mat is made up of. Just because it's advertised as PVC-free doesn't mean it's made from better materials.

If you have an old yoga mat you're no longer using, call your local recycling facility to see whether or not they could recycle it. But be aware that it might be difficult to find a facility that will accept it, since PVC is notoriously hard to recycle (2).


References

  1. https://www.ecocenter.org/healthy-stuff/reports/yoga-mats-2019
  1. https://www.latimes.com/lifestyle/story/2019-07-18/yoga-mats-bad-for-environment
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October is here and we are now in the season of pumpkin spice, spooky movies, and breast cancer awareness! October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, which is dedicated to bringing attention to the impacts of breast cancer and how to detect and treat it. Breast cancer is one of the most prevalent cancers among women in the United States affecting nearly 1 in 8 women (1). Like all cancers, breast cancer is complicated and scientists aren't positive of the direct causes. However, recent research has identified certain risk factors, like the environment and lifestyle, that could be associated with the disease.

If you're in your 20s or 30s, breast cancer may seem like something you don't have to worry about until later in life. However, some of these risk factors can be modified by your lifestyle, and changing behavior early in life is important. Take action this October and protect yourself using our top three tips to decrease your environmental risk of breast cancer.

  1. Limit alcohol consumption- studies show that any amount of alcohol increases risk for breast cancer. The more alcohol you drink, the more risk you take on. Alcohol can damage DNA in your cells, or increase levels of estrogen (a hormone involved in the development of many breast cancers) (2). This is not to say you must refrain from enjoying a glass of wine at the end of a long day, some studies even show that moderate alcohol use can be protective for heart disease! However, if you do decide to drink it is important to practice moderation. Managing lifestyle risk factors can be a difficult balancing act. Bottom line: Avoiding heavy alcohol consumption is always a good idea and other decisions about alcohol and health should be made with careful assessment of your other risk and lifestyle factors
  2. Stay smoke free! Tobacco smoke contains a handful of cancer-causing agents and is associated with higher rates of breast cancer, especially among younger women (3). The carcinogens in tobacco smoke can bind to DNA leading to mutations and tissue damage, and many of these carcinogens have affinity for breast tissue due to their chemical makeup. Evidence suggests smoking tobacco works synergistically with other factors to substantially increase risk .
  3. Be proactive about your health. This means staying active, eating a balanced and healthy diet, scheduling regular women's health check-ups, and looking into genetic counseling if you have a family history of breast cancer. Exercise and weight management through a healthy diet have both been linked to a lower risk of breast cancer. Because fat cells store estrogen, overweight and obese women are more likely to develop cancer in breast tissue (5).

Even though you probably don't need ANOTHER reason to cut environmental toxics out of your life, it is also worth noting that preliminary evidence suggests other toxics such as pesticides, BPA, metals lead and mercury, could be associated with breast cancer risk. Although mechanisms are unclear thus far, scientists speculate that endocrine disrupting chemicals like pesticides and BPA act on the estrogen pathway. And heavy metals like lead and mercury may interact with and inhibit the body's natural cancer defenses. Even though the research is new, it may be worth your while to avoid products containing these chemicals, especially if you have other breast cancer risk factors (6,7).

Be proactive this breast cancer awareness month and do what you can to lower your risk!

Sources:

  1. https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statistics
  2. https://www.breastcancer.org/risk/factors/alcohol
  3. https://www.breastcancer.org/risk/factors/smoking
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4013418/
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/risk_factors.html
  6. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/materials/environmental_factors_and_breast_cancer_risk_508.pdf
  7. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions...
  8. https://bcaction.org/our-take-on-breast-cancer/environment/
  9. https://www.nap.edu/read/13263/chapter/8#290
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20195925
Life

Does Where You Live Impact Your Breast Cancer Risk?

The surprising connection between your environment and breast cancer

Every year in the United States, 245,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women and about 2,200 in men (1). This translates to 1 in 8 women being diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. This makes breast cancer the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women in the United States.

While we have found many risk factors for breast cancer like late menopause, having children late in life, and family history, we still do not know what causes normal cells to become cancerous (2). In fact, the risk factors described above only account for 30% of women with breast cancer. This means that seventy percent of breast cancer cases have no known risk factors (3).

Scientists agree that breast cancer manifests from a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors. While genetic and hormonal factors are harder to change, we may be able to reduce our risk of breast cancer by avoiding exposure to certain chemicals.

How the Environment is Linked to Breast Cancer

It has been shown that Japanese immigrants in the United States have higher incidence rates of breast cancer compared to their counterparts in their homeland (4). This observation suggests that there is a strong relationship between the disease and the environment. This is not only true in Japan! Non-industrialized countries have lower breast cancer rates than industrialized countries. People who immigrated to industrialized countries, such as the United States, from their homeland developed the same rates of breast cancer observed in their new home.

So what is going on in industrialized countries? A study investigated the link between breast cancer and the environment, and found that women who lived in areas of higher airborne lead, mercury, and cadmium were at a higher risk of developing postmenopausal breast cancer (5). Studies also found that estrogen is a key hormone that is intimately linked to the development of breast cancer, and that xenohormones, a group of synthetic chemicals that imitate estrogen, have been found to significantly enhance the risk for breast cancer during growth and adolescence (6). Xenohormones can be found in our everyday life. They are present in common weed killers, pesticides, plastics, and bug sprays. Increased exposure to these chemicals may play a role in the high risk of breast cancer seen in industrialized countries.

What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

While scientists are still hard at work to determine the cocktail of factors that causes breast cancer, we can do our part to take precautions against the environmental factors that have been associated with the disease. When possible, avoid areas of high air pollution. Opt to stay indoors or wear a N95 face mask if conditions are poor and you must go outside. Additionally, be aware of xenohormones and other endocrine disruptors in the products you are in contact with.

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Breast Cancer Basic Information
  2. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/breast-cancer/index.cfm#footnote2
  3. https://bcaction.org/our-take-on-breast-cancer/environment/
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0959804993902277
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30198937
  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0306987798902626
Food

Protect Your Body Against Toxic Chemicals With These Seven Food Items

Bonus: You probably already have some of these in your kitchen

Remember when your grandma talked about food being its own form of medicine? Well, we're here to tell you that she was right (yes, grandma is always right). Now, eating these foods isn't going to turn you into a superhero overnight, but it will certainly help your body protect itself from toxic chemicals found in the environment. For some of these items, we recommend buying organic if possible (you don't want to be ingesting more chemicals when you could be avoiding them!).

  • Berries: We're talking strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and even boysenberries. Berries are high in antioxidants which are particularly effective in reversing acrylamide toxicity (1). Acrylamide is a chemical produced during high-temperature cooking (think frying or baking), but can harm your reproductive system and mess up your liver, lymph and bone marrow DNA (1). Studies have shown that mice fed with diets containing berries saw a significant recovery in their sperm counts, activity rate, and an increase in the number of healthy sperm (1).
  • Cauliflower, Broccoli and all the cruciferous vegetables: If roasted brussels sprouts are your favorite veggie, you're in luck! Cruciferous veggies like broccoli sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and brussels sprouts all contain a compound called sulforaphane. Sulforaphane is a phytochemical with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic properties (2). These properties make sulforaphane-containing vegetables an ideal food to eat to prevent cadmium toxicity (2). Sulforaphane helps cells recover from and prevents cell death after exposure to cadmium (2). We really think sulforaphane is spectacular!
  • Olive oil: Olive oil isn't just delicious drizzled over pasta and salads, it's also great for decreasing the effect of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) on the body (3). Even though PCBs were banned in the 1970s, they are slow to degrade and still persist in the environment (4). PCBs are carcinogenic and also harm the nervous and immune system (4). However, studies have shown that a diet containing olive oil decreases inflammation associated with PCB exposure (3).
  • Grapes: Grapes are high in resveratrol, a polyphenol that can reduce toxicity from exposure to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) (3). As an antioxidant, resveratrol helps decrease oxidative stress (basically cell damage) caused by TCDD (3). Delicious when frozen or nibbled on with cheese, the resveratrol in grapes can also decrease PCB toxicity and protect against the development of type 2 diabetes, which is often associated with exposure to PCBs (3). This is also totally a reason to drink more wine, right?
  • Green tea: Green tea drinkers, rejoice! Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is the active component of green tea and can decrease the cardiovascular inflammation and toxicity that comes from arsenic exposure (3). This drink also packs a one-two punch, as it's also protective against PCB toxicity by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation of cells (3).
  • Spinach: Strawberry and spinach salad anyone? Aside from being insanely delicious, spinach can actually increase the excretion of arsenic from the body. One compound found in spinach, folate, is necessary to complete the excretion process of arsenic from the body (5).
  • Orange Juice: If the word glyphosate sounds familiar to you, it's probably because it's one of the most common herbicides used in farming (7). Glyphosate is categorized by the World Health Organization as a likely carcinogen (6). Lucky for you, organic juice can actually be protective against glyphosate toxicity (7). Mice given orange juice after exposure to glyphosate were shown to have decreased liver, kidney and DNA damage compared to mice not given orange juice (7).

Don't forget to stock up on these fruits and vegetables the next time you're at the grocery store! They can be used in so many different recipes or simply eaten by themselves. Who knew protecting your health could be so tasty?!

References

  1. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1750-3841.12815
  2. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11356-018-1228-7
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5503778/
  4. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/toxsubstance.asp?toxid=26
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5503778/
  6. https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/10/4/950
  7. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/306140395_The_protective_effect_of_orange_juice_on_Glyphosate_toxicity_in_adult_male_mice
Science

Having Trouble Keeping a Healthy Weight?

Here's why chemicals might be keeping you from shedding those last few pounds

If you're eating healthy, getting lots of sleep, but just can't seem to hit a healthy weight, it might be something you've never thought about. Obesogens, a term coined in 2006 to refer to chemicals that cause us to gain and hold on to weight, and can influence weight loss. Now, we know that maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle is influenced by what seems like a bajillion factors, and is a complicated issue with no easy solution. But, it looks like obesogens are a piece of the puzzle and definitely something you want to be aware about. Data shows that obesity is an increasing problem. Over one-third of both adults and children in the U.S. are obese or overweight (1, 5). Even for people who regularly work out or have superhuman strength to say no to desserts, obesogens are having an impact. Unfortunately, as obesogen research is in its early stages, we still don't know everything about these chemicals and how they affect weight gain, but as of now, here's what we do know.

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