Detox is a hot buzzword in the alternative medical community but for everyone else, including allopathic medicine, the word still resonates with drug and alcohol rehab. Activated charcoal is used in the alternative medicine community to treat GI symptoms and for detoxification. It must be a big enough trend for an attack to be unleashed in an article called “What Doctors Need to Know About the Activated Charcoal Trend.”
Let me say at the outset that I don’t recommend activated charcoal – not because it doesn’t work but because it turns the stool black which can obscure a bowel bleed. Bleeding from the bowel is rare but being medically trained I can’t ignore the fact that it can occur. For absorbing toxins and for the added fiber, I recommend a combination of psyllium and bentonite clay in my Yeast Detox Protocol outlined in ReSet The Yeast Connection.
Here’s how I begin the Detox Chapter I wrote for Nancy Appleton’s book Stopping Inflammation.
The word detoxification is derived from the Latin toxicum or poison; it means to deprive of poisonous qualities. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) puts detoxicate in common usage from 1867. Throughout the next few decades, according to the OED, detoxification is used to describe the body’s ability to neutralize various drugs and chemicals such as pesticides. But by the 1970’s detoxification is mostly associated with drug and alcohol rehabilitation and that is the inference people make now make when they hear the word. But, detoxification is not just an externally imposed therapeutic method offered at a local detox clinic. Detoxification is performed every minute of every day by our various organs in an orchestration worthy of Carnegie Hall.
Activated charcoal is a substance that is not absorbed into the body but travels through the GI tract absorbing toxins, poisons, and overdosed drugs. It has been used for poison treatment for over 100 years. But it began as a treatment for gas and bloating and is still used for that purpose.
The writer of this article is concerned that “activated charcoal capsules available in pharmacies and health food stores that claim to aid intestinal cleansing and help with gas and bloating…may be doing more harm than good.” But there is no evidence of harm – just this unfounded statement.
The explanation of activated charcoal is helpful to understand how it works.
In the stomach, activated charcoal soaks up most of the molecules it comes into contact with, preventing them from being absorbed into the bloodstream. The material’s sponge-like quality stems from its many pores, which give it an enormous surface area to bind to other substances. Once the chemicals adhere to the charcoal in the gastrointestinal tract, they can safely pass through the body.
Even so, the article continues “…medical experts question whether they work.” They theorize how wonderful charcoal products are then say NAH! Because “The studies are contradictory on its use for gas and bloating, which is what a lot of people are using it for.” So-called scientific medicine says that studies don’t support its use probably because they are few and far between. Charcoal can save your life from poisoning, but not treat simple gas and bloating! That’s their contradictory position! But what about personal experience which is the best way of assessing alternative therapies?
Then they trot out the side effects “Besides getting a dark tongue and dark roof of the mouth, one of the major problems with activated charcoal is that it causes nausea and vomiting in a large percentage of people.” Why does that happen? Because it’s taken to cause vomiting of poisonous stomach contents, which occurs 20-30% of the time! People who take a capsule or two of activated charcoal a day are not going to have nausea or vomiting.
The article says that activated charcoal is recommended by the alternative medicine community for absorbing alcohol and heavy metals, for which it is likely ineffective. Alcohol is absorbed too quickly into the bloodstream for the charcoal to grab it and metals and charcoal have a weak chemical bond. For both these situations, I recommend our ReAline. The amino acid methionine in ReAline is a precursor to glutathione, which binds heavy metals. The magnesium in ReMag also detoxes heavy metals. And the B vitamins and amino acids in ReAline prevent alcohol absorption to such an extent that there is no uptick on a standard breathylizer.
On one hand doctors say activated charcoal isn’t absorbing toxins like people think it is but then they have great concern that it can be soaking up your meds. They list painkillers, antidepressants, arthritis drugs, diabetes medications, oral contraceptives, antiarrhythmics, beta-blockers, antiepileptics, and bronchodilators as being susceptible. So, which is it? They finally do mention that you could be binding up vitamins and nutrients. That’s why people are told to make sure they take charcoal one hour before to two hours after food, meds, and dietary supplements.
Another fact that makes modern medicine deny the effects of charcoal is that the amount used in hospital is a 5,000mg liquid dose but OTC supplements are 500mg capsules. But then they do a bit of mathematical gymnastics and say that a 50mg dose of a medication could be absorbed by a 500mg dose of charcoal. I guess they don’t realize that if a person is taking activated charcoal they are likely in the non-medication camp and following the directions not to take it with their food or dietary supplements. Of course all these dire warnings are not based upon reality because “None of the experts interviewed for this article had encountered a case of a charcoal–medication interaction.”
Since modern medicine doesn’t have a drug to help your detoxify or to support the detoxification pathways of the body, they ignore it. But I have a lot to say about detoxification in the detox chapter of Stopping Inflammation by Nancy Appleton:
We have good reason to worry about toxins and to be concerned about our body’s ability to detoxify them. The role of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should be to stem the tide of chemicals that overflow into our world but it seems that now they do little more than count the flowing barrels of pollutants. According to 2000 EPA statistics more than 4 billion pounds of chemicals were released into the earth that year contaminating ground water, seeping into wells and reservoirs. Another 250 million pounds of chemicals were “legally” discharged into surface waters (i.e. lakes and rivers) by industry and around dumpsites. And two billion pounds of air emissions were pumped into the atmosphere. Add to that the thousands of food additives that are deliberately added to our food supply and another few thousand that make their way in as trace amounts of herbicides, pesticides, and food-processing chemicals. Four hundred licensed pesticides amount to 2.5 billion pounds each year choking the life out of any land still able to grow living plants. Helping to sweeten the 14 pounds of food additives the average American eats 150 pound of sugar every year.
As reported by noted Canadian, activist and journalist, Helke Ferrie, “Our bodies have become the world’s toxic dump sites. The billions of dollars worth of pesticides, plastics, petroleum products, and heavy-metal containing technology have made the industrial world rich beyond belief, and threaten human survival as it conquers the earth. Dr. Sherry Rogers in Detoxify or Die, pulls no punches. She says, “We have conquered the world with pollution. There are no more pristine areas left without a trace of man’s manufacturing might.”
The Environmental Protection Agency confirms that 100% of the world’s population harbors traces of heavy metals like mercury, lead, and cadmium in their blood. Dr. Rogers echoes this warning and writes that, “Indeed every living thing now has DDT in its tissues and its toxic effects are increasing over time.” Helke Ferrie reports that the World Health Organization admits that in terms of scientific research on environment pollution there are no more “control groups” free of toxic synthetic chemicals to be found in the world.
Brain, bowel, hormonal organs, including testicles, and ovaries are all equally affected. Our body ineffectually lashes out against the invasion of chemicals that it was never equipped to handle. The result is epidemics of allergies, arthritis, auto-immune disease, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, mood disorders, and neurological diseases that, as Helke Ferrie says, “no amount of fancy genetics will explain away.”
We only have to follow the scenario of life on our planet to enumerate the ways toxins build in our body. A newborn infant, Annie, is injected with several vaccines before leaving the hospital. Her mother drinks diet soda and eats food loaded with additives that pass into her breast milk and into her child’s fragile brain and liver. Actually, Annie is already saturated with the toxins that her mother ate while she was pregnant. Annie’s immune system is weakened by the vaccinations and she develops an ear infection when she is only one month old; she is put on antibiotics. Because the antibiotic kills off all the normal bacteria in her intestines she develops an overgrowth of candida yeast and gets diarrhea and a diaper rash.
Medicine for the diarrhea and a cortisone ointment for the rash don’t help very much but just increase Annie’s toxic load. She develops eczema, which is really from candida toxins, and is put on more cortisone creams, which feed the yeast. It is no coincidence that suppressing the eczema had turned into asthma. Annie also seems to become more hyper after eating sugar, and gets diarrhea when she eats too much bread, and constipation after too much dairy. All this goes unnoticed by her parents and her doctor. The ear infections and the antibiotics continue until her doctor decides to put tubes in Annie’s ears. The anesthetic during surgery has to be detoxified in the liver and Annie’s asthma gets worse. She’s on several inhalers and has spent many nights in the emergency ward.
When Annie enters preschool she is exposed to more germs and comes down with more colds and flus. She develops a host of allergies including unrecognized food allergies. By her teens Annie is pale and looks undernourished. Her favorite foods are pizza, hamburgers, and anything with sugar. She develops cold sores on her lips and gets several attacks every year. She eats no vegetables, little fruit and drinks too much soda. Her health and her teeth suffer; Annie has ten mercury amalgam fillings by the age of 14. When her period comes, it’s a disaster. She has cramps and irregular bleeding. Her doctor suggests the birth control pill to help stop the pain and “regulate” her periods. In her first year in college Annie contracts mononucleosis and lies in bed for six months. She still has allergies, asthma, frequent infections, and now is chronically fatigued. Annie doesn’t go back to college but took a beautician’s course that exposes her daily to toxic chemicals from nail polish, nail polish removers, hair dyes, and hair processing chemicals.
When she gets married Annie finds that her chronic yeast infections from taking antibiotics four or more times a year makes sexual intercourse very painful. And she is unable to get pregnant, perhaps because she took the Pill before her own menstrual cycle developed, she doesn’t ovulate. Annie has to take fertility drugs in order for her to conceive, but the drugs make her nauseous and even more miserable with swollen breasts and fluid retention. Her one and only pregnancy is very difficult. She develops eclampsia with high blood pressure, painful edema and gains fifty pounds.
Annie is never able to lose the weight and by age 40 she is diabetic, has ulcerative colitis, fibrositis, and chronic fatigue. She drinks coffee to keep herself awake through the day, eats mostly bread and pasta, and has strong sugar cravings. She convinces herself she is trying to be healthy by eating mostly “diet” food products laced with the synthetic sweetener, aspartame. She does not realize that aspartame is causing her to have daily headaches, muscle aches and pains, and actually causes more sugar cravings. For her pain she takes the maximum daily dose of several pain killers. And, in spite of her allergies Annie smokes because she says it helps deal with the constipation that is part of her ulcerative colitis picture.
Unfortunately we all know people who fit this profile. It may even fit you. Annie had all the common symptoms of toxin build up include fatigue, muscle aches and pains, repeated colds, joint pain, allergy symptoms, insomnia, back pain, mood swings, arthritis symptoms, constipation, sinus congestion, and headaches. Her immune system is also toxic and has been from an early age giving her symptoms of asthma, allergies, eczema, and chronic infections. Fat-soluble toxins such as organophosphate pesticides and the “excitotoxins” MSG and aspartame gravitate to the brain leading to neurological toxicity affecting mood, memory and behavior. Annie’s hormonal system was greatly affected by toxins with PMS, dysmenorrhea, infertility, lack of sex drive. After decades of sugar addiction Annie developed insulin resistance and diabetes.
Yet, allopathic medicine, in its unwavering focus on treating the symptoms of disease with suppressive drugs, pays no attention to the body’s detoxification systems. It is not a specific topic in medical school; there are no specific allopathic tests for toxicity; and there are no “drugs” to treat toxic overload. In fact, drugs, whether prescription or over-the-counter, all must themselves be detoxified in the liver placing more stress on a system already burdened with the overabundance of chemicals in our environment.
Any foreign material that gains access to our body must necessarily be dealt with by our immune system and our detoxification system. But we need to be aware of how our organs of detoxification perform the miracle of cleansing our body so we can understand how to support this process. In general, the body is able to detoxify the basic end products of daily metabolism. Most of the biochemical pathways have mechanisms that reconstitute enzymes and even vitamin and mineral co-factors that are used in the process, like a self-perpetuating system. All sense of that is lost when the body has to detoxify external chemicals. There is no perpetual motion machine, the enzymes and vitamin and mineral co-factors are used up and flushed out leading to eventual depletion if essential nutrients are not replaced.
The actual process of detoxification in the liver is fascinating. It basically entails the conversion of fat-soluble toxins into water-soluble metabolites, which are usually, but not always, less toxic. Water-soluble chemicals can then be excreted through the kidneys, whereas fat-soluble chemical cannot; if they aren’t converted they are either dumped into the intestines with the bile or end up being stored in fatty tissue. Many people who understand the process of toxicity in the body feel that the epidemic of obesity is in part due to the body’s need for a place to store the chemicals to which it is exposed. For that reason, if you are overweight, and trying to detoxify, you have to proceed cautiously so that you aren’t overwhelmed by all the toxins being liberated from shrinking fat cells. The feeling of being poisoned causes many people to abandon their goal of losing weight.
Detoxification occurs mostly in the liver with some activity in the blood, lungs, and walls of the intestine. In the liver it’s talked about as phases–Phase I occurs in the liver cell membrane. Dozens of different enzymes act on chemicals adding or taking away an oxygen or hydrogen molecule to make the chemical water-soluble. This phase of activity depends on cofactors in the form of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and hormones. Detoxification can be seriously hampered if there are deficiencies. The B vitamins, vitamin C, and progesterone are very most important cofactors in the process of converting fat-soluble toxins to water-soluble ones. Underactive or overactive Phase I can be a problem. Poor Phase I functioning creates an inability to tolerate caffeine, overactive Phase I means you can have a high tolerance for caffeine. Underactive Phase I means you just aren’t detoxifying chemicals and the overload can damage the liver and lead to auto-immune disease. If Phase I is overactive you detoxify chemicals too rapidly and end up with an excess of very unstable chemicals waiting to be further processed through the Phase II pathway. If Phase II is underfunctioning when you eat asparagus you get strong smelling urine and you may be sensitive to sulphites
Phase II detoxification is slightly more complicated with certain molecules attaching to the Phase I products making them more water soluble and easier to eliminate. This phase depends on sulphur obtained from the diet. Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts are sulphur-containing foods and have been widely promoted as immune-boosting and health-promoting. That’s because they help the liver in it’s ability to detoxify.
Many toxins, such as petrochemical hydrocarbons, pharmaceutical drugs, and steroid hormones do not allow molecules to be added or taken away and don’t allow themselves to be turned into a water-soluble waste product. Those chemicals require sulfur amino acids (amino acids are the building blocks of protein) that grab onto these toxic chemicals and convey a “stickiness” that drags them out of the body when the sulphur amino acid is excreted. Sulphur amino acids like methionine, cysteine, and n-acetyl-cysteine are so powerful that they can pull out mercury, lead, and arsenic. Conjugation with an important body detoxifier, glutathione requires vitamins B6 and B12, the B vitamin, folate, and magnesium.
Detoxification can’t proceed normally when it’s Phase I and II pathways are overloaded with external chemicals and heavy metals or when the body doesn’t receive the necessary vitamins and minerals in the diet.
It’s only when we agreed that toxins are building up in our bodies and are a potential problem that we can turn our attention to trying to get rid of them. If you don’t think there’s a problem in the first place how can you find a solution.
Rereading what I wrote over 15 years ago, I’m not as concerned about toxicity because I’ve managed to create a Total Body ReSet protocol that assists the structure and function of the body at the cellular level and includes detoxification. You can read more in my free eBooks at www.drcarolyndeanlive.com. Begin with ReAline: Building Blocks to Detox.
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Carolyn Dean MD ND
The Doctor of the Future®
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