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Excretion, Detoxification and Glutathione (GSH)

Health goes hand in hand with the concept of excretion and detoxification. One cannot be in a “state of health” unless the body does an effective job of excreting and detoxifying toxins.

Toxins may be classified as endogenous (coming from within the self) and exogenous (coming from outside the body). Examples of endogenous toxins are the ability of the body to recycle amino acids from proteins and from the breakdown of steroid hormones to smaller molecules. The body is very efficient at recycling compounds. Examples of exogenous compounds that are toxic to the human body are pesticides, heavy metals, petrochemicals, etc. There are thousands of toxic compounds that our body has to breakdown and excrete over a course of a lifetime. Think of all the food additives in our food chain: colorants (caramel, red dye #4), conditioners (calcium stearoyl), rancidity chemicals (butylated hydroxytoluene [BHT]), trans fats, artificial sweeteners (aspartame, splenda, saccharin, high-fructose corn syrup), emulsifiers and texturizers (GMO cottonseed oil) to name a few compounds. This list is extremely toxic to our bodies. However, many food additives are very safe, for example, lecithin (emulsifier), fiber (inulin, psyllium), texturizer and thickener (casein), food coloring (chlorophyll, saffron) are absolutely safe.

The FDA defines an additive as any substance which becomes a part of the food matrix as a result of “producing, manufacturing, packing, processing, preparing, treating, packaging, transporting, or holding food: and including any source of radiation intended for any such use.” There is no way that the U.S. Government can control everything that goes into the food supply of Americans. Many food additives are safe and even nutritious, some are neutral, some are unsafe, and some may be cancer causing (damage to DNA and leading to cancer over time). Examples of these are: most recently, certain types of caramel color, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA and BHT), nitrates and nitrites, sulfites, etc. The Delaney Clause is part of the FDA. The objective of the Delaney Clause is to protect the consumer from toxic food additives via the FDA. However, it is currently being attacked by the food and chemical industry. Their objective is to weaken or repeal the clause so more toxic compounds can be introduced into the processed food industry.

Many additives and chemicals are not deliberately added to the food chain. Examples of these are heavy metals in fish, chemical pollutants in water (PCP’s, chlorine, fluoride, etc.), plastic packaging (may leach into foods and beverages), canned food residues (lined with biphenyl A), and other compounds like polycarbonates, polystyrenes, polyvinyl chlorides, etc. to name a few. Many of these compounds are endocrine disrupters, are neurotoxic, have high allergic potential, and have the potential to cause cancer in susceptible animal and human populations.

Our bodies have mechanisms for excretion and detoxification. Our livers, kidneys, skin, breath and GI tract are all organs of excretion. The liver is the major organ for detoxification. The role of the liver is very complex. Simply stated, the liver does the following: detoxifies drugs, chemicals, and environmental toxins, protects against infections, regulates blood sugar and cholesterol levels, helps to burn fat for fuel, stores Vitamin A, helps with the metabolism of endocrine hormones (steroids), regulates blood lipids and the production of bile, helps to express LDL (low density lipoproteins) which act to take up cholesterol rich LDL particles (so-called “bad cholesterol’) from the blood.

One of the major systems of detoxification in our body is a compound called glutathione (GSH). GSH is one of many antioxidants in our bodies, but is considered the mother of all antioxidants. GSH concentrations are mostly found in the liver. But, GSH is found in the spleen, kidney, red and white blood cells, lens of the eyes, in bile and in mucosal linings of the GI tract and lungs. GSH is a major player in controlling free radicals and oxidative stress in the entire body and especially in the mitochondria (energy producers in cells). Aging has a strong genetic component. Oxidative stress and free radical damage to cells is postulated as the cause of premature aging and the cause of many degenerative diseases. The following things can be done to improve GSH levels: consume sulfur-rich foods like garlic, onions, dark leafy greens (collards, watercress, broccoli, kale), exercise, a careful choice of supplements like B vitamins, alpha lipoic acid, vitamin C and E, and milk thistle to name a few. Therefore, diet and nutrition (within the GI tract) has great potential to neutralize oxidative stress and free radical damage.

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