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The latest detox for chemicals and heavy metals

Reading time: 13 minutes

Rowan H. of Brighton was in his 30s and seriously ill. Suffering from terrible skin lesions and rashes, debilitating emotional lows and sadness, stomach pain and a dysfunctional metabolism, he was prediabetic and had an extreme sensitivity to anything with corn in it – including the meat from animals fed on corn.

For years he bounced back and forth between misdiagnosis and thoughtless prescriptions given to him by local GPs, and private and world-renowned hospitals, such as Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, UK. “I almost died in 2010 and 2012,” he says. “Eventually I became concerned that the people charged with helping to fix my health had a rather dogmatic viewpoint and toolbox from which to help. Somehow, I knew there was more to this.”

After what he calls a “long and troubled path”, he ended up in the London clinic of Dr Damien Downing, a pioneer in ecological medicine. There he was treated to a panel of tests that Rowan describes as being at “a whole other level”.

Diagnosed as suffering from a severe mould infection disguised as an autoimmune condition, the tests also revealed that his body was loaded down with nine different industrial pollutants – including three kinds of pesticides, flame retardants, and even polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and DDT, both of which had been banned before he was even born – yet all of which had contributed to multiple genetic mutations.

“Needless to say, I’ve learned that the presence of said pollutants cause many of the serious conditions that are so prevalent today,” he says.

Downing started him on a series of phospholipid injections, treatments that are still ongoing. “All the data show great improvement,” says Rowan. “Beyond the physical improvements, I’ve experienced a stabilization of my emotional ups and downs as well. Clearly, the lipids were most welcomed by my body, and the benefits are multilayered. I truly sense the foundations for good health are finally being laid.”

What are phospholipids?

Phospholipids are a class of lipids, which are organic molecules comprising what the general public mostly calls “fats”. Made up of two fatty acids, phospholipids constitute some of the most important molecules in the human body, such as the signalling molecules that regulate cell migration and enzyme production. They also form a protective insulating layer around nerves and promote the conduction of nerve impulses. Phospholipids can also be used by the body for energy. But perhaps their most important function is that they form the foundation of every cell’s structure – the plasma membrane – also known as the ‘phospholipid bilayer’.

This double-layer membrane, along with cholesterol, provides structure to every cell in the body, externally protecting the cell’s interior from charged particles and other unfriendly agents. Phospholipids and cholesterol also make up the structural membranes surrounding the cell’s interior components, such as the nucleus, which contains DNA, and the organelles called ‘mito-chondria’, which make adenosine triphosphate (ATP) by combining oxygen with proteins, fats and carbohydrates to fuel the metabolism of every cell in the body.

But phospholipids aren’t simply structural; according to the new biological science of epigenetics, the cell membranes also help to determine whether our genes are switched on or off through how the cell membrane reacts in response to its environment of nutrients, toxins, hormones, diet, emotions and stress. “The brain of the cell is its skin, the ‘membrane’, the interface of the interior of the cell and the ever-changing world we live in,” says cellular biologist Bruce Lipton, PhD. “Through the action of the cell membrane, we can actually control our genes, our biology and our life.”1

A sufficient intake of B vitamins, amino acids from proteins and essential fatty acids in the daily diet are needed to ensure adequate nutrients for phospholipid synthesis, and cholesterol is also required to maintain cellular integrity. But unfortunately, ever since US nutritionist Ancel Keys theorized a direct correlation between saturated fats, cholesterol and cardiovascular disease back in the 1950s, healthy saturated fats and cholesterol have been denounced as the equivalent of a ‘heart attack on a plate’ to be avoided at all costs.

And yet, fatty acids contribute to everything from the production of phospholipids to the prevention of coronary heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).2

And low blood cholesterol seems to be directly related to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.3

Intravenous administration of fish-oil-based lipid emulsions – or ‘Intralipid’ infusions, as they’re often referred to, after the most commonly used brand of emulsion – can help in the treatment of acute breathing disorders (such as respiratory distress).4 They can also inhibit the production of proinflammatory cytokines – signaling molecules that draw cells towards inflammation, infection and trauma – while positively modulating the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines, so improving immune function and making these emulsions “ideal . . . for critically ill patients with a variety of diseases”. But note that soybean oil, long used in earlier versions of lipid emulsions, can actually increase inflammatory responses and has adverse effects on liver function too.5 And now ‘lipid rescue’ from anaesthesia and other drug toxicities is one of the hottest new developments in clinical toxicology.

“Lipid emulsion therapy was figured out by the anaesthesiologists by accident about 10 years ago,” says Downing. “Basically, somebody gave a patient a big shot of local anaesthetic to numb their arm and it went into an artery or something like that; the guy blacked out and his heart went into arrest and they worked away on him for half an hour doing cardiac massage, and nothing worked until somebody suggested a lipid injection. And within a minute of injecting the lipids, the guy came around.”

Since that first wild shot in the dark, numerous studies have shown that a simple preparation of lipid emulsion can rapidly reverse clinical toxicity due to local anaesthetic drugs,6 as well as the cardiac arrest and arrhythmias caused by iatrogenic (medically caused) drug overdoses.7

Not surprisingly, and as most holistic physicians and healthcare workers have recognized for decades, lipids may also be highly effective for eliminating toxins absorbed from the environment.

Our toxic world

Environmental toxins – such as pesticides and herbicides, the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in paints, varnishes, carpets, flooring, upholstery and foams, and air fresheners, cosmetics, cleaning products, gasoline, fuel oil and dry-cleaning fluids – are all absorbed through the skin and lungs. We also accumulate mercury from the amalgam fillings in our teeth, from vaccines and from eating fish from polluted waters. We absorb aluminium from our cooking utensils, while polychlorofluorocarbons from non-stick pans are released into food during the cooking process and can cause all sorts of health problems. Lead from certain toys and other products made in China, certain glazes on colourful foreign-made ceramics, nickel from cigarettes and diesel exhausts… the list of toxins the human body is subjected to, and absorbs, on a daily basis is almost endless.

Most of these toxins are fat-soluble, so they end up encapsulated within what’s called the ‘lipid compartment’ of the body – in other words, inside fat storage cells – which the body mistakenly believes is a safe place to keep them. But that’s just not so. Even if we were to strip down an Olympic athlete who has relatively little or no fat stores at all, the human body is still i
nevitably around 20 per cent fats and oils by weight, much of it contained within the outer and inner membranes of the body’s cells, where our mitochondria and DNA reside.

“These are a very bad place to put the toxins, and we need to get them out,” says Downing. “Toxins deform the membranes. They flip open the phospholipid bilayer and expose stuff from inside that’s never supposed to be exposed to the watery matrix and serums outside the cell.”

According to Downing, environmental toxins and heavy metals create ‘toxic adducts’ – positively charged chemicals involved in bond formation and protein sites in the various proposed neurotoxic mechanisms – which attach to membranes, proteins and other cell organelles, so making them look like foreign invaders to immune-system cells. The immune system then tries to get rid of them by causing inflammation which, in turn, leads to further tissue damage in the form of arthritis or other inflammatory disorder. In addition, environmental toxins use up micronutrients in the body and lead to heart dysfunction and arrhythmias, and hypertension.

Toxic adducts can also attach to DNA. When that happens, DNA cannot be properly expressed: it can’t code for the proteins that it should, and the transmembrane proteins fail to work properly.

“The biggest and most important transmembrane protein in the mitochondria is the translocator that flips ATP out into the cell to provide energy,” says Downing. “Pretty much 100 per cent of people with chronic fatigue syndrome [CFS] have malfunctioning mitochondria because they’ve been damaged or stuff has been stuck onto them that impairs the ATP supply. So straightaway you’ve got fatigue and lack of energy.”

Poor diet and nutrition is another factor. According to Dr Sarah Myhill, a GP and CFS specialist practising in Upper Weston in Powys, Wales, people accumulate toxic minerals because they’re deficient in friendly minerals. “Obviously, they have to be exposed in the first place,” she says. “But if they’re deficient in something, the body will grab heavy metals. For example, if somebody’s deficient in selenium or zinc, two very common deficiencies, they would be much more likely
to accumulate lead or mercury in their system.”

Traditionally, chelation therapies involving EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid), DMPS (dimercapto-1-propanesulphonic acid) and DMSA (dimercaptosuccinic acid), an organosulphur compound), have been used to treat heavy-metal toxicity. But there are side-effects with all three of them (DMSA is considered the safest), including abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, possible kidney damage and even death. So all three treatments require close monitoring to ensure there is no damage to the kidneys or liver inflicted by the heavy load of metals being flushed from the body.

“Plus all of them pull out the essential minerals in the body as well as the heavy metals,” says Downing. “You have to keep putting all the minerals back into the body and keep monitoring and so forth. It’s complicated.”

In addition, chelation therapies do nothing to repair the damaged phospholipid membranes and other cell components. In comparison, lipid/phospholipid therapy replaces damaged cell structures, while the damaged components are broken down and removed from cells or reused after being repaired.8

Good fats

So far, there have been no clinical studies looking at the effectiveness of phospholipids for removing heavy metals in humans. However, unsaturated fatty acids have been shown to reduce blood levels of lead in rats.9 A recent review of sesame oil (and its active ingredient sesamol, an antioxidant) showed it to have beneficial effects for treating lead and iron toxicity causing kidney and liver damage.10

Phospholipids, which make up around 3 per cent of sesame oil, are recognized as “natural antioxidants” that can control fat oxidation, a process that degrades the quality of the foods we eat, especially meat and dairy; the repeated ingestion of oxidized fat is toxic to both our cells and our genes.11 Antioxidants can also help to mop up and flush away heavy metals.12

Intravenous applications of phospholipids work more rapidly than oral treatments, but depending on the body’s toxic load, it may require as many as 20 injections or more. At around £300 per infusion, this is no small investment in health. The oral route is cheaper and takes longer, but is equally effective. If that’s the treatment chosen by the patient, Downing still recommends kick-starting the kidneys, gallbladder and liver (all major elimination routes for toxins) with two or three infusions before starting the oral regimen.

In addition, both oral and intravenous lipid therapies should be accompanied by supplementation with glutathione S-transferase, a binding enzyme that helps remove toxins and so becomes depleted in the body as a result. Glutathione is, in fact, such an excellent binding and detoxifying agent that Myhill uses it on its own as an alternative heavy-metal treatment.

The bottom line? “Lipid therapy is powerful stuff,” says Downing. “Anything that powerfully good can be powerfully bad if you misuse it or don’t know what you’re doing.”

Tien Chong, 21, had severe eczema from the age of 6 months. She also suffered from asthma, fatigue, weight loss, allergies and no appetite, and was no longer able to work. She failed to respond to steroid creams and nothing was helping. After a severe episode in December 2015, Downing started her on phospholipids after blood tests revealed high nickel levels.

“The [intravenous] treatments were painless,” says her mother. At first her skin flared up even more, largely because she had to undergo the treatments over a condensed period of time to fit in with Tien’s work schedule. But now she is much better (and happier!), and is working in Hong Kong.

Methods of cleansing and detoxification have been found in Ayurvedic medicine in India, Native American cultures in the US, and in Ancient Greece and Rome. Nowadays, the toxic burden of our modern lifestyles is such that many health professionals recommend a yearly cleanse. As Kara Fitzgerald, a naturopathic doctor at the Sandy Hook Clinic in Newtown, Connecticut, puts it, “We all have a toxic burden. Period. We all do. We’ve all been exposed to toxins.”

While major detox protocols like chelation and lipid emulsion therapy provide welcome relief for patients suffering from debilitating toxicity-related issues like CFS, hepatitis, Lyme disease, neurodegenerative conditions and chemical poisonings, there are lots of less-drastic things you can do to help your body detox.

Nevertheless, wherever you may live in today’s world, a certain level of exposure to toxins is inevitable. For this reason, Fitzgerald recommends supplementing with three major trace and nutrient minerals to assist with general detox: selenium, magnesium and zinc.

Says Myhill, “I put all my patients on high-fat, low-carb, low-allergen diets. That also helps the detox because you then get the bile flowing, and that pulls out toxins through the liver. Then you combine that with probiotics to shorten gut transit time and sweep them out through the faeces.”

Eating a healthy organic diet of fresh vegetables, fruit, whole grains, fish, meat and poultry, while eliminating all those processed foods that contain sugar, chemicals, pesticides, herbicides and GMOs (genetically modified organisms), is a given. Brassica veggies like broccoli, kale, cabbage, collards and mustard greens are especially effective for helping the body detox. Cilantro, parsley, Chlorella and blue-green algae are also all effective for combatting both heavy-metal and chemical toxicities.

Avoid using toxic chemicals and cleaning products in the home. Read the labels on everything, from cosmetics to laundry detergents, and don’t use paints and home furnishings that contain VOCs. Pollutants,
petrochemicals and pesticides are all VOC-containing and, broadly speaking, they’re also all fat-soluble, so they’re dumped into subcutaneous fat. But Myhill says that if you raise your body temperature – say, with exercise or a sauna – then all those chemicals will vibrate and migrate from the subcutaneous fat into the lipid layer on the surface of the skin, from where they can then be washed off.

“Do it any way you like,” she says. “If you’ve got somebody who’s fit, then make them exercise hard and sweat a lot, then come in and wash it off. Failing that, do lots of hot baths.”

For CFS patients who don’t tolerate heat very well, Myhill recommends the use of a far-infrared (FIR) sauna because that will only warm up the subcutaneous layer without heating up the core temperature of the body. Sauna therapy also increases metabolism, which burns fat for energy, so releasing toxins for removal.

Stay safe by limiting sauna sessions to 30 minutes or less and drinking plenty of water. Sit for a few minutes afterwards to let the body readjust and then shower off.

A recipe for detox

Dr Steven Finkbine, DAOM (Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine), founder of the Dragon Heart Healing Arts Clinic in Fairfax, California, recommends the following:

•To boost production of bile by the liver:

Chanca piedra: 2–3 capsules twice daily before meals

Li Dan Pian: 5 tablets twice daily before meals

• To heal and detox cell membranes:

phosphatidylcholine: 2 capsules twice daily before meals

• For people with neurological issues:

krill oil: 2 capsules twice daily before meals

cetyl myristoleate (CMO): 2 capsules twice daily before meals

phosphatidylserine: 2 capsules twice daily before meals;

• For people with toxic exposures and chemical sensitivities:

acetyl-glutathione: 3–6 capsules a day with vitamins B6, B12 and B9 (folic acid)

R–alpha-lipoic acid: 2 capsules twice daily

Other DIY detox methods

• Occasional fasting with what is referred to as the ‘Master Cleanse’ or ‘Lemonade Diet’ gives the body a break from digestion and helps to flush out toxins:

2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

2 Tbsp organic (grade B)
maple syrup

Cayenne pepper powder to taste (but as much as you can stand)

8 oz (250 mL) pure (filtered) water.

Drink a minimum of six to 12 glasses of this throughout the day (or whenever you feel hungry). Also, take a laxative before bedtime and, in the morning on an empty stomach, do a salt-water flush (add 2 tsp of non-iodized sea salt to 32 oz, or 1 L, of lukewarm water and drink it down). This will produce a bowel movement.

• Juice together fresh organic carrots, beetroot, kale, celery, ginger and lemon.

• Take at least 3 g of vitamin C (it helps the body make glutathione).

• Drink at least 2 quarts (around 2 L) of pure spring water daily; enemas and colonics can be used at the same time to keep things moving.

• ‘Dry-brushing’ the skin with a natural-bristle brush (instructions can be found at various sites online) will keep pores open, which is important because, along with the liver and kidneys, the skin is a major pathway for toxin release. Don’t be surprised, though, if you suddenly have acne breakouts while undergoing a cleanse.

• Foot spas/foot baths are also helpful.

• Sweat it out in a sauna or with strenuous exercise.

Testing for toxicity

Think you might have a toxicity problem? Signs of toxic buildup vary from one person to another, although some general signs are fatigue, poor digestion, achy joints, depression and menstrual problems. Acute metal toxicity symptoms are more extreme, with convulsions, motor impairment, headaches, difficulty focusing, sweating, respiratory issues, nausea and vomiting.

Signs and symptoms of heavy-metal buildup also depend on age and general health, and the type of metal and its form, quantity and amount or duration of exposure. So, if you think you might have a problem, before you do anything else, get yourself tested.

A heavy-metals panel is a battery of tests that measures specific metals in various groupings in the blood, urine and, sometimes, the hair. The most common test is for mercury, lead and arsenic. Other panels may test for cadmium, copper and zinc. Your healthcare professional should be able to determine which panel(s) to take, depending on your symptoms.

Red blood cell (RBC) elements tests assess the presence (or absence) of minerals essential for healthy cell function like magnesium, copper and zinc. Deficiencies in essential minerals frequently point to heavy-metal toxicity because the body will pull these metals into cells to compensate for the lack of minerals.

Hair analysis is relatively inexpensive, but if a hair test reveals a high level of a toxic metal, it’s a reliable indicator. A normal result, though, doesn’t necessarily exclude the presence of toxic metals.

Blood and sweat tests may be revealing but, as heavy metals are very sticky, they can bind to body tissues in various parts of the body and be excreted in different ways. Many heavy metals concentrate in bone and fat or attach to proteins and so may remain hidden on blood and sweat tests.

Urine tests, done before and after the use of a chelating agent, are claimed by a variety of sources to be the most reliable tests. But if a chelating agent is not used, Dr Sarah Myhill says that then doing any urine tests won’t be completely reliable because heavy metals aren’t otherwise readily excreted. “To be able to detect heavy metals, you have to grab them with something,” she says. “That’s why DMSA is so good – it picks up the big molecules and that gives you a pretty good idea of heavy metal status.”

Testing resources

In the UK:

Biolab Medical Unit

in London offers a DMSA Provocation Test

In the US:

Genova Diagnostics in Asheville, North Carolina, offers a Comprehensive Urine Element Profile

Practitioner resources

Dr Patricia Kane, NeuroLipid Research Foundation, 5 Osprey Drive, Millville, NJ 08332

tel: (856) 825 8338

Dr Thomas Szulc, New York Center for Innovative Medicine, 333 E 57th Street, Suite 1B, New York, NY,

tel: (212) 421 0421

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Article Topics: Cell membrane
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