Dr Sidney Baker, an American pioneer in nutritional medicine, argues that your body's ability to eliminate waste is the key to good health and when it is faulty, many foreign proteins can wreak havoc.
Detoxification is the bio chemistry of handling potentially harmful chemicals that appear within the system and which must be neutralised before they pass from the body.
This does not refer exclusively to harmful environmental chemicals: lead, mercury, the heavy metals, additives, dyes, hormones, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and petrochemicals of all sorts or pollutants of the air, water and food supply that we ingest.
Detoxification is what your body's chemistry does to rid itself of any unwanted chemicals, whether the chemicals are left over from your own metabolism or enter your system from the air you breathe, the food and water you consume, substances you put onto your skin or use to treat your hair, or the toxins and allergens produced by the germs that inhabit your intestine.
Detoxification is the biggest item in each individual's biochemical budget. It handles waste not only from the environment, but from every process in all the organs and sytems of the body. Nearly every molecule the body handles has to be gotten rid of when it has served its purpose. Doing so involves a delicate process of rendering the molecule inactive. It is a synthetic activity, a creative enterprise in which small molecules such as the ammonia left over from protein metabolism, hormones no longer needed by the endocrine system, used neurotransmitters from the nervous system, or the byproducts of a well functioning immune system must be changed before they can be safely excreted from the body.
Illness and disease will affect the body's detoxification chemistry, and if there is something wrong with this chemistry, any other problems will be aggravated. It is central to all systems.
The biologic process of detoxification mostly involves synthesis, as opposed to degradation. That is, if you want to get rid of a molecule, such as oestrogen, your chemistry usually sticks another molecule onto it, making it bigger, but less toxic. "Packaged" in this way, the unwanted molecule is discharged from the body directly from the liver into the bile where it travels to the intestine and out, or the liver puts the package into the bloodstream where it travels out of the body in the urine via the kidneys.
Some toxins, such as heavy metals, find their way out through hair and nails. A minor exit for toxins is through perspiration. For the most part, however, toxins are bundled for excretion from the body by a process that results in a bigger, not smaller package.
For a child, the cost of growth is also very high, but in adults, detoxification is the major molecule making activity. Even detoxification jobs that look as if they are mostly breaking things down turn out, in the end, to involve costly steps in which new molecules are made just for the sake of safe disposal. Methylmalonic acid is the stuff that may pile up in the body's process of getting rid of the amino acid valine. Amino groups, removed from their amino acid or protein origins, turn into ammonia the same strong poison that you recognise by its noxious odour. Ammonia cannot simply be allowed to go free inside your cells or in your blood. It is captured by alpha ketoglutarate (AKG), which becomes glutamate.
Glutamate can take on another ammonia to become glutamine, which, in turn, delivers the unwanted ammonia to the single most expensive chemical department in the body, the urea cycle, where an elaborate process of handing off the ammonia is carried out with the final formation of urea which can safely pass through the kidneys and out of the body.
The breaking down of each amino acid molecule eventually requires making a molecule. The making of molecules for detoxification requires the lion's share of all the energy we expend on making any kind of molecule every day.
To understand the substantial portion of daily expenditure of energy on all the chores of living that require making new molecules, consider how it would go if the body were a municipality. The budget would look like this:
Sanitation, 80 per cent (the various detoxication activities)
Police, 5 per cent (the immune system)
School system, 10 per cent (the central nervous system)
Public works, 6 per cent (maintenance of organs)
Detoxification is a two step process. When we need to get rid of unwanted molecules from our bodies, the first phase renders the molecules easy to pick up. "Sticky" is a better image. A system of enzymes called cytochrome P450 prepares leftovers to toxic molecules and affects the molecules in a way that is very roughly like rubbing a balloon on your sweater. At this moment, the molecules that have been made more sticky, or "activated", are more dangerous than they were to begin with.
The next step, then, is the timely appearance of the molecules that carry the toxins away after safely containing them. The process, called conjugation, is analogous to sticking the sticky trash to individually tiny, somewhat sticky trucks. When each activated toxic or leftover molecule is stuck to a carrier molecule, it becomes deactivated and more soluble in the water of your blood or bile so that it can leave your body via your kidneys or intestine.
Of the main carrier molecules, one comes directly from sugar (glucuronide) and the other is an amino acid (glycine) that is sweet and sticky like sugar. Two other carrier molecules owe their stickiness to sulphur.
Sulphur is a nonliving substance that has the character of living or once living material: it burns. As such it is indispensable to life and a critical component of the diet. If the body does not get enough of it. or if it misuses it, the detoxication systems and the synthesis and repair of tissue are impaired. Methionine is one of the principal ways that sulphur enters the body to become the most important adhesive that holds it together and helps it safely get rid of your toxins and left overs.
The enemy within
In living systems there is a mechanism of adaptation in which cells change in response to how much of a particular stimulus they receive. In addicts, the more opium is presented over a period of time, the more receptor sites are created to accept opium. In the case of opium, the narcotic molecules in the opium work because they closely resemble peptides we use in our own nervous and immune systems.
An amino acid is a small molecule that may function independently as the raw material for making thyroid hormone, various neurotransmitters and other important message carriers in biochemistry. All but one (taurine) of the 22 amino acids found in nature can be combined in small numbers to form peptides or in large numbers to form proteins. The digestive process breaks down protein molecules into shorter and shorter segments, the ultimate goal being the liberation of single amino acids that are absorbed as such into the bloodstream where they are used as raw materials.
If the digestive process is incomplete and/or there is a leakiness of the intestinal wall separating the intestinal contents from the bloodstream, short segments of several amino acids may enter the blood. These peptides join other peptides in the blood and tissues that the body has made to carry messages from place to place.
Considering that many different peptides may enter the bloodstream as a result of incomplete digestion of various foods, there exists the possibility that the outside (exogenous) peptides may be mistaken in the body's communication systems for inside (endogenous) peptides. Exogenous peptides that may cause mischief by being mistaken for endorphins and other endogenous peptides are called exorphins. Observations made years ago by Dr. F C Dohan have led to more recent evidence (Brain Dysfunction, 1990; 3: 315-27; British J. Psychiatry, 1989; 136: 59-72) that peptides from gluten and casein (one of the principal proteins in the milk of all mammals) may be particularly mischievous in producing unwanted endorphin like effects in certain susceptible individuals.
Many children I know have gone from being wild and disorientated to almost completely normal within weeks of eliminating gluten and casein from their diets (see box, above). All food contains at least some protein and all proteins yield at least some peptides even when they are properly digested. Every person absorbs not only the small molecules liberated at the end of perfect digestion but a substantial quantity of larger ones, including not only peptides but proteins as well. Many people have intestines that are leaky, permitting excess absorption of unwanted molecules.
What we observe in peptide sensitive autistic children has implications that will turn up in other ways in the future. Over the next decade, more and more troublesome peptides will be found to cause problems in all of the many areas of human chemistry where normal peptides carry out the body's business, particularly in the brain and immune system, as a result of faulty detoxification.
There are really two fires in each of us. One is our own fire, or our metabolism. The other produces a collective "smoke" of metabolic by products from all the infinitesimal fires of the germs inhabiting our digestive tract. Much of this smoke passes from our gut with the bowel movements and gas that we pass. Some of it, however, is absorbed into our body and must then be detoxified and excreted just as if we had consumed it in some other way. Perhaps there is something in this smoke that disagrees with us; perhaps we might be especially sensitive to these organic acids and the other toxins that keep them company.
These toxins might be conventional toxins, say, from lead or aluminium, they can be alcohol, hormone mimics or allergens.
Because they are organic acids, they might look so much like our own organic acid that they would wend their way into our metabolism and screw things up along the same lines as the peptides can.
Lead is one of the oldest, most ubiquitous and most insidious of toxins. It is greeted by the body as if it were familiar; it is treated as if it were calcium so its absorption is favoured by calcium deficiency.
Thus, symptoms of chronic lead poisoning, such as seizure, increase during the northern summer months when the increase of sunlight raises vitamin D levels to affect the mobilisation of calcium and lead.
The most subtle danger to our chemistry comes from molecules that, like peptides, so resemble our own molecules that they blend in with the crowd and go unnoticed until it turns out that they not only cannot function as do the molecules they mimic, but they occupy strategic spaces in our chemistry and interfere with our own molecules.
Alcohol exercises its toxic effects in a variety of ways. Alcohol interferes with many different enzymes. Alcohol has a particularly bad effect on a group of enzymes called ctyochrome P450 that are the main workers in the body's detoxification system.
In this way alcohol can function as a sort of master toxin, enhancing the toxicity of all other toxic substances and even turning a relatively harmless substance such as the common pain reliever acetaminophen into a poison, seriously interfering with a person's ability to detoxify the drug. Alcohol also interferes with the activity of key enzymes in the transformation of fatty acids into hormones.
Improperly disposed of hormones can also exert toxic effects. Dr Rosemary Warring at the University of Birmingham in England has pioneered the connection between childhood autism and a weakness of one of the body's main detoxification systems, which get rid of leftover hormones, neurotransmitters and a wide variety of other toxic molecules. Some pesticides mimic hormones and meat contains oestrogens that have been used to fatten animals. The quality of our detoxification chemistry is likely to make all the difference between benign and deadly effects of hormones.
Allergies and food intolerances, yeast overgrowth, filtered and refined oils, inborn metabolic errors, biolotical toxins, including a variety of intestinal germs, a leaky gut, poor digestion, chemicals and moulds are just a few of the other conditions that can weaken our detox systems or even cause some to shut down.
!ADr Sidney Baker
Dr Sidney Baker is a specialist in environmental and biochemical aspects of disease. Adapted from material in his latest book Detoxification and Healing (Keats, 1997). NCT, 4255 W Touhy Ave, Lincolnwood, Ill 60646 Tel: 847-679-5500.