The Truth About Toxins

How the gut affects the skin


Toxins are present all around us. They are present in foods, water, plastics, pesticides, cleaning products, and personal hygiene products. Some toxins are from plants, animals, bacteria, or fungi. Toxins are any substance that causes structural and/or functional damage to the cells, tissues, or organs and may be obtained from internal or external sources. The most common toxins that lead to diseases are lead, mercury, arsenic, fluoride, mold, and formaldehyde. Here, we will address the top three toxins (heavy metals) and how they affect the gut, and ultimately, the skin.

First, let’s examine some of the most popular myths circulating in today’s media sources. 

When the physiology of the gut is compromised, the immune system becomes overburdened.

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Myth # 1 

The dosage makes the poison, so only large exposures play a role in toxins causing any sort of disease. Recently published research showed that doses could have the same or even greater effect, especially for endocrine disrupting chemicals. 

Myth #2 

The body easily rids the cells of toxins; therefore, we don’t have to worry about toxins in our food or water. Studies have shown that bodies can retain toxins. In fact, adipose tissue serves as a toxin depot that increases in response to toxic overload. Another study revealed that those with dental amalgam found toxins two to twelve times the mercury amount, specifically in the brain and kidneys. 

Myth #3 

Toxins play a role in disease only in rare cases, but it’s not that many. According to a study conducted in 2011, disease contributions are quite challenging to calculate. However, even conservatively, they found 4.9 million deaths and 86 million disability adjusted life years annually – more than cancer) The cumulative cocktail effects can be dramatic.

Toxin Effects on the Gut

What happens to the gut and skin when toxins are present? Our cells and immune systems react to toxins as an invaders. Toxins are damaging to the endothelial lining of an artery or the lining wall of the intestines, ultimately triggering an autoimmune reaction. A variety of metals and toxins may cause symptoms ranging from gastrointestinal distress, weakened immune system, microbial imbalances, and dysbiosis. When the physiology of the gut is compromised (intestinal permeability, leaky gut, bacterial overgrowth, and chronic inflammation), the immune system becomes overburdened.

Heavy metals or toxins also affect intracellular antioxidant function. This, in turn, directly affects the mitochondria altering ATP production. When less ATP is produced, cells are unable to fend off intruders, thus providing a suitable environment for toxins to accumulate. Heavy metals can also interfere with intracellular antioxidant function, resulting in mitochondrial damage and impairing cellular respiration.  

Toxin Influences on the Skin

As the body is designed to manage and excrete toxins readily through sweat, skin, hair, urine, stools, fingernails, and breathing, indications on the skin may show toxicity. The toxins that are not excreted will circulate in the blood and eventually are stored in the cells, tissues, and organs. If toxins are accumulated and stored in the body, inflammation, organ disfunction, and oxidative stress occurs.  

Skin damage comes from cellular damage, increased oxidative stress (inflammation), mitochondria damage (apoptosis, low turnover, aging cells), enzyme dysfunction (impairs detoxification, and immune disruption). For example, hyperpigmentation can be associated with toxins such as heavy metals or oxidative trans fats (lipofuscin). Lipofuscin and metal toxins present themselves in the form of sun damaged skin, and liver or age spots. Another example is the presence of the toxin arsenic. Arsenic toxicity manifests in conditions such as hyperkeratosis, increased plantar warts, skin pigmentation changes, or line formation on nails.  Arsenic binds strongly to keratin in hair, skin, and nails. Consider toxins that are interfering with cell respiration and turnover when treating clients with dry, lifeless skin.

Strategies to Naturally Detox

The beginning of the year is the most popular time to begin a detox program.  However, many detox programs are not safe for all.  For a more gentle, natural process, I recommend the following strategies. Remember that healthy skin comes from within.

1. Reduce toxic exposure, prioritize whole, organic foods, and use non-toxic personal hygiene products and home cleaning products.  

2. Address your gut function with a functional medicine professional. If the gut, liver, or other tissues are not functioning correctly, a detox program could do more harm than good. Start with a good foundation. The first stage starts with fasting, sweating, resistance training, restful sleep, and increased hydration.  

3. Natural phytonutrients such as polyphenols and flavonoids, herbs, citrus, and green tea can help reduce oxidative stress. Glutathione is a powerful intracellular antioxidant and detoxifying molecule formed by a peptide consisting of three amino acids, cysteine, glycine, and glutamic acid. The formation of this peptide is dependent upon adequate amounts of selenium, a common mineral found in Brazil nuts. Selenium is also needed for thyroid function.

4. Get seven to eight hours or more of restful sleep at night. Sleep is the body’s natural detoxifier.  

In summary, the body and cells are designed to rid themselves of toxins. Talk to your clients about these strategies to naturally detox for improved gut and skin function with lasting results.


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