From algae to common spices in the kitchen, here are five ingredients for the natural detoxification of heavy metals and toxins that are common in everyday life
Whether you're looking for a post-holiday, winter hibernation fix-up or a year-round wellness solution, you can enhance the natural detoxification system of your body. Various whole foods including cruciferous vegetables, berries, garlic, soy and spices like turmeric are popular for detoxification support in functional medicine models of care.[i]
Natural steps such as sweating and taking probiotics are also considered helpful in detoxifying dangerous metals and petrochemicals, which commonly persist as silent invaders in daily life. Let's have a look at some time-tested, evidence-based ways that you can use natural detoxifiers for a healthy year ahead.
Astaxanthin is one of the most potent antioxidants found in nature. A xanthophyll carotenoid with blood-red pigment, astaxanthin has been widely explored for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune-enhancing properties, along with beneficial effects on DNA repair.[ii]
Astaxanthin supplementation for four weeks was found to increase blood levels of the antioxidant glutathione in active young men.[iii] In an animal study, this marine biocompound emerged as a critical agent in protecting the brain against neuroinflammation and oxidative stress induced by environmental tobacco smoke.[iv]
Heavy metal toxicity poses serious human health risks. Exposure to pollutants, xenobiotics and heavy metals such as mercury and lead can affect the levels and activities of antioxidants and enzymes in the body.[v] The algae chlorella offers numerous nutritional benefits and helps enhance the elimination of these heavy metals.
It reduced the half-life of chlordecone, an organochlorine insecticide, from 40 to 19 days and contributed to the removal of heavy metals in patients with long-term dental titanium implants and amalgam (mercury) fillings.[vi]
In young Korean adults, chlorella supplementation detoxified carcinogenic heterocyclic amines (HCAs).[vii] A 2015 study also showed that it helped women detoxify cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a class of chemicals produced when coal, gas, wood, garbage or tobacco is burned, through epigenetic modulation.[viii]
Garlic has a long history of medicinal use, as well as a culinary history as a staple in cooking. Its major component allicin, besides showing remarkable antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial activity, is thought to play a role in its antioxidant and detoxification capabilities.[ix]
Garlic appeared safer clinically and as effective as the drug d-penicillamine in treating mild to moderate lead poisoning.[x] Clinical improvement was significant in a number of symptoms such as irritability, headache, decreased deep tendon reflex and mean systolic blood pressure after treatment with garlic but not drug therapy, wrote the researchers.
Along with onion, garlic also exhibited anticancer properties partly due to its ability to induce phase II detoxification enzymes.[xi] A separate study suggested that this effect may be partly due to organosulfur compounds in garlic, such as sodium 2-propenyl thiosulfate (2PTS).[xii]
4. Broccoli Sprouts
Broccoli sprouts, or baby broccoli plants, are cruciferous vegetables that may aid in natural detoxification. Broccoli, along with its phytochemical sulforaphane, may activate enzymes that may protect against toxicity from PAHs.[xiii] Broccoli sprout extract may protect the liver from different types of xenobiotic substances by inducing detoxification enzymes and glutathione synthesis.[xiv]
A small amount of broccoli sprouts may also help protect against chemical carcinogens. "[S]mall quantities of crucifer sprouts may protect against the risk of cancer as effectively as much larger quantities of mature vegetables of the same variety," wrote the researchers of a 1997 study.[xv]
In animal studies, broccoli sprouts also attenuated oxidative stress from alcohol consumption.[xvi] Thus they may protect the liver by increasing antioxidant capacity and downregulating associated stress.
5. Green Tea
Green tea offers not just a soothing beverage, but also acts as a shield from some everyday toxins. According to animal studies, green tea and matcha green tea can reduce the adverse effects of lead as well as lower gastrointestinal tract absorption of common offenders such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs) and dioxins.[xvii],[xviii]
In the aging brain of animal models, catechins from green tea also protected against declining glutathione peroxidase levels and the ensuing age-related oxidative damage.[xix]
Hundreds of abstracts on the GreenMedInfo.com database provide further information on natural detoxifiers to help reduce the effects of dangerous chemical exposures and chronic toxins in the body.
[i] Hodges R et al "Modulation of Metabolic Detoxification Pathways Using Foods and Food-Derived Components: A Scientific Review with Clinical Application" J Nutr Metab. 2015; 2015: 760689. Epub 2015 Jun 16.
[ii] Davinelli S et al "Astaxanthin in Skin Health, Repair, and Disease: A Comprehensive Review" Nutrients. 2018 Apr; 10(4): 522. Epub 2018 Apr 22.
[iii] McAllister M et al "Astaxanthin Supplementation Increases Glutathione Concentrations but Does Not Impact Fat Oxidation During Exercise in Active Young Men" Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2021 Oct 5:1-8. Epub 2021 Oct 5.
[iv] Yang X et al "Astaxanthin Attenuates Environmental Tobacco Smoke-Induced Cognitive Deficits: A Critical Role of p38 MAPK" Mar Drugs. 2019 Jan 3 ;17(1). Epub 2019 Jan 3.
[v] Merino J et al "The Long-Term Algae Extract (Chlorella and Fucus sp) and Aminosulphurate Supplementation Modulate SOD-1 Activity and Decrease Heavy Metals (Hg++, Sn) Levels in Patients with Long-Term Dental Titanium Implants and Amalgam Fillings Restorations" Antioxidants (Basel). 2019 Apr; 8(4): 101. Epub 2019 Apr 16.
[vi] Merino J et al "The Long-Term Algae Extract (Chlorella and Fucus sp) and Aminosulphurate Supplementation Modulate SOD-1 Activity and Decrease Heavy Metals (Hg++, Sn) Levels in Patients with Long-Term Dental Titanium Implants and Amalgam Fillings Restorations" Antioxidants (Basel). 2019 Apr; 8(4): 101. Epub 2019 Apr 16.
[vii] Lee I et al "Detoxification of chlorella supplement on heterocyclic amines in Korean young adults" Environ Toxicol Pharmacol. 2015 Jan ;39(1):441-6. Epub 2014 Dec 3.
[viii] Yang M et al "Epigenetic modulation of Chlorella (Chlorella vulgaris) on exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons" Environ Toxicol Pharmacol. 2015 Sep 12 ;40(3):758-763. Epub 2015 Sep 12.
[ix] Wu C et al "Allicin Modulates the Antioxidation and Detoxification Capabilities of Primary Rat Hepatocytes" J Tradit Complement Med. 2012 Oct-Dec; 2(4): 323-330.
[x] Kianoush S et al "Comparison of therapeutic effects of garlic and d-Penicillamine in patients with chronic occupational lead poisoning" Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2012 May ;110(5):476-81. Epub 2011 Dec 29.
[xi] Munday R et al "Hemolytic anemia and induction of phase II detoxification enzymes by diprop-1-enyl sulfide in rats: dose-response study" J Agric Food Chem. 2005 Dec 14;53(25):9695-700.
[xii] Chang H et al "Sodium 2-propenyl thiosulfate derived from garlic induces phase II detoxification enzymes in rat hepatoma H4IIE cells" Nutr Res. 2010 Jun;30(6):435-40.
[xiii] Villacruz V et al "Effect of broccoli (Brassica oleracea) and its phytochemical sulforaphane in balanced diets on the detoxification enzymes levels of tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) exposed to a carcinogenic and mutagenic pollutant" Chemosphere. 2009 Mar;74(9):1145-51. Epub 2009 Jan 13.
[xiv] Yoshida K et al "Broccoli sprout extract induces detoxification-related gene expression and attenuates acute liver injury" World J Gastroenterol. 2015 Sep 21 ;21(35):10091-103.
[xv] Fahey J et al "Broccoli sprouts: an exceptionally rich source of inducers of enzymes that protect against chemical carcinogens" Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1997 Sep 16;94(19):10367-72.
[xvi] Lei P et al "Broccoli Sprout Extract Alleviates Alcohol-Induced Oxidative Stress and Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress in C57BL/6 Mice" J Agric Food Chem. 2018 Jun 6 ;66(22):5574-5580. Epub 2018 May 23.
[xvii] Sha'bani N et al "Survey of the detoxification effect of green tea extract on the reproductive system in rats exposed to lead acetate" Adv Biomed Res. 2015 ;4:155. Epub 2015 Jul 27.
[xviii] Morita K et al "[Effect of green tea (matcha) on gastrointestinal tract absorption of polychlorinated biphenyls, polychlorinated dibenzofurans and polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins in rats]" Fukuoka Igaku Zasshi. 1997 May ;88(5):162-8.
[xix] Kishido T et al "Decline in glutathione peroxidase activity is a reason for brain senescence: consumption of green tea catechin prevents the decline in its activity and protein oxidative damage in ageing mouse brain" Biogerontology. 2007 Aug;8(4):423-30. Epub 2007 Feb 20.