Detoxification Q&A

Garrett Sullivan, MDLearn more about detoxification with this interview
with one of our physicians, Garrett Sullivan, MD,
and our Clinic Manager.
(This website is provided by the physicians and staff of Integrative Medicine
at the University of Kansas Medical Center.  It should not be viewed
as medical advice or take the place of your health care provider's medical expertise.)

C.M.: Does the word "detoxification" have a new meaning? I remember the old TV drama shows where some alcoholic was sent to detox. Is this any different?
G.S.: When you're talking about an alcoholic person going through detox, it's basically the process of helping to clear him of the alcohol. Now one of the things that we're realizing on a day-to-day basis in our clinic is people having a hard time getting things out of their system. Alcohol is one thing that people need help getting out of them. We're finding there are a lot of other environmental toxins also building up in people.
C.M.: For example...?
G.S.: Something you've probably heard of is heavy metals. The older generation...
C.M.: My generation.
G.S.: ...seems to be overburdened with the heavy metals, while my generation seems to have plastics. So in the '70s we had to start processing lead out of all the products, so can you can't buy leaded paints as readily, gasoline is unleaded. So we're not getting the lead any more.
C.M.: Are you saying that if you eat off a lead plate or have a lead paperweight, you're getting lead in your body?
G.S.: For one reason or another, some people have a hard time clearing the things that get into the system like lead or plastics. So that's what we try to do for our patients--clarify how well they're able to clear out of their body the things they get exposed to.  Just in the air we breathe there's going to be fumes and other toxins that we're going to have to clear from our systems. A lot of people have problems getting their bodies to do this. So one thing we do is figure out how best to support a patient's detoxification and maximize their ability to rid their body of these things.
C.M.: Do all patients have this problem? How do they know if they have a problem?
G.S.: They may or may not know they have a problem. But people are becoming more and more sensitive to certain things. For example, where they used to tolerate all sorts of things but now find themselves coughing or becoming symptomatic if they're in a room with cleaning supplies, it's clear they're having a problem with these agents. In those situations they're more aware they're having a hard problem. Otherwise, you might not know what's triggering your symptoms. In addition to allergy symptoms, some people develop a rash on the skin, have difficulty concentrating, or experience aches and pains of all varieties.
C.M.: And that's just from all the stuff around us?
G.S.: In the last few decades studies have looked at the body burden of toxins. And if you just check for a couple of 100 things in the system, 100 percent of people will have a couple of hundred things in their body. So it's clear we're getting bombarded and we're just accumulating a lot of environmental stuff in our cells and our bodies.
C.M.: And our bodies are holding on to it?
G.S.: Our bodies are holding onto much of this, and it just gets incorporated into our structure and with time it's going to cause more problems if certain things get stuck in there.  We know a lot of this environmental stuff we come in contact with affects the immune system, some things affect the way the hormones work, some things are known to cause cancer. So a lot of the chronic diseases we're seeing in the general population could potentially be a direct result of this accumulated toxin burden.
C.M.: My generation has the burden of heavy metals. Your generation has to deal with plastics. Where's that coming from?

After the '70s we became more reliant on plastics -- from baby bottles to silverware to plastic to cook our food in the microwaves to all sorts of things. We are finding packaging for just about every product you buy at the grocery store is covered in plastic. Plastics are becoming much more prevalent. We've got at least a handful of patients whose hormone systems are not working as well as they should. We're seeing some of the highest levels of plastics in this group of people; and these are typically younger people. That's not to say that some of the older people aren't also having problems with plastics. It's just we're seeing it more and more in the younger generation. And this can become an accumulative problem in the sense we can also get toxins from our parents.

I can remember when they used to come around the neighborhood and spray pesticide over everything. Those types of chemicals have been found in every single species on the planet and in children who were never exposed to the original pesticide. So it's clear it's being handed down from generation to generation.


C.M.: If someone's allergies are getting worse, how do they know whether it's because of this or their natural genetic inclination for allergies?
G.S.: It can be a challenge to know what is triggering someone's problem.
C.M.: So what do you do?

We start with a vitamin and mineral profile. That can give us a sense of how they're handling their differing essential pieces and whether or not they're able to facilitate some major things they need to accomplish with these pieces. If we see significant disturbance, we can start to get some insight as to whether or not they may be having problems protecting themselves from insult and particularly from the environmental things that they're coming in contact with.

So once we get a sense that detoxification may be a big issue for them, then we'll further clarify where they are on their detoxification status. By genetic testing, we can see how well they can use their essential pieces to make the detoxification enzymes that can clear this environmental stuff out of their body.  So we'll use that genetic test to see how well one can make these particular enzymes and if there does appear to be a problem with one's ability to make theses enzymes, we'll follow that test up with an environmental toxin screen, which allows us to quantify what it is they're getting into contact with that is potentially starting to trouble them. Then we can distinguish whether it's plastics or solvents or cosmetics or the source of the thing they're trying to clear from their body.


C.M.: Cosmetics? Are we talking lipstick or something else?
G.S.: It's been established that the cosmetics industry is one of the more unregulated and potentially problem-filled industries out there. There are a lot of things that are added to makeup and lipstick, different things that you never considered were in cosmetics, lotions, creams, etc. What you can do is take a look at your product, review the ingredients on an online website, and take a peek at the risk at the safety profile of the ingredients. Most people will be surprised about the ingredients, that you may not want on your skin.
C.M.: Can you give me an example?
G.S.: We're finding people having trouble dealing with thalates and there are different thalates in makeup. For example, anything with a perfumy scent will probably carry these thalates. Also, when makeup is made there are a lot of binders that get added. It's these subtle pieces that are causing some people problems. The trick to find what your Achilles' heel is when you're considering the problem.
C.M.: So you start by these tests to find out what the problem is?
G.S.: Nutrition is the mainstay because we can't get away from our modern industrialized society. Man-made chemicals and pollutants are in the air and we're surrounded by them at any given moment. You can choose to phase out using plastics and instead use glass storage containers or glass to heat up your food. You never want to use a heated substance in plastic because the plastics will be able to get into whatever is being heated in that plastic.
C.M.: Are we talking about Styrofoam containers that carry out food comes in?
G.S.: Styrofoam carries its own burden of stuff. It's interesting that if you weigh an empty Styrofoam cup, then fill it with coffee and drink the coffee,  then weigh the empty cup, you'll find that the cup actually weighs less than before the coffee was added.
C.M.: It's leaching into the coffee? Is that what you're saying?
G.S.: Technically, it's getting into your coffee or whatever you're heating. The more acidic the substance and the hotter the substance that you're putting into the Styrofoam, the more Styrofoam that will be absorbed by that substance. It makes you stop and think.
C.M.: So what's your advice for dealing with this?
G.S.: You can't get away from these toxin exposures. But when we encounter these things we can defend ourselves and actually get them out of our bodies in a pretty efficient way. If you suspect you're having problems with that, we can clarify where the holdup is. And if you do have a problem, your nutrition status will tell us how you're using your essential pieces to make all the things you need. You need proteins, all the minerals, all the vitamins. Then once you do that you should be pretty well protected and you can start limiting your exposure and cleaning up your environment by using more environmentally friendly products and doing what you can to lessen your exposure.

Last modified: Sep 28, 2012