You have heard of the respiratory system. Diseases of it range from colds to pneumonia, asthma, emphysema and more. You have heard of the cardiovascular system. Its problems include hypertension, heart attacks, and phlebitis. You have heard of the gastrointestinal system. Problems with this include ulcers, hiatus hernias, gall stones, hepatitis and colitis. You have heard of the genitourinary system, with kidney, prostrate, bladder, uterus, and ovarian problems. You have heard of the musculoskeletal system, with arthritis, fibrocytis, ruptured discs, tom tendons, and broken bones. You have heard of the endocrine system with malfunctions of the glands like thyroid, pituitary, and adrenal, for example. You have heard of the nervous system with diseases ranging from migraines to strokes, Parkinsonism to multiple sclerosis, and manic depression to schizophrenia.
And until this decade, you probably were not aware of the immune system. It governs allergies, auto-immune diseases, like thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and extends to the deadly diseases of AIDS and cancer. But you and thousands of physicians are unacquainted with a system whose importance is ushering in an evolution in medicine. knowledge of this system antiquates our current classification system of diseases and opens up the era of ultimate wellness. Simultaneously it begins to bring to a close the era of drugs and surgery to merely suppress symptoms.
We are now able, instead, to find the actual cause of symptoms and banish them in healthful ways. Gone is the outdated idea that a headache is a Darvon deficiency. For indeed, that is how we have handled symptoms since the era of drugs began early in this century. Antiquated is the idea that every unexplainable symptom is due to “a bug”, “a virus”, or “all in your head.” Mysterious viral infections and hypochondriasis have ineffectively dominated the diagnostic picture long enough.
So what is this system? None other than the Detoxification System. It exists in every cell of the body and its existence before this century had been virtually unknown. But with the advent of drugs, scientists became curious as to how the body got rid of these. As a result much of the biochemistry has been worked out in the last couple of decades. Then the space program scientists started studying how the astronauts metabolized, or detoxified or got rid of all the outgassing plastic (polyvinyl chloride) fumes that permeated their blood streams while inside the shuttles. At the same time, other scientists started studying how the body defends itself against all sorts of poisons, including pesticides and all of the hydrocarbons of the 20th century.
Xenobiotics Will Become a Household Word.
Hydrocarbons are merely chemical compounds with hydrogen and carbon. But many of the ones we are exposed to daily are synthesized or made from coal and petroleum. Different names for these petrol chemical derivatives include VOC’s (volatile organic hydrocarbons), aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons, and pesticides. These are the commonest categories of foreign chemicals that get into the blood through air, water, and food. A term that lumps all of these foreign chemicals together, and means simply that foreign chemicals is Xenobiotics (it is pronounced as though it begins with a “Z”).
Unfortunately, much of the information about xenobiotic or foreign chemical metabolism (detoxification) has not yet filtered into the medical school curriculum, so most doctors are unaware of its importance and mechanisms. This is a major roadblock to entering the next era of medicine, for to be ignorant of the nutritional biochemical intricacies of the detoxification system, is to be left practicing the medicine of the past. Usually once a physician comprehends how this system works, he is never again content to treat by the old “diagnose and drug ’em” method. For in knowledge lies power, and herein lies the power, to clear previously impossible and incurable conditions.
Because we are polluting our world at an unprecedented rate, there are skips and jumps in our knowledge. So xenobiotics like PCB ‘s, agent orange, DDT, dioxin, diazinon, benzene, and formaldehyde become household words while the medical world, for the most part, continues business as usual as though these didn’t exist or at least as though they had no bearing on our current symptoms and complaints.
You might wonder why we have a detoxification system to begin with. Sure there are natural poisons, such as mycotoxins from mold and cyanides from cassava root and fruit seeds, but this detoxification system is turning out to be a heavy duty piece of machinery capable (in many people) of Herculean biotransformation of twentieth century, dangerously toxic, man-made substances.
Nearly everything entering the body must be processed or metabolized or chemically changed or altered in some way so that the body can do what it wants with it. Most of the foreign chemicals or xenobiotics get detoxified or metabolized into safer, less toxic forms so they can be safely excreted without further poisoning or damaging the organ of excretion. Sometimes, however, the body detoxification pathways are overloaded or damaged by previous chemicals and an even more potent chemical is created. For some chemicals, the body appears to have no way to detoxify them or in trying to do so, actually makes a more toxic chemical. So, instead of detoxifying, the body is actually toxifying. Since this activation of chemicals makes them less toxic, many biochemists prefer (and rightly so) the term biotransformation for the name of the process handling foreign chemicals. We’re sticking with detoxification (as scores of the world’s most knowledgeable toxicologic biochemists have,) however. (It’s easier to say “detox” than biotransform.)
Basically, chemicals get into the body by three major mutes. They are in the air and you breathe them. The capillary system of the lung absoits them and within seconds they are in the blood stream. Actually, a part of everything around you is in your bloodstream, for everything is continually undergoing oxidation (aging, rusting, breaking down, deterioration, dehydrogenation). As it does so, molecules of it are mixed with the air and it is able to be breathed. This is why you can smell a lemon on the table from six feet away, because molecules are in the air and floating away from their original source. Likewise, you don’t have to be able to smell something for it to be in your blood stream. Deadly, yet odorless, carbon monoxide has never been smelled by anyone.
The commonest way for a foreign chemical or xenobiotic to reach the bloodstream is by eating it or drinking it. Many do this with pesticides, mycotoxins, dyes, additives, and hundreds of other chemicals daily. The chemicals get absorbed into the bloodstream right along with the food.
The third commonest way is by absorption through the skin. Skin absorption is so good that more and more prescription medicines are being manufactured in a patch form (nitroglyceline, estrogen, and motion sickness medications). If I put a sunscreen on my body, within minutes I can taste it and it feels like it is coming out of my tongue. Most people are not this sensitive, for a number of reasons, but many are and are not aware of it because they are too overloaded from other sources. But if you take any drug, we can measure the levels of it in your blood, or just as easily in your saliva within a short time after absorption. This is because once inside the body, chemicals permeate the entire body, and saliva is one of many detox routes.
People who slather creams, colognes and oils on their skin don’t realize that it is just like eating it, for it reaches the bloodstreams as though they had eaten it. That is why with industrial and farming accidental spills of chemicals and pesticides on workers, the first and most immediate treatment must be to thoroughly wash the chemical off the skin. For every wasted second means that more of it is absorbed. A person could actually die just as easily as he can had he swallowed the poison directly. Once in the bloodstream the body wants to do two things with poisons or foreign chemicals (xenobiotics). First it usually wants to make them less poisonous. Then it has to figure out a way to excrete or get rid of them. You see if you send an inhaled, ingested, or absorbed poison directly to the kidney for excretion, for example, without first changing it to a less toxic form, it will damage the kidney as it passes through into the urine. So it is wiser to first change this chemical to a less destructive substance before sending it to the kidney. This is often carried out in Phase I of detoxification.
Phase I detoxification occurs in the wavy set of membranes inside the cell called the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). There are three types of reactions to choose from – oxidation, reduction and/or hydrolysis. These are fancy names for merely removing an electron (“burning it off’), adding an electron or removing hydrogen from the original or parent compound. Sometimes this is all that needs to be done, and the changed compound or metabolite is ready for safe excretion. Sometimes several of these reactions occur.
But what if the kidneys get too overloaded? Nature had provided a back up. Outside of the endoplasmic reticulum, but still inside the cell (called the cytoplasm or cytosol), is Phase II of the detoxification system. In this step a large protein or amino acid (a part of a protein) is hooked on to the metabolite (the oxidized or changed chemical) making it bigger, more electrically charged and hence, more polar. In this fonn, it is more readily soluble in water and can be more easily excreted through the bile and pass into the stool. This spares the kidney of having to do all the work and provides a mechanism to get rid of more toxic and difficult compounds for which Phase I alone is not sufficient. The Phase II process is called conjugation, which merely means coupling (attaching) with another molecule. Conjugates can be excreted in the urine or bile.
Here is an easy way to conceptualize Phase II conjugation: Imagine a poultry farmer has a fire in his barn and there is a stampede of chickens flocking to the one door of the barn. The farmer wants to save his prize layer so he picks her up in his arms and runs with her out the door to save her. This is analogous to molecular conjugation (Phase /I). A substance made by the body (like glutathione) attaches onto the foreign chemical making it much easier for it to be whisked out the door (safely into the bile and gut).
Glutathione (GSH) is a tripeptide, which means 3 amino acids go into its construction (glutamic acid, cysteine, and glycine). It is the major conjugator in Phase II to help the body detox foreign chemicals, medications, radiation and even ifs own hormones (Muster, A. Anderson, ME, (Glutathion, Am. Rev. Biochem., 52:711-760 1983). It also functions directly or indirectly in many other important body reactions regarding making new genetic material, enzymes and hormones. So it becomes readily apparent that if it is compromised because of loss in bile or urine from chemical exposure or overload, many other seemingly unrelated functions of the body will also be affected.