Heavy Metals, Detox, and Autoimmune Disease

July 2, 2014

     The work of Amy Yasko has been quite eye-opening for many parents with autistic children.  I have enjoyed adapting her work for my patients with autoimmune disease, specifically regarding the role of heavy metals and detox.

 

     At this point, there is convincing research about the role of low-grade infections in those with autoimmune disease.  In addition, methylation mutations are associated with autoimmune diseases.  (See just one of many studies, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23039890 and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24873878).  Some of the first steps in my protocol for autoimmune disease involve identifying and removing gastrointestinal infections and inflammation, but sometimes this doesn't provide full results.  According to Amy Yasko, looking at heavy metals is a good next step.  Yasko explains that  chronic infections sequester heavy metals and make it much more difficult for the body to eliminate them.  These heavy metals cause low-grade inflammation and accumulate in the adrenals, the myelin, the thyroid, and other affected organs.  Furthermore, heavy metals impair cellular metabolism and energy production in the mitochondria.  This is extremely detrimental for those with autoimmune disease but also plays a role in fibromyalgia.  For those with anxiety, stress, global pain sensations, and depression, heavy metals may also be a major contributor.  Many metals, such as aluminum, can inhibit an important cofactor called biopterin.  Biopterin is required for proper neurotransmitter balance.  To make matters worse, methylation defects and chronic infections also impair biopterin synthesis.  

 

     After reading all of this information, it might seem that a detox is the best immediate treatment for everyone!  Not so fast.  Because of the high amount of methylation mutations, CYP mutations (liver detox enzymes), and gluthathione transferase mutations (another detox enzyme), it is important not to initiate a full-blown detox until these mutations have been addressed.  Getting a 23andMe genetic test prior to detox is extremely helpful.  This genetic analysis would reveal how gentle or aggressive the detox needs to be.  For example, those with MTHFR, MTRR, GST, and CYP mutations will need to have a period of "build-up" before initiating a detox.  This would include methylation support, glutathione support, and general liver support.  For those with CBS mutations, they will be making too much cysteine.  Cysteine is a main component of glutathione.  However, those with CBS mutation need Curcuma longa (turmeric) to help enhance glutathione production, otherwise the pathway might go in a different direction. 

 

     Once all of the metabolic kinks have been worked out, detoxification can begin.  At Arthrowell Naturopathic, we support naturopathic detox.  This does not involve chelation, which pushes pathways in a very aggressive way and often makes people feel worse.  We promote natural elimination of metals by supporting the body's ability to do so and by removing chronic infections.  Below you will find the steps that we usually take with patients once they are ready for detox:

 

1) Liver support:  herbs, nutrients, and functional foods can help promote liver enzymes to support detoxification.  This might include Milk Thistle, glutathione, NAC, Green Tea, Dandelion, and more!

2) Specific Diet Plans:  A detox plan will require a clean diet in conjunction with supplementation for a certain period of time.  This might include juicing, detoxification protein powders, green smoothies, and the consumption of good quality, organic foods.

3) Hydration:  Plenty of water and electrolytes will help support cellular detoxification.

4) IR sauna:  Infrared sauna supports gentle detoxification, not only from the actually infrared itself, but also from the sweating that occurs during sauna treatment.  Removing toxins through sweat can help take burden off of the liver, kidney, and bowel.  IR sauna also reduces joint pain for autoimmune patients.

5) Gastrointestinal health:  Maintaining regular bowel movements is essential for detoxification.  Eating a clean diet should help with this, but supplementation can help promote this process until the body can perform this function on its own.  Removing stealth gastrointestinal infections can help restore normal intestinal function, which is why gastrointestinal function testing is a number 1 step.

6) Support methylation with methylation B vitamins, SAMe, Green Tea, Curcumin, and more.

7) Amino acid supplementation:  Sometimes amino acids are required during detox to support liver pathways, especially in association with certain genetic mutations.

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