Acupuncture, Toxins, Toxicity, and Detoxification

For many years I avoided the words “toxicity, and toxins”. I told my friends to avoid using that word because it was too inaccurate. I thought it raised the specter of unclear health-foodie irrational thinking, and I never wanted to be associated with that stuff.

Then I learned about the function of the liver in detoxifying the body, learned about the very precise mechanisms by which detoxification takes place, and learned about the exact nature of where toxins come from, both outside of us and inside us. I learned specific foods and nutrients that are critical for maintaining the function of detoxification in the body, and I learned about testing to assess this function. I saw in my own practice the power of nutrients to help people lose weight and feel better. I became obsessed, for a while, with helping everybody become better at detoxification.

I sent some patients home with detox kits of various kinds, from drink powders and supplements to homeopathic approaches. I saw people get sick on many of those programs and learned how to help when that happens.  I even stayed on a detox program from Orthomolecular products for 8 week sat one point.

Later I learned that toxicity can come from even the gut microbes inside us, and that we have great difficulty breaking down our own estrogen in a way that does not produce carcinogenic by-products, and I felt overwhelmed by it all. For myself, I resolved to eat lots of veggies every day, a bit of natural meat and fish, reduce toxic chemicals in my home and workplace, and take supplements. But it is still a constant process and still gets overwhelming at times.

A few years ago, in a course with my teacher Miki Shima OMD, he said that acupuncture naturally increases the body’s detoxification process but in a gentle way. This seemed like a wonderful addition to my detoxification toolkit. And I saw in many patients the detoxification actually taking place.

People who have acupuncture can sometimes feel tired and a little sick the day after their first treatment. Dr Shima said this is evidence that they are detoxifying. Over time, people having regular acupuncture can have more energy, sleep better, have fewer symptoms of all kinds, and lose weight. They can lose cravings for unhealthy foods and substances, and they feel healthier. They get sick less often, and they recover faster from sickness and stress. All of this can be seen as evidence of the body being less toxic.

In specific cases, we will find signs of liver compromise on abdominal examination. There are many different systems of abdominal assessment, but my primary one comes from Kiiko Matsumoto and her teacher, Dr. Nagano. In this system the upper right quadrant, especially along the edge of the ribcage and between the ribs, can get tender or tight to the touch. This is a sign that the liver is not working as well as it might. Sometimes it also indicates gallbladder problems. We might find a person with these signs also has labs that show problems with liver enzymes, or even fatty liver. I assume that these people would also have difficulty with some of the liver detoxification pathways.

Relatively quickly, with a few acupuncture treatments, we can see these signs of liver compromise getting better. Less tenderness and tension along the right rib margin is easy to detect. This shows that general liver health is better, and often goes along with people having fewer headaches and other signs of toxicity.

In the spring, many people begin naturally thinking about detoxification. They have been sitting all winter eating “treats” and they are feeling sluggish. They are ready to get outside and move because they sense the body’s rhythm of the seasons. In Chinese 5 phase theory, spring is the season of wood, and wood is the phase related to Liver and Gallbladder. It all makes sense. So, in anticipation of the season of wood, we feel the call to detoxify. Of course.

Certainly the western medicine kidney is also involved in detoxification, but in Chinese medicine, this is not so much discussed. And I believe that liver is much more often the culprit in people who are toxic.

Toxicity is a complex issue. You can chase it with lots of supplements and powdered drinks, but acupuncture can be a much simpler and more efficient way to support detoxification naturally.