~Heavy Metal Toxicity, Part 4 - Natural Detoxifying Agents

Detoxifying Agents
  • Alfalfa
  • Chlorella
  • MSM
  • Rutin
Alfalfa. Although most people consider alfalfa to be a plant that is primarily grown for animal feeds, and it has been widely studied for that purpose, alfalfa (also called buffalo herb, buffalo grass, Chilean clover, lucerne, and purple medic) is an excellent source of protein for humans. Alfalfa is high in vitamins A, D, E, B6, and K; calcium, magnesium, chlorophyll, phosphorus, iron, potassium, trace minerals; and several digestive enzymes. Alfalfa is also a high-fiber substance (21% crude fiber, 42% dietary fiber). High-fiber diets are generally recommended for reducing cholesterol, improving diabetes, and protecting against colon cancer. As early as 1981, researchers found that--because of its high-fiber content--alfalfa has properties to bind to material in the colon and aid in its removal (Smith-Barbaro et al. 1981). More studies are required, however, to determine if alfalfa has an ability to induce activity in a complex cellular system to inactivate dietary chemical carcinogens in the liver and small intestine and remove them before they have a chance to cause harm to the body.

Alfalfa should not be taken by individuals with toxic or chronic iron overload.

Chlorella. Chlorella is a single-cell, fresh water algae that is rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, chlorella growth factor, and other beneficial substances. It is about the size of a human erythrocyte (red blood cell) or about 2-8 microns in diameter. Chlorella is high in chlorophyll, giving it a rich green color. For many years, chlorella has been accepted as a detoxifier, and it is commonly used in colon cleansing regimes. Chlorella appears to bind to heavy metals as well as other toxic substances in the bowel and help with the detoxification process. Chlorella also increases serum albumin levels that are necessary for optimum health.

Many reports have come from Japanese research studies that followed the nuclear catastrophe resulting from atomic bombs that were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. In a report to the General Meeting of the Pharmaceutical Society of Japan on an early study in animals, Ichimura (1973) reported that chlorella (8 grams daily) increased elimination of cadmium: threefold in feces and sevenfold in urine. Other researchers from Japan showed that chlorella helped detoxify uranium and lead (Horikoshi et al. 1979). Chlorella has detoxification potential for similar compounds, such as dioxin and polychlorinated biphenyls. (PCBs are chemical compounds used in plastics, insulation, and flame retardants, with potential to cause cancer and liver damage.) Other research indicates that chlorella is useful in detoxification of high levels of mercury in the body caused by removal of mercury amalgam. Some dentists recommend chlorella to patients who are having mercury amalgams replaced (as well as to themselves and staff who can incur accidental exposure from day-to-day exposure to amalgam filling procedures) (O'Brien 2001).

MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane). Methylsulfonylmethane or dimethyl sulfone (MSM) is a naturally occurring sulfur compound. Dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO) and dimethylsulfide (DMS) are closely related compounds. In its purified form, MSM has no odor and is a slightly bitter tasting, water-soluble, white, crystalline powder that contains 34% elemental sulfur (chemical formula of [CH3]2SO2). The origins of MSM begin with the phytoplankton in the ocean. DMS is produced through a complex process occurring in the ocean. DMS escapes as a gas and rises into the upper atmosphere. (Some atmospheric chemists suggest that MSM and its related compounds, DMSO and DMS, are the source of 85% of the sulfur compounds in all living organisms.) In the atmosphere, DMS is oxidized by ozone and ultraviolet light into its chemical cousins, DMSO and MSM. DMSO and MSM return to the earth in rain, where they are absorbed by the soil. Then plants rapidly take up the two compounds and concentrate them. Next, animals eat the plants, which completes the cycle (Prater 1999).

Therefore, as a result of the cycle that began with phytoplankton, MSM occurs naturally in the human body as a result of the food we eat. It is a normal component of fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood, and meat and can also be found in tea, coffee, and chocolate. MSM can be detected in the circulatory system (about 0.2 ppm in a normal adult male) and in human urine. Normal adult humans excrete from 4-11 mg of MSM each day in their urine. The concentration of MSM decreases with age in vertebrates. Therefore some research suggests there is a minimum concentration of MSM that must be maintained in the body to preserve normal function and structure (Prater 1999).

Chelation involves a sulfur donor (Esteves et al. 2000). Because MSM is a compound that contains sulfur, theoretically it could be beneficial as a part of a detoxification protocol for heavy metals (e.g., there is a sulfur component in glutathione, methionine, cysteine, and NAC). After administering cadmium to rats, cysteine and methionine were given in combination. Esteves et al. (2000) found that cadmium was removed from the circulatory system, preventing its deleterious effects. In addition to its detoxifying potential, MSM has potential for allergy response reduction, control of hyperactivity, constipation relief, cancer prevention, and inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid and degenerative arthritis (Prater 1999).

Rutin. Rutin is a phytoextract (plant extract) found in many plants, particularly buckwheat. Other rich sources of rutin are black tea and apple peel. Rutin is thought to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic, and cytoprotective activities (Deschner et al. 1993; Perez Guerrero et al. 1994; Kostyuk et al. 1996; Galvez et al. 1997; Cruz et al. 1998). Studies in animals demonstrated that rutin has anti-inflammatory potential in colitis, reducing tissue damage (Galvez et al. 1997; Cruz et al. 1998). Kostyuk et al. (1998) reported free-radical scavenging and iron-chelating ability that significantly protected against cellular damage.

Dietary Fiber. Choosing foods with high fiber content and supplementing the diet with additional fiber (e.g., psyllium, acacia, apple pectin, and oat and wheat bran) aid the body in ridding itself of toxins. When adding fiber to your diet, use small amounts at first so that your digestive system can adjust to the added fiber. If gas or bloating occurs, reduce the amount until tolerance is achieved.

Protective Agents
  • SAMe
  • Silibinin
SAMe. SAMe or S-adenosylmethionine (also known as SAM or AdoMet) has been called "the liver's super-nutrient." Nothing else comes close to SAMe in providing a spectrum of health benefits for the liver. As a preventive agent, SAMe is so powerful that it can reverse the destructive effects of chemicals and alcohol as they occur. It also has a central role in liver biochemistry. SAMe performs two crucial functions: methylation and trans-sulfuration. One result of trans-sulfuration is a transformation into glutathione, the liver's most vital substance. Glutathione is crucial for liver function and is a natural antioxidant for the liver. Because the liver also contains the third highest amount of SAMe in the body (after the adrenal and pineal glands) and because SAMe is so important for liver function, SAMe can be considered to be an essential nutrient for the liver.

The principal function of the liver is to break down damaging substances encountered by the body (drugs, alcohol, infections, or even our own body products). Therefore, poor liver function is invariably accompanied by glutathione depletion. In addition to its many other functions, SAMe also plays a leading role in liver regeneration. Anyone concerned about the effects of drugs, toxic chemicals, alcohol, and aging on the liver should consider taking SAMe for its protective benefits.

Several studies were conducted to investigate the role of SAMe in arsenic toxicity (Yamanaka et al. 1997; Tripathi et al. 1998; Goering et al. 1999). A study by Goering et al. (1999) demonstrated that arsenic interferes with DNA methyltransferases, causing the tumor suppressor genes to be inactivated. The study suggests that arsenic-induced malignant transformation is linked to DNA hypomethylation subsequent to depletion of SAMe, potentially resulting in aberrant gene activation, including cancer genes. Note: In methylation, a compound is derived from ethanol in which hydroxyl hydrogen is replaced by a metal.

Gubrelay et al. (2001) conducted a study in mice to determine the role of SAMe to increase removal of cadmium from target organs by diethylenetriamine penta acetic acid (DTPA). Their results indicated that there was significant removal of cadmium concentration from the blood in DTPA-plus-SAMe-treated animals compared to either one of the substances alone. Gubrelay et al. (2001) also found that treatment with SAMe alone was effective in correcting zinc and glutathione concentrations.

As early as 1985, research was being done in mice to investigate the beneficial effects of SAMe on acute and chronic lead exposure (Paredes et al. 1985). The mice were treated with subcutaneous SAMe for 20-22 days. In all test subjects, there was significant recovery of erythrocytic (red blood cell) ALA-D following SAMe therapy. There was also decreased lead content in blood, liver, and kidneys, with near normal levels attained in 2 weeks. Glutathione (GSH) concentration in blood and liver that had been diminished also increased after SAMe administration, reaching normal levels.

Silibinin. Silibinin (also silybin) is the most biologically active ingredient in silymarin. Silymarin is an extract derived from the herb milk thistle (a member of the Compositae or daisy family). Silymarin and its main active ingredient, silibinin, help prevent toxic liver damage. Standardized milk thistle extract usually consists of a minimum of 35% silybin (by HPLC analysis).

A recent study by Skottova (1999) compared the effectiveness of silymarin with silibinin to inhibit copper-induced oxidation of low-density lipoproteins in vitro. Silymarin and silybinin were found to be equally effective in prolonging the initial "lag phase" (the slow stage of the oxidation process). As a result, Skottova concluded that "silybin is the most important compound of silymarin in protecting the LDL from oxidation."

There have been a few studies to investigate the activity of silibinin on heavy metals. This research supports the use of silibinin as an adjunct for liver, kidney, pancreas, and other organ support in any heavy metal detoxification program. The importance of silibinin for heavy metal detoxification is in its ability to aid liver function and regeneration (Pietrangelo et al. 1995; Wellington et al. 2001), elevate glutathione enzyme levels (Gonzalez-Correa et al. 2002), reduce oxidation (Pietrangelo et al. 1995; Skottova et al. 1999), and improve cellular thiol status (Tager et al. 2001).

However, if the liver has already been damaged by toxic substances, silymarin and silibinin can help speed up liver regeneration. Silymarin and silibinin actually accelerated the rate of protein synthesis in the liver, leading to faster cell regeneration (Sonnenbichler et al. 1986; Valenzuela et al. 1994). At the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Germany, Sonnenbichler et al. (1999) discovered that silibinin also protected the kidneys from toxic injury and produced accelerated kidney regeneration after toxic damage (e.g., from agents such as chemotherapy drugs). Because the kidneys can be damaged by analgesics, chemotherapy drugs, and other toxic substances, the finding that silibinin has protective benefits and even stimulates regeneration has tremendous clinical interest.


For most people, acute heavy metal toxicity will rarely be a concern or pose a problem. However, certain groups are at a higher risk:
  • Those who live in homes that contain lead pipes and lead-based paint or in areas having high environmental levels of elemental mercury, iron, or aluminum
  • Those who work in industries that manufacture batteries, pesticides, and fertilizers or who are members of their households
  • Those who work in industries that are involved in metal finishing
  • Those who handle chemicals in scientific or laboratory settings
Exposure to heavy metals can be considered acute from an accident or chronic from long-term exposure. Unrecognized or untreated toxicity will likely result in illness and reduced quality of life. Testing is essential if you suspect you or someone in your household might have heavy metal toxicity. If test results are positive, initiation of appropriate conventional and natural medical procedures described earlier in the protocol might be required. However, there are many proactive things you can do to provide yourself with natural chelating, detoxifying, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant qualities and to aid your vital organs in performing at their best.

Continued . . .

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