In the past 200 years there have been tremendous advancements in science, technology and industry. But our dependence on chemicals to make our lives easy and convenient has left a lasting footprint on the natural world and on humans – an illness price, if you will. Academic literature and research continue to make connections between chemicals and their cancer-causing properties.
As the first on scene to hazmat calls and structure fires, firefighters are exposed to a higher-than-average volume and variety of cancer-causing chemicals. Firefighters have a vested interest in understanding detoxification and why it’s important to help the body eliminate toxins through a science-based, effective detox program.
We know from many of our own experiences that the body is very resilient and can adapt to many situations, both positive and negative. However, unmanageable volumes of chemicals are accumulating in the body faster than the body can remove them. In many individuals, the total toxic load often leads to cellular dysfunction, hormonal imbalances, metabolic syndromes, full-body inflammation, nutritional deficits and extreme health issues such as cancer.
It is important to remember that one chemical-exposing agent does not create an out-of-control health issue. We know that most chemicals are fat soluble and so they love the fatty tissues in our body. Toxins enter the body and travel through the bloodstream to their eventual resting place. All organs in the body are supplied by the blood, which means they are continually exposed to low levels of toxins. A firefighter’s greatest risk of chemical exposure occurs during fires or hazmat calls.
The liver plays an important role in detoxification; it detoxifies or inactivates and excretes toxic chemicals, drugs and hormones, those made by the body and those that come from outside sources. After the liver inactivates the toxic substances, the bowels, lungs, kidneys, or skin eventually excrete them. The liver is also a major blood reservoir; it filters more than 1.4 litres of blood per minute and removes bacteria, toxins and various other unwanted substances from circulation. Too much pressure on the liver from overeating, rich or poor-quality food, environmental stresses, overwork or emotional stress can cause liver overload. Overload leads to a decreased ability to clear toxins and hormones, and the manufacture of bile. An overloaded liver allows toxic and waste material to pass into the blood and accumulate in the body instead of being eliminated.
A good detoxification program aims to improve bowel and liver health. Such a program also moves toxins out of their storage sites in the fatty tissue, supports the liver’s ability to break them down, and supports the functioning of the other major organs of elimination: the skin, the lungs, the kidneys and the gastrointestinal tract.
To help firefighters detoxify their bodies, I created a program that combines nutritional modifications, functional detox supplementations, herbal medicines, water therapy, and infrared sauna therapies.
A diet high in vegetables is the key to a comprehensive detox program. Most notable are the cruciferous vegetables – broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale and rapini. Cruciferous vegetables are packed with glucosinolates phytonutrients that can help heal the liver and allow it to eliminate toxins.
Studies that show herbal medicines such as curcumin, which is found in turmeric root, can increase the production of liver enzyme detoxification pathways.
Why an infrared sauna? Infrared heat penetrates the body tissues to a depth of more than 3.8 centimetres (1.5 inches), deeper than a conventional sauna, which relies on convection rather then conduction to produce heating. The infrared sauna uses heat stress and increased circulation to facilitate lipid mobilization and excretion of fat-stored toxins through various excretion pathways, including perspiration. The functional food is a rice protein-based nutritional supplement designed for use in detoxification protocols, as an adjunct to liver and bowel detoxification, and for systemic inflammatory control and allergy relief.
The program takes 28 days to complete, and firefighters who have gone the distance tell me it was difficult but very rewarding. Patients often experience health improvements such as mental clarity, restored energy levels, weight loss, decreased allergies, improved sleeping patterns and lowered blood pressure. Most importantly you will be one step closer to a healthy liver and a cleaner body.
Read part 1 of this series on firefighter detoxification.
Elias Markou is in private practice in Mississauga, Ont., and is the chief medical officer for the Halton Hills Fire Department. Markou was a volunteer firefighter for six years and is now a firefighter health expert and blogger. Contact him at
WellBeing: September 2015
A firefighter’s guide to detoxification – part 2
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