Detoxification Strategies for Safe Weight Loss When Environmental Toxins Are in the Picture

by Dr. Susan Tanner, MD

Weight loss, or the inability to achieve it, has been a question and problem for countless numbers of my patients throughout the years.  Medical support when it comes to weight loss has been “skinny” in answers and there seem to be quite a lot of misunderstandings as to how to help patients achieve their goals.

Redefining Weight Loss

The common thought that to lose weight, your “calorie intake” must be less than or not exceed your “calorie burn” has now been largely debunked. Research into obesity and weight issues shows that factors like the quality of food, genetics, hormones, hydration, stress levels, quality and quantity of sleep, among many others play important roles in determining the ability to lose weight and shed fat.  Of course, total calorie count DOES matter to some degree but there are many times that even though calorie intake is quite low, not enough calories of the right sort are ingested to actually fuel the metabolism to incur weight loss. In some patients, the types of calories consumed matter quite a bit. For example, patients with insulin resistance may respond better to a much lower refined carbohydrate load and will see the best results from paleo or ketogenic diets.  While Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, and other commercial plans do work for others due to the combination of restricted calories, restricted carbs, and the process of becoming more mindful of exactly what is being consumed by journaling and recording.

All of these diet-focused modalities can have benefits, but there is another issue that may really derail the weight-loss process and that is toxicity, and certainly, mold toxicity is of note here. Mold toxicity is one of the worst causes of rapid weight gain and an inability to lose weight and fat regardless of diet or exercise. Toxins are sequestered and stored in fat tissue, and in an effort to keep these toxins as unconcentrated as possible, the body attempts to hold on to fat. This is precisely why in previous articles, we have discussed the importance of detoxification before and during fat loss, following the adage, “the solution to pollution is dilution”. And, while I have had some patients who have lost significant amounts of weight during toxic illness, the vast majority tend to gain, and that is the focus of this article.

Toxins and Fat Storage

It turns out that we all have exposure to environmental chemicals, and they get stored inside of our bodies, mostly in adipose/fatty tissue and fatty organs.  Because these pesky pollutants are so difficult to get rid of, they end up accumulating, which is one reason that age can be a primary determinant of environmental pollutant concentration in humans. Patients who have had exposure to mold are particularly susceptible to this phenomenon; mold toxins are airborne and unseen, thus accumulation can be great over time.

When we have these toxins stored inside of our fat, they slowly leak out due to a concentration gradient.  In other words, if there are more environmental pollutants in our fat, and less in the surrounding fluid, they will leak out into the body causing chronic low-dose exposure to these toxicants.  According to research, low-dose exposure to environmental pollutants is enough to cause damage, including endocrine dysfunction, weight gain, and even sometimes obesity. When you consider that we have TWO sources of toxins – continual exposure from the outside world AND chronic low-dose exposure from internal storage – you can see why environmental pollutants pose such a problem!

With fat cells slowly releasing environmental pollutants at a steady-state all the time and in optimal circumstances, the body can handle their excretion.  However, fat cells can also rapidly release their contents, too. When fats are being broken down and liberated during lipolysis, which of course is what most people are after when they are trying to lose weight, the contents of those fat cells, including many toxins, are rapidly releasing into the body. This potential dumping of toxins by fat cells is one of the reasons that midlife weight loss might be so detrimental if the source of toxicity, such as indoor mold, is not addressed and the body’s ability to detoxify it is not optimized.  When we drastically lower our calories, we get a massive environmental pollutant dump internally and according to some studies, this xenobiotic increase is enough to cause organ damage and increase the risk of chronic disease later in life.

But not only that, there are other studies suggesting that this increase in circulating xenobiotics during low-calorie weight loss is enough to slow down metabolism, decrease thyroid hormone levels, lower thermogenesis, and decrease fat burning in skeletal muscle.  In fact, the higher circulating levels of xenobiotics go during weight loss, the lower the metabolic rate and thyroid hormones go.  I can attest to the fact that there have been patients in the past who were clearly hypothyroid.  In correcting their thyroid levels, they initially lost a bit of weight but then came to a complete standstill, both in weight loss and in their overall well-being.

Concerns for Weight Loss Without Proper Detoxification

When you put the following list of things together, you can see the concern:

1. We all have exposure to environmental pollutants;

2. These environmental pollutants get stored, usually inside fat, or fatty tissues;

3. This process continues over time until midlife when we start feeling overweight and decide to lose weight;

4. We diet or lower calories to lose weight, end up dumping stored toxins, and, as a result, slow down our metabolism in the short term and potentially contribute to the development of chronic disease long term.

Can you see the problem?  Being overweight isn’t good, but losing weight may add to the overall unhealthy picture. It is a dilemma.

Safer, Better Weight-Loss Strategies

There are two strategies to take depending on where you are in your life:

1. Support detoxification regularly to reduce the chemical accumulation on the body that occurs with age.  According to the scientific literature, there are evidence-based ways of increasing the excretion of stored xenobiotics, effectively reducing their half-life in our bodies, and decreasing their accumulation.

2. ANYTIME weight loss is desirable, you must support detoxification and excretion of xenobiotics.  In the short-term, this might make weight loss more effective, and in the long-term, it may make it safer and better for health.

Getting Started

The end goal is not just healthy, safe weight loss, but also increased health and wellbeing in all aspects of life. While individual assessment and testing are always best, the steps below may help you at least in getting started with all of this:

1. Assess the sources of toxicity. We have much pollution outdoors that cannot be avoided, but certainly, keep your home an oasis.  Check for mold by detecting water leaks, moisture overload, and mold overgrowth by screening with mold plates and keeping indoor humidity below 45%.  If this is problematic, the help of a thorough and competent mold remediator is absolutely necessary.  Short-term solutions such as fogging with EC3 from Micro Balance may keep a situation less problematic but the source must be identified and corrected.

2. Avoid the use of unnecessary chemicals and pesticides in your home and on your consumables. Eat organic whenever possible.  Drink purified water–does this sound like my familiar “clean air, clean food, clean water” mantra?

3. Exercise and sweat. Sweating in a sauna is great but if you do not have access to one, do something physical to mobilize sweat from the body.  Sweat is another way that the body releases toxins from the fat cells.

4. Twice yearly, do a general “detox”. There are many of these on the market, and some are quite good. One that I have recently completed myself is from NuMedica, their 14-day Detox.  This can be ordered from NuMedica.com using the practitioner code 40568.   This detox supports both mobilization and binding of toxins and is truly quite easy to do.

5. Support your nutritional health in an ongoing way by adhering to your best diet, and taking the supplements best recommended for your specific situation. Many of these have been discussed in previous articles.

6. Finally, reach out to a licensed health practitioner, doctor, or nutritionist trained in environmental medicine to help support and guide you. If you have been unsuccessful at losing weight, or find that you feel worse anytime you attempt to cut calories or begin to lose weight, toxicity may be a significant issue holding you back. Everyone’s weight-loss journey is different, because everyone’s body, history, genetics, etc. are different. You may need medical and/or nutraceutical support that only a trained professional can identify and provide. HERE is a previous article identifying some of the many ways to find the best support for environmental-illness-related health issues.

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