Detoxification for Women’s Health

by Marianne Marchese, ND

Over the years there has been a steady rise in women’s health conditions such as breast cancer, fibroids, endometriosis, PCOS, miscarriage, and infertility. Some say the increase is due to better screening and testing.

This may be partially true however we can’t ignore the fact that during this past half century the production, use and discharge of man-made chemicals into our environment has increased. It is no coincidence that during this same period of time disease and illness in women has increased. The fact is that most of the chemicals developed in the U.S. have not been tested to determine if they can harm human health.1

Chemicals can disrupt the normal activity of estrogen, androgens, thyroid and other hormones in women.2 They do so by binding directly to hormone receptors, activating it and causing the chain of events as if the hormone itself were binding to the receptor.The toxic chemical may also bind and occupy the receptor blocking normal hormonal activity, or it may interfere with proteins that regulate the activity of hormones.23 ] These chemicals are known as hormone or endocrine disrupting compounds.

We are exposed to endocrine disrupting compounds in our everyday life, often without knowing we are being exposed. Studies have shown that low dose daily exposure can affect women’s health.45 The exposure to chemicals are coming from numerous sources. Pesticides can be found on fruits and vegetables sitting in the store to be sold.{re6}Meat and dairy products are tainted with dioxins and added synthetic hormones. 7Fish have high levels of mercury and pesticides.8{re9} 10Chemicals in plastic called bisphenol-A and phthalates, which are known hormone disruptors, are found in plastic beverage bottles, tablecloths, shower curtains, and plastic food wrappings.1112 The plastic containers that food and condiments are stored in can leach out these chemicals as well. 1314

Hormone disrupting compounds can be found in both well water and city water providing yet another means of exposure.15 Toxic compounds are also inhaled or absorbed through the skin when using household cleaning products, cosmetics, perfumes, dry cleaning, carpet, vinyl floors, copy machines, furniture glues, air fresheners, mattresses, shampoos, and the list goes on. 16

Women are exposed to these chemicals everyday in small amounts. These chemicals affect the hormonal system leading to such conditions as infertility, fibroids, endometriosis, fibromyalgia, thyroid disease and more. 1718 19

So what can we do to protect ourselves?       

Normally our bodies are equipped to metabolize and eliminate toxins. This is called detoxification. However, since we are bombarded with so many chemicals each day our body becomes overburdened with these toxins. However, there are some simple ways to assist our body in the metabolism of toxins and support natural hormone balance.

The first is through diet. Certain foods support liver metabolism and detoxification. The cruciferous family vegetables, such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, collards, and cauliflower, contain liver detoxifying nutrients. Flax seeds and psyllium husk powder are sources of fiber that bind and support the bowel in elimination of toxins. 20

The second is through liver support. The liver is where phase one and phase two detoxification pathways break down chemicals so they can be eliminated from the body. Liver support begins with herbs that are considered choloretics and cholagagues. A choloretic is an agent that stimulates the liver to increase output of bile. A cholagogue is an agent that promotes the flow of bile into the intestine, especially as a result of contraction of the gallbladder.

Example of liver herbs to use during a cleanse.

  • Arcticum lappa root    (Burdock)
  • Taraxacum root           (Dandelion)
  • Silymarin                      (Milk Thistle)
  • Chelidonium               (Celandine)
  • Chionanthus               (Fringe tree)
  • Beet root

Arcticum root, commonly known as Burdock, is traditionally used as a ‘blood purifier’ to clear the blood stream of toxins. It stimulates bile secretions and aids in detoxification.2122 Taraxacum root, commonly known as dandelion, enhances the flow of bile. It acts on the liver by increasing production and flow of bile to the gallbladder and causes the gallbladder to contract and release stored bile into the intestines. This is why it is considered both a choleretic and a cholagogue. 23Silymarin, commonly known as milk thistle, is one of the most well known liver herbs. It is used to treat hepatotoxicity from organic solvents and to improve liver function tests in numerous liver conditions.

Silymarin, the active constituent of milk thistle, causes an alteration of the hepatocyte cell membrane that prevents toxin penetration.24Chelidonium, commonly known as greater celandine, is a mild cholagogue. It helps release stored bile into the intestines. It traditionally has ben used for inflammation of the hepatobiliary system.25Chionanthus, commonly known as fringe tree, is used to stimulate bile flow and support the liver. [24,25] Beet root has antihepatotoxic effects. It is effective against fat deposition in the liver. Beet assists in liver detoxification because it has a high concentration of betaine, which is a methyl donor in the liver’s transmethylation pathway.2425

A quality multivitamin and mineral is needed to provide the nutrients for liver phase one and phase two pathways. These nutrients are often referred to as co-factors.

Example of a multivitamin and mineral cofactors

  • Vitamin A (from mixed Carotenes)
  • Ascorbic acid
  • Vitamin D and Vitamin E
  • All the B-vitamins
  • Calcium and Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • Kelp and iodine
  • Chromium
  • Molybdemum
  • Potassium
  • Selenium
  • CoQ10
  • Green tea extract
  • Choline
  • Inositol
  • Copper

Lastly there are some nutrients that that help break down estrogen mimicking chemicals and other toxins.

These include;

  • DIM (diindolylmethane) or Indole-3-carbonol
  • Calcium D-Glucarate
  • N-Acetyl Cysteine
  • Alpha Lipoic acid
  • Glycine
  • Glutamine
  • L Methionine
  • Taurine

DIM and Calcium-D-Glucarate are naturally produced by humans and is also found in fruits and vegetables, particularly the cruciferous family vegetables. They increase glucuronidation, an enzyme pathway in liver phase II detoxification necessary for excretion of toxic compounds. Calcium-D-Glucarate also inhibits the enzyme beta-glucuronidase allowing the body to excrete hormones such as estrogen before it can be reabsorbed and raise serum levels of estrogen.26N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) is a powerful antioxidant with rapid oral absorption. It is the precursor to L-cysteine and reduced glutathione (GSH). NAC promotes liver detoxification by restoring glutathione levels in the body. It also protects against environmental toxins by scavenging reactive oxygen species. When combined with a chelating agent such as DMSA, NAC effectively removes mercury, lead, cadmium and arsenic from the body.2728 29.

Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is a powerful antioxidant that scavenges reactive oxygen species protecting against oxidative damage caused by environmental toxins. ALA induces liver phase II detoxification enzymes and specifically stimulates glutathione synthesis. ALA is effective in removing heavy metals from the body by itself and when combined with DMSA.2730 . Glycine is an amino acid that is one of the components of glutathione (along with glutamine and cysteine). Glutathione is a poorly absorbed powerful antioxidant that is often depleted from toxic build up in the body. Glycine is needed for phase II liver detoxification, making toxins water soluble in order to be eliminated from the body.3132 Glutamine is another amino acid that makes up glutathione, a powerful antioxidant. It is the principal fuel for cells lining the intestinal tract and used for repair and maintenance of intestinal permeability.33L-methionine is a sulpher amino acid found in meat, fish and dairy products that acts as an antioxidant and supports liver function. It is a major source of methyl groups needed for liver detoxification. It is known to prevent liver damage in cases of acetaminophen poisoning. It also reduces the toxicity of mercury, lead and the herbicide atrazine.

Methionine supplementation must be in the presence of vitamin B6, B12, and folic acid to prevent conversion to excessive amounts of homocysteine.3536 37Taurine is also an amino acid found in the tissues of most animals species. It is involved in detoxification of environmental toxins by neutralizing hypochlorous acid, which is produced upon exposure to toxins. Individuals deficient in taurine are more susceptible to tissue damage by toxins.38

After completing a liver detoxification it is important to prevent re-exposure to these chemicals. Some simple ways to avoid toxins include;

  1. Buy organic fruits and vegetables grown without pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizer or hormones.
  2. Buy fresh/frozen fruits and vegetables when possible, avoiding canned foods.
  3. Buy organic hormone free meats, eggs, and dairy products and avoid eating the fat of the animal.
  4. Buy grass fed and lower fat animal products.
  5. Eat fish low in mercury and fat since toxins accumulate in the fat of fish. Avoid: tilefish, tuna, swordfish, shark, king mackerel, red snapper, orange roughy, moonfish, bass, marlin, and trout.
  6. Drink filtered water out of glass jars or cups instead of plastic bottles.
  7. Buy natural chemical free soaps, detergents, and cleaning supplies.
  8. Use natural pest control instead of pesticides and instead of herbicides
  9. When remodeling look into earth friendly or ‘green’ building supplies.
  10. Remove your shoes when you enter your home.
  11. Avoid plastics as much as possible.

a. Store food in glass or ceramic containers

b. Do not heat food in plastic containers or with plastic wrap over the top.

c. Buy condiments in glass containers instead of plastic.

d. Use an organic fiber shower curtain instead of plastic.

e. Carry cloth bags in your car for groceries instead of plastic bags.

f. Replace vinyl miniblinds with linen curtains

g. Use metal hangers instead of plastic.


It is easy to get into a state of fear in regards to the amount of toxins we are exposed to each day. One might want to panic and live in a bubble. The best thing to do is educate others and ourselves in ways to minimize our exposure to these compounds and how to support or body the in metabolism and elimination of toxins. Avoiding hormone disrupting compounds begins simply with the choices we make at home and the store. By educating ourselves and purchasing different products at the marketplace it will decrease the demand for products that may be harmful and increase the demand for safer alternatives.


  1. 1. Bergstrom R, et al. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1996;88(11):727-733.-get
  2. Colburn T, Dumanoski D, Myers JP.Our stolen future. Penguin Group Publ. 1997. 70-86
  3. Steingraber S. Living downstream. Addison-Wesley Publ. 1997
  4. Welshons WV, et al. Large effects from small exposures. Mechanism for endocrine-disrupting chemicals with estrogenic activity. Environ Health Perspect. 2003;111:994-1006.
  5. Crinnion WJ. Environmental medicine, part 1: The human burden of environmental toxins and their common health effects. Altern Med Rev 2000;5(1):52-63.
  6. Environmental Working Group
  7. Wolfe MF, Seiber JN. Environmental activation of pesticides. Occupational Med 1993;8(3):561-573.
  8. USA Today – Article 10/29/2007
  9. Serrano R, Blanes MA, lopez FJ. Biomagnifications of organochlorine pollutants in farmed and wild gilthead sea bream and stable isotope characterization of the tropic chains. Sci Total Environ. 2008;389(2-3):340-349.
  10. Shaw SD, et al. PCBs, PCDD/Fs, and organochlorine pesticides in farmed Atlantic salmon from Maine, eastern Canada, and Norway, and wild salmon from Alaska. Environ Sci Technol. 2006;40(17):5347-5354.
  11. Vom Saal FS, Hughes C. An extensive new literature concerning low-dose effects of bisphenol-A shows the need for new risk assessment. Environ health Perspect. 2005;113(8);926-933.
  12. Levin, B. Environmental Nutrition. Hingepin Publ. Vashon Island, WA. 1999 Chapter 4
  13. Tsumura Y, et al. Eleven phthalate esters and di(2-ethylhexyl) adipate in one-week duplicate diet sample obtained from hospitals and their estimated daily intake. Food Addit Contam. 2001;18(5):4490460.
  14. Jouni JK, et al. The role of exposure to phthalates from polyvinyl chloride products in the development of asthma and allergies: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Environ Health Perspect. 2008;116:845-853.
  15. Moore, G. Living with the Earth: Concepts in Environmental Medicine. 2ed Lewis Publishers. Boca Raton, FL. 2002 Chapter 9
  16. A healthy home environment. Environ Health Perspect 1999:107(7);1-7
  17. Hruska KS, et al  Environmental factors in Infertility Clinical Ob and Gyn 2000;43(4):821-829.-association b/t toluene occupational exposure and reduced fertility.
  18. Brouwer A, et al. Interactions of persistent environmental organochlorines with the thyroid hormone system: Mechanism and possible consequences for animal and human health. ToxicolIndHealth. 1998;14:59-84.
  19. Engel CC, Adkins JA, Cowen DN. Caring for medically unexplained physical symptoms after toxic environmental exposures: effects of contested causation. Environ Health Perspect. 2002;110(4):641-647.
  20. Nick, GL. Detoxification properties of low-dose phytochemical complexes found within select vegetables. JANA 2002;5(4):34-44
  21. Linninger S, et al. The Natural Pharmacy Prima Health Publ. Rocklan, CA. 2nd ed 1999
  22. Mowrey DB. The Scientific Validation of Herbal Medicine. Keats Publ. New Canaan, CN 1986
  23. Murry MT. The Healing Power of Herbs. Prima Publ. Rocklan, CA. 2nd ed 1995.
  24. Jellin JM, et al. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Therapeutic Research Foundation Publ. Stockton, CA 4th ed 2002
  25. Gruenwald J, et al. PDR for Herbal Medicines.  Medical Economics Co Publ. Montvale, NJ. 2000
  26. Head KA, ed. Calcium-D-Glucarate. Alt Med Rev 2002;7(4):336339.
  27. Patrick L. Toxic metals and antioxidants: part II. Alt Med Rev 2003;8(2):106-128.
  28. Pande M, et al. Combined administration of a chelating agent and an antioxidant in the prevention and treatment of acute lead intoxication in rats. Env Toxico Pharm 2001;9:173-184
  29. De Vries N, De Flora S. N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine. J Cell Biochem 1993;17f:s270-s277.
  30. Flier J, et al. The neuroprotective antioxidant ALA induces detoxification enzymes in cultured astroglial cells.  Free Radic Res 2002;36(6):695-699.
  31. Bland JS, et al. A medical food-supplemented detoxification program in the management of chronic health problems. Alt Ther Health Med 1995;1:62-71.
  32. Temellini A, et al. Conjugation of benzoic acid with glycine in human liver and kidney; a study on the individual variability. Xenobiotica 1993;23(12):1427-1433.
  33.  Li j , et al. Glutamine prevents parenteral nutrition-induced increases in intestinal permeability. J Parent Enteral Nutr 1994;18:303-307.
  34. Niculescu MD, Zeisel SH. Diet, methyl donors and DNA methylation: Interactions between dietary folate, methionine and chlorine. J Nutr 2002;132:2333-2335.
  35. Jellin JM, et al.Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.  Therapeutic Research Foundation Publ. Stockton, CA. 4th ed 2002
  36. Hirsch GP.Good Health with dl-methionine. Preventhium Int Publ. Sugar Hill, GA. 1996
  37. Head KA, ed. Taurine-monograph. Alt Med Rev 2001;6(1):78-82.

Related Articles