Detoxification of unwanted molecules takes up an overwhelming proportion of the energy used by the body each day in building molecules and, in fact, most of that energy is consumed in eliminating the waste products from our normal metabolism. When we think of getting rid of waste, we think of "throwing it out!' However, in our bodies, taking care of waste involves containing and building up unwanted molecules, by a process called "conjugation," so that the waste products will not injure us during the process of elimination. The carrier molecules that bind with the unwanted and unneeded molecules must be produced in our bodies. The whole process of detoxification consumes a vast amount of energy and must have available the appropriate biochemicals.

The above gives an inkling of the enlightening NOHA lecture, "Detoxification and Healing," by NOHA Honorary Member Sidney M. Baker, MD, on May 18, 1998. At present, Dr. Baker is in private practice and specializes "in the environmental and biochemical aspects of chronic health problems of both children and adults." He was trained at Yale Medical School, was a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, is board certified in obstetrics and pediatrics, and was the director of the Gesell Institute of Human Development.

Detoxification of unwanted molecules takes up an overwhelming proportion of the energy used by the body each day in building molecules and, in fact, most of that energy is consumed in eliminating the waste products from our normal metabolism.

Continuing with a summary of his lecture and book: The process of detoxification in our bodies involves what can be called the "cleaning" of three major surfaces:

The molecules in our bodies
Molecules, to remain intact, must not have their electrons stolen-the process we call oxidation. "All chemistry has to do with the sharing, gaining or losing of electrons from one atom or molecule (a collection of atoms whose electrons swarm together)." In our diet we can ingest antioxidants, which can donate electrons. Dr. Baker describes and dramatizes a "bucket brigade" that protects our molecules. First, is vitamin C, which offers its electron, then, bioflavonoids and vitamin E can in turn give electrons and reduced glutathione (RG) is the final electron replenisher.

"RG is the most important worker in the detoxification department." It is expensive and actually dangerous to make. It consists of three amino acids and can be metabolized from the essential amino acid methionine. However, homocysteine is an intermediate product in the metabolic production of RG and, if sufficient folic acid and other nutrients are not available, we are burdened with the homocysteine, which "actually liberates free radicals to do their mischief [often to healthy tissues, such as our blood vessels], reminding us that the external environment is not the exclusive source of oxidative damage."

If sufficient RG is actually produced it can dispose of the unwanted molecules from our normal metabolism and return for another load. However, if the toxic load is from outside our bodies (such as lead, cadmium, or mercury, for example), then the RG is bound to the toxin and cannot return. "The result is that for every atom of toxic substances that you consume and later need to get rid of, you are asking reduced glutathione to take a one-way trip to the dump."

Cellular membranes
The membranes around our cells are the size of ten football fields. The membranes must be waterproof and contain fats because the water outside our cells is different from the water inside our cells and passage between the two must be carefully controlled. Fats and oils that we eat go practically unchanged through our lymph and into our blood stream (in contrast to proteins and carbohydrates that are digested into much smaller molecules, and go through our digestive system and liver before going into our blood) . As Dr. Baker puts it: For carbohydrates and proteins "You Are NOT What You Eat." However, for fats: "You ARE What You Eat." In other words, if we eat the wrong kinds of fats, they go into our cell membranes, which then cannot function properly and we suffer many kinds of illnesses.

There are three kinds of "wrong" fats:

  • Rancid fat, which our taste buds are excellent at detecting even in tiny amounts before we eat it. However, fat can become "rancid" within our bodies. The process is oxidation. The molecules in the good fats that we need for our cell membranes are especially vulnerable to oxidation and need the protection of the antioxidant "bucket brigade."
  • Deformed ("trans") fats, such as are found in margarine and many other processed foods.
  • Fats that are not sufficiently unsaturated and flexible.

On the other hand, we need to eat the right kinds of fats, the ones our bodies cannot make, particularly the Omega 3 fatty acids, which are woefully depleted from the present diet in industrialized countries. In his book and lecture Dr. Baker gives wonderful examples of patients being helped by flax seed oil, which contains about 40% of the shortest of the Omega 3 fatty acids. He also reminded us that seashore peoples in northern Europe figured out that cod liver oil is wonderful for children. That oil contains long-chain Omega 3 fatty acids that cannot be metabolized by very young children from the short-chain and somewhat less unsaturated oil in flax seed. Dr. Baker commented that our ancestors tended to eat foods whole so that to take a cod, cut out its liver, and then extract the oil was a remarkable process. They must have realized the exceedingly beneficial properties of that oil!

. . . if we eat the wrong kinds of fats, they go into our cell membranes, which then cannot function properly and we suffer many kinds of illnesses.

Dr. Baker pointed out that detoxifying our cell membranes involves "changing our oil." In other words, eating the right oils and giving out bodies time to slough off the old cells with their stiff, unhealthy membranes and replace them with new cells with good, flexible membranes.

Some of our cells are permanent, specifically, those involved in our nervous system and those in our immune system. These are cells involved in perception and memory. With our eyes and other sensory organs we perceive the large world and remember some of it. The cells of our immune system perceive the world on the molecular level and remember the molecules that they have encountered. In the case of our permanent cells, they are hard to "clean." We could think of all our other cells as functioning to protect them and to protect "our crown jewels," the DNA in our reproductive cells, which we hope to pass on to future generations. All our other cells, even the cells of our bones are replaced-at different rates.

Digestive system
In a healthy digestive system proteins and carbohydrates are broken into constituent parts that can be used by our bodies. Friendly bacteria, living in the gut, can digest fibers into short-chain fatty acids that can be used to help nourish the digestive mucosa.

    Certain bacteria of our intestinal flora are the only way we have of extracting from fiber the compounds that perform . . . three cancer-inhibiting functions:

  1. Inhibit high levels of sex hormones during the life of the individual so that in the event of a cancer arising, it would not be stimulated.
  2. Limit the actual growth of cancer cells themselves.
  3. Hinder the development of blood vessels that a cancer requires around itself for nourishment.
  4. . . . research has shown the absence of [these protective] compounds from the bowel and blood of individuals who have taken antibiotics. The compounds stay absent for a prolonged time, more than three months, so that if they were to take an antibiotic, twice a year, they might inhibit the production of the cancer-preventing compounds half of the time. The protective compounds from soy do not need the mediating effects of bacteria, 

    The molecules we need in the good fats that we need for our cell membranes are especially vulnerable to oxidation and need the protection of another "bucket brigade."

    but can be absorbed during digestion of the soy protein. Numerous experiments demonstrate correlations between levels of the substances from rye fiber and soy protein (as well as from flaxseed, sesame seed, various grains, and tea) and the growth and incidence of prostate and breast cancers in animals and in humans. The collective research in this area has been published in dozens of articles since the 1970s. Another decade may pass before specific recommendations emerge from the scientists who are most intimately involved in the research. Yet another decade may lapse before we hear official recommendations for dietary change or supplementation. In the meantime those of us who are familiar with the research may find it prudent to consume whole rye bread fermented with lactobacillus and to increase our intake or soy protein, tofu, or miso soup. Obviously, those allergic to rye or soy must avoid these foods.

The lining of our digestive tract has the thickness of an eyelid. It has to separate the food and fecal stream from the blood stream. Dr. Baker often prescribes stool analyses for his patients, in order to find out how well or poorly the digestive system is handling food and how well it is detoxifying toxins. He has found that often certain proteins are not completely broken down to their constituent amino acids and that the peptides (small combinations of amino acids) that get into the blood stream can be extremely dangerous. These are not strange, foreign toxins. These are peptides that are very similar to those that are essential messengers in our bodies. He made the point:

"Some of the things that are most toxic look almost like what you need."

He quotes Dr. William Shaw of Great Plains Laboratory in Kansas, who describes the situation where you insert a key into the lock of your home; it fits; then it breaks off; and you are in a worse situation that before you tried to get home. This describes the situation with the wrong peptides, which fit into docking areas on molecules so that the right peptides can't join their receptor sites and are prevented from causing appropriate actions in our cells.

A disease is not actually a thing at all, in the sense that birds and other animals are actual entities and their classification in the last century was extremely helpful in showing their relationships.

Peptides from a leaky gut are being studied more and more. Specifically, a protein molecule (gluten) in wheat, rye, and barley has been implicated in many illnesses. In fact, when a patient enters Dr. Baker's office, he will problably consider the possible contributions of gluten sensitivity-no matter what the presenting symptoms. In his NOHA lecture he gave a list of symptoms and illnesses that have been connected with gluten intolerance in the published literature. As he said, this is not just his list of observations:

Gluten Related Problems

  • Celiac disease
  • Chronic neurological diseases of unknown origin, especially ataxias [failure of muscle coordination] and peripheral neuropathies
  • Dental enamel defects
  • Osteopenia (bone loss)
  • Recurrent aphthous ulcers (canker soars)
  • Small bowel lymphoma
  • Autism and related disorders
  • Epilepsy with calcifications in the brain
  • Epilepsy associated with migraine
  • Brain atrophy Intellectual deterioration
  • Some cases of chronic schizophrenia
  • Arthritis and other joint problems
  • Ammenorrhea and infertility in women
  • Autoimmune problems Iron deficiency anemia in children
  • Elevation of liver enzymes
  • Abnormal intestinal permeability

There is also evidence of problems from peptides in the milk protein, casein. Dr. Baker feels that we are just beginning to realize the problems from peptides that leak from the gut.

Dr. Baker gave us his own approach to looking at our bodies and at illness:

"Illness is a signal to change!"

Illness means that the body is out of balance. For example, he can ask a patient to eat a large amount of certain proteins or, to accomplish the same thing, take four doses of methionine (the essential amino acid mentioned above in connection with the production of RG) and he can discover from a 24-hour urine sample how much of the dangerous homocysteine is produced. This way, he can discover lack of balance.

The two questions to ask are: What more does the body need? and: What does the body need less of? Dr. Baker has found that these two basic questions essentially replace his superb conventional medical training. In medical school doctors are trained to classify patient symptoms into "disease entities." Parsimony is admired. One classification per patient is considered desirable and then prescription of pharmaceuticals that will lessen the symptoms is the expected treatment. Dr. Baker points out that a "disease entity" is really only a grouping of people with similar symptoms. A disease is not actually a thing at all, 

"What does this patient need more of?" and "What does this patient need less of or needs to avoid?"

in the sense that birds and other animals are actual entities and their classification in the last century was extremely helpful in showing their relationships. Taxonomy (classification) of actual living and extinct creatures in the late nineteenth century was essential in demonstrating the effects of evolution. However, classification of diseases serves almost no purpose. It is used for insurance classification and reimbursement. However, the division of the body into "systems" is counterproductive when we actually need to look at overall functioning. The practitioners of Western medicine have learned a great deal from the dissection of dead bodies. When Dr. Baker was learning medicine at Yale, he easily found the brain but the immune system was difficult to find in a dead body. Now, with the explosion of knowledge in microbiology, scientists are finding that, for example, the endorphins (the natural peptides that modulate our feelings) are found throughout the body and the word, "psychoneuroimmunology" has come into common usage, indicating that any brain-body separation is obsolete.

Dr. Baker's approach of looking at the whole person and concentrating on biochemical individuality is particularly useful for chronic diseases and for diseases caused by the environment, such as multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). In the latter case, the same environmental exposure can result in completely different individual symptoms. To illustrate differences, Dr. Baker speaks of the state of intoxication in a tavern-from a yeast extract-(possibly even the exact same one, e.g., beer) and we observe the sleepy drunk, the mad drunk, and the mean drunk. Dr. Baker looks forward to a time when doctors can use computers to put together the many observed symptoms and tests for each individual patient and can obtain a whole picture, which can fundamentally help in answering his questions, "What does this patient need more of?" and "What does this patient need less of or needs to avoid?"

In conclusion, Dr. Baker points out that illness is a signal for change. The doctor's function is to discover and to point out the directions for positive change. The patient may not want to change. He or she may just want a toxic pill that will suppress symptoms. Of course, the pill will burden the body with further detoxification. On the other hand, Dr. Baker has often found that when patients see and feel improvement, they are more than willing to proceed with change. One final anecdote, Dr. Baker describes a woman patient, who started taking flax seed oil. She came in exceedingly happy and said, "Look at my nails, there're wonderful!" He asked, "How is your arthritis?" She said, "Oh, it's better."


*Based on Dr. Baker's lecture and on his book, Detoxification & Healing: The Key to Optimal Health, Keats Publishing Inc., 1997. This article gives just a smattering of what you can learn from the NOHA video of his lecture and from his book.

Article from NOHA NEWS, Vol. XXIII, No. 4, Fall 1988, pages 1-3.