Our exposure to cancer-causing chemicals often happens on a completely unconscious level. Since World War II, more than 80,000 new synthetic chemicals have entered commercial use. Globally, a new chemical is synthesized on average every 27 seconds.1
Detoxifying these carcinogens from your body is a multistep process where multiple organs mobilize, neutralize, transform and eliminate toxins. The kidneys, intestines, gut microbiota, skin, gallbladder and lungs all play a role. The liver, however, is the primary waste-treatment organ. It's the dump, so to speak.
Toxins are sent to the liver, sorted and processed according to type. Envision the recycling area of the dump: plastics go in one spot, cans and bottles in another. Similarly, the liver sorts and processes toxic material by type, and the end products are added to the bile produced by the gallbladder. Toxin-infused bile then binds to fiber and is excreted through feces.
Specific nutrients are absolutely required for the proper functioning of the two phases of detox. When these nutrients (including protein and vitamin C) are not present, the trash collector goes on permanent vacation, and carcinogenic compounds accumulate and circulate throughout the body, causing mutations and cellular damage.
Detoxification depends on nutrition. In fact, the metabolism of toxic chemicals and drugs can be impaired when protein intake is low.2
In addition to all the amino acids in protein, the key nutrients involved in phase 1 detox include folate, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and the antioxidant glutathione.
Without the presence of these nutrients, cytochrome P450 enzymes cannot function, slowing phase 1 detox and pushing the assembly line out of balance. Certain foods and nutritional supplements can influence both phase 1 and phase 2 by supporting or inhibiting enzyme activity.
Here, we outline the top foods for detoxification. We recommend that at least two or three of the following foods be consumed on a daily basis, particularly if you have cancer.
Bear in mind that in order for any of the detox foods outlined below to work, a high-fiber diet is essential. Fiber acts like the car that drives toxins out of the body.
High-quality animal protein
Both phase 1 and 2 detox pathways are dependent on the presence of all amino acids, and some are found only in animal foods. The main foods to add include pastured eggs, wild Alaskan salmon and high-quality organic and pastured whey protein powder.
Eggs are an excellent source of sulfur, a critical component of a phase 2 pathway. Salmon is a great source of both vitamin B12 and the selenium that is needed for the formation of the powerful antioxidant glutathione, and whey protein is one of the best foods to encourage production of glutathione.
Dandelion greens and roots
All parts of the dandelion (yes, the weed in your yard!) are edible and have both medicinal and culinary uses. They are an excellent addition to salads and smoothies.
Dandelion has long been used as a liver tonic. The dandelion roots contain inulin and levulin, starchlike substances that support microbiome health. In fact, dandelions stimulate mucosal membranes all along the intestinal tract, which helps remove toxins from the bowel and also aids in their removal through the urine.3
Dandelions also contain taraxacin, a substance that stimulates bile production. Dandelion greens are commonly used in the production of bitters. When the tongue recognizes the bitter flavor, it sets off a series of reactions in the neuroendocrine system called the bitter reflex, which supports both digestion and detoxification.
Beets and beet greens
Beets are rich sources of betalain (red and yellow pigments) and betaine, (also called lipotropic factor), which help the liver process fat. Several different betalains have been shown to exert antioxidant, anticancer and detoxification effects.4
Beets are also an excellent source of folate, needed for the methylation detox pathway. It is important to note, however, that beets are on the high end of the glycemic spectrum—one cup of beets contains 13 grams of carbohydrates and 9 grams of sugar.
If you are following a ketogenic diet, as we recommend for cancer patients, large amounts of beets are not optimal. However, small amounts (around 2 tablespoons) of grated raw beets make a great addition to a salad.
Beet greens, which contain far less sugar than the root, are an excellent source of vitamin A, which is fundamental to immune functioning and becomes depleted with exposure to pesticides. Beet greens are also a great source of vitamin C, which prevents the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamine from nitrates.
Lemon zest, rind and juice
The outer part of a lemon contains limonene, a terpene that has been investigated for its anticancer and chemopreventive activity. Limonene can activate both phase 1 and phase 2 detoxification pathways.
Terpenes such as limonene have been found to block carcinogenesis at both the initiation and progression stages and shown to prevent mammary, liver, lung and other cancers.5 So adding lemon zest and eating the nutrient-dense rind is highly recommended.
Lemon juice is high in vitamin C, which is helpful in the detoxification of heavy metals. In fact, vitamin C flushes, where the dose of vitamin C is increased to bowel tolerance, are an excellent way to promote detox.
The zest of a lemon can be added to just about everything! However, be aware that conventionally grown lemons can be coated with a petroleum-based wax to protect them during shipping, so be sure to always buy organic.
Starting the day with a glass of warm water with lemon helps to kick-start the liver and gallbladder and is another practice we highly recommend.
Chlorella is a green algae that has been found to inhibit the absorption of heavy metals including mercury, arsenic and lead into the bloodstream. It contains what are called phytochelating peptides that work like natural chelating agents.
Chelation therapy is a process where EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) is injected into the bloodstream to remove heavy metals and/or minerals from the body and is sometimes used—and largely misused—in natural medicine.
When a patient has leaky gut syndrome, they also have a permeable blood-brain barrier. Pushing chelation in people with compromised barrier function can cause major neurological issues.
However, foods like chlorella have shown evidence of having gentle metal chelation actions. Chlorella is very chemoprotective to the liver and has been found to induce cell death in liver cancer.6
Chlorella grows in fresh water, and there are ways to grow your own. It is available in powdered forms, too, and makes a nice addition to a green drink or can be taken in water in lieu of wheatgrass shots (which we do not recommend due to the toxicity of cereal grains in any form).
Lastly, chlorella has been found to naturally detox radiation. The one caveat with chlorella, and also with chlorophyll (see page 59), is that they are both high in copper, so for people who have angiogenesis (actively growing cancer) and/or high copper levels, these two should be avoided.
Chlorophyll is the green pigment found in plants and algae that absorbs sunlight and uses its energy to synthesize carbohydrates from carbon dioxide and water in order to grow. In a similar way, it is able bind and "trap" toxins in the gut, preventing their absorption and encouraging elimination.
In animal models, chlorophyll was found to lower the bioavailability and accelerate the excretion of several environmental carcinogens, including benzene, and also offered protection from radiation.
The toxin-trapping abilities of chlorophyll were also demonstrated in a human trial of residents of Qidong, China, an area with high rates of liver cancer caused by exposure to aflatoxin, a carcinogen from mold.
Among the 180 people who took 100 milligrams of chlorophyll three times daily, urinary levels of DNA-aflatoxin conjugates (a marker for DNA mutation) went down 55 percent when compared with untreated people .7
The best food sources of chlorophyll include all leafy vegetables, particularly organic spinach, parsley, and watercress.
Broccoli sprouts are members of the cruciferous vegetable family and long hailed for their ability to promote detox on several levels, including enhancing the body's ability to remove pollutants. We also recommend other cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli itself, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, all of which are highly supportive of liver detoxification.
Broccoli sprouts, though, get the gold star. In a randomized controlled trial of approximately 300 Chinese adults, those consuming a beverage made with broccoli sprouts every day for three months had increased excretion rates of two known carcinogens: benzene and acrolein.8
The rate of excretion of benzene increased by as much as 61 percent over the 12-week study period. We strongly support adding broccoli sprouts to your daily diet, especially if you live near an airport or gasoline station. These are also easy to grow at home with a sprouting kit.
This sharply spiked edible plant with bright pink flowers may be poisonous to the touch, but it's powerful medicine for the liver. After careful harvest and spike removal, the roots can actually be eaten fresh.
Its potent antioxidant activity has supportive effects on phase 1 detox by protecting the liver from chemical damage. Additionally, because it inhibits depletion of the liver's stores of glutathione, it is highly beneficial for phase 2 detox as well.
Milk thistle has over a dozen powerful anticancer effects beyond liver support, including reducing cancer cell growth and inhibiting inflammation.
Because milk thistle extracts exert such powerful effects on both phases of liver detox, there is conflicting thought about their use during chemotherapy, yet many oncology nutrition experts state that milk thistle will not increase liver clearance of chemotherapeutic drugs and does not blunt their effectiveness. It can be taken fresh or as a tea and grows throughout the US, UK and Europe.
These vegetables are the edible flower bud of a plant from the thistle family, Cynara scolymus.
They have a folk-medicine history of successfully treating liver diseases. More scientifically, artichokes contain caffeoylquinic acids, shown to have both regenerative and protective effects on the liver.
Artichokes also promote the flow of bile and fat to and from the liver, facilitating a decongesting response. The powerful polyphenol-type antioxidants found in artichokes can contribute to the prevention and management of prostate cancer, breast cancer and leukemia.
Studies have found that the antioxidants rutin, quercetin and gallic acid, all found in the edible portions of the artichoke leaf, are able to induce the death of cancer cells and reduce their proliferation.9
They make an excellent stand-alone low-carb, high-fat dinner if the leaves are dipped into mayonnaise, oils, pesto or organ meat-based sauces.
Synchronizing the phases of detox
Detox takes place in two main stages, usually referred to as phase 1 and phase 2. Successful detox depends on the correct synchronization of these two phases. If either of these complex phases isn't working properly, the body's waste continues to accumulate, taking up more and more space, and becoming more and more rancid.
Phase 1: Enzymes known as cytochrome P450 oxidize toxins (adding an oxygen atom to the chemical structure).
Phase 2: Toxins are transformed into water-soluble compounds and then are easily excreted through urine or bile.
Eastern Green Tea Poached Fish
This recipe is a nutritional powerhouse with the fusion of two highly potent anticancer foods: green tea and wild fish. Poaching salmon or chicken in green tea is commonplace throughout Asia. Coconut aminos are a tasty and gluten-free soy sauce alternative, and the toasted sesame oil gives this dish a distinctly Asian flavor. Adding cilantro and broccoli spouts provides some detoxifying elements.
6 cloves elephant garlic, crushed
4 fresh ginger slices (½ inch thick)
4 lime slices
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 Tbsp coconut aminos
2 cups slightly warm matcha green tea
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 4-oz (115 g) wild-caught salmon
or halibut filets
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
¼ cup chopped cilantro (coriander)
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
¼ cup broccoli sprouts
1) Add the garlic, ginger, lime, sesame oil and aminos to the warm tea and mix
gently. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the salmon or halibut and cook for about 5 minutes, or until it begins to soften.
2) Flip the filets and add the tea mixture to the skillet. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently for 8-10 minutes, or until the center of the fish flakes easily.
3) Remove the fish from the skillet and season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle the liquid mix over the fish filets and garnish with cilantro, basil and sprouts.
Spring Green Soup
This recipe uses a light fish bone broth as a stock to provide the protein needed by the liver and adds powerful greens and broccoli sprouts. To order fish broth, visit Wise Choice Market (www.wisechoicemarket.com) or The Fish Society (www.thefishsociety.co.uk).
2 Tbsp cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
2 shallots or small red onions, chopped
5 cups (1.2 L) fish or organic chicken bone broth
1 cup chopped dandelion greens
1 cup chopped beet greens
2 Tbsp fresh or dried thyme
1 avocado, pitted and diced
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
½ cup broccoli sprouts
1) Heat the olive oil in a soup pot. Add the shallots or onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes until soft. Add the broth.
2) Bring to just below a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the greens and thyme until wilted.
Allow the soup to stand, uncovered, for 10 minutes. 3 Pour the soup into a blender, add the avocado and puree until thick and creamy. Season with salt and pepper to taste, top with sprouts and serve.