We are exposed to potential toxins, such as heavy metals, on a daily basis, no matter what we do. So why not also cook with foods that naturally help remove heavy metals from the body, a process known as chelation? This article briefly discusses heavy metal toxicity in seafood as well as three foods for natural heavy metal chelation, then combines it altogether in a recipe!
Heavy metal toxicity and fish
Seafood, and most prominently, fish, is not only an important source of protein, but also rich in essential minerals, vitamins, and unsaturated/essential fatty acids (EFAs). Yet it is just this nutrient-dense lipid content which can also pose the greatest harm.
Fish which contain the highest amounts of fat are potentially the most healthy (e.g., salmon, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines, and albacore tuna contain the highest amounts of EFAs). (1) But many of these same fish also can contain the highest heavy metal concentrations, specifically because heavy metals have an affinity for being sequestered in fat. Currently, some of the highest in methylmercury are king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish, ahi tuna, and bigeye tuna. (2) In fact, it is recommended that women who are pregnant or trying to conceive avoid these types of fish. (3) Although the American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week to achieve recommended daily omega-3 fatty acid status, this can backfire if we aren’t careful about where we source our seafood, as well as which types we consume. (4)
The most famous heavy metal is mercury, which in its most harmful form is methylated. Methylation is a vital metabolic process which means that some carbon and hydrogen is attached to the mercury atom, making it more bioavailable to living organisms, such as fish swimming in the sea. Over time, then, this toxic methylmercury can concentrate in the fatty tissues of seafood via the ingestion of sediment, seawater, and oceanic food-chain organisms high in methylmercury. (5,6) One study found that fish muscles contained the least concentrations of heavy metals, while liver contained the highest amounts of copper, zinc, and iron, and gills contained the highest amounts of lead and manganese. (7)
Hence, it’s critical to eat sustainably harvested seafood, such as those provided by Vital Source Seafood, an inspiring company that only supplies sustainability certified fish and seafood (Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), State of Alaska, or Monterey Bay Aquarium SeafoodWatch program certified), such as wild-caught Alaskan salmon and northwest Pacific seafood, for a fair price and delivered flash-frozen to your doorstep.
Three foods that help your body remove heavy metals
The most famous herb for chelating heavy metals from the body is cilantro/coriander, or Coriandrum sativum, which has been specifically shown to help remove mercury, lead, and aluminum from the tissues. (8) Not only that, but it’s an immune-boosting herb.
2. Garlic and onions: Garlic, onion and shallot are sulfur rich foods which particularly help remove lead from the body. (9)
3. Brazil nuts: Brazil nuts contain high a
mounts of selenium, which has been shown to reduce metal toxicity. Selenium is critical for making the body’s most important antioxidant, glutathione, which protects from oxidative damage via an enzyme called gl
utathione peroxidase. (10) Selenium can actually actively bind methylmercury in the body, thereby rendering it less bioavailable and therefore less harmful. (11)
So why not cook sustainably harvested seafood with naturally chelating herbs, and feed two birds with one seed?! 🙂 I decided to sear a filet of wild-caught Alaskan Coho salmon with some of the ingredients mentioned above, and it came out wonderfully.
Recipe: Seared Coho Salmon with Cilantro and Brazil Nuts
¾ lb filet of wild-caught Alaskan Coho salmon
7 Brazil nuts, finely chopped
1 shallot, minced
Half a lemon
Freshly cracked pepper
Pinch of Maldon sea salt
Heat cast-iron skillet on medium, adding 1 tbsp. of coconut oil in cast-iron skillet. Lightly sauté shallot for 3-4 minutes, then remove from pan. Heat pan until very hot, then add ½ tbsp. more of coconut oil. Sear salmon fillet on both sides for 2-3 minutes, until underside is lightly browned, ending with skin side down. Plate salmon, cover in sautéed shallot, sprinkle with Brazil nuts and cilantro. Add seasoning. Squeeze lemon over. Voila! 🙂
- Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. How Cigarettes Damage Your Body. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/HealthyDietGoals/Fish-and-Omega-3-Fatty-Acids_UCM_303248_Article.jsp#.W1c9fthKg_U. Accessed July 24, 2018.
- Menon S. Mercury Guide. NRDC. https://www.nrdc.org/stories/mercury-guide. Published January 9, 2018. Accessed July 24, 2018.
- What You Need to Know about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/diet/mercury-in-fish#1. Accessed July 24, 2018.
Kohlstadt I. Fish, mercury, and personalized medicine. Townsend Letter: The Examiner of Alternative Medicine. June 2007.
How Does Mercury Get Into Fish? Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-does-mercury-get-into/
. Accessed July 24, 2018.
El-Moselhy KM, Othman A, El-Azem HA, El-Metwally M. Bioaccumulation of heavy metals in some tissues of fish in the Red Sea, Egypt
. Egyptian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences
. 2014;1(2):97-105. doi:10.1016/j.ejbas.2014.06.001.
The Health Benefits of Cilantro. Dr. Group’s Healthy Living Articles. https://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/health-benefits-of-cilantro/
. Published February 16, 2017. Accessed July 24, 2018.
Negi, R., Satpathy, G., Tyagi, Y. K., & Gupta, R. K. (2012). Biosorption of heavy metals by utilising onion and garlic wastes
. International Journal of Environment and Pollution, 49
(3/4), 179. doi:10.1504/ijep.2012.050898.
Stockler-Pinto, M., Mafra, D., Farage, N., Boaventura, G., & Cozzolino, S. (2010). Effect of Brazil nut supplementation on the blood levels of selenium and glutathione peroxidase in hemodialysis patients
. Nutrition, 26
(11-12), 1065-1069. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2009.08.006
Ralston, N. V., & Raymond, L. J. (2010). Dietary selenium’s protective effects against methylmercury toxicity
. Toxicology, 278
(1), 112-123. doi:10.1016/j.tox.2010.06.004.
There’s an old adage that while chiropractic doctors specialize in the spine, naturopathic doctors specialize in the gut. Working with what Dr. Henri Lindlahr, M.D., calls “nature’s laws” and grounded in the natural sciences, here are what I call 8 Secrets to Biohacking Your Gut, and they all involve the letter ‘P.’
1. Purification. Another name for purification is detoxification. There’s an old word for toxicity in the blood, toxemia, which according to Henri Lindlahr, M.D., one of the founders of naturopathic medicine, is caused by the violations of nature’s laws, and is equivalent with disease. (1) In this article, we may gloss over some of these laws, but if you want to learn more about them, check out The Naturopathic Medicine Institute.
Toxemia, aka accumulated “waste matter, morbid materials, and poisons,” must be removed by the organs of elimination, known as emunctories, lest their unchecked accumulation of toxicity lead to various manifestations of chronic disease. According to traditional naturopathic medicine, the five main emunctories are:
- Gastrointestinal tract
- Genitourinary tract
According to traditional naturopathy, toxemia can be primarily reduced via sweat (skin), solid waste (intestines), liquid waste (kidney and urinary bladder), and gaseous waste (lungs). Interestingly, one feature these five emunctories share in common is ample epithelial tissue, which in part serves a defense function immunologically. (2) In the skin, epithelium connects via ducts to sweat glands, a type of exocrine gland which can remove pthalates, BPA, and even toxic metals from the body.
Biohack 1: Take a 40 minute infrared sauna, followed by a cold shower, at least once a week. An interesting aside: Did you know there’s a longitudinal study showing that there’s a significant association between sauna bathing and the reduction of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality. (3)
2. Pura Vida. This is the opposite of la vida loca, which induces stress. We know the expression of pura vida as the law of the land in Costa Rica, but at it’s core it really means living a pure life by reducing one’s exposure, as much as possible, to toxic substances, environments, and even thoughts. And yes, this means getting rid of processed sugar and industrial vegetable oils, because of the inflammatory byproducts they produce in our bodies. Because of epigenetics, as expounded upon by the likes of molecular biologist Bruce Lipton, we now know that we literally are what we eat, breathe, and think, and of course, as we follow food chains, we are what we eat ate, too.
Pura vida speaks for itself, but for illustrative purposes I’d like to briefly talk about the effects of stress on the gut. We have microvilli which comprise the brush border and extend into the lumen of our small intestine, responsible for nutrient absorption from our food breakdown. (4) Sloughed every seven days, these microvilli contain arteriovenous (AV) connections which provide necessary blood supply when closed, but in times of stress, the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine open the AV connections and the microvilli lose their blood supply as blood is shunted away from the gut (think fight or flight). As a result, the microvilli cannot survive and lose their absorptive surface, temporarily inducing malabsorption. This is particularly pronounced after, for example, a severe stress-inducing trauma, such as a car accident, as it may take two or three days for the dead microvilli to slough and fully regenerate. It can be said then that chronic stress will induce chronic malabsorption and/or malnutrition.
We all know about “rest and digest,” which occurs when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated and we are not pumping out cortisol and adrenaline into our bloodstreams. It is just this relaxing state that we need to cultivate in order for pura vida to truly take hold in our lives, so that our digestion and nutrient absorption is optimized.
Biohack 2: When you’re feeling particularly toxic or maybe you’ve binged on that pizza and beer that you’d been craving, or maybe you’re traveling for business and can’t help but eat less nutrient-dense food along the way, keep some activated charcoal or digestive enzymes on hand.
3. Probiotics. 70% of our immune cells reside in the gut (5), and the highest density all-natural, bacterial ecosystem in the world is inhabited by our 100-trilliion celled gut microbiome. Our gut bacteria ferment fiber or collagen protein in the colon, producing short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), which are the main source of energy for superficial colonic cells. The most common (and famous) SCFA is butryic acid, which densely resides in grass-fed butter, such as Kerrygold.
Studies have shown that glucose tolerance is affected by our gut bacteria independent of weight. (6,7) And unhealthy bacteria can cause leaky gut, which has been linked to type 1 DM, IBD, celiac disease, MS, and even asthma; more common conditions linked to an unhealthy microbiome include acne, rosacea, stomachaches, headaches, and fatigue. (8,9,10)
It’s well established that allergies and asthma are illnesses most likely caused by diminished gut function and a compromised microbiome. (11) Oh, and your gut microbiota make vitamin B12 (12), an essential nutrient for making red blood cells, proper neurological function, and DNA synthesis. And 75% of your vitamin K is produced in the microbiome, which helps our blood clot and can keep us from bleeding excessively.
When talking dosage of commercial probiotics, the number of live organisms are known as “colony forming units,” or CFU’s. In most people, 5 to 10 billion viable CFU’s of L. acidophilus or B. bifidum cells daily will suffice. (Pizzorno, Textbook of Natural Medicine – 13)
Biohack 3: Take a probiotic daily, and eat fermented, probiotic-rich foods.
4. Prebiotics. Prebiotics are nondigestible food ingredients that help promote beneficial intestinal microbiomic growth, in particular fiber compounds. Like other high-fiber foods, prebiotic substances pass through the upper GI, remaining undigested until they arrive in the colon. Prebiotics are rich in foods such as garlic and onions, Jerusalem artichokes, jicama, chicory root, and even dandelion greens. In the colon, prebiotic compounds are fermented microbiomically.
The most famous type of fiber prebiotic are oligosaccharides, but when researchers refer to fiber, they also mean fructo-oligosaccharides, polysaccharides, and even inulin. Some carbs rich in prebiotics include sweet potatoes, carrots (I prefer the non-orange ones, which have a lower glycemic load, such as polyphenol purple! We’ll talk more about the power of purple soon!), squash, and asparagus. Then, there are also the resistant starches, so named because they are resistant to digestion, which further promote fermentation and help produce SCFAs like butyrate. Some resistant starches include banana flour, plaintain flour, and raw potato starch.
Biohack 4: Eat prebiotic-rich foods, such as those listed above.
5. Purple Polyphenols. Many plants contain naturally-occurring polyphenolic compounds: fruits, veggies, coffee, tea, and even
wine. But only about 10% of polyphenols are absorbed in the small intestine, while the rest end up in the colon to be degraded to metabolic byproducts by our gut bacteria (14). Research shows a symbiotic relationship between polyphenols and our gut microbiome, making a plant-rich diet even more important. (15) Polyphenols can even act prebiotically, to increase
Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. While dark leafy greens are perhaps the most polyphenolic, other polyphenol-rich foods include purple foods such as Concord grapes, black mission figs, prunes, plums, blueberries, and blackberries, as well as coffee and chocolate, and some spices. Oh, and polyphenols increase the presence of good bacteria such as Bacteroidetes, as opposed to the more so-called “bad” bacteria, such as Firmicutes. (16)
Biohack 5: Eat purple polyphenols, such as those listed above!
6. Proline and lysine. Did you know that in the lumen (inner part or tube) of your gut, the amino acids proline and lysine are hydroxylated (a fancy chemical word for the addition of an -OH group to a molecule), with the help of the cofactor Vitamin C, to make collagen?! (17) Pretty amazing, right? It means these nutrients are essential for gut tissue regeneration, which is occurring 24/7. Other nutrients required include L-glutamine and butyric acid.
Oh, and a couple of excellent demulcent herbs that aid in gut healing are slippery elm (Ulmus rubra), deglycyrrhizinated licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra or DGL), and marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis).
Another interesting tidbit: Vitamin C is a strong antioxidant, particularly in lowering antioxidant stress in the gut. (18) Apparently Eskimos got plenty of proline and lysine, as seal and whale contain high amounts, but we should probably hold off on eating them.
Biohack 6: Eat plenty of seaweed (an incredibly rich source of proline and lysine).
7. pH (or Proper Stomach Acid). It is essential that our gut is maintained within a highly acidic, proper pH range of 1.5 (fasting) to 3.5 (full stomach of food). Did you know that over 90% of our endogenous serotonin is made in our gut, indicating that “gut feelings” are no joke. (19) Actually, the serotonin made in the brain is a slightly different isomer than the serotonin made in the enteric nervous system, though serotonin influencing drugs, such as SSRI’s, can impact gut function as well. The gut-brain axis oversees everything from satiety, food intake, and glucose regulation, to insulin secretion and sensitivity, and bone metabolism. (20)
Biohack 7: Because studies have shown that stomach acid decreases with age, some natural means to stimulate the production of stomach acid, thereby improving fat breakdown and protein digestion, include betaine HCl and digestive bitters.
8. Purpose and the Solar Plexus. Okay, so here’s the woo-woo biohack. Did you know that according to the Tibetans, the solar
plexus chakra is where fire of the will in the individual is said to be localized? Interestingly, this is also where the fires of digestion roar. So, it can be said that being aligned with our life purpose will also optimize our gastrointestinal gusto. I know it’s kind of a stretch, for which there is no randomized controlled trial, but your gut’s stretch receptors will thank you. 🙂
Biohack 8: Deep belly breathing, regularly, on 4 to 8 counts at a time, can not only stimulate the will to action, but the fires of digestion.
Recapping 8 Gut Biohacks
So, to recount the 8 P’s for biohacking the gut: Purify, live Pura Vida, eat a probiotic-, prebiotic-, polyphenol-, and proline- and lysine-rich diet, maintain proper pH or stomach acid, and find and live your life purpose, thereby firing your solar plexus on all cylinders. And make it #naturopathic.
By the way, consult your doctor first if you are considering trying any of these therapies. In no way does this blog consist of medical advice.
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2. Janeway C. Immunobiology: the immune system in health and disease. London: Harcourt Brace & Company; 1999.
3. Laukkanen T, Khan H, Zaccardi F, Laukkanen JA. Association Between Sauna Bathing and Fatal Cardiovascular and All-Cause Mortality Events. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015;175(4):542.
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5. Vighi, G., Marcucci, F., Sensi, L., Di Cara, G. and Frati, F. (2008), Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Clinical & Experimental Immunology, 153: 3–6.
6. Musso G, Gambino R, Cassader M. Obesity, Diabetes, and Gut Microbiota: The hygiene hypothesis expanded? Diabetes Care. 2010;33(10):2277-2284.
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9. Gonzalez A, Hyde E, Sangwan N, Gilbert JA, Viirre E, Knight R. 2016. Migraines are correlated with higher levels of nitrate-, nitrite-, and nitric oxide-reducing oral microbes in the American Gut Project Cohort. mSystems 1(5):e00105-16.
10. Mosca A, Leclerc M and Hugot JP (2016) Gut Microbiota Diversity and Human Diseases: Should We Reintroduce Key Predators in Our Ecosystem? Front. Microbiol. 7:455.
11. Riiser A. The human microbiome, asthma, and allergy. Allergy, Asthma, and Clinical Immunology : Official Journal of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2015;11:35.
12. Degnan PH, Taga ME, Goodman AL. Vitamin B12 as a modulator of gut microbial ecology. Cell metabolism. 2014;20(5):769-778.
13. Pizzorno JE, Murray MT. Textbook of natural medicine. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier/Churchill Livingstone; 2013.
14. Tomás-Barberán F. Interaction of polyphenols with gut microbiota: Role in human health. Planta Medica. 2014;80(16).
15. Duda-Chodak A, Tarko T, Satora P, Sroka P. Interaction of dietary compounds, especially polyphenols, with the intestinal microbiota: a review. European Journal of Nutrition. 2015;54(3):325-341.
16. Rastmanesh R. High polyphenol, low probiotic diet for weight loss because of intestinal microbiota interaction. Chemico-Biological Interactions. 2011;189(1-2):1-8.
17. Murad S, Grove D, Lindberg KA, Reynolds G, Sivarajah A, Pinnell SR. Regulation of collagen synthesis by ascorbic acid. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 1981;78(5):2879-2882.
18. Alzoghaibi MA. Concepts of oxidative stress and antioxidant defense in Crohn’s disease. World Journal of Gastroenterology : WJG. 2013;19(39):6540-6547.
19. Yano JM, Yu K, Donaldson GP, et al. Indigenous bacteria from the gut microbiota regulate host serotonin biosynthesis. Cell. 2015;161(2):264-276.
20. Heijboer, A. C., Pijl, H., Van den Hoek, A. M., Havekes, L. M., Romijn, J. A. and Corssmit, E. P. M. (2006), Gut–Brain Axis: Regulation of Glucose Metabolism. Journal of Neuroendocrinology, 18: 883–894.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts!