Q: We’ve always heard that pollution is a real concern in Hong Kong. But how is it actually affecting our health?
Graeme: As many of we already know, both the air and the local food supply are heavily polluted. Let's start with the foods first.
Foods in Hong Kong are exposed to higher levels of mercury, arsenic, and many industrial contaminants, more than nearly all other reported population studies—according to a published government report (see page 53).
To give you some ideas just how bad pollution in Hong Kong is, according to a report by the Food and Environmental Hygeine Department back in 2002, Hong Kong is at the 95th percentile in heavy metal exposure in many seafood eating groups, compared to other countries. Local seafood is the most polluted of all food groups, and it's not just the metals.
So when we look at local families having seafoods more than 3 times a week, they show high levels of heavy metals in the clinical tests avalable at IMI. As an example, in the case of mercury, using hair mineral analysis as a guide, local school children usually have 3-4 PPM (Parts Per Million) of mercury, compared to 1 PPM in kids in North America. At this level mercury begins to affect the brain—slowing learning, at higher levels causing hyperactivity and poor focus at school.
For men, a published study in Hong Kong has indicated that high levels of mercury was linked to sub fertility, and again, it only took 3 serves of local fish a week to begin to affect the male sperm quality.
So if you are eating local market fish, limit to twice a week maximum. Better still, look for imports from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Alaska, Chille, and the Phillipines as these areas normally have lower pollutant levels. And you all know that tuna, as well as marlin and shark ate high in mercury, so limit these ones no matter where they are from.
Now about the air... I work in Central, so I know exhaust fume exposure is a given. The airborne pollutants are harder to avoid. Polluted air affecs all of us here, both the small particle side as well as the toxins such as VOCs (volatile organic chemicals). A high quality HEPA air purifier with a carbon filter can make a big difference at home.
Over the years in my practice, I’ve seen clients coming to our clinic to seek help for nasal and skin allergies, hyperactivity, fatigue, frequent infections, infertility, chemical sensitivity, or mental fog that was tracked to toxic exposures. Many of these symptoms go away after an effective detoxification treatement.
Q: What about DDT? Is it true that it is still out there in the water?
DDT is one of the strongest endocrine disrupting chemicals, raising the risks of hormone-related illness in infants and adults alike, but more importantly, especially damaging to the unborns.
Unfortunately DDT is still widely used—as an antifouling agent on boats—in China. A study by Centre For Food Studies in 2006 revealed that DDT was still found in the seafood here, especially in scallops and oysters.
Recently, I went to a public talk titled When Boys Become Girls, by Kenneth Leung, Professor of Aquatic Ecology and Toxicology at the University of Hong Kong. Professor Leung showed how DDT and other endocrine disrupting pollutants such as NonylPhenol (from commercial textile products) are prevelant in our local marine ecosystems. His team have published findings showing that the pollutants here are persistent enough to be able to turn genetically boy fish into girl fish around our coast!
The government departments may point out the toxic intake from seafood is below safety limits, yet when compared to data from overseas, the average Hong Kong diet is among the most polluted in the world if such seafoods are consumed. This is also documented in the Centre for Food Studies’ own published papers. So although the general food supply, especially those eating seafoods regularly are exposed to higher levels of DDT and NonylPhenols the governments reassures us this is ok.
I'm not so sure the unborn babies inside their pregnant mothers are not impacted by these exposures, going by the ecological indications. Toxins can cross the placenta and affect the baby. I will talk more about this later on.
Q: You mentioned that there are tests for toxicity levels… How are they done?
I recently did one of these toxin tests called GPL TOX on mysef. It's a simple urine test to measure 17 of the common toxic compounds around.
My result was okay, but it showed that I had a far from perfect toxic chemical burden. (See Graeme’s Report here).
I have been fairly careful with a my diet and eating non-GMO foods. The test showed I was free of organophosphate and other pesticides. I was happy to find I was free of the herbicide such as 2-4-D and Roundup, also known as glycophos, which is used on genetically modified crops. I am also happy to find out that my plastics exposure (phthalates) was at a really low level. Phthalates are suspect at contributing to estrogen sensitive cancers.
The finding of air pollutants in my report came as no surprise. In my body I had higher levels of xylenes from exhaust fumes and other exhaust fume chemicals. However I was surprised to learn that I have high exposures to industrial pollutants from the flame retardants found in electronic equipment! Were I pregnant I'd be concerned about these too, since they are associated with reproductive and developmental problems for the infant.
The toxic exposure to a foetus is directly proportional to the toxic load of the mother. Toxins can affect fetal brain development and bring about potentially lifelong hormonal disruption. In pregnancy, for example, the common organophosphate insecticides are known to be able to cause developmental disorders, learning difficulties and problems with reflexes. The plastic phthalates are an example of an estrogenic pollutant that feminize the brain of the little vulnerable boys.
Now 1 in 70 or so boys are born with autism, whereas 30 years or so ago it was less than 1 per 1,000.
Scientists involved in the research areas on endocrine disruptors and neurotoxic pollutants plead through letters to the public to take more care, I wish the general public have been more aware of it. Here is a published report from The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists on prenatal toxic exposure.
Anyone interested can easily take a GPL TOX test at IMI. They are affordable and important. Based on the results you may consider doing a clinical detoxification. You would also be more motivatred to alter lifestyles that add to the toxin load once you have the GPLTOX results. Personally I sorted a few exposures out once I was aware of them.
I particularly recommend a pre-conception detox about 6 months before a woman try to conceive. It benefits the child's whole lifetime, the entire family, and even a future generation. I say that after helping children with conditions suh as the Autistic spectrum or ADHD for over 30 years, so often they get a lot better after a detox. While it is wonderful to see, I wonder whether some of these brain-related conditions may be prevented from early on—before conception. The detox, along with the clean lifestyle we discussed here, must be started months before the little baby has begun its life.
Q: What can we do to limit exposures?
Firstly, say “yes” to more organic, non-GMO foods! There are several online suppliers who can help you with home delivery here in Hong Kong.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) in the US has published two very useful guides on the cleanest and the most polluted fruits and veggies. The Clean Fifteen list can be consumed confidewntly as commercially grown produce, while the Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables either need to be thoroughly washed with special food detergent such as “Veggie Wash”, or you should only choose the organic version. According to the EWG, by avoiding the Dirty Dozen, you reduce pesticide exposuree by 80%. Avoiding genetically modified foods is the way to reduce exposure to herbicides.
I also recommend avoiding plastic packaged foods and to limit seafood consumption to twice a week week, as mentioned before. Farmed salmon, especially from Scotland and Norway, as well as many Hong Kong market fish, and all tuna, shark, marlin, and swordfish tends to be high in various contaminants. So consume these seafoods less than once every two weeks.
These simple, practical steps will help to limit your dietary exposure to the most common toxins.
But don't forget the water. Not too long ago we saw in the news that lead can be found in Hong Kong tap water. Professor Leung, who I mentioned earlier, also told me that our water supply has traces of antibiotics and hormones from the oral contraceptive pill—as it is drawn from river water downstream from Chinese cities. A carbon based water filter like the inexpensive Daulton can remove these easily. It's the one I use at home.
Then, you can monitor the Air Quality Health Index. Be aware that the government readings there show air pollution to be consistently lower than at other sources such as the Hedley Environmental Index and Clean Air Network—both of which report using the more stringent World Health Organization’s Air Quality Guidelines. Limit your time outdoor on days the readings are high. Smog and pollution levels tend to be highest during the afternoon.
Sorry to say, endurance running outdoors in Hong Kong is not healthy at all. Regular dosing of extra vitamin C while running offers some level of protection against the pollutants being inhaled. I’ll talk about that later.
In an office setting air pollutants are harder to manage owing to the central air conditioning. A HEPA air filtration system helps to clean the indoor air we breathe by removing harmful particulates that pose health problems like asthma, allergies and lung disease. However a good carbon filter is needed to remove the airborne volatile organic compounds. Some models allow an upgrade to more powerful carbon filters, and for Hong Kong it works better.
At home my Alen Breathesmart Air Filter—is the one I recommend. It is really effective at removing air pollutants. It does the same excellent job as the Swiss-made IQ, at half the price, and it can have an upgrade high carbon filter installed for the airborn chemicals called VOC's.
One other thing is the plastic water bottles and many of the cosmetics soaps and hair shampoos we use. Have a look at the labels. Find simpler, more pure, natural bath and beauty products—there are plenty of choices out there.
So sort out these things. They are not really hard to do, but they make a real difference.
Q: Are there any nutrients or herbs that promote toxin removal?
To keep your body processing the high pollution load, we put together a list of the most helpful supplements.
The easiest and least expensive support in a polluted environment is extra vitamin C. The vitamin binds many airborne free radical pollutants as these attack the nose and lungs. Also vitamin C, along with Selenium, allow glutathione in your body to be recycled.
Glutathione is an innate detoxifying enzyme that stimulates white blood cells to gobble up foreign particles. However, some of us are less capable to produce a good level of it on our own. When you take just 500mg a day of vitamin C, your blood levels of glutathione is increased by 50%.
But he more powerful way to boost glutathione is from sulforaphane, which comes most erfficiently from broccoli and especailly broccoli seed sprouts. Just one dose stimulates the DNA detox system in our body for secveral days. In comparison, vitamin C has short term effects as it flushes out of the body after only a few hours. There are a dozen other detox enzymes that are activated by sulforaphane as well, making the process deeper and more regulated by the body’s own intelligence. Broccoli is also an anti cancer food, indeed the strongest one known.
Do you think you could you eat some finely chopped raw broccoli heads or better still the broccoli sprouts every 2-3 days? It's the only herbal-medicine-strength detoxification that is in our regualr diet, and a few times a week will boost glutathione levels and other protective processes that protect our internal cells from toxins. But note that cooking the broccoli in boiling water, or even steaming it for more than 4 minutes destroys the powerful protective benefits of the phytonutrient.
EnduraCell Plus is a really great Australian made product that supplies sulforaphane from broccoli seed sprouts in a safe and stable herbal medicine capsule form.
There are a lot of other properties that sulforaphane has, and it's so many that its better to look at properly, so I've put together this document with many scientific references, because the anti cancer and cell protective benefits of sulforophane have been extensively researched for several years now.
Just to add a bit more on some other great herbs. The benefits of sulforaphane are extended with curcumin from turmeric, and by having proper levels of vitamin D. Both these two nutrients are also accepted to have anti-cancer benefits in the scientific community, owing to the number of studies supporting the fact. You can take an absorbable form of curcumin daily and vitamin D regularly to maximize the sulforaphane benefits.
The herbal food chlorella is another simple ways to help our detox systems, and to keep mercury moving out of the body faster.
I recently discovered that I had excess xylene in me, and that glycine (an amino acid found in bone broth, gelatin, chicken feet , and collagen supplements) could help to remove it. Bone broth is a great suource of some nutrients, however it should be from free range animals as lead can be found in many animals bones. Australian beef would be a safer option for instance.
Besides nutrients and herbs for daily detoxing support, there is another really effective detox method. Saunas remove a really wide range of pollutants—including DDT—via the sweat. The Far Infra Red type are best, and one can be found at the Skin Spa. Take care to soap and wash the skin well after sauna. If you want to get the most from a sauna, take 50-100mg of niacin, which is vitamin B3, before to get an amplified sweating effect. Niacin speeds detox up by stimulating a hot-flush like response, bringing more toxins to the surface to pass out through the sweat.
Q: You have mentioed that some of us are less capable of detoxing? Why is that?
Approximately 40% of us, or more in some races, are predisposed (GSTM1 gene malfunctioning) to toxicity-related issues because of low glutathione levels. Our liver function is genetically governed in its production of detox enzymes.
We learn from our clinical practice that those with the most symptoms affecting more organ systems turn out to have these genetically caused slow functions. It is now possible to detect this inborn bottleneck in our DNA by the Nordic DNA Health test, avialable at our clinic. For these people, EnduraCell Plus is scientifically proven to correct the genetic problem.
Another issue that hinders daily detoxification is the lack of dietary fiber or water, as well as any incorrect bacterial balance in our intestines. An organic apple daily, as well as 4 serves of vegetables, plus oats or brown rice will add adequate fiber to your diet. We have to poop more than once a day to be clearing the toxins from our gut. If you suffer from irregular bowels such as IBS or constipation, you might have a gut infection and this will often produce internal toxins called endotoxins that slow the liver and kidneys in doing their regular detoxification jobs. You should see a qualified Naturopathic Medicine practitioner for evaluation and treatment.
Q: Can you tell us more about the liver function and the bacterial infections?
The primary function of your liver is to detoxify chemicals and hormones and to produce bile to aid digestion. I've written a technical piece on liver detoxification for those interested.
But recently there has ben a lot of study on the poisonous endotoxins made by the so-called gram-negative bacterial infections in the bowel. SIBO, or Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth, is the new diagnosis for many with IBS. It's worth to read more about SIBO if you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or are chronially constipated.
It turns out that bacterial endotoxins ruin the gut lining, cause inflammation and abdominal bloating as well as reduce the detoxification ability of the liver and kidneys owing to a mild sepsis effect. The brain may be affected by the mild inflammation, causing a low mood. Muscle aches and fatigue as well as acne rosacea are often part of the SIBO picture, especially if constipated.
About 1 in 8 persons has parasites or bacterial infections causing SIBO. If you have these, you won't be able to detox effectively on your own. I'm seeing a lot of people with this problem lately, and its really gratifying to see how much better they feel and think once we clear up their IBS or SIBO. One fellow lost 4 kilos in a 2 weeks just by sorting out the gut infection!
Q: How is the clinical detox program different from the common juicing and fasting cleanse?
If you understand how the body actually detoxifies, you can see that a typical juice cleanse is completely ineffective to safely and effectively remove pollutants such as endocrine disruptors and heavy metals. So often people come out such spa-type juicing detox worse than when they started.
Detoxification is a biochemical process and needs a nutritionally sophisticated approach. Certain amino acids are necessary for the liver to breakdown and safely eliminate pollutants from the body. I believe fasting is simply not advisable given the high amounts of industral contaminants are stored in us. Fasting takes away those necessary amino acids and the detox just cannot occur. It's not so bad if a simple juice cleanse is done regualrly for a day, but the amount of poisons we have stored in us these days cannot be processed by the liver under an extended period of fasting.
A detox supervised by a qualified naturopathic medicine practitioner with a scientifically sound training is my advice. They can carefully assess that type of toxins present (for instance the toxic load might be the infection in the small intestine that is the cause, or it might be mercury exposure, or another chemical exposure) and supply the correct detoxification system needed for the individual’s issues.
IMI offer several forms of testing for gut infections, heavy metals (mercury, lead, arsenic and cadmium), as well as the GPL TOX for pollutants, so as to actually evaluate the toxic load. When these are done before the detox, it’s possible to do another after, to see what we have achieved. It is very satisfying indeed!
We take care to addrress things in the right order: First the gut problems, removing the infections, because they produce a never-ending stream of endotoxins. One of our naturopathic or functional medicicne practitioners can assess for SIBO, parasites, bacteria or candida with the Comprehensive Parasitology stool test, or with the latest DNA stool test called GI MAP, which looks for the DNA of practically every infection in the gut.
Once we know of the endotoxic infections it usually takes a couple of months to clear with herbal anti-microbials, and then we correct the beneficial probiotic bacterial levels as the second phase.
Once that is sorted, we can turn to care for the liver and other organs. If the immunity and health are still subpar, we look for the heavy metals or other pollutants and remove these. It's amazing how health issues disappear when we remove these causes of chronic disease.
Anyone with digestive problems, skin issues, body aches, foggy thinking, chronic immune problems—anyone with undiagnosed causes for fatigue, or are infertile or for women planning to become pregnant are best to look into doing a clinical detox.
Thank you very much for sharing your advice!