Most naturals shoppers want contaminant-free health and beauty products and pure wholesome food. But despite keeping what they put on and into their bodies clean, even the most dedicated of natural foods shoppers cannot avoid exposure to everyday environmental toxins.
According to the February 2000 issue of Alternative Medicine Review, "Chemical compounds ubiquitous in our food, air and water are now found in every person. The rate of cancers not associated with smoking is higher for those born after 1940 than before, and this increase in cancer rate is due to environmental factors other than smoking. [Many] new medical diagnoses are related to overexposure to environmental contaminants. Ongoing assessments have shown quite clearly it is not a question of if we are carrying a burden of toxic xenobiotic compounds, it is a question of how much and how they affect our health."
Lucky for you and your shoppers, there are ways to combat these ever-present toxins and flush them from the body.
How 'toxic' is the average person?
One of the reasons contaminants are so unavoidable in our society is because they come from innumerable sources. "Toxins can come from medication, food, pesticides or other chemicals. They can be airborne or waterborne and can range from plastic to heavy metals, including aluminum, cadmium, mercury and arsenic. Pollutants can be found in building products and furnishings, carpets, clothing, and automobile exhaust, to name a few," says Dr. Sally Schultz, an owner of Optimal Health, an integrative health and wellness center in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Janet Zand, N.D., L.Ac., OMD, author of Smart Medicine for Healthier Living (Avery, 1999) agrees. "We're all breathing the same air and eating the same food. Who knows how much toxicity we all have in our bodies?" she says.
In fact, most of the details surrounding toxicity and detoxifying seem to be somewhat amorphous. For instance, the way toxins affect health and the body can vary greatly for each individual. "Depending on our genetic heritage, some people can detoxify and eliminate certain medications and toxins better than others," Schultz says.
Zand adds, "There's also a lot to be said for stress, nutrition and how each individual oxidizes free radicals. All that said, it seems like many of us have some kind of toxicity from just living in this country," she says.
How can shoppers tell their level of toxicity?
To confuse matters further, symptoms indicating an unsafe or unhealthy level of toxins in the body are highly varied and can often be mistaken for symptoms of other conditions. For instance, according to Schultz, some symptoms or circumstances that might point toward heavy metal poisoning are dietary imbalances, fatigue, chronic headaches, fibromyalgia and jaw pain. "Heavy metals will also affect hormone production and in particular the thyroid, so being overweight with a sluggish thyroid is a symptom of heavy metal poisoning," she says. "People who have had mercury fillings or other types of metal amalgams in their mouths, people who pump gas or eat a lot of fish or nonorganic foods are at risk as well."
Given that more than "60 percent of U.S. adults are now overweight or obese," according to a March 2003 study published in the American Family Physician; "over 40 percent of American women have sluggish thyroids," according to Schultz; and 61 percent of women and 39 percent of men in America have chronic headaches and pain, according to a 2004 survey conducted by the American Chronic Pain Association, it's easy to see how isolating toxicity as the origin of such omnipresent symptoms could be a little difficult.
"Symptoms of toxicity are elusive," says Zand. "Determining what type of detox is needed for an individual is a complicated thing because there is never just one answer or symptom. Toxicity accumulates over time, so it's difficult to pinpoint how or why it happened."
Regardless of the ailment, detoxifying can only help, not hurt, if done properly. "In order to start to treat almost any condition, you have to detox the body first.... If you're carrying a big toxic load, it's a huge burden on your immune system—as you detoxify, symptoms will begin to fall away until your immunity is strong again," Zand says.
And while causes and symptoms of toxicity are complicated, the process of detoxifying doesn't have to be. Simply eliminating unhealthful food choices or incorporating antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables into the diet can help. "Detoxification is effective for all manner of diseases. Our job is to take in the good nutrients and eat less junk. An all-vegetable juice diet for a week each month is an excellent detox program," says Dr. Andrew Saul, author of Doctor Yourself: Natural Healing that Works (Basic Health Publications, 2003) and founder of www.doctoryourself.com.
Schultz agrees that "eliminating junk food, empty-calorie food, processed foods, artificial sweeteners, artificial coloring and trans fats is a basic step" to detoxify the body.
How natural foods retailers can assist detoxers
Once a healthy, nutrient-rich diet is established, detoxifying the exit organs of the body with herbs and supplements is often the next step. "Most people coming into a natural foods store who are interested in detox will want to start with detoxifying the bowel, liver and/or kidneys. This is a great place to start because you have to make sure the exits of the body are clean and functioning properly so that the toxins can leave the body. If the exits aren't working, there's no place for the toxins to go, and you'll be intoxicating yourself rather than detoxifying," Zand says. She recommends a fiber product such as psyllium husk and a probiotic like acidophilus for a bowel detox, and milk thistle for the liver.
For general detoxification, Schultz recommends chlorella, garlic, bromaline, aloe vera, artichoke, parsley, turmeric and cilantro. For a lymphatic cleanse she advises using prickly ash bark, red clover tops and juniper berries, and for the kidneys she suggests asparagus, plantain, juniper berries and goldenrod. "Vitamin C, in enormous doses, is a superb antitoxin," says Saul. "At the proper [high] level, vitamin C has antihistamine, antitoxin, antibiotic and antiviral properties."
Another way retailers can offer a simple detoxification method to consumers is by stocking alkaline water drops in the supplements aisle. By adding a couple of alkaline drops to normal drinking water, consumers can reduce the acidity of stored wastes in their bodies and balance their pH levels. "Teaching people to have an alkalinized diet and drink alkalinized water has enormous potential for retailers," Shultz says. "Neutralizing acidity is very important to overall health, and drinking alkalinized water is an easy way to help the body get rid of acidic wastes. Acidic people tend to be sick people."
Educate shoppers about detox
When selling detoxification products to consumers, education is key. "Most people don't know they need or want to detox, they just come in with symptoms—chronic headaches, joint pain or bad PMS," Zand says. It?s your job as a retailer to point consumers in the right direction. "Show them a couple herbs or supplements, and remind them to start out with one thing and take it for a couple weeks before adding another. It's better to go slowly because then you can always tell which nutrient is or isn?t working," says Zand.
Providing literature on detoxifying herbs and supplements can also be helpful. "Most people interested in health like to read up on it," Schultz says.
"A strong, healthy body cures itself," Saul says, and detoxification will not only help strengthen the body, but your supplements sales as well.
Christine Spehar is a Boulder, Colo.-based freelance writer.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 8/p. 36, 39