The familiar homily, “A stitch in time saves nine” truly applies to gastrointestinal (GI) binders. GI binders latch on to noxious chemicals and toxins, rendering them inactive and allowing us to excrete them safely. In the simple act of binding toxins, they are a powerful aid to our own detoxification system, not only at the level of the gut, but also in the liver and kidneys, and at a cellular level inside all our cells.
Although we know the importance of gut health, many are unaware of the mechanisms by which gut health impacts detoxification. Toxins, including heavy metals and pesticides or herbicides, are irritating to the mucosal lining of the GI tract and lead to inflammation.1,2,3,4 An inflamed gut lining soon becomes “leaky”—letting bacterial toxins seep into the bloodstream, where they strongly stimulate our body’s inflammatory response.5,6 Bacterial endotoxins, and the cascade of inflammatory cytokines they trigger, can also damage the liver and gallbladder, further impairing detoxification.7,8 Exposure to endotoxin also has an effect on detoxification directly, downregulating critical Phase III transporters, the pumps that serve to transport toxins out of our cells and body – causing us to become even more toxic.9,10 Endotoxin and the associated inflammation additionally leads to glutathione depletion, which contributes to even more damage because we are no longer are able to transport toxins out of the cells or protect them from the increased oxidative stress and damage.11,12 What a vicious cycle!
But GI binders can offset all that. Tried and true natural binders such as activated charcoal and clay have been used for thousands of years as remedies for stomach upset, minor food poisoning, and to promote intestinal cleansing.13 Binders are truly a powerful tool in our healing armamentarium, for they can arrest this spiral of inflammation and impaired detoxification before it begins. They are a fundamental first step to repairing our detoxification channels – supporting our ability to excrete toxins and thus restoring our own detoxification systems.
Not all binders are created equal. There is no universal toxin binder that has an equal affinity for all toxins—bacterial, heavy metal, mold and more. We could line up a pharmacopeia of binders on our kitchen countertop, but which would we choose, and when? A comprehensive blend of GI binders, carefully selected to provide effective coverage for a range of common toxins and toxic heavy metals, is a simple and effective approach. Because binders, such as charcoal, on their own can contribute to constipation, it can be useful to enhance them with additional elements that help bulk up the stool, soothe the intestinal lining, and support the balance of healthy gastrointestinal flora for normal motility and function. Here follows a short list of gentle but potent binders that together offer unparalleled synergy and potency.
*Activated Charcoal. The use of activated charcoal to bind toxins dates back to the 1800s. In 1831, a French physician took a lethal dose of the poison strychnine, standing before the French Academy of Medicine, and suffered no ill effects because he also consumed charcoal at the same time.14 Since that time, the adsorbing ability and clinical benefits of charcoal have been well described.15 Activated charcoal effectively adsorbs pesticides and herbicides,16 mold toxins,17 endotoxin,18 and more.
In addition to its adsorptive properties, charcoal has demonstrated benefits during infections where an individual’s strong inflammatory response to a pathogen is potentially damaging. Charcoal has been shown to adsorb and remove the inflammatory molecules associated with the immune response (such as interleukins and tumor necrosis factor) that are primary contributors to cellular damage.19 Research suggests it may be useful as an adjunctive therapy for this reason in settings of infection.20
*Bentonite Clay. Bentonite clay is also known as Montmorillonite clay, for the region in France where it was first discovered.21The use of healing clays dates back to ancient civilizations in the Andes, who carried balls of clay for consuming at will, to protect against poisons and toxins.22 Bentonite clay easily absorbs liquids and their toxins as well, expanding in volume. Bentonite clay is particularly good at absorbing aflatoxin, a mold toxin often found in peanuts and on some grains,23 pesticides and herbicides,24 and cyanotoxins, found in lakes polluted by harmful algal blooms.25 Bentonite clay also has intrinsic broad-spectrum antibacterial properties and has a healing effect on the gastrointestinal lining.26
*Chitosan. Derived from shellfish, chitosan is the result of enzymatic treatment of chitin, a component of the shell. Chitin has been used since ancient times, and these instructions can be found in a book of medicine dating back to the Ming Dynasty: “Break a crab shell, grind it, make a ball out of it and eat it to treat anything that swells or grows.”27 Chitosan is composed of long-chain sugars called oligosaccharides and has a prebiotic effect, promoting the growth of friendly Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus gastrointestinal flora.28 Chitosan can bind to the bile salts that emulsify fat, and thus serves to reduce fat absorption.29 More importantly where detoxification is concerned, it also binds and removes the conjugated toxins present in bile salts. Chitosan binds to many metals as well as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), phthalates, and bisphenol A (BPA), compounds with many known adverse impacts on health that we are widely exposed to in the environment.30,31,32,33 Like bentonite clay, chitosan may be a helpful approach to bacterial infection as well, inhibiting the growth of Staphylococcus aureus in one study.34 Chitosan has been shown to have some protective effects against mercury-induced genotoxicity.35
*IMD. The Intestinal Metals Detox (IMD) is a proprietary product that consists of highly purified silica with covalently attached thiolic metal-binding groups. This proprietary thiol-functionalized silica delivers insoluble thiol groups to bind and eliminate mercury and other heavy metals accumulated in the intestines, also directly quenching free-radicals. Both the silica base and the binding agents out-compete other compounds for metals in the intestines. IMD does not enter the bloodstream, and thus it will not lead to redistribution or surges of mobilized metals that can potentially lead to kidney/liver overload.
The use of thiolated resins dates back to the 1970s when they were used to address methylmercury (MeHg) poisoning in Iraq, and were found to significantly reduce the half-life of MeHg from 61 to 20 days, performing even better than penicillamine, a medical metal chelating agent.36,37 IMD intercepts MeHg and other metals trapped in enterohepatic circulation, binding them and escorting them out of the intestines.38 By doing so, this allows organ and tissue bound mercury to safely drain into the blood at a natural rate.
*Aloe and Acacia Gum. Both aloe and acacia gum are soothing and healing to the gastrointestinal tract, and can offset the constipation that can sometimes occur with the use of GI binders. Acacia gum contains water-soluble dietary fibers that have a prebiotic effect, stimulating the growth of friendly Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus bacteria in the gut, as well as improving levels of butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid with anti-inflammatory effects that also helps to reduce intestinal permeability.39,40 Bifidobacteria support the reduction of the damaging endotoxin, and normalize gut function, reducing irritation and inflammation.41,42 Acacia gum also has antioxidant and free-radical scavenging activity.43 As a prebiotic fiber it is well tolerated at high doses with significantly less symptoms than other prebiotics such as fructooligosaccharide (FOS).
Aloe vera is best known for the soothing effect it has, commonly being found around many households and used topically for mild burns to the skin. The topical soothing properties are not only experienced by the skin, and it has a long history of use for a variety of gastrointestinal conditions associated with inflammation: peptic ulcer disease, gastritis, and inflammatory bowel disease.44,45,46 Aloe vera gel has been shown to have immunomodulatory, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects, which may support healing in a variety of settings.47,48,49
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