Stephen Holt, MD examines the role of environmental toxins in disease causation and discusses the value of holistic detoxification programs for skin health.

by Stephen Holt, MD 

The role of environmental toxins in disease causation is of pivotal interest in the practice of Integrative Medicine, with the result that attempts to detoxify the body have become the mainstay of practice in many healing centers.  A large body of scientific literature implies that exposure to toxins or toxicants exerts a major influence on skin health and appearance.  In modern times, humankind has experienced greater levels of body toxicity and there are evidence-based observations that our contaminated environment has contributed greatly to the phenomenon of auto-intoxication.  These concepts must be understood in relationship to increasing acceptance of the notion that beauty, like health, lies within the body.  There are several potential routes for detoxification of the body.  The first approach is to decrease toxin load in the body by alternate day to day preferences and lifestyle.  More patients should be advised on simple techniques to cut down on exposure to environmental toxins.  Common examples of such exposures include occupational risks, exposure to household synthetic chemicals, substance abuse, synthetic ingredients in cosmetics and certain food allergens.

There are several options that may be used together simultaneously in holistic detoxification programs.  Despite the use of attempts to detoxify the body and the application of some of these techniques from time immemorial, there is a constant argument that detoxification programs lack evidence-based, scientific support in the medical literature.  Valuable approaches to detoxification include the promotion of the body cleansing functions of the digestive tract, the liver and the excretory pathways involving the kidneys, bile, sweat and lungs.  There are hundreds of thousands of synthetic chemicals that have been placed in our environment and in many circumstances, the effects of these chemicals on body structures and functions remain unknown.  After appropriate investigation, the rational approach to body detoxification may include attempts to cleanse, detoxify and rejuvenate functions of the gastrointestinal tract (Clinical Colon Cleansing™) and restoration of the harmony of digestive function (Clinical Digestion™).  The act of body cleansing without support of organs of detoxification is an inadequate approach.

The liver plays a major role in detoxification and it is best supported by the herb Silymarin (Milk Thistle) with the added benefits of probiotic therapy.  Arguably, the only evidence-based whole body detoxification program is the use of sauna therapy combined with vitamin supplements and ancillary continuity programs.  This intervention is used in several hundred people following the tragic events of the 9/11 World Trade Center collapse which poisoned may people in downtown Manhattan several years ago.  There are simple and important lessons to be learned from this disaster.  Apart from almost universal respiratory problems that afflicted those immediately exposed to the widespread toxins, we are now experiencing emergence of chronic disease several years later, which is directly related to body toxicity, attributable to the 9/11 disaster.  One clear, unfortunate medical outcome was the widespread occurrence of evidence of oxidative damage caused by synthetic toxicants to which thousands of people were exposed directly.  Progression of many of these disabilities is related to oxidative tissue damage which is a principal mechanism whereby many toxins exert lasting and damaging effects on body structures and functions.

There are many consequences of toxic insults to the body. Some are obvious, whereas other are less obtrusive e.g. propagation of weight gain and premature aging.  I have coined the term “Toxin-Induced Lipogenesis,” where evidence shows a strong correlation between the use of synthetic chemicals and weight gain over the past two or three decades.  The mechanisms of lipogenesis that are induced by chemical pollutants include direct interference with fat metabolism and altered hormonal status (xenoestrogens) or effects on appetite regulation.  These circumstances provide an evidence base to undertake detoxification programs in many individuals who are overweight or obese.

Detoxification represents an approach to restore body health and it is best achieved by a holistic approach that is deeply rooted in the practice of Naturopathic Medicine and the ancient discipline of Ayurvedic Medicine.  The skin is the largest organ in the body and it cannot fail to benefit from elimination of body toxins.  All aesthetic medical interventions should be undertaken with a clear understanding of the role of body toxicity in compromising external manifestations of beauty which are most obvious in the skin, hair and nails.


For further detailed information

Holt S, Gut Detoxification, Anti Aging Medical News, Spring 2008 (

Holt S, Natural Ways to Digestive Health, M. Evans and Company Inc, 2001 (

Holt S, Natural Approaches to Clinical Trauma Procedure Recovery, Townsend Letter, December 2007 (

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*Stephen Holt, MD – Chairman New York Department of Integrative Medicine, NYCPM and Scientific Advisory Board Member, Natural Clinician LLC,