You Know Organic. India Knows Herbs.

A functional, scientific approach to reversing years of pesticide buildup in your body.

With Amazon’s recent acquisition of Whole Foods, organic foods are making their way into the mainstream for American consumers as the tech giant attempts to make the grocery chain hip for young shoppers. But for people just now transitioning to organic foods, what should they do about decades of harmful synthetic pesticides that have already accumulated in their bodies?

An organic diet is only part of the journey toward a healthy lifestyle.

Photo credit: Kari Sullivan.

Indian Ayurvedic medicine has been around for thousands of years, dating back to the 4th century BCE when Sanskrit texts originally presented the eight components of Ayurveda as an integrated way to keep the body strong.

Medical technology has come a long way since then. From vaccines to immunotherapy, many important advancements have been made since humans first started practicing medicine, yet the human body remains little changed from the complex biological machine it was nearly 2,400 years ago.

A major portion of scientific and biomedical research goes into figuring out how to cure diseases with small molecules and, more recently, with biologics that can target rogue cells for elimination. These biomolecules have had huge positive health impacts, and the best ones address the core cause of diseases rather than addressing only the symptoms.

Functional medicine is a holistic approach that addresses these underlying causes of health problems. It has historically involved plants that have evolved alongside mammals for millions of years. Unlike small-molecule drugs, these plants often have dozens of molecules working together synergistically to effect certain outcomes in the body.

Despite higher acceptance in Germany and other countries, medical professionals in the U.S. have often shunned natural approaches to healthcare despite clinical evidence that functional medicine works and can reduce the underlying factors causing disease.

Natural remedies can’t fix everything, but clinical research and years of successful use by Native Americans, Vikings, Asians, and Indians shows that plants, fungi, microbes, and a good diet can go a long way in contributing to vitality and longevity.

In the Wild Western days of American history, beverages like root beer were a popular way for cowboys and cowgirls to consume nutraceuticals on the go. Original root beer formulations contained the blood purifiers sassafras and sarsaparilla, but the FDA effectively banned sassafras in 1960 despite centuries of medical use by indigenous American tribes.

Cowboys drank root beer with various medicinal roots back in the day. Photo credit: Linda Tanner.

In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first botanical drug in the United States, and several others followed suit. Foreign markets, including China’s $31 billion in traditional medicine sales, demonstrate a strong interest in what the natural world has to offer.

Reversing Years of Pesticide Buildup

Numerous cultures have taken advantage of botanical medicines, so what does all of this have to do with India?

Some of the best scientifically backed methods of biological detoxification come from India. With a booming chemical industry that is inevitably accompanied by chemical spills and releases, the country’s medical practitioners have developed effective methods of removing persistent fat-soluble contaminants from the body, including certain pesticides, PCBs, PCDFs (furans), and PCDDs (dioxins).

Many of these chemicals show up in alarmingly high concentrations in Americans, especially senior citizens. Quest Diagnostics and Axys Analytical provide blood testing services to people curious to determine their personal contaminant levels.

We eat food that comes from all over the world, where DDT and other dangerous pesticides are still in use. If we don’t eat it, our food eats it. Conventionally grown cows, pigs, and chickens are given pesticide-laden feed blends that lead to higher concentrations of pesticides higher up the food chain in humans. Even here in the U.S., a number of adverse health outcomes have resulted from the use of approved synthetic pesticides.

Research has shown that older people generally have higher levels of pesticides and PCBs in their blood as a result of years of accumulating toxins (toxicants) from food and household products.

Fortunately there are ways to reverse the trend.

A balanced organic diet slows down the addition of foreign chemicals to the human body, reducing the overall body burden. Animal fats in meat and dairy typically contain concentrated contaminants, so USDA organic and biodynamic alternatives can eliminate a significant source of harmful pesticides in the diet. Bottled spring water can help savvy consumers avoid contaminants that have leaked into municipal water supplies from agricultural runoff.

Clarifying butter to make ghee. Photo credit: Larry Jacobsen.

Most importantly, Ayurvedic ghee detoxification known as snehapanam has been clinically demonstrated to reduce fat-soluble contaminants in human tissues. The reductions are not only measurable but also significant. Among study participants, a single round of the one-month process cut blood serum PCB levels in half while simultaneously reducing multiple pesticide concentrations.

Ghee detox is especially valuable to young women who are considering having children and breastfeeding because it can reduce foreign chemicals that impair babies’ development.

The detox method involves eating melted clarified butter (ghee) for a week, cleansing the colon, and using sesame oil to pull contaminants from the skin. Previous studies have used olestra, an artificial fat, to absorb contaminants from the digestive tract because it doesn’t get absorbed into the body, but the long-term effects of olestra consumption are poorly understood.

The Ayurvedic researchers don’t mention organic foods, but organic ghee is desirable. The purpose of the ghee is to absorb contaminants as the fat passes through the digestive tract, so it’s critical that the ghee does not add more new contaminants. With enough butter ingested, the fat molecules don’t all pass into the blood stream, and a good portion of the butter is excreted along with the target contaminants.

At the end of seven days, the colon is cleansed with triphala, a mixture of three Indian fruit powders that encourages movement in the bowels. The researchers don’t demonstrate which components of the detox process were most useful, but the process was effective overall, and several cycles could have an even greater impact.

Further research is needed to determine the impact of additional herbs on the efficacy of ghee detox. Milk thistle, dandelion root, and glutathione are known for their importance in liver detoxification. Sarsaparilla and burdock root are known for blood purification, while astragalus, ginger root, and ocotillo bark have cleansing effects on the immune system. Aloe vera gel, licorice root, omega-3 fatty acids, and probiotics can keep the digestive tract in working order. Together, these supplements and others combined with the ghee detox method could rapidly reduce personal body burdens of contaminant pesticides and industrial chemicals.