Most people think that optimal health just comes down to diet, sleep, exercise, and stress management. I used to think that way too. In high school, I began paying attention to these areas and experienced the best health of my life. Yet when I moved away to start college, I fell very ill.
After years of suffering, I discovered the missing link to my health problems: exposure to environmental toxins. This is a widespread but underrecognized problem that negatively impacts human health. I learned that we are exposed to environmental toxins every day from sources from air to standard cookware to personal care products, in addition to more obvious sources such as moldy buildings. These toxins are even widely found in human blood! Following a journey of removing these toxins from my body and counteracting their effects, I have regained the health I enjoyed before college and became even more resilient than before.
How do I detox?
The body has natural systems for getting rid of toxins (the liver and kidneys, among others), but sometimes these can get overloaded in people with illness or acute toxic exposures. When these systems are overloaded, toxins can be left to float around in the system, or the ones that are metabolized by organs like the liver are reabsorbed back into the blood. Taking binders orally helps eliminate toxins from the digestive tract (as shown in many of the studies referenced below). Taking binders through other methods can help remove toxins directly from the blood
Where do people go wrong with toxin binding?
It’s common to see people think that just one or a few binders will cover all detox needs. “Oh, just take some activated charcoal”. Or “Oh, I just take some zeolite to cover my bases”. I sometimes see people go on very intense detox protocols with only one or two binders.
I used to think that a few binders could cover everything too. However, I found that I still had persistent symptoms of toxins such as fatigue, brain fog, and mood problems, even when I consistently took those few binders at appropriate doses. Eventually, after talking to other people, practitioners, and doing some independent research, I found out that toxin binders generally only cover a few types or categories of toxins.
Given the many types of toxins people commonly experience in daily life, I learned it is critical to use enough different binders to counteract the range of toxins we may encounter. This broader approach helped immensely with reducing symptoms and restoring my health.
How do I know what toxins I have?
I don’t want you to go out and buy every single binder listed in this article. Your choice of binders will depend on the toxins present in your body. Each binder is effective for only certain types of toxins. Most people have in their bodies some amount of toxins from multiple if not all of the categories below, so it’s important to use a wide variety of binders during the healing journey.
First, think back to any known toxin exposures you may have had. For example, if you have a history of exposure to moldy buildings at home or work, then binding out mycotoxins will be very important. If you’ve lived near farms or golf courses with heavy herbicide/pesticide usage, then binding those out may be helpful. If you’ve lived in a house built in the 1970s or earlier, you should seriously consider evaluating for lead toxicity, even if the house had later renovations (this happened to me in college).
Certain sets of symptoms also suggest certain toxic exposures. However, that is a complicated subject that justifies additional articles. A qualified healthcare practitioner trained in functional or environmental medicine can work with you to identify which toxins are most present in your body and the best binders to use. Additionally, there are urine and hair tests that can help narrow down what toxins you have and need to detox.
- The information and content in this blog, or linked materials, are for informational purposes only. I am not a medical professional. This content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. If you or any other person has a medical concern, you should consult with your healthcare provider or seek other professional medical treatment. Do not disregard professional medical advice or avoid seeking it because of content you have read on this blog or any linked materials.
- Cholestyramine and Welchol are prescription medications. Please consult your physician before using these.
- If a binder name is in blue, that means it’s a link to go buy it online (usually on Amazon). As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases from links in this post. This is at no extra cost to you but helps support my mission to bring you quality health information.
- I have done my best to cite studies for binders mentioned here. If there’s no study cited for a binder, it’s because I wasn’t able to find an existing study. The scientific community has yet to pay much attention to toxin binders and humans. Most of the existing work concerns animal feed or environmental decontamination. However, all binders I list here are ones that I have personally used and benefited from in my healing journey. I have listed the binders without research citations available based on current practice among functional medicine physicians and my own and other people’s experience.
The Ultimate List of Binders
The specific toxins mentioned are ones commonly covered on mycotoxin tests/panels.
- Cholestyramine – Ochratoxin1, zearalenone2, fumonisin3. The best binder for general water-damaged building toxins in my experience… if you can get one binder for mold it should be this one. In my experience also works on outdoor sewer-based mycotoxins (what some call ‘mystery toxin’).
- Activated charcoal/carbon – Aflatoxin5, zearalenone2. Not so great for other water-damaged building toxins. Don’t believe the folks who say you can detox from all kinds of mold exposure with charcoal alone.
- Bentonite clay – Ochratoxin6, sterigmatocystin3, zearalenone2
- Humic/fulvic acids – zearalenone and aflatoxin7 Some practitioners report they also bind trichothecenes, fumonisin, gliotoxin
- MetChem – carbon product based on humic/fulvic acids
- Ultra Binder – Quicksilver product containing chitosan8 (purported to have similar effects to Welchol) and activated charcoal
- Zeobind – Weak effect. Aflatoxin9, fumonisin10.
- Pectins9 – Apple pectin, Pomona citrus pectin, grapefruit pectin.
- Sodium alginate11
- Digestive enzymes: some practitioners report the following four enzyme types provide good coverage for the spectrum of mycotoxins. In my experience all have been useful.
- Activated charcoal/carbon12 – relatively broad spectrum for chemicals
- Ultra Binder – contains activated charcoal
- Zeobind13 – Good for formaldehyde
- Pectins – Apple pectin, Pomona citrus pectin, grapefruit pectin. I’ve noticed these can help after chemical exposures and some practitioners recommend them.
- Bentonite clay14 – I couldn’t find any human studies but it seems to help after chemical exposures. Some practitioners recommend it for chemical elimination.
Heavy metals such as mercury:
- Purified silica15
- DMSA16 – moderate effect for mercury, best for lead
- Zeobind18 – Weak effect.
- Ultra Binder – contains purified silica as an ingredient
One may also use the following to bind metals. However, for many people these can cause negative symptoms from too much metal mobilization into the blood. This happens because they do not bind as permanently compared to the binders above. They may bind the metals only for the metals to fall off elsewhere in the body. But once the total body burden of metals is lower, these may be good to use.
- R-lipoic acid19 (RLA)
- Cilantro20 – I’ve gotten enough of an effect by eating it in cooked dishes
I find that lead responds better to different binders than other heavy metals such as mercury.
- Bentonite clay21
- EDTA16 – I like suppositories and liposomal
- DMPS16– less affinity for lead than EDTA and DMSA
- Pectins22: apple pectin, Pomona citrus pectin, modified citrus pectin
- Sodium thiosulfate25– be warned; this can cause diarrhea if taking too much orally
- Horsetail tea26
- Biosil – contains silica. Silicon may reduce aluminum buildup in body tissues.27 No studies have been done on this product in relation to aluminum but many practitioners note it helps bring down aluminum levels in patients
- Enterosgel – this is silicon-based.28 I couldn’t find any studies on this and aluminum specifically (though it has been studied for reduction of other metals)24, but many practitioners report patients see reduced aluminum levels after using this.
- Pectins:29 Apple pectin, Pomona citrus pectin, grapefruit pectin all work in my experience
- Sodium thiosulfate – while there are no studies with aluminum specifically, practitioners note it can reduce levels
- Fiji water – weak effect, from the silica content (see above)
- Humic/fulvic acids30
- Ecklonia cava31
- Biosil – No studies exist on this product and pesticides, but it contains silica. Silica particles are commonly used for pesticide extraction.32 Binding to silica gel has been shown to reduce toxic effects of pesticides on microbes.33
- Enterosgel – contains silica
While copper is a nutrient, in excess it can cause harmful oxidative stress. Wilson’s disease is a rare genetic disorder that’s an extreme example of the harm that excess copper can cause to the body.
Click on the paper citation to read the full paper (or at least the abstract if the paper is not open access).
- Hope J. A review of the mechanism of injury and treatment approaches for illness resulting from exposure to water-damaged buildings, mold, and mycotoxins. The Scientific World Journal. 2013 Jan 1;2013.
- Zinedine A, Soriano JM, Molto JC, Manes J. Review on the toxicity, occurrence, metabolism, detoxification, regulations and intake of zearalenone: an oestrogenic mycotoxin. Food and chemical toxicology. 2007 Jan 1;45(1):1-8.
- Whitlow LW. Evaluation of mycotoxin binders. InProceedings of the 4th Mid-Atlantic Nutrition Conference 2006 Mar 29 (pp. 132-143).
- Milani K. Chronic inflammatory response syndrome diagnosis and treatment.
- Gallo A, Masoero F, Bertuzzi T, Piva G, Pietri A. Effect of the inclusion of adsorbents on aflatoxin B1 quantification in animal feedstuffs. Food Additives and Contaminants. 2010 Jan 1;27(1):54-63.
- Khatoon A, Khan MZ, Abidin ZU, Bhatti SA. Effects of feeding bentonite clay upon ochratoxin A–induced immunosuppression in broiler chicks. Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A. 2018 Mar 4;35(3):538-45.
- De Mil T, Devreese M, De Baere S, Van Ranst E, Eeckhout M, De Backer P, Croubels S. Characterization of 27 mycotoxin binders and the relation with in vitro zearalenone adsorption at a single concentration. Toxins. 2015 Jan;7(1):21-33.
- Mine Kurtbay H, Bekçi Z, Merdivan M, Yurdakoç K. Reduction of ochratoxin A levels in red wine by bentonite, modified bentonites, and chitosan. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry. 2008 Apr 9;56(7):2541-5.
- Oguz H, Kurtoglu V, Coskun B. Preventive efficacy of clinoptilolite in broilers during chronic aflatoxin (50 and 100 ppb) exposure. Research in Veterinary Science. 2000 Oct 1;69(2):197-201.
- Vizcarra-Olvera JE, Astiazarán-García H, Burgos-Hernández A, Parra-Vergara NV, Cinco-Moroyoqui FJ, Sánchez-Mariñez RI, Quintana-Obregón EA, Cortez-Rocha MO. Evaluation of pathological effects in broilers during fumonisins and clays exposure. Mycopathologia. 2012 Sep 1;174(3):247-54.
- González-Jartín JM, de Castro Alves L, Alfonso A, Piñeiro Y, Vilar SY, Gomez MG, Osorio ZV, Sainz MJ, Vieytes MR, Rivas J, Botana LM. Detoxification agents based on magnetic nanostructured particles as a novel strategy for mycotoxin mitigation in food. Food chemistry. 2019 Oct 1;294:60-6.
- Derlet RW, Albertson TE. Activated charcoal—Past, present and future. Western Journal of Medicine. 1986 Oct;145(4):493.
- Paliulis D. Removal of Formaldehyde from Synthetic Wastewater Using Natural and Modified Zeolites. Polish Journal of Environmental Studies. 2016 Jan 1;25(1).
- Behera SK, Oh SY, Park HS. Sorption of triclosan onto activated carbon, kaolinite and montmorillonite: effects of pH, ionic strength, and humic acid. Journal of hazardous materials. 2010 Jul 15;179(1-3):684-91.
- Clarkson TW, Small H, Norseth T. Excretion and Absorption of Methyl Mercury After Polythiol Eesin Treatment. Archives of Environmental Health: An International Journal. 1973 Apr 1;26(4):173-6.
- Blaurock-Busch E, Busch YM. Comparison of chelating agents DMPS, DMSA and EDTA for the diagnosis and treatment of chronic metal exposure. Journal of Advances in Medicine and Medical Research. 2014 Jan 9:1821-35.
- Xing ZH. Study on absorptivity of laminaria japonica to mercury ions. Journal of Yanbian University (Natural Science Edition). 2005(4):10.
- Kraljević Pavelić S, Simović Medica J, Gumbarević D, Filošević A, Pržulj N, Pavelić K. Critical review on zeolite clinoptilolite safety and medical applications in vivo. Frontiers in Pharmacology. 2018 Nov 27;9:1350.
- Bjørklund G, Aaseth J, Crisponi G, Rahman MM, Chirumbolo S. Insights on alpha lipoic and dihydrolipoic acids as promising scavengers of oxidative stress and possible chelators in mercury toxicology. Journal of inorganic biochemistry. 2019 Jun 1;195:111-9.
- Georgiou G. Scientific research on natural heavy metal chelators: testing what works. Int J Complement Alt Med. 2018 Sep 18;11(5):262-7.
- Azadbakht S, Norouzian MA, Khadem AA. Assessing the protective effect of bentonite against lead toxicity in growing lambs. Environmental Science and Pollution Research. 2017 Dec 1;24(35):27484-9.
- Dalia M. Effect of using pectin on lead toxicity. J Am Sci. 2010;6(12):541-54.
- Luo F, Liu Y, Li X, Xuan Z, Ma J. Biosorption of lead ion by chemically-modified biomass of marine brown algae Laminaria japonica. Chemosphere. 2006 Aug 1;64(7):1122-7.
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- Bapat G, Labade C, Chaudhari A, Zinjarde S. Silica nanoparticle based techniques for extraction, detection, and degradation of pesticides. Advances in colloid and interface science. 2016 Nov 1;237:1-4.
- Prado AG, Airoldi C. The toxic effect on soil microbial activity caused by the free or immobilized pesticide diuron. Thermochimica Acta. 2002 Oct 19;394(1-2):155-62.
- Ništiar F, Mojžiš J, Kovac G, Seidel H, Racz O. Influence of intoxication with organophosphates on rumen bacteria and rumen protozoa and protective effect of clinoptilolite-rich zeolite on bacterial and protozoan concentration in rumen. Folia microbiologica. 2000 Dec 1;45(6):567-71.
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- Grishchenko LA, Aleksandrova GP, Medvedeva SA. Complexation of arabinogalactan with copper (II) ions in aqueous solutions. Russian journal of general chemistry. 2004 Jul 1;74(7):1122-5.
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