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Detoxification Strategies

Key Points

  • Toxic, carcinogenic chemicals and metals are often present in our bodies. This is called our body burden.
  • Chemotherapy treatments may leave residual toxic chemicals in the body.
  • Detoxification to reduce body burden is controversial, with some cancer specialists or centers recommending it but others finding little benefit compared to the potential harm.
  • Mounting evidence demonstrates benefits of metal detoxification in some cancers.

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Exposures to toxic chemicals and metals may contribute to the onset of disease and affect treatments and outcomes. Many toxic substances have been reported in the news in recent decades for their widespread presence in the world and our risk of exposures to them. A few examples of high-profile items:

  • Pesticides
  • Flame retardants
  • Mercury
  • BPA
  • Lead
  • Asbestos
  • Perfluorinated compounds such as in Teflon™, Scotchgard™ and firefighting foam
  • Arsenic
  • Dioxins
  • Particulates in air

Chemotherapy drugs are also toxic and can produce a considerable body burden with concentrated exposures.

Highlighted Video

BCCT advisor Brian Bouch, MD, discusses the power of detoxing before and after chemo.

Body Burden

Choosing Therapies Wisely

by Laura Pole, RN, OCNS

I have worked with many people with cancer who have thought that "more is better" when deciding on complementary therapies, including natural products/supplements.

Though it makes sense to integrate a variety of therapies and lifestyle practices, the key is to choose therapies that will complement each other, will target your particular terrain and tumor microenvironment, will not interfere with nor increase toxicity of conventional treatments, and fit your goals. When thinking about natural products and supplements, these points are important:

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Many studies and ongoing programs document the prevalence of high body burdens of carcinogens and other chemical contaminants in humans. Some examples:

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After intensive courses of chemotherapy, many patients seek ways to reduce their body burdens of residual chemicals. Detoxification (detox) strategies are thus of interest both clinically and as an environmental public health issue.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health summary finds little evidence of benefit and potential harm in some detox strategies.1

However, numerous case reports and anecdotes claim benefits from detox diets or therapies.2 The Institute for Functional Medicine offers a science-based detox module, such as their Detox Advanced Practice Module 2018.

Mounting evidence demonstrates benefits of metal detoxification in some cancers.

Although careful science on detox claims is still difficult to find,3 some evidence is emerging of benefit. Some preclinical work shows that toxic metals interfere with chemotherapy efficacy, and several clinical studies demonstrate the benefits of metal detoxification in some cancers:

  • Copper chelation in unspecified cancers4
  • Copper chelation in breast cancer5
  • Iron chelation in hematologic malignancies, including myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and acute leukemia6

On the other hand, copper chelation in patients with asymptomatic hormone-refractory prostate cancer did not produce benefit.7

See these therapy summaries for more about their use in detoxification:


Detoxification can mobilize toxics into the bloodstream. Great caution should be taken during pregnancy or breastfeeding, as increasing toxics in a woman's blood can expose her fetus or infant to the chemicals.

Naturopathic oncologist and BCCT advisor Lise Alschuler notes that "a prolonged fast is not an appropriate detox program for someone just completing chemo." 

Written by Nancy Hepp, MS, and reviewed by Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS; most recent update on August 30, 2020.


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