I wrote here that I don’t run micronutrient analyses very often, because most cases don’t actually require this. Usually a healthy, whole foods-based diet and a good multivitamin will cover most of the body’s micronutrient requirements.

This is true… but the operative word is usually.

Chemically Sensitive Patients

One exception to the idea that you can obtain adequate micronutrient status with these foundational requirements is that of patients who have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS).

Patients with MCS typically feel ill when exposed to perfumes, dryer sheets, pesticides and fungicides, fabric softeners, formaldehyde, cleaning agents, or other common chemicals. Reactions range from allergies and asthma to autoimmunity, and include headaches, chronic bronchitis, and brain fog.

Genetic Testing and Supplementation

As with any condition, the principles of nature cure are that one must 1) remove the obstacle to cure, and 2) give the body what it needs to heal itself in order to effect healing. Our bodies are designed to detox on their own, provided the toxic exposure is removed and we get the nutrients we need to support our liver’s two phases of detoxification. So for most of us, getting away from toxic exposures combined with a healthy diet and reasonable micronutrient supplementation is all it takes to heal. Sometimes a manual detox process can jump-start this, too.

But what about those whose livers are just genetically a little less efficient?

The popular salivary genetic test 23 & Me gives us more information than ever before about how well our bodies can detoxify from toxic exposures. It measures the genes encoding certain enzymes involved in detoxification (among other things), and it can tell us whether we’ve got two good copies of each gene, one good and one mutated copy, or two mutated copies. Those with one or two mutations in each individual gene will have more trouble with detoxification.

The good news is, even if you’ve got one or two mutated copies of a gene encoding for an enzyme necessary for detoxification, you can still optimize the function of that enzyme to the best of your body’s ability. You can do this because each enzyme requires certain micronutrients (vitamins or minerals) as cofactors to make it do its job. Supplementing with these micronutrients can help the enzyme to work as well as it can.

One note of caution here: when supplementing with micronutrients, it’s best to start low and go slow. Large doses of one or two micronutrients all at once can 1) cause deficiency in other micronutrients, and 2) can suddenly cause an under-functioning detoxification process to work much better—which sounds like a good thing, unless other processes down-stream still are not optimized. If this is the case, you can end up with a buildup of metabolites (chemical breakdown products) that have no way to get out of your body, and until you can get them out, you might feel sicker than before.

Specific Nutrient Testing

Another complimentary test to help with chemical sensitivity is general micronutrient analysis (I like to use the company SpectraCell). This way you can see exactly which nutrients you’re low in, and supplement accordingly.

The most important class of micronutrients for chemically toxic individuals are the antioxidants, for two reasons: 1) glutathione is the most powerful antioxidant in your body, and it’s necessary for several liver detoxification enzymes; and 2) many chemicals are irritants and can trigger nitric oxide (which causes the blood vessels to dilate), bringing white blood cells to the site of injury, and leading to inflammation and free radical production. This, of course, requires antioxidants like glutathione to calm the inflammation down.

It’s possible to supplement with glutathione itself (though the delivery method matters; liposomal is a good way to absorb it orally, but you can also do injections or nebulized glutathione as well). There are also a whole constellation of other micronutrients necessary to help regenerate glutathione after it’s been oxidized (quenching oxidative damage, that is). These include selenium, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA), and Vitamin B2… but of course, it’s best to know which ones you specifically need.

Another important class of detoxification minerals are the methylators, including B12 and folate. These have received a lot of attention lately as the MTHFR mutations have gained popular awareness. Methylation is an important part of cell turnover and detoxification—so if you can’t methylate very well, you’re not going to be able to detox well, nor repair injured tissues.

The Upshot

Fortunately, our bodies are made to heal themselves if we give them the building blocks necessary to do so and remove any obstacles in their way. But just as some people might need a little more help with the obstacle removal process, some people’s bodies might also need more of a particular building block. Testing is the best way to find out what those are for you.