How to Manage Stress and Anxiety in Uncertain Times

The pandemic has brought us six solid months of stress, anxiety, and fear of the unknown. This Fall things are ramping up again, with increased COVID infection rates and back to school worries. Hundreds of studies have been published on the negative health effects of the pandemic worldwide, and what tops the list? Skyrocketing levels of stress and anxiety.
Whether you’re stressed about contracting COVID-19 or dealing with the many “pivots” brought on by recurring lockdowns and decreased socialization, such high stress levels are simply not sustainable. Now is the time to work on demystifying stress and anxiety so that you can disarm it and reclaim your inner peace this fall.

Stress, Decoded

Stress and anxiety have deep roots in the body, involving your brain, gut, hormones and nervous system. Let’s see what science has to say about it:

Fight or Flight Mode, aka the HPA Axis

When a stressor hits, your body goes into emergency mode by activating the Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal (HPA) Axis. The adrenal glands receive the ‘danger’ message from the hypothalamus and pituitary glands in the brain, triggering them to produce adrenaline which then spurs your entire body into action to either fight or flee from the situation.
The problem? A system that was designed to be used for just a few minutes at a time also has the ability to be active most of the time. This means that chronic stress forces your adrenals to work overtime. Becoming stuck in “fight or flight mode” due to constant stress leads to overwhelm and, inevitably, exhaustion.

Your Microbiome Affects Your Stress Levels

Your microbiome is made up of the diverse community of microbes that reside in your gut. What many people ignore when discussing the microbiome is the fact that it is not only involved in digestion – in fact, gut bacteria are also strongly linked to your brain.

A 2019 study looking at the effects of a Mediterranean diet high in fresh fruit, vegetables, healthy fats, polyphenols (i.e. dark chocolate and berries) and fermented foods (i.e. kimchi or sauerkraut) helped participants to be more stress resilient. Researchers noted the role of the microbiota in producing serotonin (the ‘feel good hormone).

Another 2019 study showed that both probiotics and prebiotics increase our ability to handle stress by supporting gut microbes, and can actually reverse some of the negative effects of stress.
Many studies have shown that stress changes our microbiome, which further reduces our ability to handle stress. A 2017 study concluded that even short-term stress exposure (especially in early life) reduces microbiome diversity and increases anxiety.

The Blood Sugar Rollercoaster

Finding comfort in carbs? A 2020 study showed that high consumption of processed carbs can increase anxiety and irritability by taking you on a blood sugar rollercoaster. Your body considers low blood sugar an emergency, which puts you back into fight or flight mode.

Inflammation, Anxiety and Leaky Gut

The strong links between the gut-brain axis and inflammation are well established. One 2017 study showed that microbiome imbalance can promote chronic inflammation, which then makes us more responsive to stress and increases anxiety. The study notes the important role of Leaky Gut Syndrome, in which stress caused by microbial imbalance causes holes in the mucus lining of the GI tract, allowing bacteria to escape into the body. Our body’s immune response to these “invaders” is linked to systemic inflammation.

How to Balance, Manage and Reduce Anxiety

You can’t control what life throws at you, but you can control how you respond to it. Here are our top tips to help you cope with anxiety both in the moment, and build long term stress resilience.

1 – Breathing Exercises
Do you experience panic attacks? Deep breathing can help reduce panic and overwhelm in the moment, and help you cope in the long term. Try these two exercises, backed by scientific research.

Deep Breathing for Vagal Nerve Tone

The vagus nerve is the main line of communication between your gut and your brain. Certain breathing exercises can improve vagal nerve tone to get you out of ‘fight or flight’ and into ‘rest and digest’ mode.
A 2018 study reported decreased stress and anxiety, and increased sense of well-being after doing breathing exercises. Effective techniques include slow breathing, longer exhales than inhales and breathing from the diaphragm. Learn how in this short video!

Alternate Nostril Breathing

This ancient practice has been used in yoga for centuries. Recent research suggests that this technique can bring the mind and body to a state of balanced calm, and reduce both stress and anxiety.
Learn this technique in this short video!

2 – Smartphone Apps

Is constant social media scrolling making you more anxious? How can you harness the power of technology to reduce feelings of overwhelm and anxiety? These 3 apps use evidence-based scientific research.

MindshiftTM

MindshiftTM uses evidence-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques to help you manage feelings of stress, anxiety, worry and panic. When a stressor hits, try features like Coping Cards and the Chill Zone to ground yourself and cope in the moment. Features like the Thought Journal, Goal Setting and Expanding Your Comfort Zone will help shift your mindset to make positive change that lasts.

Headspace

Have you tried to meditate without success? Headspace features hundreds of guided meditation sessions for beginners. Choose a topic (like anxiety or sleep) and the app will suggest the best sessions for you. From bite-sized mini meditations to more in-depth sessions, the app will help train your mind so you can gain solid benefits from your meditation practice.

Muse

Muse goes one step further by pairing a brain-sensing headband with an app to give you real-time feedback on your brain activity during meditation and sleep. Mind wandering during meditation? Stormy weather sounds will cue you to refocus. Peaceful weather sounds confirm you’re in the calm zone.

3 – Nutritional & Herbal Supplements

L-Theanine

This amino acid found in green tea is well known for its ability to reduce stress and anxiety. By interacting with both dopamine and GABA receptors in the brain, it brings a sense of calm and well-being. If green tea isn’t for you, supplementing with L-Theanine means you get all the stress-busting benefits with none of the jittery caffeine drawbacks. A 2019 study of stressed, healthy adults showed that just one month of supplementation with L-Theanine significantly reduced anxiety and stress, and improved cognitive function.

Ashwagandha

This herb has been used for 3,000 years in Indian Ayurvedic Medicine as a whole-body tonic. Classed as an adaptogen, Ashwagandha supports your adrenal glands and HPA axis to help you stay calm and resilient in the face of stress. A 2019 study of healthy, anxious adults showed that ashwagandha supplementation significantly reduced anxiety and improved mood.

Are you ready to face whatever this Fall has in store for you, anxiety-free? Let’s meet to discuss and assess your current stress and anxiety levels. Together, we can come up with a solid treatment plan including supplements, diet and lifestyle strategies to dial back anxiety and increase your stress resilience. Isn’t it time you focussed on yourself? Call us today to get started!

References:

Adan RAH, van der Beek EM, Buitelaar JK, et al. Nutritional psychiatry: Towards improving mental health by what you eat. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2019;29(12):1321-1332. doi: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2019.10.011

Alternate Nostril Breathing. Lotus Flower Yoga. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMdTmYMEG-c Accessed on September 18, 2020.

Anxiety Canada. MindshiftTM CBT App. https://www.anxietycanada.com/resources/mindshift-cbt/?_ga=2.127928524.1122230185.1600531245-1709723190.1600531245. Accessed on September 18, 2020.

Anxiety Canada. How to Tolerate Uncertainty.https://www.anxietycanada.com/sites/default/files/ToleratingUncertainty.pdf. Accessed on September 18, 2020.

Bharwani A, Mian MF, Foster JA, Surette MG, Bienenstock J, Forsythe P. Structural & functional consequences of chronic psychosocial stress on the microbiome & host. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2016; 63:217-227. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2015.10.001

Burokas A, Arboleya S, Moloney RD, et al. Targeting the Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis: Prebiotics Have Anxiolytic and Antidepressant-like Effects and Reverse the Impact of Chronic Stress in Mice. Biol Psychiatry. 2017;82(7):472-487. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2016.12.031

Firth J, Gangwisch JE, Borisini A, Wootton RE, Mayer EA. Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing?. BMJ. 2020;369:m2382. Published 2020 Jun 29. doi:10.1136/bmj.m2382

Foster JA, Rinaman L, Cryan JF. Stress & the gut-brain axis: Regulation by the microbiome. Neurobiol Stress. 2017; 7:124-136. Published 2017 Mar 19. doi: 10.1016/j.ynstr.2017.03.001

Gerritsen RJS, Band GPH. Breath of Life: The Respiratory Vagal Stimulation Model of Contemplative Activity. Front Hum Neurosci. 2018; 12:397. Published 2018 Oct 9. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00397

Headspace.https://www.headspace.com/science/meditation-research . Accessed September 18, 2020.

Hidese S, Ogawa S, Ota M, et al. Effects of L-Theanine Administration on Stress-Related Symptoms and Cognitive Functions in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients. 2019;11(10):2362. Published 2019 Oct 3. doi:10.3390/nu11102362

Kamath A, Urval RP, Shenoy AK. Effect of Alternate Nostril Breathing Exercise on Experimentally Induced Anxiety in Healthy Volunteers Using the Simulated Public Speaking Model: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Study. Biomed Res Int. 2017; 2017:2450670. doi:10.1155/2017/2450670

Lopresti AL, Smith SJ, Malvi H, Kodgule R. An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine (Baltimore). 2019;98(37): e17186. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000017186

Muse. https://www.mendeley.com/profiles/muse-research-team/publications/# . Accessed September 18, 2020.

Pratte MA, Nanavati KB, Young V, Morley CP. An alternative treatment for anxiety: a systematic review of human trial results reported for the Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). J Altern Complement Med. 2014;20(12):901-908. doi:10.1089/acm.2014.0177

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Vagus Nerve: Breathing for Relaxation. Tune Up Fitness. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkJDrfL90rU Accessed on September 18, 2020.

White DJ, de Klerk S, Woods W, Gondalia S, Noonan C, Scholey AB. Anti-Stress, Behavioural and Magnetoencephalography Effects of an L-Theanine-Based Nutrient Drink: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Trial. Nutrients. 2016;8(1):53. doi:10.3390/nu8010053

Yoto A, Motoki M, Murao S, Yokogoshi H. Effects of L-theanine or caffeine intake on changes in blood pressure under physical and psychological stresses. J Physiol Anthropol. 2012;31(1):28. doi:10.1186/1880-6805-31-28

Alternate Nostril Breathing technique video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMdTmYMEG-c

Why Detoxification is at the Root of Good Health

What does going on a ‘detox’ or ‘cleanse’ mean to you? Fasting? Following a boxed detox kit? Going on a lemon juice cleanse?
Messaging from the growing detox industry implies that without such measures, detoxification won’t occur. The truth? Our bodies detox 365 days a year, sweeping our cells clean of toxins and removing them from our bodies.
But that doesn’t mean we should ignore these detoxification pathways. Let’s look at why detoxification is so important to overall health, and what you can do to support your body’s natural detox efforts.

Why We Need to Detox

Toxins are now omnipresent in our environment. An Environmental Working Group study found an average of 200 toxins in newborns. If our babies are starting life so heavily laden already, Imagine the toxic burden the average adult carries!

Where Do These Toxins Come From?

These days, sources of environmental toxins that can negatively affect our body go beyond air and water pollution to include:
● Non-organic foods (pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, hormones and additives)
● Personal care products
● Home cleaning products
● Home building materials and furnishings

Internal Toxins

Our normal metabolic processes also produce toxins. These are the natural by-products of life that when healthy, are quickly and efficiently removed from the body through natural detoxification channels such as the bowels, urinary system, lungs and skin. But there are more toxins in our environment today than our system was designed to handle.

What happens when toxins accumulate in our cells and organs?

Toxic buildup can have serious effects on overall health. An overload of bodily toxins has been linked to several types of cancer, cognitive dysfunction, fatigue, neurodegenerative diseases and a variety of chronic diseases.
Imagine if you didn’t take out the garbage for a month. Mold and other dangerous microorganisms would develop, putting your entire household at risk of disease. It’s the same within our bodies – not taking out the cellular trash regularly means those toxins can be reabsorbed and cause damage. Let’s look at a few health impacts of high toxic load.

Weight Gain

If we can’t get rid of toxins fast enough, our body locks them away in fat cells. Like jail cells, these ‘toxin prisons’ prevent them from escaping into the rest of the body and causing damage. The more toxins you have, the more fat is needed to imprison them. This is why undergoing a weight loss program without the right support can sometimes be dangerous: fat loss means stored toxins get released into your bloodstream, and need to be removed quickly before they are reabsorbed.
Toxins can also be a causative factor in insulin dysfunction, contributing to obesity, type 2 diabetes and metabolic issues.

Cognitive Dysfunction

Many neurodegenerative illnesses such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s have been linked to a high toxin load. Prenatal exposure to bodily toxins is thought to contribute to ADHD in children, with heavy metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium being considered the worst offenders. Toxins are likely to enter the abundant fat in neurological cells. Unlike some other fat stores in the body, this is where they can cause real damage to neurotransmitter function and communication.

Reproductive Issues and Cancer

Endocrine disrupting chemicals which include solvents, BPA and phthalates from plastics, can cause serious hormone dysfunction, unbalancing key hormones like estrogen and testosterone. This contributes to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, breast and prostate cancer. It can even decrease fertility in both men and women. This effect is so strong, that prenatal exposure can reduce adult fertility.

How Does Detoxification Work?

Detoxification is a real team effort, featuring the hard-working liver and kidneys. Working closely with the colon, urinary tract and skin, they release enzymes that break down toxins, then filter and excrete them from the body. Some toxins are eliminated as stool, while some are sent to the liver for conversion to safer, water-soluble forms. The liver sends them into the bloodstream, where the kidney escorts them out of the body as urine. Toxins can also be excreted through sweat.

Detox Pathway Dysfunction

Like any team process, success depends on everyone doing their part. If liver function is weakened, toxins may not be properly neutralized. If the kidneys are not at their best, they may not be able to remove toxins through urine. And if colon function is compromised, toxins may remain for too long in the body before removal. In this delicate balance, any detoxification pathway dysfunction can result in toxins sticking around long enough to damage organs, cells and DNA.

Genetics Impact Detoxification

Genetics play a strong role in how well our bodies detoxify. Detoxification involves three main stages, and genes that impact each stage have been identified. Depending on your genetic profile, you could be great at neutralizing toxins, but less efficient at excreting them from the body. Or vice versa.

7 Ways You Can Support Your Body’s Detoxification
When we give our body the tools and resources it needs to do the job. Here’s how!

1 – Reduce Your Exposure to Toxins

The fewer toxins you absorb into your body, the easier detoxification will be. Try these strategies to stay toxin-free:

Eat Organic As Often As Possible

If you can’t afford to go 100% organic, prioritize meats, fish and dairy products as the conventional, non-organic forms may contain pesticides, antibiotics and hormones. Learn which conventional fruits and veggies are highest and lowest in pesticides with the Environmental Working Group’s 2020 Dirty Dozen List and Clean Fifteen List.

Reduce Your Use of Plastics

Eliminating or reducing the use of plastic wraps and containers for food and drink storage is a great way to drastically reduce your exposure to BPA, phthalates and other toxins that plastic products off-gas. Opt for glass or stainless steel containers and beeswax wraps instead.

Use Natural Personal Care Products

The skin is our largest organ. Show it some love! The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database has hazard ratings for over 80,000 personal care products.

Use Natural Cleaning Products

Did you know that conventional home cleaning products are chock-full of toxins? The Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning rates over 2,500 products.

Clean Up Your Air

Did you know that indoor air is two to five times more polluted than outdoor air? More time at home means it’s more important than ever to assess your home and furniture for toxins like flame retardants and PVC. The Environmental Working Group’s Healthy Home Guide lists potential home toxin sources and how to find healthier alternatives.

2 – Eat Daily Detox Foods

Your body detoxes daily – why not provide daily detox support through your diet? The following foods can help support your liver, increase antioxidant levels and bind toxins for quick removal:
● Berries: blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries
● Green tea
● Turmeric
● Pomegranate
● Flax seeds
● Brassicaceae family greens like broccoli, brussel sprouts and kale.
● Broccoli sprouts

3 – Take Antioxidant Supplements

Glutathione

Glutathione is called the ‘master antioxidant’ with good reason, it neutralizes free radicals and toxins produced within the body. It is also known for its ability to remove environmental toxins from the body, and low Glutathione levels have been linked to many chronic and autoimmune diseases. Our bodies produce glutathione naturally, but additional supplementation in oral, inhalant, topical or IV form can help to improve the function of the body’s detox pathways.

Resveratrol

Known as the compound in red wine that’s good for heart health, Resveratrol’s powerful antioxidant action helps to rid the body of free radicals and supports other antioxidant enzymes. It can decrease the volume of toxins our body creates during metabolic processes, and increase the excretion of toxins. This also reduces cancer risk by slowing the reproduction of cancer cells including breast, prostate and colon cancer.

4 – Reboot with a Seasonal Cleanse

For centuries, many cultures have integrated seasonal fasting into their traditions. Here in North America, seasonal cleansing has become a ritual for many interested in maintaining overall health.
It can be as easy as eating clean, light foods that are easily digested for 1-2 weeks a few times a year. Avoid all sugar, alcohol, gluten and dairy. Get lots of sleep, drink lots of filtered water and reduce stress during this period.

5 – Get Into Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting means restricting the times you eat during the day to 8 – 10 hours. This gives your body a break from heavy digestive activities, and frees up energy for the body to focus on detox functions. Different intermittent fasting schedules work best for different people, so be sure to connect with your healthcare practitioner to determine the schedule that is best for your body.

6 – Enhance Elimination

How can off-the-shelf detox kits turn you into a hot mess of irritability, headaches and brain fog? They may help you get toxins out of your cells, but not help you excrete it. Here’s how to encourage toxins to leave the body quickly.

Stay Hydrated

Drink plenty of fresh water to keep toxins moving towards the exit. Water helps bulk up fibre to sweep your colon clean, and supports kidney function to excrete toxins through the urine.

Increase Your Fibre Intake

Some types of fibre such as freshly ground flax seeds can bind toxins. This means that when the flax seeds leave your body via stool, so do the toxins. Be sure to increase your fibre intake slowly.

Try Skin Brushing

Like the circulatory system, the lymphatic system plays a fundamental role in removing metabolic waste and toxins. But without a pump and valve system, the lymphatic system sometimes needs some help to move lymphatic fluid to the lymph nodes, where immune cells can filter out the toxins.
Using a natural bristle long-handled brush, start at your feet and brush your skin in a sweeping motion up your legs. Continue brushing the skin of your legs, arms and torso, always sweeping towards the heart.

Sweat More

Put on your favorite high-energy music and move those toxins out through sweat. Studies show that more heavy metals are excreted through sweat than urine, making sweating one of the best methods of detoxing available to us. Cardio exercise such as jogging or jumping rope work well for building up a sweat, but be sure to stay within your optimal range. If you’re under stress this may include doing less heavy cardio. Try an infrared sauna if cardio isn’t for you.

Get Proper Sleep

Many of the body’s regular detoxification functions take place while we’re sleeping, from liver and kidney activities, to brain chemical clean-up processes that can affect your mood. These natural detox processes need to happen while you sleep, so even if you’re genetically set up for efficient detox and are living a clean lifestyle, good quality sleep is key. Chronic poor sleep means chronic poor detoxification.

7 – Seek Out Professional Detox Support

If your detox pathways are particularly sluggish, a gentle DIY seasonal cleanse won’t be enough (such cleanses are better seen as good maintenance habits). Working with a skilled healthcare practitioner means undergoing a complete health history and functional testing that will allow you to target the organs and systems that need the most support. Your practitioner may recommend a targeted detox focusing on your liver, kidney or colon, or a substance-specific detox focussing on heavy metals like lead and mercury. Professional detox support options can include IV infusions, acupuncture, colon cleansing, herbal or homeopathic medicine, or professional grade supplements.

Are you ready to get toxins out of your life safely and effectively? We can help! Let’s meet to do some testing, and see how well your detox pathways are functioning. Together, we can come up with a treatment plan including key supplements and lifestyle recommendations. Let’s meet and discuss how we can help you be your best, toxin-free self.

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